Chip Kelly's offense has stopped working. It's as simple as that. That high-powered Philadelphia Eagles spread attack that through the first six weeks of the NFL season ranked second in yards and fourth in points has scored zero touchdowns and only three total points in back-to-back demoralizing losses as the 2013 season reaches the midway pole.
On the surface, that would appear to be a baffling 180-degree turn of events, but the circumstances make it a lot easier to understand why an offense that was rolling has suddenly stalled.
Naturally, it starts at the most important position on the field. With even half-decent performances from their quarterbacks, the Eagles would have won each of their last two games and would currently lead the NFC East. Instead, Nick Foles, Michael Vick and Matt Barkley have all been terrible, making it almost impossible for Kelly's scheme to be successful.
Foles started last week in place of the injured Vick, but he suffered a concussion on the final play of the third quarter. Even before that, though, you could have sworn he was drinking and throwing. His receivers were open often in that 17-3 loss to the Cowboys, but he was missing them...
Foles completed just 11 of 29 passes before getting hurt, and only two of those 18 incomplete throws were dropped. It was an embarrassing performance. Maybe the second-year quarterback was shaken up from some early hits, and he was already less than 100 percent due to an apparent groin injury. Excuses aside, it was impossible for Kelly's offense to accomplish anything with that sort of ineptitude at quarterback.
The rookie Barkley relieved Foles for the fourth quarter, but he tossed three interceptions in his NFL debut. It was a tough spot for the third-stringer on a bad day at the office for the entire offense.
Those days sometimes come along, and the circumstances certainly merited a poor performance, but things were just as bad Sunday in a 15-7 loss to the Giants.
With Foles still sidelined, Vick returned after missing three weeks with a hamstring injury. But he was clearly not healthy, completing just six of nine passes for 31 yards, throwing a pick, taking a 12-yard sack and running only once for a single yard before re-aggravating said injury and leaving in the second quarter.
Thrown to the wolves for the second straight week, Barkley turned it over twice more and failed to put points on the board.
So again, the quarterback situation is a mess. Barkley wasn't supposed to take important snaps this early, Vick was struggling even before getting hurt and Foles is a huge question mark regardless of his health status.
“Right now,” Kelly said, per ESPN.com, “we’re unstable at the quarterback spot and we are not playing well at the quarterback spot, and we lost our last two games because of it.”
But lots of teams have quarterback problems, and almost all of them still manage to score more than three offensive points over a two-week span, especially at home against mediocre defenses like Dallas and New York.
Kelly undoubtedly deserves some of the blame here. This offense was built to move the ball on the ground, and running back LeSean McCoy is supposed to be the centerpiece. That was certainly the case during the first quarter of the season, but McCoy has since struggled. That's on him, but it's also on his coach.
I know the Eagles have been playing catchup, but they can't give McCoy only 33 carries in two weeks against division rivals, especially with the quarterback position causing so many problems.
The Eagles might have won Sunday's game had they kept it simple and gone to McCoy on a 1st-and-goal at the Giants 2-yard line in the second quarter. But Kelly instead had his deer-in-headlights quarterback throw a pass out of shotgun.
Barkley should have thrown the ball away, but he never should have been put in that position. The Eagles should have run the ball three or four straight times down there.
Kelly also deserves blame for not preparing Barkley with a heavy dose of first-team practice reps in the leadup to this week's game. Vick was listed as questionable, but even if Kelly was quite certain his No. 1 quarterback would start, he had to cover his tracks, keeping in mind that the brittle veteran had already missed 14 games the last three and a half seasons due to various injuries.
Asked after the game how many reps he received with the first-team offense in practice, Barkley said "Not many," according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
So the blame has to be shared by multiple parties, including McCoy and his blockers. After leading the league with 468 rushing yards and 6.0 yards per attempt during the first four weeks of the season, McCoy has failed to reach the 60-yard mark in three of his last four games. His yards-per-attempt average has plummeted from 6.0 to 3.4.
|LeSean McCoy, 2013|
|First four weeks||117.0||6.0||2|
|Next four weeks||66.3||3.4||1|
|Pro Football Reference|
I understand that they've been digging early holes and that the line has struggled to create holes, but McCoy simply has to be better.
There have been many occasions the last two weeks when McCoy just hasn't benefited from good enough blocking, like on this one-yard gain in the first quarter against Dallas:
But you'd really expect more from him in a few select spots. Also in the first quarter against Dallas, he picks up only four yards here despite a big opening. His mistake was going inside rather than outside:
And later in that game, I'm not even sure how he fails to pick up positive yardage with this type of opening:
“The box was the same count,” Kelly said, comparing the way the Giants defended the run from matchup one to matchup two, according to PhillyMag.com. “So there was still a hat for a hat. Sometimes we’ve got to hit it up in there and kind of take what they give us. There were a couple times we got it moving there in the beginning of the second half, but it’s not consistent enough for us to win football games.”
I don't doubt that it's somewhat more difficult for a running back to make headway on read-option handoffs from immobile quarterbacks, but that's a pretty weak excuse, too. In fact, if McCoy is struggling merely because he's been forced to run read-option plays with Foles and Barkley rather than Vick, it's an indictment on him and his head coach.
Great backs find holes regardless. But more importantly, great offensive coaches find room for their backs regardless. If Kelly's system doesn't allow his backs to succeed (read-option or not) without a mobile quarterback, then it's a farce, and the Eagles have much bigger problems on their hands.
Either they simply aren't responding well to adversity or the scheme is problematic. Or both. Regardless, it's an issue.
I realize that it's still not time to panic. The Eagles, after all, are one game out of first place. But there are strong indications that Kelly's system is far from unique or special at the NFL level. The running game is his bread and butter, but Philly's rushing totals have decreased in six consecutive outings, from 264 to 166 to 144 to 138 to 84 to 48.
Are defensive coordinators figuring it out already? And if so, what does that mean? Will Kelly have more up his sleeve or will he have to adapt?
The quarterback situation isn't going to improve this season, and thus the trajectory isn't positive. Halfway through his first season in the NFL, Kelly has yet to win a home game and has yet to defeat an opponent with a win in its record.
Kelly's been dealt a lot of lousy cards in his first year, but he's being extremely stubborn in regard to a scheme that isn't novel and is no longer working. If that doesn't change, this season will be down the drain very soon.