Chip Kelly Update: An Ugly Turn of Events

Thurmond safety sack on Tannehill

The Philadelphia Eagles raced out to a 16-3 lead against Miami Sunday in what looked like the easy, hilarious victory that it should have been. Tight end Brent Celek, who usually just blocks these days, caught passes for 14, 20, 40 and 60 yards as he ran rampant across the middle of the Dolphins’ defense.

Miami has committed a series of mistakes that fueled its many losses this year, including safeties in three consecutive games, and it looked like that was continuing when they delivered the worst kick return ever.

Damien Williams caught Caleb Sturgis‘ kickoff eight feet deep in the end zone and decided to run it out anyway. That’s generally a bad idea but nothing too unusual. Then he dropped the ball and scrabbled around for a while before he was able to pick it up. Again, a mediocre level of failure.

Damien Williams: oopsie!

from video; NFL Game Pass

Damien Williams: oopsie!

What made this return special is that he then started running, hesitated right at the goal line, and fell on his ass untouched at the one yard line, where Mychal Kendricks quickly tapped him down.

On the very next play, Ex-Duck Walter Thurmond destroyed Ryan Tannehill’s lower back from the blind side (see featured photo), causing him to cough up the ball and out of the end zone for a touchdown.

Instead of being the exclamation point on a laugher of a win, though, it was a turning point in a horrible loss for the Birds.

After Philadelphia scored a final time, Miami came roaring back and beat the Eagles, 20-19, in Philadelphia. And a sense that this team might be starting to heal itself and make a run towards the playoffs evaporated in confusion and despair.

Chip Kelly has stuck to his guns in building a team of high-character players. But the payoff is supposed to be an extra reserve of mental toughness and teamwork that carries them through such games as this.

Like the loss to Washington late last year that knocked them out of the playoffs, this collapse calls that whole concept into doubt.

Football’s a violent, chaotic sport, and it’s arguably not that rational to be playing in the first place. Maybe hard work, positive attitudes and humility are not the stuff of victory.

Maybe family dysfunction, ego and weird resentments are actually a better fuel for guys who get paid a lot of money to risk injury on every play in the hopes of humiliating an opponent and calling his manhood into question.

Josh Huff fights through three defenders to get a first down

from video; NFL Game pass

Josh Huff fights through three defenders to get a first down.

The pain of this loss goes deeper.

Quarterback Sam Bradford, who was just starting to look comfortable in this offense, suffered an AC sprain (what we used to call a separated shoulder) as well as a concussion. He’ll miss at least two games and maybe more.

Ryan Mathews, the team’s most effective running back, also suffered a concussion. We don’t know how much time he’ll miss yet, but he appears to be further away from returning than Bradford.

The specifics of the loss are as dull as they are painful.

Sturgis missed another field goal (in a one-point loss), after making 11 straight. Replacement quarterback Mark Sanchez had a touchdown pass called back for an illegal shift and then threw an interception in the end zone. And the Eagles committed seven offensive penalties — three by center Jason Kelce alone — strangling several drives in their infancy.

The Eagles’ second blocked punt of the year led to an easy 12-yard touchdown drive for the Fins, and — for the second week in a row – the Eagles gave up a crazy touchdown pass.

This one bounced off Connor Barwin’s helmet, way up in the air — and back down into the arms of Jarvis Landry, in the end zone. He didn’t even need to raise his arms to catch it as three nearby Eagles defenders fell all over themselves. Literally. That was the winning touchdown.

The blocked punt and missed field goal were both partly the result of bad snaps. The Eagles worked out two long snappers this week after the loss, looking for a replacement for the suddenly erratic Jon Dorenbos, who has been reliable for the Birds since 2006.

Ndamukong Suh, Miami’s huge defensive lineman, utterly disrupted Philadelphia’s offense. He finally showed the production that Miami gave him a $114 million contract to get. His stat line was seven tackles, three tackles for loss, three QB hits and a sack, but doesn’t document half of his effectiveness in busting up Philly’s offensive plans.

Other opposing coaches have been able to play call around Suh, though. Miami was giving up 140 yards on the ground per game before Sunday game. The Eagles only got 83, as Chip quickly gave up on his ground attack and went to the air (throwing 48 times to 36 runs).

The move made sense on the surface, given that Miami’s two starting cornerbacks were out injured, but — aside from tight end passes — they didn’t do much better in the air.

Bradford kept throwing short, ignoring receivers open further downfield. Bizarrely, the Eagles stopped throwing to Celek even though he averaged 33.5 yards on his four targets.

More importantly, Philadelphia’s wounded and ultra-thin offensive line has been much worse in pass protection than on runs, and Bradford paid the price. Miami racked up an amazing 11 QB hits and 10 tackles for loss, along with 4 sacks Sunday. On one play, Suh crushed Mathews and surfed him like he was riding a boogie board.

Suh surfing Mathews

from video; NFL Game Pass

Ndamukong Suh surfing Mathews.

Kelly has had a tendency this year to abandon the run as soon as it stops working, like an eight-year old boy bored of a toy, instead of calling a mix of different run plays to get it working.

Given this offensive line, he doesn’t have that luxury.

The running game might not work, but the passing game didn’t either, in large part because the two QBs were getting killed and had to throw before routes developed.

This season could be going very, very wrong. The next game is against Tampa Bay at home, which you would think is an easy victory, but so was Miami at home. Then, four days later, they face Detroit on Thanksgiving.

Both could easily be losses, and then the schedule gets ugly with New England and Arizona looming.

Chip is in a very tough spot. He dug himself a hole by gambling that he could sneak by another year without bolstering his old and thin offensive line. He even cut Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis in a move that looked to be motivated, at least in part, by pride.

It blew up in his face as badly as could be imagined, and now the quarterback he gave up a second-round pick for is injured as a result. The team has a lot of young, unproven players at wide receiver and in the secondary, and none have really stepped up.

This is the third year of Chip’s five-year contract, and the team is heading in the wrong direction fast. Unfortunately, he hasn’t left himself with a lot of resources for fixing things, either.

Featured photo from video, courtesy NFL Game Pass

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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.