Chip Kelly Update: Welcome to the NFL, Noob

chip Kelly 12, FS,12,KC

Kevin Cline

In five short days, the euphoria of Chip Kelly’s stunning NFL debut win over the Redskins has been wiped out by an icy blast of reality as cold as the Gatorade bath Andy Reid got last night.  Two quick losses in close games have put Kelly under the worst pressure of his coaching career, encouraging doubters and raising questions about how well his theories apply to the NFL.

Worse yet, they’ve encouraged hackneyed comparisons to Steve Spurrier, who won an exciting first NFL game before losing the next two — and ended up 7-9 after his first season in 2002.  The comparison is still off-base, but 7-9 is a very likely final record for this rebuilding team.

Games 2 and 3 played out very differently, but the end result was the same.  Against San Diego, penalties and weak defense killed the Eagles. In game 3, it was turnovers, erratic special teams and weak offense — all of which were strengths in the first two games.  The Birds are now 1-2, with a very tough game against Denver coming up.  The odds are very good that they will be 1-3 in 10 days.

He Who Shall Not Be Compared (Steve Spurrier)

Jeff Kern

He Who Shall Not Be Compared (Steve Spurrier)

Here’s how bad the NFC East is — it’s possible that Philadelphia will still be tied for the conference lead at 1-2.  The Giants and Redskins are 0-2 heading into this weekend, and only a home victory against St. Louis by the Cowboys (currently 1-1) can knock Philadelphia out of the lead. Dallas is only a 3.5 point favorite, the same as the Eagles were against KC.

So how responsible is Chip Kelly for this poor start?  Certainly, individual play has been a big factor in both the successes and failures of this team.

Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson were studs in Game 2, while Mychal Kendricks and the entire secondary looked shoddy.  In Game 3, Vick looked erratic at best, with a great long pass to DeSean and 95 yards on some very Mariota-like runs up the middle that were offset by two interceptions, a fumble and a stubborn insistence on throwing to Riley Cooper, no matter how well covered he was.  DeSean was covered tightly by Kansas City’s excellent secondary, and less of a factor with 3 catches for 62 yards.  

On the other hand, the defense looked great, even the defensive backs in many cases (with Bradley Fletcher back from injury, and Nate Allen looking sharp after two terrible games).  Only Mychal Kendricks was consistent, sucking even worse than in Game 2.  He may lead the league in missed tackles at this point; he led the Eagles in 2012 with 14, and had five after just the first two games this year, according to Pro Football Focus.

DeSean Jackson's 61 yard TD vs. San Diego

from video

DeSean Jackson’s 61 yard TD vs. San Diego.

Center Jason Kelce injured his thumb in Game 2, and made two terrible snaps in game 3, one for a lost fumble, and another high snap that Vick dove on for a loss.  Kicker Alex Henery, one of the most reliable in the NFL, missed a 40-something yard FG in each game – is there something about Chip or his system that ruins kickers?  Missed field goals cost him his three biggest losses at Oregon (to Auburn, Stanford and USC).

Turnovers killed Philadelphia in Game 3, but this is also Kansas City’s strength.  They were second in the NFL after two games, with a +4 turnover margin.

Kelly and his staff have certainly made some questionable decisions, though, which have been a big part of the problem.  I don’t criticize them for trying a two-point conversion out of the swinging gate in Game 3, but Vinny Curry wasn’t even on the active roster for Games 1 and 2, before showing his disruptive pass rush in Game 3.  Kelly misunderstood the rules on official injury timeouts, failing to use a regular timeout to get Vick back into the game on the crucial 4th-quarter drive in Game 2.  As a result, that drive ended with a FG instead of a TD in a three-point loss.

Vick leaves game 2 after official calls injury time out

from video

Vick leaves Game 2 after official calls injury time out.

Chip admitted that his clock management at the end of Game 2 was poor, and this allowed the Chargers to drive for the winning field goal.  The Eagles had the ball on the Chargers’ 14 with two and a half minutes left, but Kelly kept pushing the hurry up offense with pass calls, leading to three incompletes and San Diego getting the ball back with 1:44.  The Eagles should have been able to run another minute off the clock AND eat up San Diego’s time outs, making that final drive much more difficult.

Kelly has made other questionable calls.  He has relied very heavily on LeSean McCoy, who has been outstanding — he leads the NFL in rushing.  But Bryce Brown has had few snaps, and Chris Polk none.  Shady left Game 3 just before halftime with an ankle injury, which turned out to be minor, but 20-30 predictable runs up the middle is begging for McCoy to be injured.  In contrast, Kelly has called very few plays for his large stable of tight ends after featuring them heavily in the preseason.

Worst of all, Kelly is losing with a conservative, often conventional attack unlike anything seen in Oregon for years.  After wowing football fans with his Oregon-style attack in Game 1, Kelly showed a much more typical NFL offense in Game 2.  That was fine, since the offense was still very successful (30 points and 511 yards).  After two games, Shady led the league in rushing, DeSean was the receiving leader, and Vick was 3rd in QB passer rating (behind only Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning).  

It’s hard to see even now how anyone has “figured out” Chip’s offense; the Eagles have 1,385 yards of total offense after three games, the most in team history.  As far as I could see, Kansas City did not have a strategy that led to those turnovers or the failed pass blocking by the Eagles’ offensive line.  It was more a question of players getting beat, one-on-one.

A field goal? Chip Kelly?

from video

A field goal? Chip Kelly?

But in Game 3, Philadelphia stayed conservative and struggled to score (despite racking up 431 yards of total offense) due to weaker offensive line play, erratic decision making by Vick, five sacks and five turnovers.  And the conservatism is the most worrisome part.  In three games, the Eagles have now punted 13 times and attempted 7 field goals (making 5), while going for it on fourth down only once outside of end-of-game desperation.  It was nice to see them try the Swinging Gate today, which failed due to a missed block by rookie Lane Johnson, but the worst failure of all would be to see Chip Kelly lose faith in his approach, and lapse into standard, dull NFL mediocrity.  Even if he wins.


Mark Saltveit’s best-selling book “The Tao of Chip Kelly” has received rave reviews from coaches, players and sportswriters since its release in June. You can find it at the Oregon Ducks Stores in Portland, Eugene and Bend, at Powells Books, at the Multnomah Athletic Club M-Porium in Portland, various bookstores in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, and online at http://www.chipkelly.tv/

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Mark Saltveit

Mark Saltveit

Mark Saltveit is a writer, skimboarder and dad who runs the website Taoish.org. He is the author of, "The Tao of Chip Kelly: Lessons from America's Most Successful Coach" (2013) and has written for Bleeding Green Nation (an Eagles blog), the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the Oregonian, Harvard Magazine, and Warp Weft and Way, an academic blog of Chinese philosophy. Mark is a Portland native, a professional standup comedian and the World Palindrome Champion.

  • ConsumerTrap

    Congrats on mentioning Harvard twice in your bio. Meanwhile, the Eagles will need a miracle to end up 7-9. 4-12 or 5-11 is more like it. Their talent is over-rated on offense and non-existent on defense. Chip to USC in two years?

  • Oregon Yucks

    Just like at Oregon, Chip ignored defense and kicking game. You can’t win championships without them.

  • Mike Pitzler

    A trip is not a fall. Chip aint easy to kill. He’ll figure things out and keep improving the team.

    I’d like to see more of Chris Polk. That’ll come too.

    • Keith Gilbertson

      Chris Polk sucks, and he sucked as a Husky. If you want to see more of him, start tracking CFL rosters.

      • Mark Saltveit

        He showed soft hands on receptions out of the backfield in training camp and preseason, and was a big facet for Kelly at Oregon. Of course it remains to be seen if he can hang with the people who have made their rosters.

        • BlindChow

          Vick needs to check down to Shady more often. On plays he holds the ball too long, McCoy is usually open in the flat, but Vick never even looks over there.

          • philliesfan136

            Please …… the last thing this team ( or us fans ) need to worry about is how many carries Chris Polk gets!

          • Mark Saltveit

            He did well against Denver, including a touchdown against their starters.

          • Mark Saltveit

            Good call. LeSean got, what, 133 yards doing this in game 2. Or not even so much a check down as a planned pop pass after the fake handoff.

  • Reef215

    “due to weaker offensive line play, erratic decision making by Vick, five sacks and five turnovers.”

    Isnt this the key? You can’t run the type of offense you want if your people are getting beat one on one

  • hokieduck

    Let’s remember here that the Eagles have played 3 games in 11 days. THREE games in ELEVEN DAYS.

    They started on MNF, played the following Sunday then the following Thursday. They wore themselves out with emotion during the first game, then lost one that they should have won due to Chip’s not knowing the NFL rulebook and absolutely unimaginably bad clock management in the second game. In the third they were exhausted and beaten to a pulp before the game even started and had to play against a team who was emotionally higher than a kite with the desire to win the “going back to Philly game” for Andy Reid.

    Chip will never make those kinds of mistakes again. Seriously his clock management in Game 2 had me yelling at the teevee. I was bragging to my friends that now they would see slow-down-Chip-style with the offense running to the line and setting so that D could not substitute then Vick would step back and look at the sidelines while the clock ran down and the Chargers had to take TOs.. My jaw hit the floor when they kept going full tilt.

    The Eagles badly need this 10 day break. Their defense sucks and Peyton will kill them. I just hope that the players stay on board with the schemes through this first quarter of the season. Thank God they play in the miserable NFC East.

  • hokieduck

    BTW. Perfect image of Chip for this particular story. Made me laugh. Ruefully, but laugh.

  • http://jezreel-israelisituation.blogspot.com/ Jezreel Guzman Hutton

    I say let’s give Chip a break to experiment and try things with the Eagles! First of all this is his first year with the team, second, he’s trouble shooting and distilling what works when and where so mistakes and errors are going to be made. His genius and determination will succeed in making the Eagles one ofthe best teams ever very soon and by that iI mean after this season. So let’s enjoy seeing the Eagles learning and becoming like true players (college football) as Chip has surrounded himself with people like Mr. Shumur and others who are working hand in hand with him. Let’s be patience as something new is taking effect on this team. I say this not as an Eagles fan because I’m not! My team is the 49ers, but as a lover of change and new things that need to be brought to the very much boring and rigid NFL!
    It’s time!