Birds need to play possessed

Posted: December 20, 2013

THE STATISTICS from Sunday suggest that Chip Kelly quit on the run too soon, that LeSean McCoy's eight carries reflected the kind of panic attack that often carried the day during the final Sundays of the Andy Reid regime.

The truth, more likely, is that Kelly never quit on the passing attack - or more descriptively, was never compelled to. Nick Foles threw for 428 yards and three touchdowns against a Vikings secondary ranked near the bottom of the NFL, and if he had been just a teensy bit more accurate and his receivers a teensy bit more focused, Foles might have thrown for 200 more yards and two more touchdowns.

But even that might not have changed the result, which makes this Sunday's play-calling all the more intriguing. Because the Bears, with the league's worst statistics against the run, are likely to sell out to stop it, egging Foles to beat them in the air (as Minnesota did), hoping to get the same kind of time-inefficient three-and-outs from the Eagles that allowed the Vikings to use clock and run a balanced attack.

Earlier this week, Kelly, defending his play-calling, argued that the Vikings had won that game by passing the ball, ignoring or forgetting that Minnesota rushed 35 times compared with only 13 times by the Eagles.

The Eagles' average gain running the ball was 6.1 yards per carry. The Vikings? They managed 2.4 yards.

But 35 rushing plays is a lot of time elapsed, which may mean little to Kelly, but has become a big facet of the Bears' late push toward the playoffs. In defeating Dallas two Sundays ago, Chicago kept the Cowboys' prolific passing attack in check by controlling the clock. The Bears held the ball for 36 minutes, 44 seconds in their 45-28 victory, rushing for 149 yards on 32 carries.

Against the Browns last Sunday, Chicago had rushed for only 28 yards after 12 attempts. But the Bears kept at it. And by the end of a game in which they again held a sizable advantage in time of possession, the Bears had seven runs of 10 yards or more, and Matt Forte - quietly the NFL's third-leading rusher this season - finished with 127 yards on 24 carries.

"It was just about paying attention to detail and sticking with the running game," Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod said this week.

Eagles linemen have said similar things after Shady's big games, particularly after he shook off a slow start in the snow against the Lions and broke loose for 148 yards in the fourth quarter. After that game, McCoy spoke of needing carries to get into a groove, a theme he expounded on when I asked him about it yesterday.

"It's definitely a rhythm thing," he said. "Touching the ball so much. You might run a play two or three or four times. So you get the rhythm . . . The first time, they might stop you. Then you run it the second, the third time, you kind of feel the weakness, where I might go. To the right side, the left side. It's the small things.

"So you keep pounding it, keep pounding it. Maybe a guy, one-on-one, he might tackle me. But in the back of my mind, I'm thinking, 'Yeah, well, the next time,' and the next time, I know he can't tackle me.

"And also, it's kind of like imposing your will on them. First quarter, second quarter, all the way to the fourth quarter. It's like once you got that rhythm, you're confident. You know the guys up front are making room and holes. It's easier to run."

Would he have gotten that chance had the skies cleared during the second half of the game against Detroit? I wonder.

It's what made the third quarter of Sunday's loss so torturous, the thought that McCoy just needed carries to flip that game upside down. It's typical, even expected, that good running teams return from halftime and bang out a successful drive. You wonder, had the Vikings' secondary been just a little higher-rated (or not as banged up), whether that wouldn't have been the case last Sunday.

Instead, the Eagles tried to throw the ball on their first three plays of the third quarter, took a sack, and punted, again giving Minnesota's offense half the field to work with. And by the time McCoy touched the ball again, they trailed, 24-9.

They finished the game with more offensive yardage than the Vikings, despite the lopsided score. But the Vikings had the ball for 36:26. Kelly can scoff all he wants at the significance of that statistic, but it's clear the Bears have used it as their avenue for success. Especially of late.

They are seventh in the league in time of possession.

The Eagles are dead last.

Maybe if Kelly had the kind of offense now that he envisions someday, one that stalls less and controls tempo more, it wouldn't matter. But for now, it does. And since statistics strongly suggest that the Bears will defend the pass better than the run, and because those same statistics suggest the Eagles will defend the run better than the pass, the first-year coach would be wise to play keep-away just this once.

Otherwise . . . Well, there's nothing worse than a late-night late-December home game that ends with the stands half-full and your quarterback on his back.

Just ask the previous regime.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon

philly.com/SamDonnellon

donnels@phillynews.com

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