Examining What Went Wrong During Eagles' Failed Conversion Attempt
PHILADELPHIA - It was the best-case scenario for the Eagles, a late-game touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens, and an opportunity to tie things with a two-point conversion.
The success or failure of any such high-leverage situation in the NFL is always the headline but the preparation, or lack thereof, was the meat of the story in Philadelphia's 30-28 setback to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
First, the mechanics.
Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense had already huddled to discuss things when referee Shawn Smith blew his whistle and started the truncated 20-second play clock. At that point, Wentz again quickly attempted to get everyone on the same page.
When Philadelphia finally found its way to the line of scrimmage it was at about 10 seconds as the sense of urgency picked up. Through that New Year's Eve style-countdown the Eagles went with a little eye candy as Wentz took in the Ravens' oh-so aggressive defense and tried to understand what it had planned.
With one second left Jason Kelce snapped the football to Wentz for an ill-fated RPO that was blown up by the combination of Matt Judon and L.J. Fort, the ex-Eagles linebacker who has found another life as a key contributor in Baltimore.
With no Miles Sanders, who left the game earlier with a knee injury, Boston Scott served as the mesh point for Wentz and while the QB kept it, none of it mattered because Judon and Fort could have tackled both anyway once tight end Richard Rodgers, only playing because Zach Ertz left with an ankle injury and Dallas Goedert has been gone with a broken ankle, missed his block.
Understand from a more existential standpoint, fans and even media members never really judge play-calling, they critique results.
Success means a good play call and failure means a bad play call but the execution is what really matters because you could have just brought manna from Bill Walsh down from the mountain top and it's not working if the weakest link on a particular play misses a block or drops the football.
The problem with the Eagles in the game's biggest spot was the preparation, something Pederson actually acknowledged.
“I can do better as far as getting the play in and giving our guys a better opportunity, play call-wise, too, in that situation,” the coach said after the game. “Credit them, made the stop. Just a little short.”
Wentz, meanwhile, admitted that things were a little rushed.
“We probably did get a little later out of the huddle than we wanted,” the QB1 said when asked about it by SI.Com's Eagle Maven. "I think it’s a 20-second play clock. It seems like it goes pretty quick on the two-point plays. We got to be more urgent to get to the line and get our calls and get our checks.
“We got a scouted look there that we felt confident in that play. They made a good play, made life tough on us. It’s frustrating coming up short like that.”
After watching the film, Pederson gave a deeper explanation as to what went on and also admitted that a timeout was probably the best course of action.
"One of the things — and this is something most people won't understand or at least don't know — on those last two drives to score, we basically exhausted every red-zone play that we had on our call sheet," Pederson told the Eagles' flagship radio station on his weekly Monday morning appearance. "There were a couple of plays that we had to rely on our veteran guys. Like the two-point conversion before, J.J. (Arcega-Whiteside) — we put him in position on that two-point conversion, a training camp type play. And so we knew going in we were going have to use one of our game plan plays, probably in another area of the game plan for that specific call."
"...I look back at it today, I believe I still had the timeout with that situation and I think maybe the best situation, or call, could have been the timeout to really think things through," Pederson continued. "At least give us more time, from a coaching standpoint, to make a better decision at that time."
Wentz called have also called the timeout but Pederson is never going to play the Adam Gase-card and absolved his QB.
"Yeah, he could have," said Pederson. "But listen, I don't expect him — it's our job to put our players in position to be successful. Obviously, the quarterback and the head coach are the two guys that can do that, but that falls on me to run down there and do that."
The far bigger issue is understanding the potential situation and leaning on his host of offensive assistants.
Pederson himself is too busy calling plays while passing game coordinator Press Taylor is also bogged down.
However, there's also senior offensive assistant Rich Scangarello, the former offensive coordinator in Denver, on the staff as well as senior offensive consultant Marty Mornhinweg, a former head coach, and even passing game analyst Andrew Breiner to lean on.
Alert those guys by saying 'hey we're up against it, come up with something.'
The prior Sunday in Pittsburgh Ben Roethlisberger admitted he had never run what was essentially the game-sealing touchdown to Chase Claypool from an empty set with that personnel grouping.
The Steelers didn't rep it and it wasn't on the call sheet but the veteran QB was able to not only adjust on the fly but impart the proper information to three different WRs, including the rookie Claypool, is about 15 seconds.
The moral of this story is that just because you didn't rep something during the week or put it in the game plan it shouldn't be off the table which Pederson himself confirmed with his JJAW two-point conversion explanation.
In fact, during the entire unlikely comeback without Sanders and Ertz Pederson and his staff were essentially drawing up plays in the dirt only to rule it out that imagination and adaptation at the game's most important moment?
Delegation should have been put in play here leading up to the touchdown drive and if not, the timeout should have been called once things got too hurried.
The execution of a pedestrian (not a good or bad play call) could have saved the Eagles but putting the players in a better position always increases those odds.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM and every Monday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SportsMap Radio. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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