Doug Pederson has always shared at least some of the Chiefs’ offensive game-planning responsibilities. As Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator since Reid’s arrival in 2013, that makes sense.
But prior to this season, there was always a limit to how much Pederson could do in a game. Reid has a reputation as one of the league’s better play callers, and while Pederson helped formulate the game plan during the week, on Sundays it was Reid who would called the plays. He’d do this by relaying them via headset to Pederson, who then relayed them to quarterback Alex Smith.
But this year, things have been a bit different, as Reid revealed this week that he occasionally cedes play-calling duties to Pederson.
“I have full trust in turning the whole game over to him and letting him call it,” Reid said of Pederson. “It’s something I enjoy doing, but I have trust in him doing it, and that’s a comfortable feeling.”
Pederson confirmed Thursday that this is a new development, though he noted it’s one that only happens occasionally.
“This has been the first time this has happened, but it just doesn’t happen,” said Pederson, 47. “There’s a trust, there’s a continuity.”
In many ways, this is the continuation of Pederson’s growth as a coach. Pederson is also responsible for play calling in two-minute-drill situations, something he was also in charge of last year.
“You’ve got to sort of think like-minded a little bit, and Coach and I, he and I are so connected during the week and we talk about the game plan (so much) that I, as a coordinator, as a person that’s calling the game to Alex — even though Coach is telling me the plays — I can anticipate what’s coming,” Pederson said.
The Chiefs’ offense has been rolling of late, despite the absence of star running back Jamaal Charles, who is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Smith hasn’t thrown an interception in two months, and the Chiefs are averaging 2.24 points per possession, which ranks seventh in the league.
In October, when his team was 1-5 and hopes for a turnaround seemed dim, Reid accepted the lion’s share of the blame. But now that his team is 7-5 and are winners of six straight, he’s also gone out of his way to praise his assistants — including Pederson, in particular.
“Doug, unfortunately, gets pushed under the bus a little bit because I’m an offensive guy,” Reid said. “I don’t want to slight him at all, we’ve got great communication there. I have full confidence in Doug calling plays. If I get into a slump, he jumps in.”
Reid quickly mentioned that spread-game analyst and special projects coach Brad Childress — who was his offensive coordinator in Philadelphia from 2003 to 2005 before he landed the Minnesota Vikings’ head coaching job — is also capable of calling plays.
But once again, Reid ended up circling back to his original point — that the Chiefs couldn’t have turned things around without his overlooked offensive coordinator, who has grown into the role.
“Doug has done a phenomenal job,” Reid said, “and I don’t want that to get slighted in this whole thing (because) sometimes, that happens.”
Those words mean the world to Pederson, who played quarterback for Reid for four years in the late 1990s and calls the Chiefs’ head coach his mentor.
“I mean, it makes you feel good,” Pederson said. “But you’re not out there looking for validation. Your validation is, did that play work? And if you’re in the red zone, did it score? That’s your validation. And there’s a lot of feedback, a lot of talk, a lot of dialogue, and it’s very constructive, you know, and you just learn from all of it.”
When Pederson was a backup quarterback in Green Bay from 1996 to 1998, he got to watch Reid operate as offensive coordinator under Packers coach Mike Holmgren. And much like Reid learned how to call a game while working with — and relaying plays from — Holmgren, Pederson says he’s learned the same from Reid.
“He’s one of the best play callers out there. … I’m learning how he calls (plays) and how he sees the game, so when he comes over and says, ‘Hey Doug, take the next series,’ then I have that mindset of first of all, I know exactly how the defense is attacking us,” Pederson said. “By the time you get to Sunday, you can almost put your call sheet away and go, ‘I want this, this and this.’ ”
Now, to be clear, while Reid receives input from his assistants during the week, the head coach is still in control. Reid still runs the daily meetings where new offensive plays are installed, which is rare for a head coaches to do, but it’s something Holmgren and his mentor, 49ers legend Bill Walsh, used to do, and something Reid legitimately enjoys.
But come gameday, Reid has plenty of help. Offensive line coach Andy Heck suggests a set of running plays Reid can call before every series, for example, while handing the play calling to Pederson in short bursts can offer defenses a “change-up,” of sorts, since Reid and Pederson sometimes see different solutions to the same threats posed by defenses.
“It’s just another set of eyes — I mean, you’re going to look at something differently than I do,” Pederson said before pointing to a nearby wall. “You’re going to look at that wall and go, ‘It’s white,’ while I look at it and go, ‘It’s a little off-white.’ But it’s the same wall, and we look at it differently.”
And while Pederson wouldn’t say whether he’s more aggressive or conservative than Reid (“It’s kind of predicated on how the game is going,” he said), he is different, which is the entire point.
“Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s bad,” Pederson said with a laugh. “But, you know, so far it’s been pretty good.”