Whether it’s a fourth down or a two-point conversion attempt, rookie head coach Doug Pederson’s aggressiveness has been well documented this year. Being successful in both categories, it’s hard to disagree with his decision to play against the odds. However, his play calling has left a lot of Philadelphia Eagles fans scratching their heads, and especially after a failed two-point conversion with the game on the line against the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday, it’s understandable for fans to be tired of him taking the risk.
After going one for three on fourth down in Sundays loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Eagles have elected to “go for it” on fourth down more times this year than any NFL team. Of the 25 fourth down attempts, the Eagles have converted a first down 13 times, both which rank atop the NFL. Though these numbers do seem enticing, the Eagles rank tenth in the NFL with a 52% success rate of teams who have attempted at least ten fourth down conversions. In his 47 games as Eagles’ head coach, Chip Kelly went 22 of 41 on fourth down attempts, a 53.66% conversion rate.
Pederson also doesn’t mind going for the two-point conversion. Through week 15, NFL teams are a combined 44 for 92 on two-point conversion attempts, a 47.83% succession rate. Of teams that have completed at least four two point conversions on the year, only the Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, and Buffalo Bills have a higher success rate than the Eagles’ 66.7%. Only two teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have attempted more two-point conversions than the Eagles six. In his last two years as the Eagles’ head coach, Chip Kelly didn’t even attempt one.
So Pederson’s willingness to bypass the safe play should come to no surprise to the average Eagles’ fan. What should be alarming is the play call he comes up with.
After starting off hot, the Eagles converted their first three two-point conversion attempts on the year, but have slowed down and have only succeeded one time in their last three attempts. The first time the Eagles went for two was back in week seven against an undefeated Minnesota Vikings team. Carson Wentz ran a QB draw and was able to dive into the end zone. Their second two-point conversion attempt was in week 10 against the Atlanta Falcons and they found success by handing the ball off to Ryan Matthews who run right up the middle. Attempt number three came the following week against the Seattle Seahawks. Out of the shotgun, Wentz took the snap and fired a bullet to Nelson Agholor, who was lined in up in the slot, on a flat route as Agholor ran toward the nearside pylon and actually caught the ball for an easy score.
It wasn’t until three weeks later that Pederson attempted the two-point conversion again. In what basically was a must win game to keep their playoff hopes alive, down two in the fourth quarter, Pederson dialed up a pass play to Jordan Matthews. With Matthews on the outside, he ran a quick slant route and the play was recognized right away by the cornerback. As soon as Carson Wentz delivered the pass, Josh Norman was able to blow the play up and deflect the ball for no completion. It also marked the first time that Darren Sproles, also known as the change of pace running back, was present in the backfield.
So Sundays game marks the first time this season that the Eagles have gone for the two-point conversion twice in a game. After a successful attempt with Ryan Matthews running the ball and leaping over the line and spinning in midair like a scene from the Matrix, Pederson again had a decision to make with the game on the line. Despite the league wide success rate of kicking the extra point being 93.57% (961 for 1,027) and with Caleb Sturgis hitting 24 out of 25 extra point on the year, good for 96%, Pederson still elected to go for two instead of kicking the extra point to send the game into overtime. With momentum on his side, he put his change of pace running back on the field, Byron Marshall, and dialed up a quick pass play. Similar against Washington, Jordan Matthews ran a slant route but this time from the slot position. Despite the tip ball that eventually fell incomplete, the cornerback, like Josh Norman, read the play right away and attacked Matthews. Ball tipped or not, Wentz was not completing the pass and only a defensive pass interference flag would have bailed the team out.
Pederson refuses to back down and with the Eagles all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, why not try to get the win on the road and avoid what could have been a repeat of the overtime loss against the Dallas Cowboys. With the Eagles success rate on two-point conversions this year the right call was to go for it. However, the decision to take Ryan Matthews off the field was the wrong call. Just the threat of the goal line running back this year has been the secret to the Eagles success rate.