Monday, October 28, 2013

Second-Guess the Coach: Chip Kelly

Yesterday the Eagles laid their second straight egg, failing to score a point offensively and losing their 10th straight home game. The defense, which was supposed to be the Achilles heel of this team, played its second straight strong game. The offense, which was supposed to carry this team to any wins the Eagles got this season, which was supposed to be revolutionary, did absolutely nothing for the second straight game.

Yes, I know there are quarterback problems. But teams are scoring points with Terrelle Pryor and Geno Smith and Mike Glennon and Ryan Fitzpatrick and Thad Lewis, so over the course of two games, an offense should be able to muster something regardless of who the quarterback is. The Eagles haven't, and that brings me to my obligatory day-after-loss, second-guess the coach post.

Chip Kelly has made some, shall we say ... curious decisions in his first eight games as the Eagles head coach. Chip is a likeable guy. Chip has a lot of experience on a football field. There will naturally be some growing pains and a learning curve for a coach jumping from the college ranks to the pros. And he inherited a terrible team. There was a lot of roster turnover and glaring holes at a lot of positions, and it will take time for Chip to address these issues and to construct the team the way he would like to have it constructed. But as the baffling decisions begin to pile up, at some point they must be called out.

The first thing that bothered me happened before the game even began. It involved the week of preparation leading up to the game. It was pretty evident that Mike Vick was not 100%. Now I fully support the decision to start him. He gives you the best chance to win, and you hope that at 70% or so he can get the job done. Starting Mike is not my issue.

Quick story. I had some quarterback issues of my own on one of my fantasy teams. I had Andrew Luck on a bye and an injured Jay Cutler as my backup. I found myself needing a quarterback to play this week. I received a trade proposal offering me Vick. As I was mulling it over, the sender texted me asking if I was going to accept it. My response was, "Yeah, I wanna do it, but I'm scared that he will get hurt in the first quarter." I ultimately used the waiver wire to find a quarterback.

Now if I can see this situation coming from my couch in the suburbs, how can the coach of the team who is with the team all the time and is getting paid millions of dollars not see it coming? Why not do a near even split with the first-team reps in practice, knowing that there was a very real possibility that Vick wouldn't last the game, so that your rookie backup could feel that he had some semblance of preparation should he have to come in the game? It was a lack of foresight and preparation that I find baffling.

OK, so then the game starts. The defense is playing well; the offense is not. Even when they move the ball, the rookie quarterback does a rookie quarterback thing and messes it up. This brings me to the first of four in-game decisions that were curious, to put it lightly.

Your offense finally moves the ball. You reach first and goal from the Giants 2-yard line. You have one of the best running backs in the league. And you have a rookie fourth-round pick quarterback in the game. There is no reason why you wouldn't run the ball at least twice. Frankly, if you can't run for two yards you don't deserve to score anyway. But Chip decides to throw, the rookie quarterback holds on to the ball too long, fumbles, and you come away with nothing. I've spent the last 14 years yelling at my TV, "Run the bleeping ball!" when the Eagles were inside the 5-yard line. I got a new coach and with him a new hope that those days were behind me. Instead I was left there sitting and having Andy Reid flashbacks.

First drive of the second half, trailing 12-0, you find yourself in a 4th and 10 from the Giants 32. Chip elects to go for it, doesn't get it, turnover on downs. I believe in the postgame press conference he said something about the wind being an issue at that end of the field. And we all know that Alex Henery has been less than consistent this season. Even with those factors, personally I still would have sent out the field-goal unit. But I could understand your reservations, if you hadn't trotted out the same FG kicker the week before for a 60-yard attempt. Attempting a 60-yarder, which under most circumstances makes very little sense, makes even less sense if you are scared to send him out for a 49- or 50-yarder the very next week.

Around 10 minutes left in the game you run into a 4th and 4 from the Giants 47, now trailing 15-0. This time Chip decides to punt. He said his reasoning was because he knew the defense could get a stop. But that still doesn't make sense. If you fail to convert, you should still be able to count on that stop if you are so confident in it. And the reward of going for it and converting far outweighs the risk of turning it over on downs around midfield.

And finally, the onside kick. You finally score thanks to a gift from the Giants special teams. There are a little over four minutes left in the game. You have one timeout. Chip decides to kick the onside kick. Chip cited the fact that he only had that one timeout as the reason he felt the need to go for the onsides kick.

I couldn't disagree more. If you kick onside and don't get it, then even if you get the stop you need you will more than likely be pinned deep in your own zone. Now you have to drive the whole field, with a rookie QB and no timeouts, to try to tie the game. If you kick it deep and get the stop you need, you most likely get the ball somewhere between your own 30 and midfield, greatly improving your chances at getting the needed score score. Kicking it short also opens the door for the possibility that you do get the ball back, but only after the Giants have kicked a FG that puts the game out of reach. If you kick it deep, you eliminate that possibility because if they end up getting into FG range the game is already over anyway because of the time situation. Recovering an onside kick has such a low probability that there was really no upside, no reason, to do so in that situation.

It's far too early to make any kind of final analysis of Chip Kelly. Maybe he gets his feet under him, adjusts to some of the differences between the pro and college game, gets some of his own personnel in here, addresses the shortcomings this team has talent-wise, and becomes a very good head coach for the Eagles. He certainly has the potential. Or maybe these baffling decisions continue to pile up, the team continues to struggle despite upgrades in personnel, the team continues to meander its way through irrelevancy, and it becomes evident that the Eagles have made a mistake in their coach selection.

Whatever the Chip Kelly era ends up being in Philadelphia (and hopefully it's good because if not and the Eagles got this wrong then they are back at square one again), the in-game errors that in the first few weeks were dismissed as "rookie" head coach mistakes that would not be reoccurring have begun to lean toward being tendencies, and that is not a good sign for the Philadelphia Eagles.


  1. You didn't even mention the fact that he called a timeout with 1:14 left in the first half and had first and goal at the Giants 2. That's insane. Let that clock run … there's tons of time, and you don't want to leave time for the Giants.

    Then there's the going for 2 against KC, which was also crazy, among all the clock issues early on. He's got a lot of learning to do, that's for sure.

  2. True story. So many questionable decisions I can't even keep track of them all.