Curious case of the Eagles

Posted: October 29, 2013

THERE IS a chance that Chip Kelly's biggest flaw is the reputation that preceded his arrival, and that what we have witnessed over the last couple of weeks is not a matter of NFL defensive coordinators catching up to him but the lack of talent at his disposal. Maybe he is a victim of marketing, flattened by the snowball of expectations that accompanied his last-second decision to take his talents to South Broad.

Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that Kelly's offense looks like those of a lot of first-year head coaches whose rosters are still in the process of being turned over: out of sync, borderline dysfunctional, at times lacking coherent game management. All of the above could have been said about Andy Reid in both his first and last years as head coach, two seasons that the big guy followed with 11-5 and, as of yesterday, 8-0.

Nevertheless, they can be said, and so we shall say them. Against the Giants yesterday and against the Cowboys the week before, the Eagles have not looked like a well-coached football team. The decision-making has been curious, the time management inefficient, the game plan unable to adjust to the uncertainty that has existed at quarterback for several weeks now. Now, you can argue that the last point is akin to saying that the boys at the Alamo were unable to adjust to being surrounded by the Mexican army for 13 days, and there would be some truth in it. In fact, Kelly did argue that after his team fell to 3-5 with a 15-7 loss to the Giants that was about as ugly as it sounds.

"If we can't execute what we need to execute, just getting the ball on people when guys are getting open and giving them a chance to make plays, then I think that becomes a real difficult deal," the coach said.

But when you consider the implications of such a statement - the coach saying in no uncertain terms that his offense's failure to score a touchdown in eight straight quarters was the result of the malfunction of one position - Kelly's decision-making is even more questionable. With 1 minute, 37 seconds remaining in the first half, the Eagles had a first down on the Giants' 27-yard line trailing 12-0 with a rookie whose three career possessions as an NFL quarterback up to that point had each ended with a turnover. The cost/benefit analysis appeared to favor a calm, deliberate approach that minimized risk and maximized possession of the ball, as Eli Manning and the Giants offense waited on the opposite sideline with all three timeouts at their disposal. But Kelly does not do calm and deliberate, so the Eagles ran three plays, all of them passes, that ate a total of 23 seconds of play clock. Which might have made sense if he did not then acknowledge some need for deliberateness by calling a timeout with 1:14 left and the ball at the 2-yard line.

"I just wanted to get Matt settled," Kelly said after the game.

The play call that followed was not atrocious. Roll Barkley out, put a low-risk option in front of his face, another on his backside. If nobody is open, throw the ball away and come back with a run. Barkley didn't throw the ball away, and ended up fumbling, but rookie quarterbacks do stupid things. The curiosity is that Kelly, in calling the timeout, acknowledged the need to alter a part of his approach with regard to his young quarterback, yet that acknowledgment did not seem to affect his playcalling.

This was still Chip Kelly doing as Chip Kelly does - no huddle, read option, snap decision after snap decision after snap decision. The Eagles ran the ball just 19 times, far fewer than usual, despite a deficit that was never more than two possessions, despite a starting quarterback who was clearly limited with a hamstring injury, despite a backup quarterback who had roughly one quarter of NFL experience under his belt.

"The offense is built to run with whoever is at the helm," Barkley said afterward.

But it isn't running, and after 2 weeks in which La Revolucion has combined to generate a total of three offensive points, it is fair to ask whether some serious modifications are in order, if only for the short term.

The cool thing about Chip Kelly is that he says a lot of things that you always assumed Andy Reid was thinking whenever Reid said that he needed to put his players in better position to make plays. And as he mentioned, the quarterback thing is The Thing. We'll go even further and say that it will be The Thing that will dictate Kelly's legacy as an NFL head coach.

Still, it is worth mentioning that Vick and Barkley combined to go 23 of 35 for 189 yards with no touchdowns and three turnovers on a Sunday in which Jason Campbell threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns against a tough Chiefs defense and someone named Thad Lewis went 22 of 39 for 234 yards and a touchdown against the Saints. You might not be able to win a Super Bowl in the NFL without a legit starter, but you sure as hell can score 17 points, especially given the state of the division.

Maybe that is the most disconcerting thing about these last 2 weeks. The Eagles are working with a serious talent deficit on their roster. Starting wide receiver Riley Cooper caught two passes for 13 yards against the Giants. Second-round draft pick Zack Ertz caught one pass for 5 yards. Starting tight end Brent Celek caught two passes for 17 yards. But the rap on Kelly was that he would maximize the talent that he had. Instead, the offense that we have seen - again, we're limiting this to the last 2 weeks - looks remarkably similar to last season. The curious logic of punting on fourth-and-3 from the Giants' 47 and then, 5 minutes later, going for it on 4th-and-20 from the 46.

Not attempting a 50-yard field goal one week after attempting a 60-yard field goal. Attempting an onside kick with more than 4 minutes left instead of kicking the ball deep against the Giants' hands team. DeSean Jackson's inability to push forward for a first down after a 7-yard catch late in the third quarter forced a punt from deep in Eagles territory (the Giants kicked their fifth field goal of the game on the ensuing possession): He has 11 catches for 84 yards over the last 2 weeks.

"It's just really hard to win games, especially when the offense can't score points and help the defense out," Jackson said. "That's totally our fault and we take responsibility."

Kelly deserves some as well. How much probably depends on your initial expectations.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

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