Why Doug Pederson’s play-calling panache bodes well for the Bears’ Matt Nagy
MINNEAPOLIS — This year, at least, the Super Bowl favored the boldest play-caller.
Down one point with 5:39 to play Sunday, Eagles coach Doug Pederson decided to go for it on fourth-and-one from their 45-yard line.
“I knew that we were going to have to score a touchdown in that situation,” Pederson said after the Eagles’ 41-33 victory. “A field goal wasn’t going to be good enough, not against [Tom] Brady and the Patriots, so we stayed aggressive.”
It worked. The Eagles converted on a pass from quarterback Nick Foles to tight end Zach Ertz. Seven plays later, they combined again for an 11-yard, go-ahead touchdown. Somewhere, Kyle Shanahan — the former Falcons coordinator criticized for keeping his foot on the gas with a lead against the Patriots the year before, only to lose in overtime — must have winced.
“Coach kept telling all of us, the staff, he kept telling the team, ‘We’re going. This is all out for 60 minutes. We’re staying aggressive,’ ” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.
When they did, Pederson became the real Super Bowl MVP. In a copycat league, his mindset will be mimicked. That should make Bears fans happy with their new coach. A former Pederson protégé, Matt Nagy runs the same West Coast-spread hybrid scheme that the Eagles used to pick apart the Patriots. The two worked together for two teams, the Eagles and Chiefs, from 2009 to 2015. Like Pederson, Nagy got his first head-coaching job after serving as Andy Reid’s -offensive coordinator.
Nagy considers himself of the same mind as Pederson, despite a regrettable second-half play-calling performance against the Titans in a playoff loss this season.
“I’m going to be aggressive, but it has to be calculated,” Nagy said last month. “You need to understand the difference between being too aggressive and not aggressive enough.”
Going for it on fourth-and-goal from a yard-and-a-half out, as the Eagles did at the end of the first half, is hardly revolutionary, even in the slow-to-adapt NFL. Throwing a pass from your tight end to your quarterback for a touchdown — on a play taken from the 2016 Bears, no less — is a whole other story.
“That epitomizes Doug, it really does,” Reich said. “He said he was going to keep his foot on the gas. He said he was going to do what it takes. He said he was going to keep them off-balance. When you do that kind of stuff, you’ve got to put a lot of trust in your players because there’s a lot of moving parts. You’ve got to have poise.
“He not only has the guts to call it, he trusts the players to execute.”
Pederson promised his players in a meeting Saturday night that he wasn’t going to change his high-risk ways in the biggest game of his life.
“I take it week by week, but I trust my players, I trust the coaches and I trust my instincts,” Pederson said. “I trust everything that I’m doing, and I want to maintain that aggressiveness with the guys. In games like this against a great opponent, you have to make those tough decisions that way and keep yourself aggressive.”
Nagy would be wise to express that same belief in his players, at least until they prove him wrong. During Super Bowl week, he could bask in the reflected glory of Pederson and two of Nagy’s former quarterbacks. The Chiefs promoted Patrick Mahomes to starter and agreed to trade Alex Smith to the Redskins in March.
Around that same time, the Bears will look to rebuild in the Eagles’ likeness with a second-year quarterback, free-agent wide receivers, targeted upgrades on defense — and a play-caller who takes chances.
“If you ask someone to cross the line on me being aggressive or not, they’re going to say aggressive,” Nagy said. “As a play-caller and person.”
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.