Kelly makes mistakes like a rookie

Posted: October 29, 2013

He had spent a few minutes whispering into Matt Barkley's ear Sunday, offering some encouragement to a first-year quarterback who'd gone through another long, losing day, and now Jeffrey Lurie was heading for the exit of the Eagles' locker room.

His team had just lost to the Giants, 15-7, and for the second straight game, the Eagles didn't score an offensive touchdown. The ballyhoo that had accompanied Lurie's January hiring of Chip Kelly as coach seems a little silly now, with the Eagles at 3-5 and with their quarterback situation in such turmoil. So when he was asked how confident he is in Kelly after what he has seen over these last eight weeks, Lurie didn't hesitate to buck up another NFL rookie.

"Oh, terrific," he said, before slipping out the door.

No, Barkley wasn't the only pro football neophyte making costly mistakes Sunday. Kelly had a rough afternoon, too, and as cursory as Lurie's answer might appear, there is truth in it. It's important to remember that Kelly has to have time to grow into his job, that it's OK to give him a grace period, that his decision-making and play-calling and all the elements of managing a game that were so puzzling and infuriating Sunday should improve.

They have to. It's difficult for them to be worse.

Put aside the destructive deference that Kelly showed Michael Vick last week - he allowed Vick to talk him into practicing and starting when Vick, still nursing an injured hamstring, shouldn't have suited up against the Giants.

Kelly had come to the Eagles with the promise of combining a creative, unconventional coaching mind and a trust in statistical probabilities. He would take chances. He would break from what was second nature, traditional, for most NFL coaches. But always, there would be a logical reason and a fact-based explanation.

By those standards, Kelly failed a few tests Sunday. Early in the third quarter, with the Eagles down, 12-0, and facing a fourth and 10 from the Giants' 32-yard line, he decided not to have kicker Alex Henery attempt a 50-yard field goal - one week after he had Henery try a 60-yarder against the Cowboys. Instead, Kelly and the Eagles went for it, and Barkley, after dropping a shotgun snap, threw an incomplete pass.

Kelly said that he had consulted with special-teams coach Dave Fipp before the play, and Fipp had counseled him to avoid attempting such a long field goal at that end of Lincoln Financial Field because the wind was strong and unpredictable. Henery had made a couple of kicks from that distance in warm-ups but acknowledged, "It was one of those things where you either hit it good or you're going to be short."

Nevertheless, were the odds that Henery would make the kick less promising than the odds that Barkley - who has committed five turnovers in two games - would complete a pass for a first down?

In hindsight, Kelly's call grew only stranger later in the game. Confronted with fourth and 4 from the New York 47, his team trailing by 15-0 with less than 11 minutes left in regulation, he sent out Donnie Jones to punt the ball back to the Giants.

"I had great confidence in our defense," he said.

But he apparently didn't have as much confidence with 4 minutes, 11 seconds to go. After the Eagles had scored a fluky touchdown on Najee Goode's 2-yard fumble return, Kelly had Henery try an onside kick. The Giants recovered without trouble, and if Kelly thought he was playing the percentages, he was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Since the start of the 2012 season, NFL teams had attempted 67 fourth-quarter onside kicks entering Sunday. They had recovered two. The Eagles had a 3 percent chance, based on recent evidence, of recovering Henery's kick, and though he had just one timeout left, Kelly would have been better off having Henery boom the ball deep and play field position rather than pinning the Eagles' faint hopes to such a long shot.

"When you're not moving the ball offensively, every single thing adds up," Kelly said. Those were the truest words in his postgame comments.

No one in the locker room seems to be second-guessing him yet, and Lurie will give him the time to develop into a terrific NFL coach. But he's not there yet, and Sunday was a fine reminder for Chip Kelly of just how meaningful those little moments are.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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