Chip Kelly Update: Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth

Mark Saltveit FishWrap, FishWrap Archive, NFL

Last week the Eagles lost a tight game to a bad Miami squad, 20-19. And Eagles fans and reporters went crazy with despair.

This Sunday, the team was blown out by a bad Tampa Bay team featuring a rookie quarterback (Jameis Winston) who the Oregon Ducks destroyed just 11 months ago. If you thought the infamous Philadelphian negativity would expand exponentially after such a failure — you’re absolutely right.

I don’t want to even describe it all, because it’s infectious. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter. There are a lot of fans who’ve never forgiven Chip for releasing DeSean Jackson, even though he has a total of 146 yards this year and seems less interested in returning from injury than in filming his reality TV show and playing with his new baby.

There are many sportswriters (and TV sports journalists) who resent Chip Kelly just as much as he despises them. He cut off their inside sources, mocks them at press conferences and doesn’t pretend to respect their football judgment.

Besides the newsworthy drama they hope to generate in speculating that he’s “losing the [players on the] team,” or will leave it soon, this one is personal. Mere bloggers (gasp), or more precisely writers paid by the websites of newspapers (such as Jimmy Kempski and Eliot Shorr-Parks) instead of their legacy paper editions, have been out-scooping the 10- and 20-year veterans, and they don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong, the situation is bad. The Birds have just lost the two easiest games on their schedule, at home, and are headed to Detroit at risk of a three game trifecta of failure in front of a huge national audience, in the crappy game slot on Thanksgiving morning.

After that, they play New England. And Buffalo. And Arizona. It’s not inconceivable that this team could lose out and end up 4-12, as their final two opponents (Washington and New York) are division rivals on the rise and hungry for revenge.

But ultimately, there are only two people whose opinions matter. Chip Kelly, and owner Jeffrey Lurie. Lurie kept Andy Reid as coach for 13 (admittedly very successful) years. He’s not a quick trigger guy.

As for Chip, he’s pretty steady himself, but he has never faced this type of sustained failure before, and it’s fair to wonder how it’s affecting him. He was the offensive coordinator on a lot of U. New Hampshire teams with losing records, but his offense was setting records so the criticism was never aimed at him.

Kelly is a proud guy, and he clearly doesn’t love the media spotlight. Well, he’s certainly in it now. Some of his decisions and public comments have been puzzling lately, from seeming to blame players for losses (“Execution!”) to oddly listless play calling.

Josh Huff was a rare bright spot for the Eagles.

Josh Huff was a rare bright spot for the Eagles.

In Sunday’s loss, he went away from the run (despite averaging 5 yards a carry) and didn’t call Josh Huff’s number once after Huff’s first quarter touchdown, a 39-yard catch and run on a 6 yard slant.

Huff wasn’t even on the field again (except for kick returns, one of which he brought out to the 39) until garbage time, on a night when the team was desperate for offensive playmakers. Rookie Nelson Agholor stayed on the field instead — and totaled 3 catches for 11 yards.

Explaining that after the game, Chip was first surprised Huff had only 17 snaps, then justified it because Tampa Bay had switched to Lovie Smith’s beloved Cover 2 defense. Really? That was the most predictable thing about the game.

As Jimmy Kempski noted, Chip was announcing that he let the defense dictate his play calling, and the answer didn’t make sense anyway. Huff isn’t beating anyone over the top. On his touchdown, he made 6 Buccaneers miss on his way to pay dirt. One more safety hanging back wasn’t going to slow his roll.

It’s possible that Chip was involved in a high-level chess match that escapes everyone who watched. (If so, he lost decisively, strangely having no answer to Lovie’s ultra-predictable coverage.) But it’s also possible that Kelly is stunned or kind of checked out. We’re in uncharted territory here.

Thursday’s game against the Lions will give us a good idea of how much fight he has left in him.

Featured photo from video (Tostitos)

Note: the description of veteran journalists and their speculations was updated from the initial column for clarity.

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