Kelly making naysayers look bad

Eagles Head Coach Kelly talks to Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews after the Eagles beat the Washington Redskins on Sunday, November 17, 2013. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Eagles Head Coach Kelly talks to Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews after the Eagles beat the Washington Redskins on Sunday, November 17, 2013. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 19, 2013

"I put the Eagles offense as one of my bottom five. Why did I do it? Not that they are one of the worst five units in the NFL. It's because, 'It's going to be one of the fastest units we've ever seen. What are you going to do to stop it? . . . It's going to be unbelievable.' How is that working out? Is it just the most unbelievable thing you've ever seen?"

- Phil Simms, Oct. 24

When reading the above quote, the first thing that comes to mind, aside from the irrationality of the thinking, is how much it seems Simms wanted Chip Kelly to fail, or at least for him to get his newfangled college offense handed to him for a season or two.

The old guard of the NFL doesn't like to see a newbie come into its league and have immediate success, and Simms said something without much support and something he likely will regret.

After 11 games and enough of a sample, Kelly has proved that his way works, and when defensive coordinators make adjustments, he's sharp enough to counter their moves.

The latest evidence came in the first half of the Eagles' 24-16 win over the Redskins. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had two months to prepare for the rematch and still couldn't slow Kelly's offense.

The Eagles had racked up 17 points and 261 yards, and averaged 9.3 yards a play by the break. After a 13-play, 80-yard drive to open the second half, the margin was 24-0.

The offense managed just 55 yards the rest of the way, and that's something Kelly will have to address, just as he needed to do after the first-half explosion in the first meeting. But that's splitting hairs.

For the ninth time this season the Eagles surpassed 400 total yards of offense - a franchise record. They became only the eighth team in NFL history with more than 2,800 yards passing and 1,600 yards rushing through 11 games.

LeSean McCoy eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing on Sunday, and DeSean Jackson finished just 15 yards shy of a grand. Kelly is maximizing the talents of his best two players on offense, but not by design. He is creating mismatches, and they are taking advantage, as they should.

"I don't look at it as individuals," Kelly said. "I look at it as a team. What are we doing as a team running, what are we doing as a team throwing? We ran the ball well some weeks and threw the ball well some weeks. I think you're going to get tested."

Despite the hype, Kelly really isn't much different from most successful NFL offensive coaches. He game-plans to exploit liabilities, and if a defense gives an alternative look, he will alter his play-calling to take what is given.

In the first half, Kelly said the Redskins secondary played soft. So when Nick Foles went to the air, he threw underneath and the Eagles' playmakers picked up plus yardage after the catch.

Jackson pulled in a short pass and raced 26 yards. Bryce Brown caught a screen and rumbled 24 yards. Another screen was set up, and Brent Celek zoomed 42 yards. (And a quick aside: Has the veteran tight end ever looked as fast?)

"The biggest thing is that he's creative in the play-calling," Jackson said of Kelly. "He knows how to get mismatches and how to move guys around."

Kelly's scheme also isn't drastically different from many of those that used the vertical pass and thrived over the last several decades in the NFL. Entering Sunday's game, Foles' percentage of downfield throws was greater than any other quarterback's.

And he was as accurate. He completed 13 deep passes (more than 20 yards), and 11 went for touchdowns. Simms and some of his ilk thought that Kelly didn't have vertical concepts in his Oregon offense, or would be reluctant to embrace them.

"We threw the ball down the field a ton," Kelly said Thursday. "The interesting thing when we were at Oregon is we were up at halftime by 40 points, so we ran the ball more in the second half. If you wanted me to go bombs away in the third, we could have scored 100 in a couple of games, but we're never going to do that."

Is the use of the zone read as the nucleus of his offense a new concept? No. Are his run-pass option package plays novel to the NFL? No. Was he the first to use an up-tempo offense? No.

But the combination and the adeptness at which he calls his offense have made Kelly successful in a short time. Wait till he gets his quarterback.

That's not to say Foles isn't the future. He may be. But Kelly has yet to say so, and watching Foles not maximize some of the yards he could have gained in the zone read makes you wonder whether Kelly ultimately wants a mobile quarterback.

But right now he has one that executes his offense, avoids mistakes (Foles has yet to toss an interception), and gets the ball into the hands of the franchise running back and wide receiver.

The Eagles gave McCoy and Jackson big contracts during the 2012 offseason. McCoy already has 1,009 yards rushing, along with 399 receiving. And Jackson is on pace to shatter all of his personal receiving records.

"I'm definitely happy about them," Jackson said, "but at the end of the day, a win is a more important thing to be happy about."

Kelly's offense isn't unbelievable, as Simms' straw man suggested it would be. But anyone who didn't believe he could thrive in the pros either wasn't paying attention or had ulterior motives for wanting him to fail.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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