The Eagles fell to 0-2 on Sunday with a listless performance in their home opener against their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.
By Mike Diviney
After an uneven showing in Atlanta, the Eagles desperately needed a spirited effort and a win in their home opener versus the Cowboys. They got neither.
At the game, many fans who have attended Eagles games for decades struggled to remember a game in which the Eagles performed worse. It was as deflating a game the Eagles have played, possibly in their team history, and certainly in their immediate past.
The result was bad enough; the embarrassing performance by head coach Chip Kelly’s vaunted offense was worse. This was not just a bad offensive game, it was historically inept. The team amassed 21 total yards of first-half offense, including a rushing total of -14 yards.
The Eagles defense was the only bright spot on the day, playing with energy and pluck, especially early on. It is not a shut-down defense, and with the offense continually going three-and-out, it was miraculous that the team only trailed 6-0 at the half.
The defense recorded three sacks on the day and forced two turnovers, but the offense squandered every opportunity the defense provided, often in brutal fashion.
In the third quarter, Malcolm Jenkins returned a fumble to the Cowboys 25-yard line, and the team–and the crowd–roared to life. On the very next play, an ill-timed snap bounced off the body of an unprepared Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford, who could not find the ball, and Dallas recovered.
It wasn’t Bradford’s only mistake of the day, just the most devastating for its timing. After having driven the team down to the Dallas 1-yard line, Bradford threw a pass behind his intended target, tight end Zach Ertz, at the back of the end zone, and it was intercepted by Dallas linebacker Sean Lee. And so it went.
Eagles fans have struggled to find the bright side in the acquisition of Bradford, Kelly’s consolation prize in a pre-draft gambling streak that failed to garner his former University of Oregon protege, Marcus Mariota. Flipped to the underperforming St. Louis Rams for Nick Foles, Bradford has been advertised as accurate, despite a career completion percentage of less than 59 percent. His defenders have argued that percentage was due to a lack of offensive weapons with the Rams. In two games with the Eagles, the quarterback has been erratic, often throwing behind and over receivers, chucking four interceptions and losing a fumble.
More concerning, Bradford seems skittish on the field. Until he is able to perform consistently within the framework of Kelly’s offensive system, he will have a tough time shaking his reputation as a losing quarterback, which is what he always has been, and has continued to be in his first two games as an Eagle.
Bradford also has been hampered by the worst rushing offense in the NFL. Kelly has always predicated his offense on running the football and working in everything else in his system from there. After he took over personnel duties this offseason, the coach spent a lot of resources on two high-priced running backs: DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews–and then inexplicably cut both of his starting guards and replaced them with journeymen. The large contingent of fans who trusted in Chip so far have been let down to the nth degree.
There were stretches last year when the Eagles, hampered by injuries on the offensive line, were unable to run the football because they were playing with backups at key positions. Why Kelly cut starters and started backups, putting the team in the same position as it had been a season ago, is truly mystifying.
Kelly has intimated that the lack of running production during those games was due to former NFL rushing champion Lesean McCoy dancing around too much. So far, he seems to have been gravely misguided in that belief. Murray, last season’s NFL rushing champion, totaled an unbelievable two yards on 13 attempts on Sunday; Mathews had one carry for zero yards. In two games, Murray and Mathews are averaging 0.6 yards per carry on 25 attempts, or just under 22 inches per carry after their combined five inches per carry on 14 attempts Sunday.
The product on the field did not look any better than the stats indicate. The Eagles running game looks about as sophisticated as that of a mediocre high school team, and worse, the team seems not to grasp the design of the plays, running past oncoming tacklers to block opposing players who aren’t there. The running backs have a track record of demonstrating their talents, so the problem has to be the interior offensive line, which is Kelly’s doing.
The coach’s treatment of the outside receiver position also rises to the level of dereliction of duty on Kelly’s part. By cutting Pro Bowler Desean Jackson and allowing last year’s top performer, Jeremy Maclin, to leave via free agency, he left the Eagles with Riley Cooper and Josh Huff at those positions. The team has no outside speed to loosen up the defense.
Anyone how knows football at all could foresee these moves backfiring, and Kelly obviously knows some aspects of football. The question of why he would put himself and his team in this situation is unanswerable; however, as head coach and now personnel czar, he alone must answer it. The fans’ confidence in Kelly is badly shaken because it is clear how badly he miscalculated on his personnel evaluations. However, Kelly is known as an innovator, and their hope is that he can figure out a way to fix his offense–unless he simply pushed too much talent out the door to be able to salvage this unfolding disaster.
The silver lining is that the Eagles can only improve, basically because they can’t get any worse. They need to win a football game and build off that. The Cowboys have played two poor games, but nonetheless emerged with two divisional wins. They paid a high price for those victories, losing starting quarterback Tony Romo for two months and starting wideout Dez Bryant for the year, so Dallas will be hard-pressed to retain the advantage they’ve won.
None of that matters in Philadelphia, however, until its team, comprised as it is, wins a football game. If it doesn’t happen against the Jets this Sunday, it may already be too late for the Eagles to recover.