There is a lot of “conventional wisdom” going around about the Philadelphia Eagles these days. For example:
— Chip Kelly is an offensive wizard who doesn’t care about defense.
— DeMarco Murray is worn out and headed for a crash, while LeSean McCoy will be huge for Buffalo.
— All of the Eagles’ new players — Murray, Kiko Alonso, Ryan Matthews, Sam Bradford, Walter Thurmond, even Miles Austin — are injury-prone and won’t last long this year.
— Adult millionaire NFL stars won’t go for Kelly’s “college boy” hard-work-and-hustle mentality.
Almost all of it is wrong, or at best a prediction based on weak evidence. Specifically:
— “Chip Kelly is an offensive wizard who doesn’t care about defense.”
The Eagles were much better on special teams and defense than on offense last year. Behind McCoy’s decline, OL injuries and poor QB play, the offense sputtered (while still putting up impressive numbers).
The other two phases kicked ass, however. The special teams scored 7 TDs and were ranked No. 1 in the NFL by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. Meanwhile, the defensive line was rock solid, second in the NFL with 49 sacks. Their run defense shut down both Murray and Marshawn Lynch. And then Chip chose defenders with five of his six draft picks.
Unfortunately, the secondary was horrible: 31st and 32nd in the league the last two years. It’s not guaranteed to be great this year either, with Thurmond — who has never played the position before — at the second safety slot and either journeyman Nolan Carroll or rookie Eric Rowe at CB No. 2. But Chip picked up six new DBs, and they couldn’t be any worse. Even a moderate improvement — combined with the acquisition of monster playmaker Alonso at ILB — could make this a fearsome defense.
— “DeMarco Murray is worn out and headed for a crash, while LeSean McCoy will be huge for Buffalo.”
Dallas ran Murray far too many times last year, but “the Curse of 370” [snaps in a year] is a foolish myth, as I just explored in detail at BGN. DeMarco has under 1,000 career carries, and Ryan (“One-T”) Mathews and Darren Sproles will spell him this year. He’ll definitely rack up fewer than 1,800 yards this year, with 100 fewer carries (hopefully), but his YPC will probably go up and the Eagles running attack should be dominant. McCoy will probably see the opposite — many more carries than the 314 he had last year, but fewer YPC and a significant risk of injury with a bad OL and no QB to keep defenses honest by throwing.
— “All of the Eagles’ new players are injury-prone and won’t last long this year.”
The very concept of “injury-prone” is debatable. Some of the most “fragile” NFL players didn’t miss a minute in college or high school, and some of the most durable pros struggled to stay on the field in school. Chronic health problems tend to be soft-tissue injuries such as hamstrings, which the Eagles Sports Science department is very good at preventing.
Breaks and ligament tears, on the other hand, are largely random. Bradford, for example, has about a 6% chance of another ACL tear this year. That would be horrible, but it also means he has a 94% chance of staying healthy.
It is true that several of these players — Murray, Mathews, Alonso — play fearlessly and forcefully, and there’s no doubt that this increases the risk of injury. It’s also what makes them great at their jobs. Kelly was blunt about the fact that he wants two strong running backs because the one-cut runners he prefers get hurt more often. But they also fit his scheme better than Shady’s dancing, and he adjusts for that by having several good backs.
— “Adult millionaire NFL stars won’t go for Chip Kelly’s “college boy” hard-work-and-hustle mentality.”
This is the weakest myth of all, because it normalizes and encourages immature, self-destructive behavior by players. First of all, “adult” is a stretch, since NFL rookies are one year older than college kids, and most flush out before age 26 — especially those who spend their time nightclubbing and making reality TV shows.
More importantly, the best players in the NFL of any age — Darrelle Revis, Peyton Manning, Marshawn Lynch, J.J. Watt, Richard Sherman — work their asses off, studying tape, learning new moves, and haunting gyms.
They’re millionaires many times over, but their goal isn’t to get rich. Those money-grubbers are the ones who disappear after their first big contract. There are people in the NFL who will coast on their talent and do just enough work to stay in the league and maintain their lifestyle. But Chip doesn’t want them on his team, and that’s just common sense. It will make it harder to find the perfect players for his scheme, but to say that such players don’t exist is foolish.
Next week, I’ll be in Philadelphia for the release of my new book “Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution,” which discusses all of these issues and plenty more.
There will be a free, Eagles-themed comedy show at Helium Comedy Club in Philly, featuring me (yes, I’ve been a comedian longer than I ‘ve been a sportswriter) and several of Philadelphia’s funniest comics, plus a special guest or two.
6-7pm EST, Wednesday July 29. I’ll be signing books beforehand.
Here are a couple of radio interviews if you want to hear more about what Kelly is up to:
Next week, I’ll be on these shows:
Monday, July 27 — “Philly Sports Talk” with Michael Barkann, CSN Philly. Live at 5:40 pm EST
Tuesday, July 28 — “Breakfast on Broad,” CSN Philly, 7:35 am EST
Wednesday, July 29 — “Angelo Cataldi show,” WIP radio 94.1, about 8 am EST
Friday, July 31 — NBC TV 10 news, live at 11:45 am EST
Come by Helium on Wednesday and say hi!
Feature photo: From the cover of “Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution,” courtesy Diversion Books
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.
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