Last week, after two straight home losses to bad teams in the easiest part of the Eagles schedule, I wrote that Thursday’s game against Detroit would tell us a lot about how much fight Chip Kelly has left in him.
Apparently, not much.
The Eagles lost 45-14, and after the game Chip had no attitude. He spoke in the hushed, grieving tones of a funeral reception, and maybe that’s appropriate. Those press conferences are often characterized by the bristling of egos on both sides of the podium. Now, though the media continues to kick the corpse of the coach’s pride, he seems at rest.
I’d rather he focus on building the team, connecting with players and scouting next week’s opponent. His stance that he doesn’t care what anyone says about the team has never seemed fully convincing, but maybe it’s true now. If he’s given up the fight against the press, that’s good news for fans, and the team.
The question is, does the team have any fight left for the actual giant football players licking their chops over an easy victory against this floundering team?
Philadelphia faces the league’s two best squads (New England and Arizona) in the next three weeks, with a physical Buffalo team in between.
Losing out en route to a 4-12 record is a pretty likely scenario, and the promise of good draft picks quietly undermines any attempt to rally and make a stand.
Let’s be clear.
While there are real questions about how hard (or well) some of the Eagles played Thursday, there were some legitimate reasons why Detroit had such an easy time. The Lions have plenty of talent and won 11 games last year, though they got off to a horrible 1-7 start this year before firing their offensive coordinator.
Now Detroit is on a roll, having won three straight games. It started with a big upset over Green Bay at Lambeau Field, where no road teams ever beat Aaron Rodgers. New OC Jim Bob Cooter (seriously) has emphasized run blocking, cut down on turnovers and brought a new aggressiveness to play calling, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Meanwhile, the Lions’ defensive line has shut down opponents’ running games during the recent rebound, while Haloti Ngata and Ezekiel “Love Is The” Ansah are inflicting damage on opposing quarterbacks.
Mark Sanchez fought through nine QB hits and six sacks, including 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble by Ansah alone. Sanchez threw reasonably well, but it’s hard to sustain drives when you get sacked on two thirds of them.
The Eagles, on the other hand, have seen injuries really pile up. Star ILB Jordan Hicks, QB Sam Bradford and RB Ryan Mathews were out for the game, and LB Kiko Alonso and center Jason Kelce were severely hobbled though they continue to play through knee damage.
Then it got worse.
Left tackle Jason Peters got his leg bent back and had to leave, CB Nolan Carroll broke his ankle and Josh Huff suffered a concussion after his first catch.
There are less legitimate reasons for the loss as well, though. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis lined 6’1″ rookie CB Eric Rowe — who he has been reluctant to play all year — against 6’5″ superstar WR Calvin Johnson after Carroll’s injury.
Guess what happened? If you guessed “touchdowns,” you’re right! Everyone in America except Davis saw that coming.
Rowe played pretty well under the circumstances and learned a lot, which makes you wonder why Davis didn’t trust him earlier in the season. As a reward, he gets to have Tom Brady pick on him in his second game with significant playing time.
The lack of depth on the OL and talent among wide receivers is glaringly apparent, and that is Chip’s responsibility for trying to slide by without investing much in either position group.
Nelson Agholor has simply not produced, and Kelly seems reluctant to call Huff’s number for mysterious reasons. Miles Austin is actually more hated in Philadelphia now than Riley Cooper, which is an amazing achievement. I thought he was a reasonable pickup as a combination mentor to young receivers and a 4th or 5th WR, but Chip has made him a primary target, which is painful to everybody, including Austin.
The anti-logic of the NFL dictates that the Eagles will play surprisingly tough against the 10-1 Patriots, who will be missing all-everything TE Rob Gronkowski and top WR Danny Amendola.
I’m not convinced.
Bill Belichick knows the rhythms of this league better than anyone, and Tom Brady, at last check, remains Tom Brady.
Hopefully Chip has redirected his fight from the press to the opposing team. I will be thrilled if the Eagles just play hard to the end of the game and keep within a couple of touchdowns.
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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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