Kelly using attitude to measure Eagles' progress

On a bad day in Denver, LeSean McCoy loses the ball after a hit by the Broncos' Danny Trevathan. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff
On a bad day in Denver, LeSean McCoy loses the ball after a hit by the Broncos' Danny Trevathan. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff
Posted: October 01, 2013

DENVER - Chip Kelly said he will find out Tuesday whether what happened at Sports Authority Field to the Eagles was anything other than a thorough butt-kicking administered by the Denver Broncos. He won't know until then whether some spark of progress can be stirred from the ashes of Sunday's 52-20 immolation.

"If we come out hanging our heads and feeling sorry for ourselves, then I'll say we didn't have any progress or growth," Kelly said. "The only thing you can do is go back to work and try to figure this thing out. If they are feeling sorry for themselves, then we haven't made any progress. If they come back to work Tuesday, then I'll be excited about this group as we move forward. I really believe they will."

He's almost certainly right. Even veteran professionals aren't going to write off a long-term plan as a loser after just four games. The Eagles are 1-3, but two of their losses could have gone the other way. The same can't be said about Sunday's game, however, and if, as Kelly hopes, the Eagles didn't lose any confidence in the program, they sure didn't gain any.

They were still within eight points of the lead at halftime, even if the Broncos always seemed in control, and then the Eagles faded quickly and badly in the second half. Denver scored 31 points after halftime to establish a new single-game franchise total of 52.

"May have to give ol' Thunder an IV after this one," quarterback Peyton Manning said, referring to the white Arabian horse that charges around the field to celebrate Denver scores.

Everything's funny to the 4-0 Broncos these days, and the Eagles couldn't do anything to stem the laughter from the other side.

"He was hitting on all cylinders. . . . We ran into a pretty good buzz saw today," said coordinator Bill Davis, who mixed his metaphors a lot better than his defense mixed its coverages.

But as bad as the defense was - and it was very, very bad - the performance of the offense was nearly as unsettling. Kelly, after all, isn't going to be judged by the team's defense, except in the broad manner in which head coaches bear all responsibility. The defense is not very talented and, over time, we will know whether it is well-coached. It is the personnel department's job to improve the players, and it is Kelly's job to decide whether he has the right coaches there. None of that will backlash onto him unless he does something like, say, make the offensive line coach the defensive coordinator.

No, Kelly's success and failure with the Eagles will be based on the offense and, by extension, on whether an NFL team can hold up and be effective at the pace he prefers and with the limited substitutions that requires.

Against Denver, in the thin air, against a hot opponent that loves a shootout, the Eagles ran 41 plays (a lot) in the first half and gained 271 net yards. Was that a good idea, particularly since they got just 13 points out of it? Part of those statistics are skewed because Denver skipped an offensive possession when Trindon Holliday ran a kickoff back for a touchdown, but the Eagles kept pushing even though they were on the field an awful lot.

That's fine as far as it goes, because that's what Kelly wants to do, and that's what he will keep doing apparently, regardless of the circumstance. He's committed to the method. The trick will be getting the same commitment from the roster if the results don't improve.

Sunday was a great opportunity for Kelly to bolster the troops if they could have come out of Denver feeling good about themselves and the program. That wasn't the case.

In the second half, when Manning got hot and Kelly needed his own offense to adjust and keep pace, the Eagles went flat. Were they tired, were they unsure, did they feel they were simply flailing against the inevitable? Who knows? They were forced to punt (or try to) three consecutive times while Manning led another three touchdown drives, and the rout was made complete by a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. With nearly 11 minutes still to play, the Broncos removed Manning and lit their victory cigar. That's embarrassing.

"We really needed that first drive of the half to keep us in this thing, and we didn't do it offensively," Kelly said. "If we could sustain and score and get a stop somewhere, we could have stayed in the game, but we didn't."

After the half, the Eagles ran just 28 plays and gained 179 net yards. They had their moments but, as the coach suggested, couldn't sustain anything. A telling stat was that the Eagles did make some big plays, but couldn't build on them. They had eight plays that went for more than 17 yards. The Broncos had just two. Manning didn't seem to need big plays.

"He got hot in that second half, and we couldn't slow him down. The guy's good at what he does," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "You have to rebound and prepare for next week like, as bad as this one day is, you can flip things in one Sunday."

Flipping it against an 0-4 Giants team wouldn't mean as much to the locker room as doing so against the Broncos, however. This was a wasted chance to build momentum and belief.

"We just have to stick together as a group," Kelly said.

They probably will for now, but 52-20 is not the best of glue for the future.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

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