Ok, Birds fans, let’s take a minute and figure out where we are, how we got here and where we’re going.
It’s the Bye Week and here we are … 3-4 and miraculously still in the mix for a division title. Missed opportunities lay strewn in our wake as we look into a clouded future. The deeper we go into the season the further the balance tips from “if we can get some things straightened out …” to “maybe this team is just not that good”. The grumblings of the fan base are growing louder and louder as patience with Chip Kelly seems to be dwindling.
I know you’re angry.
Hell, I’m angry.
But, let’s make sure were mad at the right people, ok?
GM – Chip Kelly
Many wondered if Kelly had a plan in place as he eviscerated his roster in the offseason. The jury is still out on many of those moves. But, it hasn’t been pretty. If he truly did have a plan there were three developments in the offseason that were clearly not part of it.
First, Frank Gore backing out of his deal – this may have been a blessing in disguise as Gore isn’t exactly lighting up opposing defenses for the 3-5 Indianapolis Colts. But, it did force Kelly to find another back. That back was DeMarco Murray, who has looked like a very expensive square peg awkwardly perched in the aperture of a round hole.
Second, the departure of Jeremy Maclin – too often the 27-year-old receiver from Missouri has been lumped in with those that were sent packing by Kelly. Let’s get this straight, Kelly did not ‘get rid of’ Maclin nor did he ‘let him leave’. Depending on the reports you read, Maclin was offered somewhere around $11 million by the Eagles and took a deal closer to $13 mil from his old coach Andy Reid in KC. An offer of that magnitude makes it clear that, if indeed Kelly had a plan, Maclin was a part of it. Once he opted to head west, wide receiver became a draft priority, meaning that whatever they had planned for their first pick would have to be shelved in order to take a pass catcher who could step in and immediately contribute. Enter Nelson Agholor …
Third, the pursuit of Marcus Mariota – don’t kid yourselves, Kelly wanted his former QB … badly. When he studied the topography of the NFL and charted his course to a title, Chip decided to go through harsh and unsettled terrain that would require a vehicle designed specifically to handle the direction he had chosen. Through his first two seasons he had managed to ride the sedans, economy cars and the aging sports car that were here upon his arrival to some success. But, it was clear he had not found the All-Terrain Vehicle that his plans required.
Moving from Pick #20 to #1 would be unprecedented. When Nick Foles was swapped for Sam Bradford, it seemed like only the first step in a process that would bring Mariota to town. The fact that St. Louis did not include their pick (#10) in the deal made it clear that Bradford, a former first overall pick, would have to be the bait. When no deal could be reached, Kelly once more found himself behind the wheel of an inadequate vehicle, tethered to the wrong QB for his system yet again.
Now, the talk is about embattled San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick. He has begun to show some flaws after an eye-popping start to his career. While far from perfect, he may just be the best fit for this system. The question is if he is actually going to be available when the season ends.
Coach – Chip Kelly
There really isn’t much complexity in what Kelly does. The fast pace and the obfuscation of signals on the sideline create a heightened level of stress for opposing defenses and give broadcasters something to talk about. But, from an X’s and O’s standpoint, he hasn’t exactly reinvented the wheel. What makes his playbook work is a QB that forces the defense to account for him. Without the threat of a keeper going for big yardage, there is no option to keep the D honest and you are left with a very ordinary set of plays.
Coach Kelly has made some changes (simplified blocking schemes, Bradford under center, etc …) in hopes of making things work with the players he has. But, he has yet to find an effective rotation for his running backs and his offense has stumbled out of the gate in just about every game.
To make matters worse, he has continually diverted criticism away from himself toward his players and coaches. Say what you will about the man he replaced. But, Big Red knew how to protect his guys and they loved him for it. Every coach eventually loses the room. There’s no need to speed that process if you don’t have to.
Backing Bradford in his post-game press conference last week has elicited angry reactions from pundits and fans alike. He has to know how ridiculous he sounds. But, what is he going to do? Play Mark Sanchez?? We know who Sanchez is and it’s no better than what we have seen from Bradford.
Sam Bradford has gone from a big question mark to a massive disappointment. His statistics, overall and in specific situations like 3rd-Down and in the Red Zone, are close to last in the league across the board. He has looked more comfortable in the last few games. But, it is clear that his twice-reconstructed knee is still at the front of his mind and that means his read progressions are not.
If you are among those who are calling for his benching, you will be happy to know that Bradford is here on what amounts to a one-year tryout. If they aren’t satisfied with his performance, they can cut ties at season’s end. Before the season began, a story was leaked that the Birds had offered him a four-year extension and it was refused. Apparently, Bradford’s representatives felt they could get even more after a great season. Anywhooooo …
Running Backs –
After an absolutely dreadful start, the ground game has begun to show improvement. Ryan Mathews has shown flashes of brilliance, but it has yet to translate into increased touches. Murray, who was touted as the ‘one-cut runner’ that this scheme is built for, has been a no-cut runner. A staggering percentage of his rushes have gone for no gain or a loss and he has appeared visibly frustrated on the sidelines. Darren Sproles has been inconsistent, he seems to be aware that he is the wild card and may be pressing to make big plays with every touch.
Wide Receivers –
Listening to the beat writers fawn over Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor this summer, you would have thought that Rice/Taylor, Swann/Stallworth, Bruce/Holt and Clayton/Duper would be footnotes in league history by Thanksgiving.
As it turns out, they may have been slightly overrated.
The receiving corpse (yes … CORPSE) has been horrendous from top to bottom. Sure, they don’t exactly have Joe Montana throwing to them. But, the drops, the miscommunications and the inability to get separation are impossible to ignore.
Tight End –
Zach Ertz and Brent Celek have been solid. It seems like whenever a big first down catch is made it is by one of the TE’s. As with every aspect of the team, they could still be better.
Offensive Line –
We all wondered if the dismissal of Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis would create issues at guard. Early on, it did. As the chemistry of the new pieces has improved other problems have arisen. Injuries, specifically Jason Peters’ lower back, as well as Jason Kelce’s sudden propensity for premature snaps have raised some alarms.
Defensive Line –
One of the consistent bright spots, led by Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox, their ability to create pressure and fill running lanes has allowed DC Billy Davis to limit his blitzing and keep more bodies in coverage.
Cox’s monster game against the New Orleans Saints announced his presence to the league.
They continue to be effective in spite of a seemingly unending string of injuries, Kiko Alonso, Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans have all missed time. Without the emergence of third-round selection Jordan Hicks, it’s difficult to imagine where they would be.
Marcus Smith, last year’s inexplicable top pick, continues to set the team back with every disappointing thing he does.
Defensive Backs –
It’s been a long time since this was a strength for the Eagles. We’re not quite there yet. But, they have been worthy of note. Malcolm Jenkins leads a group that has been opportunistic (8 interceptions by Eagles DB’s). But, their 250.6 yards per game average allowed is in the middle of the pack.
Prize free agent Byron Maxwell has been largely disappointing.
Special Teams –
The season-ending injury to Cody Parkey created a vacuum that Caleb Sturgis has been unable to fill. His kick-offs are consistently returnable and his field-goals and PAT’s are far from automatic.
Donnie Jones has to be tired. His workload has lessened considerably after the first few weeks. But, he has continued to launch rockets that flip field position.
The coverage teams could be better on kick-offs. But, if they could just find a kicker that can put one through the end zone, none of that would matter.
The return teams which provided so much excitement last year and in the preseason have been solid, if unspectacular. Sproles’ 89-yard TD return against the New York Jets was the highlight.
What Lies Ahead
The most useless adjective in the English language when it comes to this team is ‘winnable’. So far this year, they are a frustrating (or a revealing) 3-3 in ‘winnable’ games. The final nine feature at least seven games that could be described as such. Wins in their three remaining divisional games will be vital if they plan to win the NFC East, which is their only conceivable path to the postseason party at this point.
Of course, it would be hard to imagine this team getting very far in the playoffs if they do make it.
Opinions on talk radio range from “this team could get hot and make a run” to “I hope they lose out and Kelly gets fired”. The fact is, until you see what Kelly can do with a QB that can effectively run his whole offense, you can’t dub him a failure. Can you question things that have happened under his watch? Yes. Could he be more forthcoming with the press? Sure, but don’t hold your breath.
Face it … Jeffrey Lurie’s is the only opinion that matters and he gave Andy Reid 14 seasons to exhaust all possibilities before parting ways. So, don’t go shopping for a new coach just yet.
In the meantime, it will take wins in six or seven of their last nine games to win this division and that means every facet of this team has to be better.