Things are bad. Really, really bad.
The Eagles were somewhat cheered by a stronger second half against the Atlanta Falcons in their Game 1 loss, and hyped up their home showdown against the hated Dallas Cowboys with a cheeky video that poked fun at New Jersey governor and Cowboys fan Chris Christie.
Then they rewarded the large national TV audience with one of the worst offensive performances by any football team in years. How bad? This was the situation early in the fourth period:
[QB] Sam Bradford has 25 more rushing yards than all the Eagles RBs combined. Funny thing is, he only has 9 yards.
— Matt Mullin (@matt_mullin) September 20, 2015
In case you’re not big on math, that means that the Eagles three running backs, touted as a new “3-headed monster” to rival the great 2003 team’s trio, had a total of -16 yards. And in fact, the three ended the game at -2 yards on 15 carries; only Bradford’s two scrambles and a series of garbage time runs pulled them onto the positive side of the ledger as a team.
In the first half the Eagles ran just 21 plays — and five (nearly 1/4th) were punts. In the second half, they added a fumble, two interceptions, and a blocked punt that gave away a touchdown.
Chip Kelly has scaled his play calling way back and, in Game 2, abandoned the run after first down again and again — indicating a deep lack of confidence in his offense’s ability to execute.
The offensive line was atrocious, not just the two journeymen promoted to starting guards, but even Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce and future Hall of Fame tackle Jason Peters, who lost 25 pounds over the summer to improve mobility.
Tight end Brent Celek, who plays more like a pass-eligible lineman these days, looked terrible as well. Age might be finally catching up to Peters (33) and Celek (30), and there isn’t any OL depth left after two years of not drafting any.
Then there were injuries that knocked out their two best inside linebackers, a partial ACL tear to Kiko Alonso, and a hamstring pull for Mychal Kendricks. Aging star DeMeco Ryans looked slow and hobbled from last year’s achilles tear, but the team needs him desperately now.
Starting DE Cedric Thornton is out with a broken finger, and his replacement Taylor Hart, after playing his first significant role in a regular season game, has a shoulder injury that may knock him out of Sunday’s game against the New York Jets.
Oh yeah, did I mention that the Jets are the league’s hottest team, a team that boasts a crushing defense with 10 turnovers forced through two games?
If the Eagles expect their passing to take pressure off their sputtering run game, then QB Sam Bradford will have to beat a great secondary featuring Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist. And Bradford was shaken, inaccurate and bad at reading defenses Monday night.
What about the good news? Um, rookie ILB Jordan Hicks looked pretty good off the bench? Kicker Cody Parkey made a 46-yard field goal (barely)? The defense looked pretty good in general, and has excelled in the red zone? The Eagles might get a really high draft pick next year?
This is a weird year. The Seahawks, Ravens, Saints and Colts are also 0-2. Dallas barely won two games against bad opponents, and will now be without QB Tony Romo and star WR Dez Bryant (injuries) for at least 8 weeks. The Skins and the Giants remain terrible, so 6 or 7 wins might be enough to win this division.
But Kelly is getting out-coached, and his team looks ineffective and full of holes. Ex-Duck Josh Huff reported that he heard the Cowboys yelling out Philadelphia’s next play:
“I know a couple of times this past game when I was on the Dallas sideline lined up, I would hear them call out our plays,” he said.
“Not saying they were doing any SpyGate or anything like that, just saying with our tendencies that comes about where teams really focus in and hone in on how our tight ends are lined up or how we’re lined up or what the splits are.”
Chip has always had a limited play menu and counted on his players executing it more quickly and more effectively. But the execution isn’t there, and the running plays have dwindle to two — inside zone and sweep.
There’s no read option, and the other constraint plays — the pop passes, bubble screens, and H-reverse seen over the last two years — have vanished too.
Something similar happened last year when injuries on the offensive line (and perhaps undiagnosed concussions to Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy) limited the Eagles’ play choices.
San Francisco was also calling out plays pre-snap, and the Eagles offense didn’t score a point.
With two years of tape for opponents to study, he needs to be less predictable and find a way to punish teams who bet heavily that they know what’s coming. It’s not encouraging that in his Wednesday press conference, Chip dismissed that concern and blamed the players for not executing.
Pressure is building on Chip Kelly now, and this adversity will be a major test of his character. Chip assumed full responsibility when he took over as GM last year, but his dramatic off-season roster moves are looking shaky at best.
The Eagles have lost five of their last six games going back to last year’s late-season collapse, and there’s no reason to think it will get better any time soon.
Top photo from Video
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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