A demoralizing loss at home underscores the series of bad decisions Chip Kelly has made as both coach and general manager.
By Mike Diviney
The Philadelphia Eagles entered their Week 11 tilt with the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a golden opportunity. All they had to do to recapture the NFC East was beat a sub-.500 team playing on the road for a third straight week. The Eagles were favored in the game by 6.5 points.
Unlike the week before, when bad luck and a lack of concentration allowed a visiting Dolphins team to steal a game in which the Eagles had dominated, the Birds were trounced, 45-17.
It is useless to dissect the statistics and sequence of events from the game. The Eagles were physically manhandled. They played with no heart. They were unprepared. They squandered a golden opportunity and, in the process, dawned the darkest day in recent Eagles history.
Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston had all day in a clean pocket to tie a rookie record with five touchdown passes to five different receivers. Doug Martin ran over and through tacklers for an astounding 235 yards. When things started going badly, Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez simply added fuel to the fire, throwing three interceptions, and showing up locker-room (and fan) favorite Darren Sproles in the process.
Sanchez’s lack of leadership could have been more evidence of a team falling apart at the seams, but the architect of its ruin has surely been head coach and general manager Chip Kelly. After wresting de facto GM status from Howie Roseman in the offseason, Kelly’s bizarre moves have been a sequence of disasters. It is difficult to tell whether the Eagles’ failures are due more to a depletion of talent (Kelly the GM’s doing), or poor coaching.
Kelly’s core beliefs value “culture over scheme,” as he famously asserted last year. To value culture over talent is foolish, however. Strong culture is supposed to create team character that prevents players from becoming mired in disappointment when they lose. With each demoralizing defeat, Kelly’s own players underscore how he hasn’t delivered on that promise.
Kelly’s hubris led him to dismantle a team that had won 10 games in consecutive seasons. No one does that. Maybe an experienced NFL coach with a Super Bowl ring as a Head Coach on his finger could get away with that. A third-year college coaching convert who had shown zero ability to evaluate NFL-level talent has to be delusional to think that was a solid plan.
Save for adding an offensive lineman or two, Kelly should have concentrated on improving a defense that had faltered down the stretch last year. Instead, he cast out an inexpensive, Pro Bowl quarterback, a running back one year removed from a league rushing title, his top pass-catchers, and two veteran offensive linemen. He replaced them with rookies, injury-prone veterans, and reclamation projects. The ineptitude of what Kelly has wrought is truly astounding.
The departure of quarterback Nick Foles in particular is the most disheartening. Foles has not fared well in St. Louis, but he had been successful in Philadelphia. Kelly’s NFL record is 14-4 with Foles at quarterback and 10-15 with anyone else at the helm. Whether Foles could have won a Super Bowl here is unknown, but Kelly’s failed attempt to flip him for his Oregon protégé, Marcus Mariota, has resulted in a dramatic step backward.
Fans have no idea whether owner Jeff Lurie remains confident in Kelly. It seems likely that Lurie will at least have a conversation after the season regarding his role as GM. Given the unfounded confidence Kelly exhibited in demanding control of team personnel, it seems unlikely that he would being willing to forfeit any of his hard-won power.
When the weather turns cold and the wind starts to whip on the East Coast, NFL teams define themselves. For the 2015 Eagles and their coach Chip Kelly, the verdict does not look good. The penalty to be paid by the man who has orchestrated their descent has yet to be determined.