Skip to main content

How Doug Pederson challenges his staff... and how it led to a Super Bowl-winning play

With 2:25 left in the fourth quarter, the Philadelphia Eagles lined up for a 3rd-and-7 from the New England Patriots' 11-yard line. The Eagles trailed by one, 33-32, so an unsuccessful play would put the ball back in the greatest quarterback in football history's hands, needing only a field goal to deny the Eagles their first Super Bowl win.

It was the biggest play of the game, the biggest play of the season, the biggest play in franchise history.

The Eagles wanted to get the ball in tight end Zach Ertz's hands, and New England knew it. Not only it, but Philadelphia knew that New England knew it. So how, then, would the Eagles coaches manage to get single coverage on a guy that everyone in the stadium knew was getting the ball?

The play, gun trey left, open buster star motion 383 X follow Y slant, placed three receivers in a bunch to Foles's right and Ertz alone to his left. New England answered by aligning a safety over the top of Ertz.

But then the Eagles did something they almost never do. Foles sent running back Corey Clement in motion behind him toward the bunch, and the safety went with him. Philadelphia had its single coverage.

But as Peter King details in an excellent piece on The MMQB, that play, No. 145 of the 194 calls that the Eagles took into battle with them last Sunday, was not on head coach and play-caller Doug Pederson call sheet when the team left Philadelphia for Minneapolis. King writes:

All season, every week, every offensive coach on the Eagles had an assignment: find a play or plays better than those on Pederson’s play sheet. So (wide receivers coach Mike) Groh, along with all the coaches, went to work. In a lonely room at the Radisson Blu Hotel at the Mall of America halfway across the country, Groh dove in one more time, on stacks-and-bunches plays and all others he thought might be valuable, to see if he could find one great third-down call that beat any of the third-down calls on Pederson’s play sheet.

Groh was the bunch and stack expert on Philadelphia's staff, each week sifting through 250 such calls throughout the league and picking out the good ones to turn over to offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who then presents the ones he likes to Pederson.

“For me,” Pederson said, “this story is simple. I hired these coaches for a reason. I hired Frank as my OC for a reason. This is a collaborative effort. It has never been about one guy, one coach, one player. This is a daunting task for one guy. It's way too much. I trust these guys to study the tape like they do, and Frank gives out the assignments during the week. Guys know their lanes, they stay in their lanes. If a play fits our personality, offensively, we will try to get it in the game plan somewhere. It’s a credit to our coaches, all of them, that they found the little gems all season.”

The entire story is a fascinating study in how the sausage gets made at the NFL level. Check it out.