Kelly must be clinical in shaping Eagles

Posted: January 07, 2014

JEFFREY LURIE made his way from locker stall to locker stall, alone. He was shaking hands, thanking players individually, easing their way through a difficult experience that was new for many of them. The Eagles' owner had lived it enough times, though. It seemed to come easily enough for him.

Lurie had just left the coaches' locker room. What he said to them was between them, and what Chip Kelly thought when he was trying to get to sleep in the early hours of Sunday is not likely something he will share. Kelly does not show much of a sentimental side in public, but we all should have learned by now that a public persona is not a real persona, that one might have nothing to do with the other.

And so, you wonder. Because as much as Kelly has accomplished in his first season with the Eagles - and it is a ton, despite Saturday night's loss to the New Orleans Saints - you wonder how much the sentimental attachment he has to this group of players will be balanced by the need to make significant changes in this roster if the Eagles are to win football games in another January.

Because the lesson of this loss to the Saints is that, however brilliant Kelly and his coaches are - and they are excellent - you cannot scheme your way out of everything.

Because the true measure of Kelly as the man in charge of shaping the Eagles into a winner will be his willingness to continue with the clinical, unsentimental remaking of this team.

When he spoke to reporters, Lurie was asked if the team was in good shape to be better next year and he said, "Oh, for sure. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It's a missed opportunity and it's the tip of the iceberg. I think that everyone in this room knows it. It's a very young team and at the same time, they already learned what it takes. Now they just have to execute a little bit better, have a better start of the season, and I think that they clearly feel as though they have what it takes."

But it is more than that, especially on defense (but not exclusively on defense). They need more players, especially on defense (but not exclusively on defense). How they survived a season when they didn't have a consistent pass-rushing threat or a truly solid safety is borderline miraculous. And as you look back on it, it may be a testament to a fortuitous schedule.

The truth is that they did get better as the season went on. But the truth also is that the Eagles did not beat a top 10 quarterback this season. The three best quarterbacks they beat were Chicago's Jay Cutler (only a week back from an injury), Detroit's Matthew Stafford (in a sudden, 8-inch snowstorm) and Arizona's Carson Palmer.

On paper, next year is measurably harder: Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, plus the usual suspects. And on the other side of the ball, well, everybody saw how quarterback Nick Foles held the ball a lot in the last 2 weeks of the season, against Dallas and New Orleans. He is going to get better, and more decisive, but he is going to be standing there and patting the ball an awful lot more if the Eagles don't get another speed receiver to complement DeSean Jackson.

There are still holes - not that there aren't on every team, but if the goal is to win championships, the Eagles are four or five or six starters away (and that is assuming Foles' continued development and success, the most important thing). But you have to be willing to make those moves. You have to be willing to acknowledge, for instance, that both of your lines were outplayed for long stretches of the last two games of the season.

After the game, Kelly said, "I just told them I was proud of them, and for us being together for such a short amount of time, how they acted and how they came to work every single day, as a staff how much we appreciated them, how they made this from a work environment standpoint, a really special feeling every single day . . . "

That is all true - they all talked about it. But when you win the turnover battle by plus-two and still lose a playoff game at home, it wasn't because of bad breaks - it was because the other team was better.

Recognizing that unsentimental fact is Chip Kelly's first important task of the offseason.

On Twitter: @theidlerich


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