Doug Pederson’s first game as a head coach against Bill Belichick is, of course, a major challenge. In fact, it’s historically been a challenge for every newcomer. And if Pederson and the Eagles pull off the win in Super Bowl LII, it will be one of the rarest feats accomplished against the Hooded One.
Thanks to some research by the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier in 2015, we know that Belichick entered Week 9 that season against Jay Gruden and the Redskins with a 65-19 record (.774 winning percentage) against head coaches facing him for the first time since the start of the 2001 season. That’s not far off from the Patriots’ overall winning percentage of .762 in that span.
But since that week, the gap has only widened. Yes, Belichick and the Patriots handily defeated Gruden’s Redskins 27-10. Including that game (plus Super Bowl LI against Dan Quinn and the Falcons), Belichick is 9-1 against first-timers. By a combined scored of 274-170. And the Patriots are also much better than their overall .767 winning percentage in that same stretch.
The 2017 season, in particular, presented Belichick with one lamb after another. He’s 4-0 so far. And even in the close ones, Belichick’s experience and situational awareness won out. Dirk Koetter’s Buccaneers and Anthony Lynn’s Chargers came up short after mismanaging the clock and their fourth-quarter play-calling. Vance Joseph’s Broncos and Sean McDermott’s Bills, on the other hand, had no chance. The Patriots won those two games by a combined score of 74-19.
This doesn’t mean that Pederson is just as hapless as these fellows. He could be an outlier. He could be closer to the one head coach who’s beaten Belichick in his first game against him in the past two-plus seasons: Chip Kelly.
Coincidentally, Kelly and these same Eagles rode defensive turnovers and the Pats’ special teams gaffes to a stunning 35-28 win at Gillette Stadium. Pederson has some of the same players from that game, particularly on defense. But other than that, Kelly’s 2015 win will have little bearing on Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
Still, recent history is decidedly not on Pederson’s side ahead of this game.
Doug Pederson vs Bill Belichick: How Big A Mismatch Is This?
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Pederson acknowledged the baseline requirement of giving yourself a chance against Belichick, especially in your first game against him. The Eagles need to give a flawless 60-minute effort. Not 55, not 59 minutes and 40 seconds. Sixty. He especially knows that after the Jaguars played an excellent game in the AFC Championship – for about 47 minutes.
And he also sounds aware that the players are going to need to conserve their energy on Super Bowl Sunday, which is always longer than a normal game.
“Those are all things that we’re kind of going through right now with the extended pregame, extended halftime, and those types of things,” Pederson said during his Thursday press conference. “Just being prepared for that, coaching our players now for that so that they’re ready to go and they understand that it is a little bit longer than a normal game, and not to be in that position, obviously, not to wear themselves out or do anything extra that would hinder them from playing 60 minutes.”
He also acknowledged that the Eagles can’t concern themselves with the Patriots’ championship “mystique.” All too often, less-prepared teams simply fall apart against the steely Patriots due to sheer nerves in crunch time. The hope for Pederson and the Eagles is that they can overcome that and show the same kind of resolve.
“You know what? If I make this all about [the Patriots], we’re in trouble. Honestly, we’re in trouble,” said Pederson. “Everything’s going to be written about it – everything has been written about it – talked about it, debated, and it’s about us. I’ll keep saying that. It’s about what we do and how well we execute, and I can’t worry about that.”
The Belichick Effect
Pederson also can’t tell his team that they need to just “do what they do” and hold off the Patriots for 60 full minutes. Adjustments will need to be made and situational planning will need to take place ahead of the game. Because when the game gets down to the closing minutes, you know that Belichick will have Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia, and the rest of his staff prepared. And by extension, the players.
The Patriots have shown more than ever in the past few seasons that Belichick is perhaps their biggest advantage over everything else, even bigger than the quarterback position. If Pederson can overcome the slim odds and beat Belichick in his first time against him, he’d be the first to do it in a playoff game in the Belichick/Brady era.
Oh, and by the way, it’s also quarterback Nick Foles’ first career game against the Patriots. So the Eagles are really looking to do something unprecedented.
Bottom line, Belichick always has the advantage in the coaching battle. But in two weeks, it’s not as close as when he faced bygone foes like Tom Coughlin, Gary Kubiak, or Mike Shanahan. Pederson may yet be closer to those guys than the likes of Vance Joseph; he did coach the Eagles to a 13-3 season and get them to the Super Bowl with their backup QB, after all. But when looking at other first-time Belichick opponents, the recent past doesn’t favor him.
In the NFL’s current head coaching landscape, Belichick laps the field. The gap now is wider than it’s ever been. It’s up to Pederson to defy that gap and do what’s become nearly impossible.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.