Kelly's Birds need to work on finishing touch

Coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Nick Foles had the Eagles offense clicking in the early going. It sputtered in the stretch.
Coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Nick Foles had the Eagles offense clicking in the early going. It sputtered in the stretch. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: December 03, 2013

It may seem like nit-picking after a fourth straight victory, but the Eagles are past the point of being lauded for wins because many didn't expect them to be that good in Chip Kelly's first season.

They are a playoff-contending team, after all, and if the Eagles want to reach the postseason for the first time in three years and perhaps steal a few in January, then Kelly and his crew need to improve in putting teams away.

For the fourth time this season, the Eagles earned a lead of more than 17 points with a second-half-opening touchdown drive, and for the third time their offense sputtered and an opponent came back to make things interesting.

The Eagles ultimately put away the pesky Cardinals, 24-21, on Sunday, and that is the bottom line. They're 7-5, tied atop the NFC East with the Cowboys and three games from a season-finale showdown in Dallas.

But they may not get there if Kelly and his offense - and the bulk of the blame should be shouldered by that unit - can't find a way to balance running out the clock and being aggressive when defenses are begging to be thrown on.

Kelly shrugged when he was asked why his offense has had a difficult time regrouping after losing its edge. "I don't know," he said. "Good question."

Earlier, he admitted that it's something the Eagles need to correct. In fact, it was the one area Kelly pointed to after the Redskins game two weeks ago and before the bye.

But to have Sunday's game play out much like both games against Washington had to be a little disconcerting, even if the Eagles survived.

"There's always second-guessing if it doesn't pan out," Eagles center Jason Kelce said. "But, really, all good teams find a way to milk out games and find a way to keep games won. And luckily nobody's come back and won yet, but we've made it too close for comfort. And one of these times we're going to get beat."

The Eagles gained 301 yards on 48 plays (6.3 yards a play) through two quarters and their first third-quarter series. After a 13-play, 80-yard drive to start the second half, they led, 24-7.

On their next five possessions, the Eagles managed just 26 yards on 21 plays (a 1.2-yard average) and zero points as the Cardinals trimmed the margin to three. The Eagles converted only three first downs, one of which was courtesy of a penalty.

They were several reasons that the offense seemingly went in reverse. Execution was certainly one. The Cardinals defense, which made adjustments, was two. Handing off to LeSean McCoy on third and 10 late in the third quarter, in hindsight, probably was another.

The Eagles didn't consistently feed the running backs till late. Kelly had Nick Foles throw downfield 10 times during a 22-play stretch.

But when the protection broke down or the quarterback was off the mark on several of Foles' attempts, Kelly had no choice but to try and kill the clock, and the Cardinals were ready. Foles and others said Arizona was selling out and zero-blitzing to stop the run.

"They're bringing more than we can handle, but we have blocking schemes that can take care of it with our running game," Foles said. "In those situations, it's great to have a big play and go play-action and take a shot to really just get them off and get them out of that zero coverage."

Kelce said there was also a miscommunication on one busted run play, and McCoy had a 35-yard run brought back by a Jason Avant hold. But there seems to be more than just execution that has accounted for the second-half slowdowns.

Against the Redskins in the opener, the Eagles opened a 33-7 lead early in the third quarter before Washington reeled off 20 straight points. They gained 342 yards on 56 plays (6.1 average) up until that point, but just 52 yards on 20 plays (2.6 average) the rest of the way.

Last month, they had a 24-0 margin and then spotted the Redskins 16 straight points. The Eagles amassed 348 yards on 42 plays (8.3 average) after they scored early in the third, but managed just 46 yards on 20 plays (2.3 average) from then on.

"You get in that situation where you want to run out the clock, you should run out the clock, but there's always that thought in the back of your head: 'If our offense has been doing great so far, why are we changing it?' " Kelce said. "It's always that double-edged sword."

The Eagles had greater success against the Raiders. They jumped to a 35-13 lead after an early third-quarter touchdown and then expanded their cushion to 36 points with two more scores. They also put away the Buccaneers and Packers with clock-draining drives in the fourth quarter.

So it's too early to say if the Eagles' failure to put away teams is a trend. But it's certainly something to monitor and something Kelly is keenly aware of.

When a reporter opened the news conference by asking about the offensive blackout, Kelly joked: "Can't we go positive with the first question after a win? . . . Who's got the first question?"

Another reporter joked, "You guys were great."

"Thanks," Kelly dryly responded before going back to the first questioner.


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