Chip Kelly’s squad turned in a dismal performance against a much stronger opponent, but still has a chance to win the division title in the coming two weeks.
By Mike Diviney
In the broader context of the NFC East, which could produce a 2015 divisional champion with a.500-or-worse winning percentage, Sunday’s contest between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals didn’t mean much.
The Eagles certainly played like it didn’t matter, period, turning in an effort that bordered on its historically poor defensive displays of Weeks 11 and 12. Philadelphia would have needed to turn in a nearly perfect performance to compete with Arizona, but instead surrendered four turnovers while netting none of their own. With sloppy defensive play, the team is fortunate to still have control of its playoff destiny heading into the final two weeks of the season.
The final score was 40-17 in a game that showed some of the worst tackling by NFL roster players. Cardinals rookie running back David Johnson, who only entered the game because the two backs ahead of him on the depth chart are injured, amassed 187 rushing yards and three touchdowns. On a 47-yard, first-half jaunt into the end zone, the Eagles made Johnson look like Jim Brown, as he broke about seven tackles.
After allowing Arizona to effortlessly move the ball down the field and score a touchdown on the game’s opening possession, the Eagles countered with a touchdown drive of their own. For much of the rest of the first half, the teams were evenly matched, trading scores and putting on a good show.
Down 17-10 with about a minute remaining in the half, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly gambled on a fourth-and-one inside the Arizona 10. With the Eagles scheduled to receive the ball to start the second half, the coach could have opted for a chip-shot field goal, thus preserving momentum for the third quarter. Instead he went for it, and lost.
The decision might at least have looked better in hindsight had the play been not so telegraphed, but the Cardinal defense sniffed out the run and blew it up. From there, although Arizona was just trying to kill the clock, the Eagles tackled so poorly that they almost allowed the Cardinals to score when they weren’t even really trying to.
After that, Philadelphia seemed to tap out. They mounted a couple of second-half drives only to turn the ball over on consecutive possessions. Quarterback Sam Bradford fumbled, as did running back Ryan Mathews, and then Bradford threw a pick-six to top it off.
The evidence of just how far offseason free agent acquisition DeMarco Murray has fallen in Kelly’s eyes was again apparent, as he was afforded just two carries and netted a total of three yards. The only thing Murray really has done well this year is convert short yardage, but he was not even on the field for the red-zone fourth-and-one.
Murray is now a $40 million albatross for the organization, and his contract and attitude absolutely will be a distraction going into the 2016 season—another example of how poorly Chip Kelly has performed as General Manager. It is the kind of situation that arises when someone with absolutely no credentials is given such a powerful position.
Despite a season that at times has been fraught with bitter disappointment, the Eagles still have a golden opportunity to win the NFC East if they can dispatch the rival Washington Redskins and New York Giants in subsequent weeks. The team has much to improve upon, but Eagles fans would enjoy a playoff appearance much moreso than not. A home playoff game will not erase Kelly’s terrible personnel decisions, but it is always better to make the playoffs than not, as the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants can attest.
Perhaps sensing the lack of urgency associated with the Cardinals game, or perhaps as a byproduct of lowered expectations, the normally boisterous Philadelphia home crowd was as subdued and lackadaisical as the team itself on Sunday. The Eagles have a weak 3-4 home record this season. Both the team and the crowd should be amped for next week’s critically important matchup.
The Redskins game will reveal whether Kelly’s voice still carries any weight in the locker room; whether he has succeeded in creating a culture that can motivate a team in big games; whether he truly is the smartest guy in the room. The answers to those questions will emerge clearly, one way or another, on Saturday night in South Philly.
Photo Credit: Steve Eng – https://goo.gl/6D58iY.