September 29, 2015

SHATZMAN | The Problem With Chip Kelly’s Eagles

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The Eagles escaped MetLife Stadium with a win on Sunday afternoon, defeating the Jets, 24-17, and avoiding the organization’s first 0-3 start since Donovan McNabb’s rookie season. A win is a win — especially on the road — but the Eagles didn’t look much better than they did in the opening two weeks versus Atlanta and Dallas. And beating the Jets — a team missing two key offensive weapons in Chris Ivory and Eric Decker — isn’t exactly awe-inspiring.

Philadelphia established an early lead thanks to a punt-return touchdown by Darren Sproles and a boneheaded lateral attempt by Brandon Marshall in Jets’ territory that ultimately resulted in a turnover and an Eagles touchdown. Marshall himself called the play “the worst play in NFL history.”

The Jets finished the game with more first-downs and total yards than the Eagles and Philly didn’t score a point in the second half. Chip Kelly called it a “gritty win.” Kelly should feel fortunate to have one win, because through three games, his inventive, new-look offense has been a failure.

I thought that the Eagles would be title contenders this season. So did a lot of people, like NFL maestro Adam Schefter, who picked the Birds to win the Super Bowl. With two winning seasons under his belt, head coach Chip Kelly’s unique approach to the NFL seemed to be paying dividends.

Kelly was given oversight of player personnel decisions; he had become both the Eagles’ head coach and the Eagles’ G.M. And even after Kelly released DeSean Jackson and Evan Mathis — both multiple time Pro-Bowlers — traded LeSean McCoy — a three-time Pro-Bowler — and let Jeremy Maclin — fresh off of his first Pro Bowl – sign with Kansas City, for whatever reason, it all seemed to make sense.

“This is the Eagles’s year,” my friend John told me, admiring the life-size gold statue of Chip Kelly that watches him sleep. I’m exaggerating, but the point is this: There was a ton of preseason hype surrounding the Eagles, despite the fact that four of their star offensive talents from the past few seasons would be wearing different uniforms in 2015.

If Chip thought a move would make the team better, then it probably would, right?

Kelly’s fast-paced offense thrives when the defense is reeling and the chains are moving. But through three games, the Eagles rank second-to-last in the league in yards, averaging just 19.3 points per game. In 2014, the Birds averaged just shy of 30 points per game. The Eagles offensive line has struggled. Why was Evan Mathis — one of the best linemen in the game — not resigned?

Protection is always crucial, but even more so in Kelly’s offense in which the goal is to run as many plays as possible. A string of three-and-outs can result in major time-of-possession discrepancies. Against the Cowboys, the Eagles had the ball for 19 minutes and 35 seconds, while their defense was on the field for 40 minutes and 25 seconds.

Philadelphia’s young receiving corps has been an issue, too. The receivers have failed to generate consistent separation. It’s only week three and the NFC East is as wide open as any division. But after three games of bad offense, Chip Kelly needs to hold someone accountable. He owes Eagles fans.

Kelly’s postgame media sessions do little justice. It’s like watching a Bill Belichick press conference: sometimes sarcastic, often standoffish responses that — in Kelly’s case — provide little reassurance to a loyal-yet-concerned fan-base. Belichick’s success has earned him the right to address the media in the way he chooses: Concern or disappointment among Patriots fans is rare, because the Pats’ have been excellent for the last 15 years.

But Kelly’s insistence that the offense simply needs to execute does not suffice when the 2014 rushing leader, DeMarco Murray, has 11 yards on 22 carries through two games. A lack of explanation isn’t fair to the diehard Eagles’ fans who accepted the departure of four key players because they trusted their coach. The least that Kelly can do is be upfront with the fans and media by providing some insight on the team — something to be excited about, reassurance that a turnaround is coming.

With a 1-2 record, the Eagles are in fine shape to compete for the NFC East title. But the Eagles are almost always in contention for the division title. Eagles fans want more: They want a Super Bowl victory. It’s time for Chip Kelly to prove that his team is better off without LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Evan Mathis — or at the very least, to give faithful fans a reason to believe the Eagles are better than they have played through three games.

He owes them that.

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