Chip Kelly faces a big test in Week 3, when he squares off in a coaching duel against the man who knows the Philadelphia Eagles best.
Kelly will match wits with Andy Reid, the face of the Eagles for 14 years, on a short week in prime time.
The game will certainly make for interesting television, as the contest pits Reid against his old team. Reid coached the Eagles to nine playoff appearances in his tenure in Philadelphia but was fired after consecutive non-winning seasons, the last of which he lost 11 of his final 12 games.
Reid brings with him a 2-0 Chiefs squad that has already equaled its win total of 2012. Kansas City ranks third in the NFL in point differential (plus-17), trailing just the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, two teams that many picked to go to the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, the Eagles came back down to earth following its Week 1 upset of the Washington Redskins, but Kelly and quarterback Michael Vick still have the offense averaging 500 yards and 30 points per game.
That will make for one interesting game, and it’s fitting that the contest will occur on prime-time television in front of a national audience.
Lane Johnson vs. Justin Houston/Tamba Hali
Lane Johnson has a tough task ahead of him with the Kansas City Chiefs’ pass-rushing linebacker duo of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Houston plays almost exclusively on the left side, which will put him against Johnson in numerous one-on-one battles.
The talented Johnson is raw, but he held his own in Week 1 against Washington. He wasn’t as sharp against the San Diego Chargers, though, surrendering two quarterback hits and two pressures. His main strength comes in leading the way for LeSean McCoy in the running game.
Houston picked up 10 sacks and a Pro Bowl selection a year ago, and he already has three sacks this season. If Johnson does struggle, the Eagles can always slide veteran tight end Brent Celek next to Johnson. Celek actually played some right tackle in Week 1 when Johnson moved to the left side next to Jason Peters.
Cary Williams vs. Dwayne Bowe
In Week 1, Cary Williams was a godsend for the Philadelphia Eagles. He completely blanketed Washington's No. 1 receiver Pierre Garcon, limiting him to just one catch for nine yards on five targets. Williams recorded a diving interception and a pass defensed, meaning he yielded a 0.0 passer rating on throws in his direction.
Things certainly changed in Week 2.
Williams was torched all game by anyone he tried covering. Eddie Royal beat him for a 24-yard touchdown. Danny Woodhead caught three passes on three attempts. Malcom Floyd caught a 26-yarder on his only throw. In all, Williams allowed eight completions on nine throws, totaling 96 yards. That’s a 148.1 passer rating against.
Williams was also called for a ridiculous three pass-interference penalties, a performance you wouldn't expect from a corner on a three-year, $17.5 million deal.
Williams will have his toughest test yet in Dwayne Bowe, a 6’4” Pro Bowl receiver, who once hauled in 15 touchdown receptions in a single season. Bowe caught four passes for 56 yards and a touchdown last week against Dallas Cowboys corner Morris Claiborne.
What will make it easier for Williams is that quarterback Alex Smith is the master of checkdowns. Smith has completed 60 percent of his passes this season for four touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s also averaging a paltry 5.66 yards per attempt. The only quarterback with a lower mark is Jake Locker.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), 56 of Smith’s 70 passing attempts (80 percent) have traveled fewer than 10 yards in the air. Compare that to the elite quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers (68.2 percent) or Peyton Manning (62.4 percent). The Eagles Michael Vick (51.6 percent) also pushes the ball downfield with greater regularity.
That means Williams should be playing a lot of press coverage, expecting short passes to Bowe, and that’s an aspect in which Williams plays his best football.
Jason Kelce vs. Dontari Poe
The Kansas City Chiefs run a 3-4 defense with big 350-pound nose tackle Dontari Poe lined up at nose tackle.
Poe was last year’s first-round pick, and he outweighs center Jason Kelce by a good 50 pounds. Poe is having a tremendous season, having racked up 3.5 sacks in two games. He was at his best against the Dallas Cowboys, beating rookie center Travis Frederick for two sacks, while recording two solo tackles and three stops.
He currently ranks third among all interior defensive linemen in snaps played (131), which is remarkable given his size. He’s not merely a two-down player; his surprisingly impressive pass-rushing skills means that the Eagles will have to account for Poe on all three downs.
But Kelce is no slouch at center. In fact, he currently rates as the NFL’s best center, per PFF. The somewhat-undersized Kelce uses exceptional quickness to be a terrific run-blocker despite his smaller frame. The Eagles may be wise to have left guard Evan Mathis help out on Poe, or it could be a rough day for Michael Vick.
DeSean Jackson vs. Brandon Flowers/Sean Smith
DeSean Jackson has been arguably the biggest surprise for the Philadelphia Eagles this season. The two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver is playing with a renewed sense of energy, and thus far he has turned in two phenomenal games in 2013.
Jackson’s nine catches last week against San Diego set a personal high, and his 193 yards was the second-best single-game total of his six-year career. Jackson scored on a deep 61-yard touchdown pass, and he beat Charger cornerback Shareece Wright all game.
By @SheilKapadia's math, DeSean could have had 378 yards and Vick 613 if not for 3 plays that just missed.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) September 16, 2013
Brandon Flowers is an elite cornerback, and he’s graded out well every year in Pro Football Focus’ rating system. He got lit up a week ago by Dallas' Dez Bryant, and he faces another tough matchup in the speedy Jackson.
Over last 4 years, @PFF has never graded Brandon Flowers lower than 7th among CBs to finish a season. Defending Dez Bryant, Flowers = 111th.— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) September 17, 2013
The key to the game will be whether Jackson can beat Flowers deep. In Jackson’s lone game against the Chiefs (2009), he totaled six catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. Flowers covered him on only two of Jackson's targets that game, as teammate Brandon Carr and even linebacker Mike Vrabel shared the coverage duties.
Look for Jackson to again put up similar numbers. Flowers is one of the slower corners in the game, and Bryant straight up beat him deep on a go route last week. Sean Smith is huge at 6’4”, but he’s not known for his speed either, and Flowers has battled a knee injury that leaves him officially questionable for the game.
Chip Kelly vs. Andy Reid
Two of the smartest minds in football go head to head for the first time. Some analysts predict that Chip Kelly’s offense will revolutionize the league, but if there’s anyone who knows the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s Andy Reid.
Reid drafted LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson. He signed Michael Vick. Four of the five offensive linemen were handpicked by Reid. The only players on the offense chosen by Kelly instead of by Reid are Lane Johnson and Zach Ertz.
Reid knows Vick won’t slide. He knows Todd Herremans hasn’t been the same player since his knee injury last year. He knows of Bryce Brown’s fumbling tendencies, and that Vick struggles to recognize blitzes. It’s not as if Reid is the only one with that knowledge, but it still will be interesting to see how he uses his familiarity with Eagle personnel to his advantage.
Will either Reid or Kelly try to outsmart the other with a trick play? Will Alex Smith be exposed? Can Reid win a shootout with Smith as his quarterback? Will special teams make or break the game?
All these are intriguing questions that will certainly be answered Thursday night. The game may be one sided and it may not come down to a coaching decision. But these are two fairly evenly matched teams, so it could all come down to whether a coach goes for fourth down or kicks.