Eagles lack finishing punch

Posted: December 04, 2013

TWISTING THAT old catchy opener from ABC's long-running "Wide World of Sports," Mike Schmidt once quipped that "Philadelphia is the only city where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day."

Well, in this day of Twitter and Instagram, Chip Kelly's Eagles have taken it a step further. We don't wait until the next day's newspaper. We don't even have to wait until the end of the game. In three of their seven victories, including the last two, premature parties throughout the Delaware Valley have devolved into Rolaids commercials as a sudden ineptitude on offense has fueled comebacks by the visiting team.

Two games ago, Washington rallied from a 24-0 hole and threatened to tie the game late - just as they had in their opening-game loss. On Sunday, Arizona came within a few plays - or calls - of winning a game it trailed by as many as 17 points late in the third quarter.

It's as if the ski jumper from that old opening teeters on one ski, then the other, but rights himself in the nick of time rather than crashing.

"People aren't playing the normal defenses they normally play in the first, second, and third quarter," Kelly said during his day-after news conference at the NovaCare Complex yesterday. "They're putting an extra guy on the line of scrimmage. If you bring in an extra tight end, they're going to have two more than you. One for the quarterback and one for the extra player. That is a difficult situation to run the ball against.

"The answer is easy. Hey, throw it. If you throw it and it's incomplete, the clock stops. It's kind of that Catch-22. I'd like to every week be in that situation, because that means we're up."

Going for the throat with a full quarter of football has risks. One or two bad executions - which the Eagles had early in the fourth quarter Sunday - can create momentum for a trailing team badly in need of it. It's what happened against Washington. It's what happened against the Cardinals too.

"We're moving the ball," said Kelly. "Then we get a penalty or, at one time we had a miscommunication up front and two guys went the wrong way. Then all of a sudden on a second-and-5, it turns into third-and-9, so now you're playing backwards."

As was the case when Kelly's offense blanked out for a couple of weeks after losing its starting quarterback and backup, there was again a knee-jerk reaction from some to blame this on characteristics ascribed to the man. He was stubborn, he was arrogant, he refuses to dial back his offense and run down the clock with a running game.

And this one, my favorite due to its lack of historical research: With big margins of victory each week at Oregon (and New Hampshire before that) he never had to do this at the college level.

Check the box scores. It simply isn't true. It's not a reflection of stubbornness or philosophy, as we perceived it to be with Andy Reid. Kelly loved to run the ball in the second half when he coached at Oregon, especially when his quarterback could run like a running back. Many of his lopsided wins were built with late touchdowns. He knows how to close out games . . . in this league and any other.

He just hasn't been able to as effectively with a quarterback whose legs do not scare defensive coordinators. Nick Foles tried to make Arizona pay Sunday. It wasn't pretty. Someone should remind him the next time he is met by a defensive back that he's the one who is 6-6.

On second thought, never mind that. He could get hurt, and then Rolaids wouldn't nearly be enough. Bring in Claude Lemieux to teach him how to "turtle" properly.

Kelly has mentioned repeatedly that he is, in his first NFL season, adjusting to operating with a smaller roster after a career of expansive ones in college. So here's a radical idea for a coach who embraces them. Bill Belichick once turned linebacker Mike Vrabel into a short-yardage tight end. The Eagles have plenty of tight ends. Could one of them be developed into a part-time, line-moving fullback? Or could linebacker Connor Barwin, the former hoops player, be such a candidate?

Just trying to do my part.

In the meantime, a little better late-game focus and execution will have to do. And might be all that's really needed. "It's all the little things," said Kelly. "But part of being a good football team is you have to learn how to finish games. It's something we've got to continue to work on. Like everything, there's got to be things to work on every week, and that's something we'll address this week."


On Twitter: @samdonnellon

philly.com/SamDonnellon

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