Chip Kelly Update: Brutal

Matthews pushed out of bounds on final play

The Philadelphia Eagles suffered a brutal loss to the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, 24-20. But it was the good kind of brutal.

It was brutal because they nearly knocked off the team with the NFL’s best record (tied with Denver), the team that leads both the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers by two games. They nearly beat them in their home stadium, and only lost because of a terrible breakdown in pass coverage in the last two minutes.

Brutal because even after falling behind, they drove to the Arizona 16 with 13 seconds left, and had three shots into the end zone to win. Jordan Matthews actually caught a game-winning pass in the end zone (see above) as time ran out but was pushed out of bounds by safety Rashad Johnson. Just as in the San Francisco game, they lost knocking at the goal line, unable to get across.

Another angle on the final play

from video (NFL Rewind)

Another angle on the final play

Brutal because they did this without two of their great offensive linemen, without all-around-weapon Darren Sproles, and with their best middle linebacker out for all but 22 snaps. These players will all be back in two weeks; if they could have just held on a bit longer …

Brutal because two of this year’s biggest problems — red zone failures, and giveaways — lost them a second game, and for once the defense and special teams couldn’t bail them out. These problems both point squarely at quarterback Nick Foles, who threw two easily avoidable interceptions. One was in the Arizona end zone, on a first down at the 25. Foles’ failures have been steady all year, though their nature has changed a bit.

He is not missing as many open receivers as earlier in the year. In Glendale he connected on two 50+ yard passes, one of them a beautiful touchdown strike to Jeremy Maclin. I asked coach Kelly after the game if he was encouraged by the success going long, which had been missing previously.

“No, I don’t care about that. We lost the game, so I’m not concerned about that.”

My intuition told me it was not a good time for a followup question.

Foles' TD to Maclin, 54 yards, perfect

from video (NFL Rewind)

Foles’ TD to Maclin, 54 yards, perfect

Despite that improvement, Foles is throwing a steady two interceptions a game, and not fluky tipped balls that someone grabs, either. One was eight feet behind his targeted receiver, directly into the arms of a cornerback, and Chip confirmed that Riley Cooper ran the correct route. We’ll see what happens when he has a full offensive line protecting him again, but the hope from last year that Foles might be a franchise quarterback is fading fast.

Still, for all of that brutality, the Eagles just barely lost on the road to one of the league’s best teams. Nick Foles threw for 411 yards, 187 to Maclin alone, and LeSean McCoy ran for a solid 83 yards on 21 carries. This is a dinged up team that should be largely healed in two weeks, though starting guard Todd Herremans tore his biceps muscle and is questionable. Since the next game is against Houston, with Jadeveon Clowney back to join J.J. Watt, that could spell serious trouble.

This was a well-played game with five bad mistakes that handed Arizona the win. Two were Foles’ interceptions and two were “X-plays” (explosion plays), the long breakaway touchdowns the defense gave up. Josh Huff got his first significant minutes, often spelling Riley Cooper out wide at the no. 2 WR position, and did some good things. On first and 10 at the Arizona 19, Huff caught a short pass, and broke a tackle athletically. As he raced for the end zone, though, he didn’t tuck the ball in tight, and Cardinals DE Frostee Rucker stripped it away from behind.

Huff (circled) fumbles near the goal line

from video (NFL Rewind)

Huff (circled) fumbles near the goal line.

Arizona recovered. After the game, coach Kelly said that Huff ran the wrong route, too. But he went back to the rookie later in the game. This is Kelly’s coaching style. Back in the 2011 Ducks game against no. 4 LSU, he refused to bench or blame true freshman De’Anthony Thomas, who fumbled on two consecutive Oregon plays in a close loss. In fact, on Foles’ first interception, he was throwing again to Huff who had good position in the end zone, but the QB threw a short, floaty ball that was easy pickings.

I’m not worried about Huff. He played well otherwise, and when I interviewed him after the game, he seemed to have the right attitude — downcast, admitting his mistakes and determined to go back Tuesday and work on fixing them. He looks set to keep returning kicks, playing on special teams and rotating in at various receiving spots. He was even in on the crucial final drive for two plays out wide as the no. 2 receiver.

Huff’s fumble wouldn’t have mattered except for the terrible defensive breakdown with 1:33 left, when speedy rookie receiver John Brown caught a 75-yard bomb. Cornerback Cary Williams didn’t play his man deep enough and safety Nate Allen bit on a double route, but whatever, it was inexcusable. Arizona was down 3 on its own 25 with 90 seconds left. That is the ultimate prevent defense situation, and no move should fake the safety out of deep coverage.

On the other X-play, Larry Fitzgerald ran a short slant on an all-out blitz and took it 80 yards. The play was made possible by a pick on safety Malcolm Jenkins by Cardinals WR Ted Ginn, Jr. Chip Kelly is not one to complain about referees, but earlier, rookie Josh Huff had been penalized for a pick on an identical play going the other way. Ginn’s pick was ignored.

Here’s what it looks like when Chip is upset about a call (and a loss). After the game, he says nothing. Next day’s press conference, he says measured things like this:

Yeah, the penalties in that game were on both sides. They had 10, we had 11 — that were accepted. I think it was just one of those games where we’ve got to understand how the officiating crew is officiating a game and play accordingly to it.

Then a reporter asks him directly about that apparent difference in calls between the two teams’ pick plays. Watch the fireworks:

Q. About the pick play, did you ever get an explanation on what the difference was between Cardinals WR Ted Ginn, Jr.’s and WR Josh Huff’s?
CHIP KELLY: We did not get an explanation, no.

Q. You never got an explanation on the Ginn one?
CHIP KELLY: No, did not get an explanation.

Q. They were very similar type plays?
CHIP KELLY: Seems like it when you look at the film.

OK, that’s not exactly Hoosier coach Bob Knight throwing chairs, but believe me, that is Chip being furious about a call. He is seething.

As Kelly says, though, you’re allowed 24 hours to celebrate or be upset about a game. Then it’s on to the next one: Houston, Sunday, at 10 a.m. Pacific Time.

Top photo from video, courtesy of NFL Rewind

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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.