Let’s call the Oregon Ducks’ football program the ‘father’ and the Philadelphia Eagles’ version the ‘son’. (Yes, Chip Kelly is the parent of both, but don’t overthink this metaphor into something creepy.) With all due respect for South Dakota State, both teams had their first real test this past weekend, and the family resemblance was striking.
Both teams were favored but started out unexpectedly shaky, trailing their opponents and seemingly unable to get their offenses moving at all.
Both started their turnaround by stiffening on defense, then exploded offensively as their opponent looked visibly tired and collapsed. The Ducks scored 28 unanswered points, the Eagles 34 — all in the second half.
The Ducks looked like they were on the ropes against Michigan State’s excellent defense, which Grantland described as a next-generation, improvisational defense equivalent to Kelly’s offenses. (I covered and wrote about the game for FishDuck here.)
At least Oregon had a worthy opponent – the Spartans were ranked No. 7 in the nation before Saturday’s game. Philadelphia had no such excuse, facing the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars — and yet throughout the first half, it looked a lot like they had found a way to lose a game no one could picture them fumbling away.
I say “fumbling” for good reason. Nick Foles’ evil, incompetent twin re-emerged for the first time since last year’s first Dallas game (though some might point to the Vikings or Saints games last year). Be that as it may, he was terrible, fumbling on the first two drives on strip-sacks after holding the ball about 20 minutes on each play.
Then, when it looked like the Eagles were on track again, Foles threw a terrible pick in the end zone. Beyond the turnovers, he looked indecisive and slow to react, missing multiple wide open receivers.
I was ready to see Mark Sanchez take over the first time Foles limped after a sack (and there were many), but Kelly wisely stood behind his starter – and it paid off in the second half.
As with Oregon, though, the turnaround began before the break with tougher first-half defense. On one particular drive, the Eagles gave a textbook example of the “Bend But Don’t Break” philosophy Chip picked up from Nick Aliotti.
The Jags drove for 12 plays and 62 yards, burning up five-and-a-half minutes of clock against an increasingly stiff defense. The Birds held them on third down at the 18 yard line, and then ex-Duck Brandon Bair — playing his first pro game after three years on the bottom of various NFL rosters — blocked the field goal attempt. (He also had a tackle-for-loss in an excellent debut that momentarily quieted the frequent cries of “Oregon bias!“)
J’ville had scored 17 points earlier, mostly after Foles’ fumbles handed them short fields. Cary Williams had a poor game at cornerback, giving up two touchdowns to UDFA rookie receiver Allen Hurns. In fairness, Hurns played for Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch at the University of Miami, so they were on the same page. (Miami bias!)
After the blocked field goal, though, the Jags sagged and by the second half they didn’t seem to have the energy to continue the fierce pass rush that had rattled Foles in the first half. The same could be said in the Oregon game, except that it took until the fourth quarter for the Spartans to lose steam.
This was not a great start for Philadelphia on offense, in fact, it was very ugly. But the defense looked great as Billy Davis’ 3-4 scheme really took hold. It was already better than anyone had reason to expect last year. Sunday, the concept of disguising who is going to rush really came into focus.
Everyone from Connor Barwin to Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry got in on the party. Curry and Graham looked comfortable dropping, Trent Cole got another sack, rookie Beau Allen rotated in at nose tackle without missing a beat and the entire unit displayed excellent teamwork and communication. It was a great sign for the year to come.
The offensive line, on the other hand, lost two starters to long term injuries. Allen Barbre (only starting in Lane Johnson’s absence) is out for the year and Evan Mathis will miss at least eight weeks with a torn medial collateral ligament (the little brother of the more famous ACL). Even that worked out in the second half; substitutes Andrew Gardner and Dave Molk looked great in relief, at least against the tiring Jaguars.
Next week will be a tougher test against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. But given that they looked terrible, the Eagles did pretty well.
Featured photo by Kevin Cline
Mark Saltveit’s new book, “Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution,” will be released in October by Diversion Books of New York.