July 2017. Training camp.
Throughout the NFL, the most laughable pre-camp statement was uttered by Doug Pederson, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Coming off his rookie season as a head coach, with his Eagles finishing 7-9, Pederson stated the following:
“I look back at my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs and those Super Bowl runs there, and do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?”
Wisconsin collectively laughed after hearing this. The Philadelphia Eagles, coming off a 7-9 campaign, matched the talent of a Super Bowl champion squad in 1996 that was clearly the front runner the entire season? How preposterous could this statement from the former Packers quarterback have been? Did he really think that that:
Carson Wentz was comparable to Brett Favre in his halcyon days?
The young receivers on the Eagles were going to mirror Antonio Freeman’s performance?
Were Zach Ertz and Brent Celek going to be the next Mark Chmura/Keith Jackson combo?
- Does this mean Zach Ertz is going to make a giant mistake in a hot tub on prom night in a couple years?
The defensive line was going to thwart offenses like the one led by Reggie White, the greatest defensive end of all-time, and three other legitimate Pro Bowl caliber performers in Sean Jones, Gilbert Brown, and Santana Dotson?
Malcolm Jenkins is the next LeRoy Butler?
Pederson himself is going to pull a Mike Holmgren 2.0?
Lo and behold, Pederson is one game away from having the last, incredibly vindicating and bellowing laugh. He has backed up his talk through quickly becoming an innovative and effective coach at the highest level
Carson Wentz was the clear frontrunner for league MVP before a devastating knee injury that would’ve instantly disqualified almost any other team from a chance at the Super Bowl. The fact that the Eagles retained home field advantage and were able to dominate in the conference title game is unheard of. Nick Foles is poised to become the next Jeff Hostetler. Everyone wrote the Eagles off immediately after it was confirmed that Carson Wentz shredded his knee. Wentz will almost certainly come back stronger than ever. In the meantime, Nick Foles looked like Steve Young subbing for Joe Montana when the Eagles torched the Vikings. Making the Super Bowl after the MVP front runner went down is more than enough for Pederson to be awarded coach of the year.
The defensive line is not as dominant as that of the ’90s Packers, but was still elite, and deep. The depth has allowed Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Chris Long, Derek Barnett and company to stay fresh and outmuscle their opponents all year.
Zach Ertz is an upper echelon tight end, probably even more so than Mark Chmura ever was. His hot tub exploits continue to lag, however.
Alshon Jeffery’s talent at wideout opened the doors for other, younger receivers to make an impact. Nelson Agholor has reaped the benefits.
The running back depth with a bruiser in LeGarrette Blount and complete packages in Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement have given the Eagles an enviable backfield for most of the league. Ajayi is arguably a top 5 talent on his own.
Pederson has taken a bold approach in adjusting to his opponent each week. He has also taken a new school approach with going for it on 4th down. His analytics-based approach has worked to the benefit of the team with their 4th down efficiency rating. The intangible effect of showing his belief in his team to make the big play is certainly a factor in the Eagles still standing.
The night before the Super Bowl, each team typically has a meeting where motivational speeches are delivered. Whether the speaker is someone in-house or brought in is always up in the air. Doug Pederson is bringing in someone that might be familiar to motivate his team come Saturday night. The pride of the Kiln, Mississippi himself will grace the Eagles with his presence. The inspirational message from one Brett Alonzo Favre could very well be the final piece in bringing Pederson’s Packers preseason prediction full circle.
________________John Piotrowski is a UW-Eau Claire alum, spending most of his life in western WI. He makes the trek east to Lambeau whenever possible. Follow him on twitter at @piosGBP.