There are several obvious reasons why the Philadelphia Eagles have lost three straight games, and the play of the defense probably deserves to lead that list. However, most of us expected that transitioning unit to struggle with growing pains this season.
Far more surprising has been the declining results the Eagles are getting on offense.
After scoring 63 points in their first two games of Chip Kelly's inaugural NFL campaign, the Eagles have been held to only 36 points over the last two weeks.
Two weeks ago at home, the offense could muster only 16 points against a Kansas City Chiefs team that was 2-14 last year. On Sunday, it scored only 20 (with seven coming in complete garbage time) against a Denver Broncos defense that was missing its three best players from last season.
Kelly is supposed to be an offensive genius. He had 10 days to prepare for a Denver team that was on short rest, yet his offensive unit had just 13 points entering the fourth quarter.
What's happening here? Let's break it down.
Who Hasn't Dominated the Redskins Defense?
Kelly's offense has only really caused jaws to drop once in four games. Yes, it still scored 30 in that Week 2 loss to San Diego, but the uptempo attack only truly looked unstoppable in that Week 1 victory against the Washington Redskins.
Maybe that had more to do with Washington's defense being terrible than Philly's offense being special.
The 'Skins gave up 65 points in the two weeks that followed that loss. Through three weeks, they led the league in missed tackles by a wide margin, weren't getting a pass rush and couldn't do anything to prevent home runs.
With a banged-up defensive line, the aging London Fletcher in the middle and two rookies playing major roles in the secondary, we should have known that the Redskins would have trouble with that extraordinarily fast pace in Week 1.
Even the Eagles' Week 2 opponent, San Diego, is pretty bad defensively. Despite a strong performance against Dallas on Sunday, the Chargers still rank 21st in the league in points allowed and 30th in yards allowed.
The point is that soft opposing defenses might have inflated our perception of how good this Eagles offense really is.
Same Personnel, Same Problems
The Eagles are accumulating yards at a much better rate than points. In other words, they can't finish. This should surprise nobody, because that's a problem they've been dealing with for quite some time.
Last season, with the same quarterback, running back and No. 1 receiver, the Eagles ranked 15th in the NFL in yardage but 29th in points scored. That's because they found pay dirt only 44 percent of the time they reached the red zone, which ranked 28th in the league.
This season, with Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson still running the show on offense, they rank second in yardage but 10th in points scored. In the red zone, they're scoring only 42 percent of the time, which again ranks in the bottom 10.
Actually, we should have picked up on the clues that this was on the horizon during that dreamy Week 1 performance in Washington. Early on in that game, the Eagles were failing to finish off drives.
They were moving at a lightning-fast rate on their first drive, but that ended with a Vick turnover. Three of their next four drives brought them into Washington territory before suddenly stalling.
It's ridiculous that the Eagles are on pace to average more yards per play than any team this century and lead the league in 20- and 40-yard pass plays, but have been held to 20 or fewer points in half of their games.
Defenses are bending but not breaking against these guys.
When you consider that Vick is still the same mistake-prone quarterback who holds on to the ball longer than anyone else in football, that shouldn't be surprising. With Jeremy Maclin hurt, the Eagles are lacking a complementary starting receiver for DeSean Jackson, so it all makes sense.
Even after that magical Week 1 performance, we wondered if what we saw was sustainable. The early indications aren't positive.
Vick and McCoy have both suffered a pair of injuries already, although neither has had to miss a start yet. McCoy's workload has been intense, though, and Vick is being exposed to a ton of hits.
As a result, it feels like the Eagles are tiring themselves out, which is scary considering we're only one month in.
Vick continues to hold on to the ball too long. That was supposed to change this year, remember? As Kelly told the Philadelphia Daily News' Rich Hofmann, he hates sacks and blames them on quarterbacks.
Nevertheless, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has Vick as the only quarterback in the league who is taking more than three seconds to throw the ball this year.
With the offensive line in shambles last season, Vick was sacked 2.8 times per game. Now, the line is healthy, but he's been taken down 3.5 times per game. Unsurprisingly, he and his teammates are turning the ball over too often and his broad numbers have fallen off a cliff in the last two weeks.
Even within games, we're seeing consistent drop-offs. The Eagles are averaging 13.8 first-half points to only 11.0 second-half points, which either indicates they're slowing down a bit or opposing defenses are making successful adjustments.
Either way, it's bad news.
There's only so much Kelly's playbook can do to save a group of flawed, mistake-prone offensive players.
The Eagles have been penalized 31 times, ranking seventh in the league, and 74 percent of those flags have come on offense.
The receiving corps dropped four passes on Sunday in Denver. With Jeremy Maclin sidelined and the Eagles lacking depth at wide receiver, Vick might not have complete trust in who he's throwing to, and the offense is having issues against man coverage.
With this familiar group, the execution is lacking.
Something's Wrong with the Offensive Line
Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans are back, and the Eagles added a top draft pick to the offensive line in Lane Johnson. Things were looking so promising for this line only four weeks ago, but it has been worse statistically this season than it was while using a slew of reserves last season.
The per-game sack rate has increased, and its PFF pass-blocking efficiency rating has decreased. Therefore, Vick and his pass protectors definitely have to share some of the blame.
In fact, following Sunday's loss, Kelly told Philadelphia magazine's Sheil Kapadia that his finger was pointed at the pass-blockers rather than Vick:
I think Mike played well. I thought he threw the ball very accurately and I do know this, and we’ve got to address it: We have to protect him better. We’ve got times where he is at the top of his drop and he is sticking his foot into the ground and there’s pressure on him. That’s not on Mike. I thought he put the ball in really good places, I thought he kept drives alive with his legs and I thought Mike played really well.
I never thought I'd say this, but Kelly just wasn't aggressive enough in Denver.
As a mega-underdog, the Eagles had little to lose, yet they settled for field-goal attempts twice on 4th-and-4 in the red zone. They also punted on a 4th-and-6 from Denver's 37-yard line and kicked the extra point instead of going for two when down 14-12.
Kelly doesn't have to be the exact same coach he was at Oregon, and I do appreciate that he understands how important it is to adapt and find a happy medium, but he has to take some more chances.
I don't know if you'd call it conservativeness or just stubbornness, but it's also possible the Eagles are overdoing the whole run-first thing.
CSNPhilly.com's Reuben Frank questioned the team's reliance on the ground game:
I wonder sometimes if Kelly is too enamored with the running game. The Eagles keep running it and keep losing. I get that the passing attack is lacking weapons right now but down 35-13, I don’t want to see draw plays. I want to see a team go down chucking the ball up and down the field. Go down firing.
It just seems as though defenses have figured out what's coming.
No Help from the Defense
Yes, the offense has lost the element of surprise that was so important against Washington. However, it has also received significantly less support from the defense.
The defense caused three turnovers and gave up only 20 points against Washington, allowing Philly to control the pace offensively. Since then, it has registered only two takeaways and surrendered an average of 32 points per game.
That has placed extra strain on Vick and Co., which is never a good thing.
The good news is that Philly's next two opponents—the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers—are both currently 0-4. There's still a lot of time and space for the Eagles to dig out of what is becoming an offensive rut.
The expectations have sunk, which is probably going to make things a little easier going forward.
It's extremely hard for first-time NFL coaches to succeed in their first season, especially with teams that have developed myriad bad habits, so it's not time to panic just yet.
Still, it looks as though Kelly has a lot of work to do both schematically over the next three months and personnel-wise in the 2014 offseason.
Unless otherwise noted, advanced statistics courtesy of TeamRankings.com.
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