Sunday, December 1, 2013

Chip Kelly, The Escapist

My Job, Bruce, Not Yours
Today in a home game, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly pulled off what is quickly becoming a specialty of the house: the Escape Win.

In Escape Wins, you walk away with the victory, but something of a bad taste in your mouth. Your team did not win at the line of scrimmage, benefited from lucky plays like missed field goals by the opposition and fumble recoveries, or had your own terrible plays washed away by generous officiating, opposition "effort" or coaching asshattery. I don't really remember many wins like this in the Andy Reid Era, mostly because the Andy Reid Era was spectacularly short of luck, and distressingly conservative despite being pass and blitz-happy. Poor clock management tends to kill your shot at escaping with a win, after all.

Anyway, back to Kelly. By my count, the majority of his wins this year can be classified as Escape. In Week 1 in Washington, the defense held at the close despite a second half that seemed designed to show that Kelly's offensive innovations were easily diagnosed, even in mid-game. In Week 5 in New York, they lost a big lead, but escaped when Eli Manning turned into a turnover machine and back-up QB Nick Foles took advantage of a surprisingly passive Giant defensive scheme. In Week 6 in Tampa, a close game is broken apart late with the first effective use of Detention Offense, where the team still avoids the huddle, but stands at the line for extra time; not really an Escape, but as the Bucs were winless at the time and MRSA-ridden, it didn't seem like that big of an accomplishment.

Week 7 in Oakland is the anomaly for the ages, with the Raider secondary giving Foles his shot at history. Week 8 in Green Bay is another Detention Offense moment, this time against a third-string QB, while Week 9 at home was another Escape Win, with the big lead frittered away before the last minute save, again versus DC.

And then there was this game, where the Eagles used a +3 turnover margin, some highly questionable penalty calls that were in their favor, drops from the Cardinal  wideouts, the home field, the bye week and resounding health to squeak out a 3-point win against a Pacific team playing at 10am PST. And while it feels all kinds of wrong to look a gift win in the mouth, let alone one that happens in Year One of a coach who took over a team with 4-12 talent and attitude, it still falls in the realm of trying to see just what, exactly, we have with this club.

They are 7-5... but in at least  three, and maybe up to five, of those wins seem fairly random. (To be fair, so was the Charger loss.) On the plus side, they play from ahead -- a lot -- which does not seem like the sort of thing a smoke and mirrors team does. On the negative, they haven't really beaten a top-tier QB yet, and today's win was their first of the year against a team with a better than .500 record. The defense has clearly gotten better, and they held a team with outstanding WRs to 21 points today in a game where their offense kept having three and outs. The offense struggles mightily against teams with disruptive front lines, but that's true of most teams, and the ball security has been night and day from past years. The special teams generally do not get them beat, with P Donnie Jones in particular having a chance at post-season honors.

Here's the rest of the year. Next week, they host Detroit, then travel to Minnesota. They host the Bears, then go to Dallas. If they win out, they win the East, regardless of what Dallas does. The ceiling appears to be an upset playoff win against a superior wildcard team, then a Loss With Honor at Seattle or New Orleans. The floor would be a stretch collapse, which I'd call as 1-3 and an 8-8 year... more or less what we predicted for them at the start of the year.

And I still don't really know if they are good and getting better, or just lucky and getting luckier.

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