Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chip Kelly 's Game Mistakes

Yes, Yes You Do
When I left Tampa's Raymond James Stadium 15 days ago, I had seen the Eagles slowly but surely pull away from a home team that was coming off a bye. QB Nick Foles had created a QB controversy, RB LeSean McCoy had done damage to a respected run defense, and WR DeSean Jackson had a 2-TD game against a CB with one of the best reputations in the NFL. The defense hadn't exactly covered itself in roses, but it had held RB Doug Martin down and kept the Bucs from scoring a ton of points. The club seemed to be improving, and the East looked (and remains) terrible. A dream of a 10-win season and first-round home loss with honor was before us. I've had worse times.

Now, the team has lost back to back home games against division rivals, without an offensive touchdown. All three quarterbacks have played, none of them well. McCoy and Jackson are still healthy; other than that, nothing could can be said. The offensive line, presumed in preseason to be the best unit on the team, can't open holes in the running game any more, and the wideouts have utterly disappeared in press coverage. The tight ends, buttressed in free agency and the draft, are afterthoughts. Tempo has disappeared, turnovers have skyrocketed, and the hope that was pouring down like rain after the Washington game, and falling freely again after Tampa, is more or less gone. No one in town seems to think that they can win this week in Oakland, of all places, and if you gave them an over/under of 4.5 wins for the year, I'm thinking most people would take the under. (They are, by the way, 3-5. And still, somehow, in the NFC East race.)

One is compelled to remember now that this is a rebuilding year, that no NFL team looks good without a good QB, and that while the offense has been terrible in the last two weeks, the defense has done their best work. (It might be a mirage, of course: Dallas left a lot of opportunities on the table, and no one is confusing this year's Giants with a good team just yet.) But this isn't how Year One of the Chip Kelly Era was supposed to go. The Eagles were supposed to be bad early, improving later as the team got used to the system, with more and more offensive wrinkles added to the mix.

Two games isn't a lot, but eight games is... and the plain and simple fact is that Kelly has already put his name on any number of deeply questionable decisions. Here's the ones that come to mind for me.

1) In the San Diego game, QB Mike Vick is having a big day statistically. The team is driving for a go-ahead score, but a touchdown will make the Chargers have to score seven to win, rather than a field goal, and the defense has been terrible all day. With Vick sidelined for a play to recover from a hit and the team needing to score and run clock, Kelly has ice-cold backup Nick Foles throw a fade route in the end zone. It doesn't work, the Eagles settle for a field goal, and the Chargers win the game in leisure on a final field goal drive.

2) In the Denver game, down 21-13 in the first half, Kelly chooses to punt at altitude, rather than try a 53-yard field goal or go for it on fourth and fairly short. The punt gets little, and Denver more or less runs away with the game from the still-terrible Eagle defense in the second half. So much for the aggressive college coach?

3) Down 10-6 in the Kansas City game with the offense having ripped off a lightning-fast touchdown and the home crowd actually getting into it, Kelly goes for two with a swinging gate formation. It's stopped, and the momentum goes with it.

4) Against Dallas at the end of the first half, Kelly sends K Alex Henery -- remember, the guy he wouldn't give a shot at 53 yards in Denver -- to try a 60-yarder with 9 seconds left. He misses, and Dallas has time and timeouts to score on their own, but amazingly, QB Tony Romo doesn't connect.

5) Having received a gift touchdown from the Giants special teams to get back to 15-7 with 4:11 left, with timeouts still on hand and a defense that had been playing well, especially in the second half... Kelly calls for an overt and short onsides kick. The Giants recover easily, get a first down, and the offense doesn't get the ball back until there's very little time, and very many yards, left. New York closes out the win easily.

6) With the offense actually moving under shaky rookie QB Matt Barkley at the end of the first half in the Giants game, Kelly calls a timeout, rather than keep up the tempo. On first and goal, rather than give McCoy, clearly the best player on the team, a shot at the end zone -- and yes, the team had timeouts in case the rushing attempt didn't work -- he rolls out Barkley, who doesn't sense the rush, tries to make a play, and is sacked and stripped for the disaster turnover.

7) In the opening game and drive, with the offense ripping off yards and DC looking spent, the call is for a bubble screen to Jackson. DC blows up the play, but Vick tries to throw it anyway, and DC gets a gift touchdown off a backwards pass fumble. Rather than, well, give the damned ball to Shady. (Yes, we're now well on Year Three of wondering why McCoy can't get goal line carries.)

Think I'm making too much of in-game decisions? Well, there's this...

The Eagles lost just about every member of their offensive line last year. They also were down McCoy and Jackson and Vick to various injuries, with a defense that was constantly terrible. The special teams were worse. And yet, the offense never failed to score an offensive touchdown.

So either the offensive line is much worse now despite being much healthier, WR Jeremy Maclin was really the linchpin of everything... or Kelly's stuff just isn't working at this level. Or the opposition is just adjusting to it, and he's not.

We have, of course, eight more games to see if this is just a bad stretch, or worse, a bad hire. But if you want to build the case that Kelly's not cut out to win at this level...

Well, he's given you ammunition. Way too much ammunition.

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