Good teams find ways to overcome talented opponents or bad officiating. Bad teams find their own flaws exploited by them.
By Mike Diviney
Last Sunday, the Eagles fell to the lowly Washington Redskins, undone in the closing minute by a touchdown connection from pedestrian quarterback Kirk Cousins to Pierre Garcon.
Although that score made the final count 23-20, the game had already largely been lost in the first half, in which the Eagles were shut out. The team seemed unprepared and lethargic for the third time in four games in which it had been favored, failing to effectively run the football or commit to a running game.
The Eagles won the only game in which they committed to the run, and in their losses, have quickly abandoned the running game if it proved ineffective early on.
It seems illogical for Kelly to have signed a running back like Demarco Murray, whose value lies in wearing down a defense as a game goes on and then limit him to 10 carries a game. It is one of many mysteries surrounding the decisions made so far by Chip Kelly.
The Eagles are a mess of a team right now. The question is whether Kelly the GM or Kelly the head coach is responsible for this. The answer, of course, is both. The team lacks talent in key areas, and Kelly is not getting the best out of the players he still has. For his part, Kelly continually blames poor execution, an argument that overlooks the fact that he had players who executed his vision well for two prior seasons and then cut or trade virtually all of them. His simplistic offense seems to have been solved by opposing defenses, and he has yet to adjust his scheme. A team cannot play two quarters a game ineptly and expect to win many contests, no matter their opponent.
Kelly’s core belief is playing offense at a breakneck tempo. When the offense is not able to generate any first downs, it simply leads to punting the ball back to the opposition, time after time, as the Eagle defense is worn down, exacting a hefty toll as the season progresses. Kelly has said repeatedly he does not care about time of possession, but the Eagles defense is not good enough to play 42 minutes a game, as they did Sunday, and continue to stop opposing offenses. The Redskins ran about 20 more plays than the Eagles did Sunday. In Kelly’s offense, that lopsided total is supposed to work in favor of the team he is coaching.
Without a running game to speak of, the Kelly has put all his eggs in quarterback Sam Bradford’s basket, and the quarterback has been mediocre. Bradford showed glimpses of ability in the second half at Washington, throwing long touchdown passes to Miles Austin and Riley Cooper and a shorter touchdown to Brent Celek on a play in which he nimbly avoided a Redskins pass rush. Kelly may have tried to make use of this demonstrated ability to complete long passes, but he called no such plays in the first three games.
The Eagles special teams unit, a strength last season, has been plagued by offensive inconsistency. After kicker Cody Parkey foundered, the team inked Caleb Sturgis, whose career field-goal average is 77 percent. On Sunday, Sturgis missed a 32-yard attempt and an extra point, squandering four points in a game the team lost by three. It was the second time in four games the Eagles did not get the help they needed from the kicking position, outright costing them wins. Sturgis will get another chance Sunday against the visiting New Orleans Saints, but the genesis of Kelly’s faith in Sturgis is unknown.
The Eagles defense has played relatively well, but has thus far proven incapable of making a big stop in key moments. It has had the good fortune of forcing a fair amount of takeaways to mask some deficiencies and injuries, but the defenders were unable to force any turnovers against the Redskins, and haven’t mustered much of a pass rush, having produced just six sacks in four games.
Something different sinks this Eagles team every week: conditions that signify a bad team. You can’t replace every player on the roster or fix so many different things—play-calling, offensive line play, kicking success, defensive sturdiness—at once.
Even those fans who console themselves with what-if’s (“If one or two things had gone differently…”) are being disingenuous. Such is the margin between victory and defeat in the NFL: good teams find ways to overcome talented opponents or bad officiating, and bad teams find their own flaws exploited by them.
Should the Eagles beat the Saints on Sunday, they will keep hope alive in an underperforming NFC East; a division in which they have already mustered an 0-2 record against their rivals. A team that must salvage its season twice in the first five weeks does have much hope of improving its fortunes as the season progresses.
If this roster is to achieve anything positive this year, it must get better now. The weight of forging that improvement out of the players he brought here is squarely on Chip Kelly’s shoulders.
Photo: Eagles Coach Chip Kelly and QB Sam Bradford. Credit: Keith Allison. https://goo.gl/mdj6AB.