The roller coaster ride that is the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2013 season continues in Oakland this Sunday. Only after the club’s most recent dip against the New York Giants, passengers are wondering whether the cars have enough juice to climb another hill.
The Birds’ 15-7 loss in Week 8 marked the second straight game in which Philadelphia's offense did not score a touchdown and its starting starting quarterback did not finish the contest. Suddenly head coach Chip Kelly is experiencing for the first time the city’s impatience in full force, as there is a growing concern that the first-year head coach may be overmatched at the NFL level.
It’s much too soon of course. Kelly rightly cited instability under center as an issue during his postgame press conference, and let’s face it, he inherited most of the pieces on this Eagles roster. The man deserves some benefit of the doubt just nine weeks into his inaugural NFL season, and probably at least an offseason or two to cultivate his program.
Kelly no doubt has plenty of leeway from the organization right now, but the ugly manner in which the team lost the past two weeks cannot continue. Quarterback issues or no, there is some expectation that the offense will occasionally produce points—especially when the head coach is a supposed offensive mastermind.
The good news is the Eagles have eight games remaining to climb the big hill. The bad news is they might be in danger of coming off the rails.
NFC East Standings
|Dallas Cowboys||4-4||Last: 31-30 L @ DET||Next: vs. MIN|
|Philadelphia Eagles||3-5||Last: 14-7 L vs. NYG||Next: @ OAK|
|Washington Redskins||2-5||Last: 45-21 L @ DEN||Next: vs. SD|
|New York Giants||2-6||Last: 15-7 W @ PHI||Next: Bye|
Dallas Cowboys (4-4)
One bit of good news for the Eagles: they may be giving away the division, but Dallas keeps on refusing the charity. With a stunning 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 8, the Cowboys reprised their role as the team that finds new and embarrassing ways to lose football games.
An interesting note from that wild game in the motor city: the Lions’ 623 yards of total offense are the 13th most by a team in any game in NFL history (including playoffs). Apparently Big D doesn’t refer to the Cowboys defense these days.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-5)
The biggest problem with the Birds’ recent losing streak is timing. With both losses coming at the hands of division rivals, they’ve made it that much harder to win the NFC East and sneak into the postseason.
Then again—channeling Jim Mora here—playoffs!? Playoffs!? Peter King from Sports Illustrated called the Eagles the most disappointing team in the NFL, but that suggests expectations many did not share for this squad. Maybe playoffs just aren’t in the cards for Philadelphia, which is understandable coming off a 4-12 campaign.
Washington Redskins (2-5)
That Washington eventually succumbed to the Denver Broncos in Week 8 was no surprise to the rest of the division. With a 45-21 victory, Denver has completed a clean sweep of the NFC East in 2013.
What’s troubling for Washington is Robert Griffin III regressed once again after showing some signs of improvement the previous two weeks. The second-year passer completed 15 of 30 passes for 132 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, while running five times for just seven yards.
New York Giants (2-6)
Congratulations to the New York Giants for picking up their second win of the season on Sunday. Seriously. Eagles fans lose all trash-talk privileges for at least a few weeks after that disaster.
Based on back-to-back wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia, the G-men will run the table, sneak into the playoffs and win Super Bowl XLVIII in their own building, MetLife Stadium. Yep. Totally happening. That's my prognostication. (The Giants are still bad.)
Week 9 Opponent: Oakland Raiders (3-4)
Not the best opponent to help the Eagles snap out of their offensive funk—and on the road no less.
Oakland is ranked 12th in the NFL in points allowed (21.4 PPG) and 10th in total defense (330.9). The Raiders are particularly stout against the run, holding opposing rushers to 3.4 yards per attempt, perhaps signaling another long afternoon for All-Pro back LeSean McCoy.
Terrelle Pryor presents yet another challenge for Philadelphia...only on the other side of the ball. The Birds defense hasn’t faced a quarterback who's a threat to run since Week 1, and even in that game Robert Griffin III was returning from his offseason knee surgery. Pryor is tied for 18th among all players with 391 yards on the ground.
Pryor’s effectiveness as a passer has declined sharply in recent weeks, however, as the third-year player has thrown five interceptions in his last two games. Limiting big gains by Pryor on the ground and forcing the young QB to put the ball in the air seems like a sound strategy.
|S Patrick Chung||Shoulder||Inactive Week 8|
|QB Nick Foles||Concussion||Inactive Week 8|
|LB Jake Knott||Hamstring||Inactive Week 8|
|QB Michael Vick||Hamstring||Left Game Week 8|
At this point, the starting quarterback would appear to be Nick Foles—assuming he is healthy. It doesn’t appear Michael Vick will be ready for action any time soon, but Foles still needs to be cleared by an independent neurologist before he can return from the concussion he suffered against Dallas.
For what it’s worth, Fox 29’s Howard Eskin Tweets that Foles could be back at practice on Tuesday. If Foles is not cleared to return by mid-week, rookie Matt Barkley will presumably make his first career NFL start, while G.J. Kinne could be promoted from the practice squad to serve as backup.
Thankfully, there’s little else to report on the injury front for the Eagles. Patrick Chung remained out at safety this week, but rookie Earl Wolff hasn’t been a liability in his absence and may have taken over as the starter.
What Needs to Improve (Chip Kelly Edition)
Chip Kelly had been doing a fairly nice job up until the Eagles loss to the Giants, but you can lay that specific loss at the feet of the first-year head coach. Poor play-calling and questionable game management led directly to Philadelphia's defeat, and it won’t be the last if Kelly doesn’t start putting his players in better positions to succeed.
With that in mind, this week’s What Needs to Improve will be based entirely on things Chip can do to get back into favor with the Philly fans—not to mention the win column.
Stop me if you’ve heard me say this before, but for somebody who denied being a “system coach,” Kelly sure hasn’t veered too far off the beaten path.
When it comes to formations for example, Kelly prefers to go with three wide receivers, one tight end and one back—to the tune of 81.6 percent of the time, according to Paul Domowitch for the Philadelphia Daily News. Given that Philly wide receivers have struggled to get open, maybe Kelly and his offensive coaches should try going two tight ends? If nothing else, it might aid their sagging rushing attack.
Speaking of the Eagles’ running game, does every carry have to employ read-option tactics? Even when the quarterback isn’t a threat to keep the ball and run? Why not try handing the ball to LeSean McCoy on some plays where he hits the hole quickly? Maybe use tight end James Casey as a lead blocker like the Houston Texans used to?
Kelly was touted as an innovator, but we haven’t seen much in the way of adjustments during these recent offensive struggles.
Let’s try something different already.
Although he always takes the time to explain his decisions, there still seems to be no rhyme or reason to when Kelly goes for it on fourth down. On Sunday, the head coach eschewed a 49-yard field-goal attempt for an improbable conversion on 4th-and-10. Later in the game when time was slipping away, he brought at the punt team on 4th-and-4 from New York’s 47-yard line.
Obviously there is no such thing as a set of rules on when and when not to go. Yet at the very least, Kelly’s choices seem inconsistent, and pundits are beginning to question whether he has a feel for the game.
There’s no real way to measure improvement in this area. At the end of the day, these are judgment calls, so disagree with them all you like. Even for a coach who is said to be more aggressive than most on fourth down, though, it’s not that simple. Kelly’s decisions have been more unconventional than that.
I bet Eagle fans never thought there would be another head coach they would disagree with on time management as vehemently as they once did Andy Reid.
Kelly came under fire for attempting an onside kick with 4:11 remaining in the fourth quarter and one timeout left. Kelly’s explanation that the game was going to end unless they could stop the Giants regardless of where they were on the field made some sense, but it didn’t stop many from questioning the decision.
That was not the biggest blunder, though. His timeout on New York’s 2-yard line with 1:14 to go in the first half was strange, and it’s not the first time we’ve seen Kelly fail to milk the clock. His failure to use up time allowed the San Diego Chargers to mount a last-minute drive in the Eagles’ Week 2 loss.
So many NFL contests are settled in the final moments that every little second could be of the utmost important—from the ones that are used to the ones that are not. Here’s hoping Chip Kelly figures out how to get the clock on his side.