Chip Kelly Update: Gain, and Pain

Chip fist pump giants 1

from Video

Since last week, the Eagles won an important game against the Giants, did not give up a turnover, showed play-making ability on defense with three interceptions and took first place in their very weak division with a 2-3 record (they’re ahead of the Cowboys, who are also 2-3, on tie breakers).  DeSean Jackson was named Offensive Player of the Week for the NFC.

At the same time, Philadelphia lost starting quarterback Mike Vick to a hamstring pull, and they sorely miss starting safety Patrick Chung, who is out with a vague but “unique” shoulder injury (according to the coaches).  The red zone continues to be kryptonite to an otherwise mighty Philadelphia offense and the Eagles’ powerful running game vanished after Foles came in, just before halftime.  The offensive line and special teams, which looked so good on paper, have been erratic at best.  And this week they face Tampa Bay, a dangerous opponent with a very tough defense.

Vick after his hamstring popped

from video

Vick after his hamstring popped.

Let’s pause a moment to reflect on just how great Michael Vick is as a runner.  He’s 13th in the NFL for passing, but he’s 14th as a running back — better than half the league’s starting RBs, as I discussed at Bleeding Green Nation.  There’s a lot of talk about what a great year RB Reggie Bush is having at Detroit, but Vick is doing better, on running alone.  The Eagles’ QB has more than 300 yards, nine more than Bush on barely half as many carries. Vick leads the NFL in yards per carry (9.3) on a lot of attempts (33).

So, losing Vick will hurt the Eagles.  The Philadelphia press LOVES the “quarterback controversy” and writes that Foles “led the Eagles to victory.”  No.  They led 16-7 when Vick got injured and won 36-21.  If this was baseball, Foles would get a save, not a win.

Scribes immediately started asking if Vick might lose his starting job now.  No.  Chip was very clear in the post game press conference: Vick won the competition.  Reporters insisted, “Even if Foles played lights out?”  Fine, Chip grumbled. I suppose, if Foles goes 100-for-100 with 27 TDs, yeah, maybe.  Reporters: “So there’s a chance?”  You can understand why sportswriters annoy him.

100 for 100? Not quite

from video

100-for-100? Not quite

There are plenty of Vick haters on the Philadelphia comment boards, and it’s hard not to see a bit of racism in some of those comments (“athletic but dumb” – seriously, dude?).  The reality is that Foles is a solid NFL quarterback, but clearly finished second to Vick in their hard-fought competition.

The hidden benefit of Chip’s competitions, though, is that both QBs worked their butts off to learn this offense and got lots of reps with the first team players.  So Nick Foles is well prepared to step in for Vick.  He even got a couple of first downs and a touchdown on keepers out of the zone read in the preseason, admittedly against marginal players.

In the second half against New York, though, with Foles leading the charge, the Eagles’ running game vanished.  LeSean McCoy ended up with only 46 yards rushing for the game, though he had the same number receiving.  It was evident that Foles was not going to run, so defenders did not honor that side of the zone read.

Coach Kelly may have told Foles not to run.  After all, Vick was out with an injury and the team hadn’t activated 3rd-string QB Matt Barkley.  If Foles got injured pushing for a first down, who would have been the quarterback?  Slot receiver Jason Avant, who was last year’s emergency quarterback?  The 330-pound nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who often tosses 70-yard spirals in practice?  Not a good risk.

Sheil Kapadia, an incisive columnist at Birds 24/7, told me that he doubted this theory.  Foles kept the ball on one zone read (for a three-yard gain) and didn’t pass up any obvious QB runs.  The more likely cause was a defensive maneuver by the Giants called the “nut stunt” (described in this analysis by Kapadia), which center Jason Kelce admits he had trouble handling.

The real problem for Philadelphia has been the red zone.  The Eagles are 30th (of 32 teams) in converting possessions inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns.  Instead, they are kicking a lot of field goals – five against the Giants alone.  Alex Henery is second in the NFL in field goals made, trailing only New England’s Stephen Gostkowski, and New England is even worse than Philadelphia in red zone percentage (31st).  If Henery made just two of his three misses, he’d be ahead of Gostkowski, too.

You can beat the Giants three points at a time, but with Philadelphia’s Swiss cheese defense they are going to need touchdowns against better squads.  Nick Foles has so far done better in the red zone than Vick, which gives some optimism that he may be able to carry this team during Vick’s absence.

In fact, CSN Philly broadcaster Michael Barkann has proposed a dramatic solution: make Foles a red zone specialist – a closer such as Mariano Rivera, who comes in any time the Eagles get inside the 20.  The best argument for this is that Foles is better on anticipatory throws, tossing to a planned spot before the receiver makes his break.  Obviously, that is a huge advantage for the tight quarters around the goal line.

I like this idea, though it’s a radical change from NFL tradition and would risk insulting Michael Vick, a very proud man.  I’d love to see it tried, if it didn’t cause too much locker room dissension.  I’m not sure that Foles versus Vick is the red zone problem, though.  You could also argue that Kelly’s play-calling — with very few runs near the goal line — is at fault.

Kendricks! Interception, back to the Giants' 25!

from video

Kendricks! Interception, back to the Giants’ 25!

If you look at the entire New York game, instead of just red zone possessions, Vick scored on four of six drives while Foles scored on four of eight.  Foles had to punt twice as often.  (And how great is it that neither had a turnover!)

Yes, Foles had two touchdown drives and Vick only one, but it seems to me that the real difference was starting field position.  Foles’ TDs came on very short fields, due to interceptions; he started those drives on New York’s 25 and 38, respectively.  Vick had the only long TD drive for Philadelphia — he started on his own 29.

In other words, the real key for Philadelphia is field position and turnovers.  There is no doubt that this close game broke open when the Eagles intercepted on three consecutive possessions.  Philadelphia has seven takeaways in its two victories.  Duck fans were not surprised when Nick Foles threw a 25-yard touchdown pass on the very first play after that first interception.  That’s Chip Kelly style football: the momentum, the quick strike, the aggression.  If they keep making plays on defense, this could be a very exciting season.

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



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Mark Saltveit

Mark Saltveit

Mark Saltveit's newest book is "Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly's Football Revolution" (Diversion Books, NY) has been recently released. He is the author of "The Tao of Chip Kelly" (2013) and writes on science, religion, wordplay and political scandals. He is also a standup comedian and the world palindrome champion.

  • Mike Pitzler

    Good work, Mark. I don’t follow the NFL, but I like these reports on Chip. Did you say how long Vick is out?
    Sorry to be rooting for the other guys tomorrow, but I hope the Ducks the best for the rest of the season. You’re my second favorite team.

    • Mark Saltveit

      No one’s sure how long Vick is out. He did full practices this week, but told some reporter off that cuff that “it’s a long way back.” Hard to tell.

  • Ian

    Michael VIck is an awful QB. He didn’t even have a single completion through the entire first quarter of the Giants game. Foles numbers through 1 half of the Giants game were identical to Vick’s entire game against the Redskins. Vick is inaccurate, locks on to receivers, is mistake prone, and can’t see over his line because he is too short. The only QBs in the entire NFL with a worse completion percentage than Mike Vick are Eli Manning, Blaine Gabbert, and Josh Freeman. The Eagles will never win a Super Bowl with Michael Vick and starting Vick is just a waste of time. There is a 0% chance that the Eagles will bring back Michael Vick next season. Knowing that there needs to be a search for a franchise QB, Nick Foles should be named the starter for the remainder of the season. It is time to see if he is capable of being the Eagles future at the QB position. If Foles struggles, they should then allow Matt Barkley to play a few games to see what he can do. If neither of those two are the answer, then the Eagles must grab one of the many talented QB prospects in the draft. I would personally like to see Mariota or perhaps Hundley. The bottom line is that Vick should never play a snap for the Eagles again, because he sucks. It is not racist to say that, it is a fact.

    • Joss

      I agree completely. It’s insulting this so called sports writer even brought up the race card as an attempt to downplay or discredit criticism of Vick.

      I’ve watched him play for my Eagles since 2010 and what we’re seeing this season is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Vick based on observations alone. Just like I expect Romo to throw a pick at the end of a very close game in which he has a chance to close it out.

      Vikc is not a smart QB and has zero touch on any pass that isn’t a deep ball to DJ. Sure he can run but when was the last time a running QB won the superbowl? Kaepernick came close but couldn’t finish in the end because of the red zone and being forced to make a throw.

      Bring on Nick Foles.

      • Mark Saltveit

        What do you think of Barkann’s suggestion to bring in Foles any time they get to the red zone?

    • Dawkfan20

      Excellent post, and couldn’t be more true! I’ve been an Eagles season ticket holder for 19 years and see it in person every week. Vick is an athlete, not a QB. It has nothing to do w/ race, that is a lame attempt at revealing the truth.

    • Mark Saltveit

      You’re straining to make your point. Vick ran for 50 yards on the first drive alone, Shady was running well, and any coach will take successful runs over passes any time. Then, one minute into the second quarter, he throws for 12 and 24 yards, runs, hands off, etc. Both drives scored.

      Most people see QB rating as a better measure of quarterback strength than simple percentage completion — esp. since Vick throws long, as you note. Vick’s QB rating is 13th in the NFL. Manning, Gabbert, and Freeman are still the 30th, 31st and 32nd by QB rating.

      Vick is also second in the NFL (only to Peyton Manning) in yards per attempt, at 8.98. Not per completion, but per attempt. He makes the most of his passes. Foles just does not thrown the long ball.
      I’m not saying he’s the best in the league, but he’s not bad, and he clearly beat Foles in competition.

      • Ian

        I hope you watched today’s game. Nick Foles was awesome and connected on some nice deep throws. 22/31 for 296, 3 TDs, 0 ints, and he even added a rushing TD. His QB rating for the game was 133.3. This was against the same tough Tampa Bay defense that made Drew Brees look awful. Foles has accuracy, touch, and is a better decision maker than Vick. Foles biggest attribute is that he takes care of the football, which Michael Vick rarely ever does.
        By the way, LeSean McCoy ran just fine without the threat of a running QB. I find it interesting that Riley Cooper is invisible all season with Vick and then has a huge game with Nick Foles starting.
        I also believe that if Vick was 100% and able to play against Tampa the Eagles would have lost. Vick fails to anticipate receivers coming open and crumbles in the face of a blitz. Vick would have been sacked 5-6 times and finished the game with multiple turnovers. I don’t care that Foles runs like Herman Munster, he should start because he is just a flat out a better QB than Michael Vick.

  • Loke1988

    Oh wow Vick is like 16th in running! That and a bag of chips will get you a bag of chips. Speaking of Chip, he sucks so far too just like the QB he hitched his wagon to. You can have him back in FishDuck country.

  • Mark Saltveit

    I wrote another column digging deeper into the Foles vs. Vick red zone comparison which you can find here:

  • hokieduck

    I like your posts very much and read you elsewhere as well. I am a huge Chip fan and will always follow his career. That said, it is amazing to experience in person the meanness of the Philadelphia sports fan, as even reflected here. The legend of such simply does not do the reality justice.

    • Meanie Head

      You’re a jerk.