It’s not exactly a bye week, but the Eagles’ compressed start to the season — 3 games in 11 days — has given them extra time to recover from the discouraging loss at home to Kansas City. So this is a good time to take stock of where Chip Kelly’s renovation project stands.
Here’s the short story:
The team’s talent is great (but very thin) on offense, and on defense it’s a jumble at best (up front), weak in the middle and terrible in the secondary. Really terrible.
The team’s attitude is pretty good. Players have bought in to Chip’s approach and are playing hard. Perhaps too hard — Tommy Lawlor thinks Mychal Kendricks is missing so many tackles (eight so far, to lead the league) because he’s playing too fast. Whatever the reason, the Eagles desperately need the missed tackles to stop.
Special teams were vastly improved in games 1 and 2, from returns to tackling, then fell apart against the Chiefs.
The coaching has been erratic, too. Billy Davis failed to adjust as KC’s Donnie Avery burned them throughout the game, even on an identical play (a cross under the coverage for big gain after big gain). Chip acknowledged mismanaging the clock and not knowing the substitution rule, in crunch time against the Chargers. More worrisome, he is abandoning much of his own approach to — apparently — play it safe, and losing in the process.
As I explained over at BGN, Kelly’s program is not just a play or even an offense, it’s a complete system with interlocking parts that reinforce — or undermine — each other. In this case, I argue that going for it on fourth down, as Kelly did 118 times in his four seasons at Oregon, is crucial for giving the defense a break. Obviously they get more rest if you make it, as the Ducks did 60% of the time, but even if you fail, your opponents’ drive will be shorter, whether they score or not. But with Chip kicking it 20/21 times on fourth down at Philadelphia, his already-struggling defenders face more and longer drives.
On the positive side, the offense is succeeding as well as anyone could imagine. Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and especially LeSean McCoy, are having career years, and the Eagles are racking up yards and points as well as at any time in their illustrious history.
Again, though, I worry that Chip is playing it too safe in a way that could cost him dearly. Vick and McCoy are being worked hard and hit harder. Each has already left games with minor injuries — McCoy is still limping on his sprained ankle from Game 3, and continues to run 20-30 times a game. He’s also on a pace to set the NFL rushing record, but that won’t happen if he gets injured.
At Oregon, Chip was very diligent about playing his bench to spell the starters and develop depth, but Nick Foles has seen only one snap — when Vick was injured. McCoy’s backups, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk, have seen few and no snaps respectively. At the very least, the bench needs to get in when the Eagles are way ahead, as they were against Washington, or way behind, as they might well be this week against Denver. They are going to get into games one way or another — at a time of Chip’s choosing, or — if they continue to be ignored — after the starters get injured. Let’s hope it’s the former.
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/
*Watch for a joint OREGON/EAGLE Video Analysis next Tuesday! For the bye week we have three analysts who are helping me look at the similarities and differences of the Oregon offense and the Philadelphia Offense. This will be fun!
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