Saturday, December 20, 2014

Six Points On The Rush To Judge The Eagles, And Chip Kelly

Yes, Yes It Is
There is nothing quite like being near Eagle Fans when things aren't going so well. Pro football has been a staple of the local cuisine since the dim start of the NFL (Go, Frankford Yellow Jackets, Go!), but How It's All Gone Wrong And Who Gets Blamed is a sport here.

One which, it seems I am not immune.

So without any further ado, let's do...

Point The First: Why is everyone assuming that this team is going to win 11 games?

There are two games left, both on the road, both in the division. Later today, the Eagles play the Slurs of DC in DC, and yeah, they should win that game... but honestly, it's far from a lock. They are a .500 team with QB2 Mark Sanchez in the lineup, and that should be expected, because Sanchez is a turnover machine. The STs have not been nearly as dominant in the past few weeks, and while the defense tries hard, they still start two below-average CBs. It's far from a given.

Point The Second: Why is everyone assuming that 11 wins won't get in?

Dallas has to win both of their remaining games, and that's far from a given. Indy in Indy is a rough matchup for them, and DC in DC has been a historical problem. With RB DeMarco Murray nursing a surgical hand issue and the club having issues in home games, this is also far from a given. The wild-card ways in -- Detroit falling to pieces and blowing games against Chicago and Green Bay, or Seattle losing out -- really aren't worth talking about. (They also create the possibility of going to play against the NFC South winner. Be still, my heart.)

Oh, and if you win 11 games and don't go to the playoffs, Oh Freaking Well. If you aren't the best team in your division, getting into the playoffs isn't something you had a Divine Right to achieve.

Point The Third: There really isn't an answer to the question of whether the year was better than 2013.

The Eagles in 2013 rode a historically efficient QB performance, especially in turnovers, to overcome weak special teams and a poor defense to a division championship and home field loss. That club was fun, but it took advantage of a cupcake schedule and was never a real contender, because when push came to shove, opponents could just shove (i.e., run the ball). This club has amazing STs, a run defense that's actually very good, and an offense that can't stop turning the ball over, especially against good teams. It feels worse because it didn't play it's best football at the end of the year, like the 2013 team did, but it's probably not a worse team.

Point The Fourth: If You Must Worry, Look At The Drafts.

WR Jordan Matthews is going to be here for a while, and WR Josh Huff has had some moments mixed with disaster. First-round pick Marcus Smith has gotten some snaps at MLB and OLB, more due to injury than competence. He hasn't shown any indication that he's going to be good, but it's still early. CB Jaylen Watkins and S Ed Reynolds haven't been able to penetrate a porous secondary. NT Beau Allen has had more moments than DE Taylor Hart. And I guess you can also slide in K Cody Parkey to this class, seeing how he's also a rookie and was traded for in preseason. In terms of actual utility, the K is trumping the field.

Oh, and there's also this: Kelly's Oregon fixation hasn't really worked out yet. Brandon Bair, Hart, Huff and WR Jeff Maehl  are all ex-Ducks, and none have really set the world on fire. (We'll give him a pass for MLB Casey Matthews, who was here before Kelly.) And unless you want to overrate T Lane Johnson, Jordan Matthews, or erratic TE Zach Ertz... well, the nice part is that no one seems like an utter bust, but nope, no stars, either.

Point the Fifth: The Free Agents Have Been A Lot Like The Drafts, Actually.

The club has been able to add some nice pieces -- S Malcolm Jenkins and RB Darren Sproles alone could probably have gotten the Saints back into the playoffs by now -- but again, no break out stars. They've been able to make the STs great, which is a nice leading indicator, but the best players on this team -- T Fletcher Cox, LB Connor Barwin, LB Mychal Kendricks, WR Jeremy Maclin, T Jason Peters, TE Brent Celek and RB LeSean McCoy... well, they mostly predate Kelly.

Oh, and let's just not discuss the curious decision to sign and retain TE3 James Casey, or the whole Extend Riley Cooper, Dismiss DeSean Jackson problem. It makes me curl up into a fetal position, still. (Not that I'm so wrapped up in the idea that Jackson would have solved all ills, or that Cooper is the cause of them. Just that dismissing an asset with no return is Not Good. And that Cooper sucks. Sigh.)

Point the Sixth: No One Wants To Hear This... But There's Not Nearly Enough Data Yet.

No one is claiming that Kelly's offensive ideas are ludicrous any more. Tempo still works, as does the read option as a supplement. He's won a very solid number of games without a wildly mobile QB, without his defenses falling apart due to a lack of time of possession, or with massive injury issues from humans just not being able to stand up to this pace. Indeed, the club's single biggest point of what might be a true edge on the rest of the league has been the relative health of the roster in these two years. He's still got a puncher's chance with QB2, and a fairly bad amount of turnover luck / regression to the two-year mean.

But on the other hand, he hasn't really won outside of his weight class yet. This team still looks best when it runs up against clubs with shaky coaching or bend don't break defenses. Performance in the red zone has been lacking, where offensive innovation should theoretically matter more. Going from 9-3 with two home games and a chance to stay home for the playoffs can't become 9-5 and needing help, not if you're going to hang your hat on the idea that Kelly's a transformative coaching genius. And we won't even get into the defensive coordination issue of having no Plan B when your CBs are getting roasted -- no replacement players, no double teams, no matchup zones, etc., etc.

Next year, Kelly's going to have to try to win with QB Nick Foles again, in all likelihood. He's not going to have a clear killer draft pick, and even if he did, rookie CBs usually struggle. If you are dreaming of free agents to solve the issues, you should root for Washington.

In Conclusion... 2014 might be a disappointment, especially if it ends without a playoff game, or a playoff loss, just like last year. But Kelly hasn't lost the faith of management, or given off much of an air that the job is too big for him.

Things are going to be harder in 2015. And that's what the NFL is like, for, well, everyone...

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