No one knew how Chip Kelly’s Eagles would respond after an embarrassing 48-30 loss against 3-9 Minnesota. The answer, it turns out, came in the form of stomping the living crap out of the Chicago Bears – a much better team – on national TV. With a minute and a half left in the first period, Philadelphia had 21 points and 149 yards of total offense; Chicago had zero points and four yards. And it never got better for the Bears.
Last week, I wrote that the Minnesota debacle was on Chip, for not getting his team ready psychologically, and for stubbornly sticking to some strategies that made sense but just weren’t working. In fairness, Chip also owns this victory in all phases of the game. Forget strategies — the Eagles simply crackled with focused energy and ripped Chicago to shreds, starting with good kick coverage and a Trent Cole sack on the first possession to force a three-and-out.
Kelly’s play calling was perfect, mixing the obvious (run against the NFL’s worst run defense) with cleverness (all sorts of pass formations, and a direct snap to Brad Smith which — guess what? — no one complained about this time). Unlike last week, the Eagles kicked deep to Chicago’s serious runback threat — Devin Hester — and smothered him so badly that the Bears resorted to trick plays, such as Hester pitching to Michael Ford for a seven-yard return. After the Eagles’ first touchdown, Bradley Fletcher stripped Hester on the return and Cary Williams recovered. The fact that those two starting cornerbacks were playing on special teams, in the absence of ST stalwarts Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman, is also vintage Chip.
LeSean McCoy ran for 133 yards and two TDs, but Bryce Brown and Chris Polk also scored touchdowns. This was the game where the versatility that Chip Kelly cultivates really started to pay off. Nick Foles, DeSean Jackson and Brad Smith ran from scrimmage, while LeSean McCoy and Chris Polk caught passes. Even Jason Avant finally started to contribute, getting a piece of the onslaught.
Chicago had the NFL’s second best offense, and Philadelphia shut them down almost completely. The defensive line was outstanding, suffocating a strong run game and sacking Jay Cutler five times (three by Trent Cole, alone). As the game wore on and Chicago wore down, the Eagles defense took over with a 3rd-quarter safety and a 4th-quarter pick six. After racking up three 100-yard games in a row for the first time in his career, Bear star RB Matt Forte ended up with only 29, and failed in his assignment to help block Cole, to boot.
Tommy Lawlor makes an excellent argument that this game was not a fluke: ”When you think about the win over the Bears, didn’t it feel like an Oregon game? The team built up a lead. They forced the opponent to play catch-up and were able to get a pick-6 from that. Then the team got a long TD run to close out the game. Even the final score of 54-11 feels like an Oregon score. Kelly got his Oregon teams to maximize their potential. Last night was the first time he’s had the Eagles maximize their potential.”
It was a good week for me, too, promoting the new, expanded version of my book “The Tao of Chip Kelly,” back in Philadelphia. The Eagles showcased an interview with me by Dave Spadaro on their website, and WCAU-10 (the NBC affiliate) did likewise.
As Chip Kelly said, the playoffs begin this Sunday for the Eagles, since the week 17 game against Dallas is the de facto NFC East championship game. Both the Cowboys and Eagles have already been eliminated from wild card contention, so the Eagles either go home or start the playoffs on January 4th or 5th as the No. 3 seed with home field advantage against a wild card team (most likely New Orleans or San Francisco).
Dallas will almost certainly be without the services of key linebacker Sean Lee and quarterback Tony Romo, who suffered a herniated disk in the Cowgirls’ last-second victory over miserable Washington. Of course, Minnesota was without star RB Adrian Peterson, and his strong backup Toby Gerhart, when they spanked Philadelphia two weeks ago, but this team seems to have learned the lessons of that implosion.
As Lawlor noted, the Eagles have been showing elements of strength all season, but this was the first game where they really put it all together. Chip added one more piece by giving Eagles fans a rallying cry last Sunday. A reporter asked why he didn’t rest his starters, since the game’s outcome was very unlikely to affect the Eagles’ chance of making the playoffs. Chip replied “We’re from Philadelphia. We fight. If there’s a game on, we’re playing. End of story.”
Up through the first Cowboys and second Giants games this year, the Eagles had lost 10 games in a row at Lincoln Financial Field, and home town crowds were lukewarm at best. Now, with feisty attitudes like Kelly’s, the Birds have won four straight in Philadelphia, and the crowd was intense throughout Sunday’s blowout win. This is no small advantage, since the Eagles will have home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs and possibly even the second.
More generally, Kelly understands that winning is a habit based on executing schemes at a high level. To make the playoffs, the Eagles have to beat the Cowboys – in Dallas — Sunday night. They wouldn’t have been too likely to do that in a high-pressure game if they were coming off of two losses with lots of rusty starters.
Now they have all the momentum in the world after a game where they finally put together all the different phases of the game and perfected the developments of recent weeks, including the split zone plays with sift blocks that have proven so effective lately.
Many Oregon fans will be gathered at J.B. O’Brien’s in Tigard/Durham for the showdown, which will be at 5pm Sunday, December 29th. (NBC flexed the Birds into the nationally televised night game for the second week in a row because, let’s face it, win or lose Kelly’s teams are fun to watch.) If you can make it, the place will be jumping.
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Mark Saltveit’s book, The Tao of Chip Kelly, has been republished in a revised and expanded version by Diversion Books of New York. You can find it at better bookstores everywhere (notably Powell’s and the Oregon Ducks store), on Amazon.com, and at www.chipkelly.tv.