Chip Kelly was short lived in Philadelphia, having been released with only three seasons under his belt. While I think his firing was a mistake by Jeffrey Lurie and right-hand man Howie Roseman, there’s a chance that all is not lost.
After gaining control of player personnel last January, Kelly began capturing headlines by making moves eagerly watched under the microscope of Eagles media and fanbase. A lot of the moves made were highly scrutinized as they involved fan favorites, or seemed to be just flat out idiotic. Over this past year alone, the defense added five new players, and several that were new starters. The offense in the same amount of time gained six new players. It’s hard to believe that in one year there were 11 players that were completely new to the starting line up of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Like I said earlier, I believe Kelly was a lot closer than most would like to give him credit for. Alas, we will never know. Kelly had said multiple times that he “did not think he had a bad football team,” and he may have been right. Unfortunately, Kelly brought in a ton of talented players, but nothing translated to wins. Between injuries and execution, it seemed like they could just not catch a break this season.
Now the Eagles are on coaching search again and have a very limited room for error. However, there is small chance that the Eagles come out of this unscathed.
While Kelly seemingly ripped apart a “winning team” to bring in “his guys,” they have actually not been what he needed. While the defense proved to be all the right players in the first half of the season, they soon fell into a very deep hole that they never truly got out of. Whether it was wrong signings at inside linebacker, the second rounder not seeing field enough, Billy Davis’ scheme, or the big one: too much time on the field, the defense collapsed in the final eight games.
So the big question left here is, can the defense operate better under a new defensive coordinator and scheme? Maybe. The unfortunate part for Kelly was that the talent was actually there hidden in plain sight, with a 3-4 defense cloaking the talent underneath. If this same personnel group was moved to a 4-3 scheme, a lot of the problems seen this year could fade away. The major improvement would be in the run defense, as the Eagles have amazing defensive lineman that could really benefit from not having to two-gap on every play.
While Kelly was absolutely committed to the 3-4 defensive because of it’s ability to disguise blitzes and formations, it never really materialized as a scheme feared by the league. If the right coach comes in and makes this change, there could be little to no loss as far as building for the future. Players like Walter Thurmond and Nolan Carroll may not be returning, but Eric Rowe showed great promise and can play saftey if needed, especially with the buzz that surrounded JaCorrey Sheppard in the preseason.
Moving on to the offense.
Kelly was well into the process of building a very potent offense. After the major overhaul of a back to back top 5 offense, the numbers plummeted. There were major factors that went into this, but once again Kelly was the one at fault.
This biggest mistake of the season was losing Jeremy Maclin to the Chiefs, and failing to lock him up before free agency. Letting Maclin get a taste of what other teams could offer was just bad judgement. At the end of day, Maclin went after a familiar face and more money. No one can blame the guy for going after more money, it’s a smart move and boy did it pay off. But it also left a big vacancy to fill for Kelly for a second year in a row. While Kelly attempted to fill the need in the first round with Nelson Agholor, he never truly manifested into the player they expected in his first year. The Eagles went on to lead the NFL in dropped passes, while Maclin dropped one pass out of 150 targets per PFF.
The second big mistake was the failure to address the offense prior to 2015. The release of Herremans and Mathis had to happen but for entirely different reasons. Herremans was at the end of his rope, and that became apparent after he was benched then released midseason by the Colts. As for Mathis, there was an obvious disconnect between Kelly and him, as Mathis thought he was entitled to more money and pursued trade in both 2014 and 2015 seasons. Some will look past this and say it is not a big deal but he without a doubt would have been a lockerroom poison. Even if the Eagles got off to a hot start and were winning games, Mathis did not want to be there and who knows how easily that could have been triggered during the season. While no coach plans for a season like Kelly just endured, they do try to control variables when possible. Removing a potentially toxic player is understandable. However doing so without proper back ups is ill advised as Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin combined for the worst past protection duo in the NFL (PFF). Tobin also had the worse overall grade for Guard since 2007 per PFF. This paired with an oft injured Jason Peters really left the offensive line in a terrible spot.
Because of the shortcomings of the offensive line, new running back DeMarco Murray struggled mightily. Murray is an inside zone runner, meaning he operates best between the tackles in a North and South running scheme, which allows him to keep his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage. With the Eagles in a very bad spot as far as interior lineman, it forced Kelly’s play calling focus on outside runs where his tackles could make the key blocks and it also allowed the running back to get away from the bad blocking inside. Both Mathews and Sproles have a step on Murray, which lets them hit the edge quicker and get up field for positive gains.
Kelly has always been a run first coach, as the run sets up the pass in his system. With no consistency in the run game, the bulk of the responsibility fell on newly acquired quarterback Sam Bradford. The former Ram was coming off back to back ACL tears that left him out of league two years. This left Bradford out of touch with the pace of the game: no matter how many practice reps he took, nothing compared to live action. Bradford’s field of vision was also too narrow when he returned, as he needed to be on the field in live games to stay sharp, and there were plenty of mishaps this year because Bradford just didn’t notice defenders, and made the wrong play. Last but not least is chemistry and confidence, and these two are tied together always. As Bradford’s season progressed, he gradually improved because he was learning the tendencies of teammates and the becoming familiar with the playbook and gameplan. During the second half of the season Bradford really came into his own and showed that he still has what it takes to compete in this league.
Despite all of this working against Kelly, he was only a couple pieces away from things working out, and if a couple things go right, his replacement may reap all the benefits.
If the next head coach that comes in is able to retain Bradford, who is now not sure if he will return following the release of Kelly, then the other holes are very fixable. Nelson Agholor is to young to label a bust and Jordan Matthews was 3 yards away from a 1,000 yard receiving season. With Zach Ertz emerging as a huge passing threat the last month of the season there is much to look forward to in the passing game. A simple addition of a veteran receiver in free agency could go a long way. As far as the run game goes Murray and Mathews are beyond capable. With an addition in free agency and another in the first round of the draft the offensive line is very much repairable. If players like Joshua Huff and Kenjon Barner continue to grow and show progress there is hope for this offense much sooner than it may appear.
Kelly may have been on the right track all along and just never had time to iron out all the wrinkles. Either way if the next coach of the Philadelphia Eagles makes all the right moves and mean all the right moves, there is a chance that they can be successful as early as next season. However there is a very real chance that mistakes or wrong moves are made and leaves the birds in rebuilding for next two to four years.
All we can do now is sit back, wait and hope things unfold in the right way for our loved Eagles to find success.
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Photo: Dustin Bradford-Getty Images