Major issues arise in opener

Posted: August 10, 2013

Maybe Chip Kelly really is a football visionary. He managed to make an NFL preseason game pretty darn interesting.

The Kelly era began in Philadelphia on Friday night with an intrigue-filled exhibition against the New England Patriots - the franchise Kelly is trying to emulate. After months of speculation, the curtain was pulled back on what Kelly has been building in the relative secrecy afforded by the NovaCare Complex.

That air of mystery makes it tempting to read too much into what happened in the Patriots' 31-22 victory. It is worth noting up front that Kelly himself was eager to establish a baseline with this first dress rehearsal. That gives him three more, plus a bushel of practices, to address major issues before opening night in Washington in one month.

We didn't learn who the starting quarterback will or should be. What we learned, more than anything, is that Kelly meant it when he said he could make his offense work with different kinds of quarterbacks.

Michael Vick's mercurial talents led to a quick-strike, 47-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson on the Eagles' fifth offensive play. Given a clean pocket, Vick made a perfect throw to Jason Avant for a 22-yard gain. Two plays later, again enjoying solid protection, Vick faked a handoff and lofted a rainbow that found Jackson in stride behind New England's Aqib Talib.

The common wisdom was that the speedy Jackson would be a major weapon in Kelly's innovative offense. Jackson has had a great training camp, and he blew past Talib as if he was scenery.

Nick Foles, by contrast, took the Eagles on a methodical, 10-play touchdown drive in the second quarter. It was a big drive for Foles, whose first chance was cut short when the ball was knocked out of his hand by a Patriots defensive lineman.

Turnovers were a problem for both quarterbacks last year. After fumbling the ball away, Foles needed to respond with some poise. He did. He even ran for 10 yards on what appeared to be an improvisation. Foles completed 5 of 6 passes in the drive, including a well-placed toss to Avant for 8 yards on third and 6 at the Pats' 18.

As for Matt Barkley, the rookie from USC who took over after Foles, there was a distinct drop-off. Barkley has work to do.

So the offense has a chance to be pretty interesting.

The defense? Well, it has a chance to be very interesting, too. Just not in the same way.

It is worth noting that new coordinator Bill Davis is changing the entire scheme with a combination of brand-new players and holdovers from last year's disaster. That is not a quick fix. Still, it was discouraging to find yourself watching replays and counting the Eagles who missed tackles or took bad angles.

On the very first play, Stevan Ridley strolled through a massive hole for 62 yards. The Patriots went 80 yards on six plays, all rushes. On their second touchdown drive, Tom Brady and his receivers played catch.

The most worrisome play on that possession was a run. On third and 1, the Eagles stacked the tackle box with nine defenders. Ridley ran for 10 yards. That's just a matter of players getting overwhelmed by blockers.

If Kelly is looking for things to work on over the next month, he might consider the pronounced lack of contact in his camp practices. There is no going back to the relentless violence of old-time two-a-days, nor should there be. But tough, physical teams still win football games. The Eagles were neither of those things last year, to a shocking degree.

In a real game, Brady could have put 50 on the board. Even with Ryan Mallett and third-team QB Tim Something-or-Other playing three quarters, the Patriots scored an easy 31.

It is not the score that matters in these games, of course. It never is.

These games are about getting a feel for players and how they fit into the schemes you're trying to run.

We learned a little about Kelly and Davis and what they've been up to in their secret labs. We're going to learn a lot more after they have a chance to review this game and make adjustments.

The Kelly era has begun. It is a long way from being defined.

Click here for complete coverage of Philadelphia Eagles training camp.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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