NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA – For the second week in a row, Eagles coach Chip Kelly had to stamp out a brush fire set by an unhappy player.

This time, it was rookie wide receiver Josh Huff. On Tuesday, Huff expressed frustration over being inactive for Sunday’s game in San Francisco. Huff injured his shoulder in the preseason game at New England on Aug. 15. He has not appeared in a game since.

“I guess they [the coaching staff] saw something that I didn't see,” Huff said on Tuesday, “but as far as I'm concerned, I've been ready for about a week and a half."

A week ago, Kelly was defusing comments made by cornerback Cary Williams about the Eagles’ practice regimen. This time, the coach was pretty direct in countering Huff’s version of events.

“We’ll see how he trains this week,” Kelly said Wednesday. “He wasn’t ready to go physically or mentally last week. He knew that. We talked to him, told him on Friday that he wasn’t going to be active on Sunday. We’ll see how he goes through a whole week. Last week was his first full week practicing, and then [he] didn’t actually practice all through Wednesday. We’ve got to make sure he’s 100 percent healthy, physically and mentally.”

Huff, a third-round pick from Oregon, would have to move past Jeff Maehl or Brad Smith, both as a wide receiver and as a special teams player, in order to be active for a game. Kelly often says that backups have to earn their playing time on special teams.

Huff returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the preseason opener in Chicago. That certainly earned him a leg up on the competition. But Chris Polk had a 102-yard kick return for a touchdown against Washington, so the Eagles aren’t hurting there right now.

“He’s still a rookie,” Kelly said of Huff. “He came back last week on Wednesday and practiced. He got hit a little bit and missed some time in practice. It was the first time he really took a shot on that [shoulder]. So we made the decision on Friday that he wasn’t available. We’ll see how he practices and trains this week.”

Nick Foles: 'I know how to fix that'

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Foles knows.

The Eagles' quarterback has some excuses. The offensive line is banged up. The running game has not been remotely as effective as it was last season. There are explanations for the offense's ineffectiveness Sunday in San Francisco.

But Foles also knows that, as the quarterback, he's the one guy who can erase many of those issues. Make a perfect throw here or a good read there and a quarterback can change the entire tone of a game.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsNick Foles completed 21 of 43 passes for 195 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions against the 49ers.
"I definitely missed some throws that I want to hit," Foles said Tuesday, as preparation began for Sunday's game against St. Louis. "That's something I'm going to work toward this week. My job as quarterback, when that ball's in my hand, is to deliver the ball where my receivers can catch it. There were a couple times I let it out there a little bit too far. We were close on a couple.

"It's all things we can fix. That's what's exciting. I want to hit every pass perfectly and I'm going to work toward that this week. I've got to be a little bit more accurate and I know how to do that. I've thrown a football for a long time."

Foles threw a dozen deep balls, defined by ESPN Stats & Information as traveling at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, against the 49ers. He completed zero of those attempts. Two were intercepted.

Those were the kinds of throws Foles excelled on last year. DeSean Jackson was his target for some. But Riley Cooper was also good on catching those deep throws. Cooper has not been as reliable a target this season. But Foles dismissed the idea that he's missing Jackson, who was released in a surprise move by the Eagles in March.

"No," Foles said. "I think I'm just overthrowing them. I'm letting the ball fly a little far. You've got to make a mistake to fix it. Looking at the film, I was a couple yards too far on a few of them. I know how to fix that and I know how to throw them."

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is seeing the same things on the game film.

"We've got to just clean up," Shurmur said. "Everybody's got to clean up their fundamentals. Everybody's got to do a little better job of doing what they do and I think it will come together. I think Nick's played steady this year. We've all got to get better."

Foles certainly put things together on the 90-yard drive that ended one yard short of a go-ahead touchdown. But earlier, Foles just seemed a little off on many of his throws.

"There are certain times when we call a deep-to-short type concept, where he looks deep, and if it's there, take the shot and if not, you bring it down to a shorter receiver," Shurmur said. "And then there are other times when we are calling horizontal stretches, there are other times when we are calling four verticals. I don't think it's any one thing."

If it's one thing, it's the quarterback. Foles knows that.

Lane Johnson back at start RT

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
PHILADELPHIA -- Lane Johnson's suspension was good for one thing. The second-year right tackle avoided the injury epidemic that has swept along the offensive line the past four weeks.

Johnson returned to the NovaCare Complex fields Tuesday following a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. If all goes well, he will start at right tackle when the Eagles play the St. Louis Rams Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

"It wasn't fun," Johnson said of his exile. "I'm just a bystander. I don't care what people say. The only way you can get in football shape is playing football. I'm in pretty decent shape. I'm not exactly where I want to be, but I'll be good enough. The way it is, I've got to play."

Johnson spent his time in Mesquite, Texas, staying with a friend. That allowed him to drive to API, a training facility near Dallas, five days a week. Johnson worked out there, and was able to do some football drills against linebacker Victor Butler. Butler was released by the New Orleans Saints in August, and signed with the Arizona Cardinals two weeks ago.

"I'd do movement stuff in the morning, pass-rushing stuff against other guys," Johnson said. "I'd lift in the afternoon and do a little bit more running."

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said the plan for Johnson was simple.

"Put him in there, let him play," Shurmur said. "He came back, he's in great shape. He kind of informed us what he was doing, because we really weren't allowed to have any contact with him. We'll put him in there and get him going."

With Johnson back, Todd Herremans can slide back to right guard. That will give the Eagles three starters -- left tackle Jason Peters is the other -- from last year's line. David Molk will continue to work at center and Matt Tobin will start again at left guard.

Johnson stayed in touch with his teammates, especially Herremans, exchanging text messages about the injuries and also about different techniques the linemen were using. Johnson was not allowed to communicate with Eagles coaches.

"I feel like, playing next to Todd last year, he helped me out a lot," Johnson said. "This year, I'm a lot more knowledgeable, but Todd's there just in case I do need him. I think me and Todd are going to play well together."

The Eagles' running game could use the help. LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing last year. He gained just 17 yards on 10 carries Sunday in San Francisco.

"I think me and Todd got it going pretty good last year," Johnson said. "We were moving the ball pretty well. We'll try to get Shady (McCoy) back in the game, get those yards back up and start attacking again."

The Film Don't Lie: Eagles

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
A weekly look at what the Philadelphia Eagles must fix:

Chip Kelly has to find a way to get Nick Foles comfortable enough to throw the ball in rhythm without feeling as if he’s about to get run over. The St. Louis Rams come to town Sunday knowing they don’t have to bring the house to get pressure.

Opposing defenses have blitzed Foles on only 16 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That’s the second-lowest rate in the NFL. But Foles has been under pressure on 39 of his pass attempts, the most in the NFL. Bottom line: Defenses are getting more pressure while using fewer pass-rushers, and that is affecting Foles’ confidence and timing.

Yes, the Eagles’ offensive line has been a mess because of injuries. Part of Kelly’s task is to shore things up there. It will help if right tackle Lane Johnson, back from his suspension, can step right in. That will slide Todd Herremans back to right guard, which will solidify two spots.

But the middle of the line is still an issue. Undersized David Molk is at center and Matt Tobin played left guard after missing a month with a high ankle sprain. Maybe they’ll settle into those jobs, helping to keep the pressure out of Foles’ face. If not, Kelly has to consider using veteran Wade Smith at one spot.

Either way, Kelly has to call plays and create situations that allow Foles to make quick reads, quick decisions and quick throws. A little early success will help Foles feel more confident and slow the pass rush.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles' offense didn’t look particularly healthy in San Francisco. Its stars are healthy, at least as far as coach Chip Kelly is willing to reveal.

Running back LeSean McCoy and quarterback Nick Foles are not injured, Kelly said in his Monday news conference.
McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher last season, gained just 17 yards on 10 carries on Sunday. It was his fourth consecutive below-average performance. Could it be linked to the case of turf toe McCoy had during the preseason?

“No,” Kelly said. “Not that I’m aware of.”

After the game in San Francisco, McCoy said it “doesn’t matter” if he’s healthy. He followed that cryptic comment by saying that he’s fine.

“He’s not on the treatment list,” Kelly said. “He does normal maintenance like everybody else, but he hasn't had any injuries where we've done anything with him.”

As for Foles, he was slow to get up from a couple of hits during the Washington game a week earlier. He appeared to be trying to get his left shoulder loose. On Sunday, according to ESPN Stats and Information, Foles failed to complete any of his 10 passes traveling more than 20 yards downfield. Two of those passes were intercepted. Last year, Foles completed 35.3 percent of passes thrown more than 20 yards. This year, his completion percentage on such throws is 17.2 percent.

Kelly said there’s no connection between Foles’ troubles with deep throws and his shoulder.

“I think it's the exact opposite if you look at him,” Kelly said. “He overthrew four balls, so he's throwing the ball too far in some situations. That's got nothing to do with his left shoulder. Now, if every ball was underthrown, then I would think that he was banged up. I don't think he's trying to overcompensate. I just think he's got to get his timing down.”

Foles is no longer throwing to DeSean Jackson, his favorite deep target last season. His two primary wide receivers, Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, were injured during training camp. Foles did not throw deep to them as often as he would have. That could affect their timing.
PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson came to work for the first time in a month Monday. Johnson returned to Philadelphia after spending his four-game NFL suspension working out in Dallas.

Johnson will practice with his teammates Tuesday. His status for Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams will be determined based on his conditioning and ability to absorb the Eagles’ offense.

“We haven’t seen him for a month,” coach Chip Kelly said Monday. “He told me he was at API [sports complex] in Dallas, working out. There were some other players there. He looked good. It’s just the unknown. I haven’t seen him in four weeks, so where’s he at? How does he process things? How quickly does he process things? Where is he from a health standpoint?”

Johnson’s plan was to talk regularly with right guard Todd Herremans in order to stay abreast of changes in the offensive line’s approach. Herremans wound up playing Johnson’s right tackle spot after backup Allen Barbre went on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain.

Injuries have created issues all along their offensive line. Left tackle Jason Peters is the only starter who was in his original position for Sunday’s loss in San Francisco. Matt Tobin is the fourth player to play left guard since Pro Bowler Evan Mathis sprained a ligament in his left knee. David Molk started Sunday at center in place of Jason Kelce, who has a sports hernia. Dennis Kelly filled in for Herremans at right guard against the 49ers.

Johnson’s return would allow Herremans to return to guard. That would leave center and left guard as the two spots in the hands of backups. Kelly said Tobin and Molk played fairly well in San Francisco, although the line as a unit was unable to get any push and spring running back LeSean McCoy.

“I thought David [Molk] did a good job,” Kelly said. “Competed. There’s a few times his lack of size was probably an issue for him, where he got bowled a couple times. I thought overall, for his first time playing, he did a good job. I thought the same thing with Tobe. He got banged early in the second quarter and was limping a little bit. He shook it off and came back. I thought for the first time playing, they held their own.”

Kelly said his staff would discuss options for next week. Wade Smith, a veteran signed after Mathis was injured two weeks ago, could move into the left guard spot. So could Kelly, assuming Johnson plays and Herremans is back at guard.

“We’re going to look at everything now,” Kelly said. “We haven’t sat down and said, what have we got healthy, who’s up, who can go and what we can do.”

Despite downturn, Eagles trending up

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
PHILADELPHIA -- Football is a week-to-week sport. Based on that, Philadelphia Eagles fans are disappointed by the team's 26-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

If you look at things on a year-to-year basis, though, you can fully appreciate how far the Eagles have come since this date in 2013. It was the day the Denver Broncos hung 52 points on their defense in a 52-20 blowout that dropped the Eagles' record to 1-3 after four games.

Michael Vick was the starting quarterback. He would pull his hamstring in the Eagles' next game, against the Giants at MetLife Stadium. The Eagles went 2-2 in October, with the losses coming at home to Dallas, 17-3, and the Giants, 15-7. Nick Foles was knocked out of that Dallas game with a concussion, but only after turning in his most miserable performance of the season.

By the end of October, the Eagles were 3-5 and unsure about Foles, unsure about their defense, unsure about Vick. People were starting to be just a little unsure about Chip Kelly after those two offensively challenged performances against Dallas and New York.

All of this was swept away by the second half of the season, in which the Eagles went 7-1 and claimed the NFC East title. Foles emerged with his seven-touchdown game against Oakland. The defense was miles better, turning in solid performances almost every week. Confidence in Kelly grew with each victory.

Flash forward to today and things don't look so grim. The Eagles are 3-1, whereas they were 1-3 last season. The defense has been better than in the early going last year, and still has time to become even better. The special teams are markedly improved.

The Eagles' offensive line injuries are a serious problem, but they do get right tackle Lane Johnson back from his suspension this week. It will be weeks before center Jason Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis are able to return, but at least neither man is on season-ending injured reserve.

Not only do fans have the second half of last season to draw confidence from, so do the players. They finished the year feeling like a playoff team that could have gone further. That feeling carried over into 2014, and was reinforced by winning their first three games.

Losing to San Francisco, a perennial playoff team under Jim Harbaugh, should not change anything you thought about this Eagles team. It looked like a loss when the schedule came out, but the next two games -- at home against the Rams and the Giants -- looked like wins. They still do. At the very least, they give Kelly two shots at fixing the offensive line and kickstarting the run game.

Looked at from a week-to-week perspective, this was a downturn in the Eagles' fortunes. Looked at from a year-to-year point of view, though, the Eagles are still on the way up.
videoSANTA CLARA, Calif. -- LeSean McCoy was fine as long as the Philadelphia Eagles were winning games. Sure, his own numbers were down, but as he put it, winning a rushing title last season didn’t buy the Eagles a win in the playoffs.

On Sunday, McCoy had another tough day running the ball. Working behind a patchwork offensive line, McCoy had just 17 yards on 10 carries. The difference in his demeanor, though, was caused by the outcome. Unlike last week, when he gained just 22 yards in a victory, the Eagles lost this time.

“It sucks,” McCoy said after the 26-21 loss to the 49ers. “I thought we were going to win this game. There are so many plays that we could have made, but we didn’t. I thought we were going to pull it off like usual, especially getting down there at the 2-yard line.”

The Eagles drove 90 yards in the fourth quarter. That left them 1 yard short of a game-winning touchdown. For three weeks, the Eagles erased first-half deficits with strong second-half comebacks. Not this time.

“We are not getting it done,” McCoy said. “Not executing. We will watch this tape and learn from this and move on.”

McCoy said he was “embarrassed” and said he didn’t want to discuss the running game. Last week, despite the low production, coach Chip Kelly kept calling running plays. On Sunday, McCoy has just 10 carries. Darren Sproles had only one. But then, the Eagles weren’t able to keep drives alive. They ran just 56 offensive plays.

“We had the ball enough,” McCoy said. “We didn’t do anything with it.”

Asked if he was healthy, McCoy gave a curious answer.

“I doesn’t matter,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m healthy or not. We have to win games. I am fine.”

McCoy was evaluated for a concussion during the Washington game and was cleared to play. He had a toe injury late in the preseason, but has said that wasn’t bothering him. Still, he hasn’t looked as quick to the hole as he did last year. Of course, that may be because the holes haven’t been as reliable as they were last season.

“We couldn’t get anything going,” Kelly said. “It was very tough sledding for anybody in there. Running the football is a cooperative deal. It’s got to be everybody. We just didn’t get it done.”
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The dominos are starting to right themselves along the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line. The question is whether there will be enough of them.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsWith his offensive line banged up, Eagles coach Chip Kelly toned down his typically aggressive play calling on Sunday.
In Sunday's 26-21 loss to San Francisco, the Eagles were down to one player -- left tackle Jason Peters -- playing the position in which he started the season. Injuries took down left guard Evan Mathis, center Jason Kelce and tackle Allen Barbre. Todd Herremans moved from right guard to right tackle for the past two games.

On Monday, right tackle Lane Johnson is allowed to return to the NovaCare Complex. Johnson has been in Dallas working out and staying in shape during his four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

“There’s help on the way,” coach Chip Kelly said. “We’ll get Lane in here and see what he can do. Maybe that adds a little stability to it.”

That will strengthen two spots, with Johnson stepping back at tackle and Herremans moving back to right guard. But center and left guard, where David Molk and Matt Tobin started Sunday, are still in flux.

“We’re not getting any movement,” Herremans said. “We’re not hitting our combos [combination blocks] correctly. We’re just not playing well. I think everybody up front wants to do it. We just didn’t play well today.”

The Eagles’ line woes allowed the Niners’ defense to pressure Nick Foles without having to blitz and to shut down LeSean McCoy while still dropping back into a soft zone in pass coverage.

“They created pressure with just a three- and four-man rush and played a lot of zone,” Kelly said. “We got whooped up front. We’re not very good up front right now. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up. That’s not an excuse. That’s just the reality of it."

The situation affected Kelly’s play-calling and decision-making throughout the game.

“We called the game a lot differently than we normally do,” Kelly said. “That’s par for the course. You’ve got to try to make some decisions in terms of which way we can go with it, running certain plays, just depending who’s in the game.”

That came to a head on the Eagles’ best chance to steal the game. On second-and-goal at the Niners 6-yard line, Kelly thought he could catch the defense off guard. He ran the ball, and McCoy picked up 5 yards. That set up third-and-goal at the 1.

“We weren’t moving the ball at all versus that front,” Kelly said. “We just thought maybe we could get to the perimeter.”

With the Niners back in their run-stopping defensive posture, Kelly had Foles throw twice from the 1. Neither was complete, and that was the game.

Offensive flaws catch up to Eagles

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
videoSANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The improbable became the impossible for the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

The Eagles were perhaps the most unlikely 3-0 team in NFL history, based on their unprecedented string of second-half comebacks after trailing in each first half. By coming back and winning those games, the Eagles put a coat of camouflage paint on serious problems.

Those problems were clearly on display in Sunday’s 26-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The Niners were 1-2 coming in, but they are still the team that has been to the playoffs in all three seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh. Against an elite NFC contender, the Eagles were unable to overcome their deficiencies. Worst of all, for them, their biggest issue was their greatest strength last year. Coach Chip Kelly, who benefited from a healthy offensive line and a strong running game, was suddenly calling plays and managing a game without either of those elements in place.

“We got whupped up front,” Kelly said. “We’re not very good up front right now. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up. That’s not an excuse. That’s just the reality of it. Offensively, we didn’t do anything.”

How bad was it? LeSean McCoy, who led the NFL in rushing last season, carried the ball 10 times for 17 yards. That’s a 1.7-yard average with a long gain of 5 yards. Last week, with McCoy stopped by Washington’s defense, quarterback Nick Foles was able to compensate. Not this time. Foles completed 21 of 43 passes for 195 yards. His passer rating was 42.3.

“We weren’t good enough offensively,” Kelly said, a tough admission for an offensive coach with a reputation for creativity.

“It was frustrating,” tight end Brent Celek said. “Kind of embarrassing. As an offense, we have to execute better. That’s unacceptable, especially when defense and special teams were playing well.”

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
AP Photo/Ben MargotLeSean McCoy couldn't find running room again Sunday, gaining just 17 yards on 10 carries.
The Eagles scored all of their points in the first half. They had two special-teams touchdowns: a punt blocked by backup tight end Trey Burton and recovered in the end zone by wide receiver Brad Smith and an 82-yard punt return by Darren Sproles. Safety Malcolm Jenkins added a 53-yard interception return for another score.

After scoring 74 second-half points in their three victories, the Eagles were held scoreless in the second half by the Niners. Their first possession ended with Zach Ertz fumbling the ball away. The Niners converted that turnover into a touchdown.

“It’s inexcusable and I take full responsibility,” Ertz said.

For all that, the Eagles were again in position to stage a comeback. With the Niners up 26-21, the Eagles got the ball on their own 9-yard line. Foles hit Jeremy Maclin four times for 59 yards. A throw to Jordan Matthews gave the Eagles a first down at the 49ers’ 6-yard line.

“No doubt we were going to win,” left tackle Jason Peters said. “No doubt, no doubt.”

But four shots -- three passes and a run -- got the Eagles to the 1–yard line. They could not punch it in. There was no comeback, not this time.

“When you’re a great team, you do expect to score,” Celek said. “The fact that we didn’t stinks.”

Whether the Eagles are a great team will be determined during the rest of the season. They are definitely a flawed team, and those flaws kept them from remaining an undefeated team.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Philadelphia Eagles' 26-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:
  • A lot of Eagles fans were thinking it: After LeSean McCoy's 5-yard run got the team to the doorstep, why have Nick Foles throw on the remaining two downs? Why not a run? Coach Chip Kelly thought the Eagles caught the 49ers off guard with one run, but they wouldn't get lucky twice. "We hadn't run the ball that well all day long," Kelly said. "I was just trying to put it in the quarterback's hands. ... I wanted to get him away from the rush."
  • This was the last game of right tackle Lane Johnson's suspension, which will help the Eagles' offensive line. But Kelly doesn't know in what kind of shape Johnson will report, and he's still missing left guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce. "We got whooped up front," Kelly said.
  • The Eagles took some comfort in the fact they still had a chance at the end, despite their offense not scoring a single point. "I think it's encouraging," said safety Malcolm Jenkins, who scored a touchdown on an interception return. "I don't think anyone looks at this game and lets it affect their confidence. You're playing a good team on the road, and you're still one play away. We have that one play somewhere in this locker room."
PHILADELPHIA -- The tree trimmer is in luck. He is working on this block of South Broad Street just as the Philadelphia Eagles are beginning one of Chip Kelly's hyperspeed practices. His spot in the cherry picker gives him a perfect vantage point on this sunny, early autumn afternoon.

The blaring speakers across the way drown out the tree trimmer's saw while the Eagles begin their session with what looks like a dance class. Players line up across one of the three practice fields. They march forward, knees high, for 20 yards. Then, they return, walking backward this time, without turning.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles, G.J. Kine, Matt Barkley
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesIt's important for the Eagles to get loose before practice because they'll be going full tilt once the first practice period starts.
There are two flat screens, roughly the size and shape of play clocks on game day, one on each side of the NovaCare Complex's fields. They have two pieces of information. In small, orange numerals at the top, the screen shows which period it is. In large, red numerals, a clock counts down the amount of time remaining in the current period.

Period 1

On one field, three groups gather at intervals of 20 yards. Each group is comprised of a quarterback, a center, a running back and some receivers. Each unit lines up in unison. Three balls are snapped, three quarterbacks drop back. Almost simultaneously, three balls are thrown to receivers, all open because, well, no one is covering them.

On the next field over, practice squad quarterback G.J. Kinne throws passes down the middle of the field. Cornerbacks and safeties take turns running under them, turning and leaping to catch them.

Nearby, the big guys are starting to line up across from one another. Offensive linemen square off with each other, some using large, foam pads to brace themselves, while others fire out as if the ball has just been snapped. Defensive linemen run similar drills with each other.

Period 4

In the early going, this is pretty much how it looks. Position groups are working together, focusing on specific skills. Only the quarterbacks get small complements of teammates, and their focus is on timing.

At one end of a field, the running backs gather. They are paired off, with each member of a pair stepping into the open end of what looks like a long rubber band. As one player stands his ground, the other clutches a football, lowers his shoulder and runs forward until the rubber band has reached its limits and starts pulling him back. The backs take turns, serving as anchor and then fighting the resistance.

Meanwhile, around the field, a large, rubber ball is being rolled at the outside linebackers. Each one reaches down, pushes the ball away and then sprints toward a blocking sled. After pounding the sled, the player rolls off and heads back to repeat the exercise.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Matt RourkeThe frenetic chaos of practice, and the preparation for similar chaos on Sundays, is what Eagles coach Chip Kelly lives for.
Offensive and defensive linemen are grappling with each other. Wide receivers run routes while defensive backs shadow them. All the components of a football play are there, but none of them have been put together yet.

Meanwhile, the tree trimmer's ears are assaulted by what sounds like the iPod of a 15-year-old girl. There are pop hits, dance-club favorites and the occasional old-school rock song mixed in. It is all played very loudly to simulate the noise of a crowded stadium on game day.

"It's controlled chaos," linebacker Emmanuel Acho said. "We have the music blaring. Sometimes, you can hardly hear your teammates. But that means everything on Sunday is a lot slower. When you come out here and you can hardly hear the call, then on Sunday, when you're playing at home and it's quiet when you're out there, then it's very simple. I think we do a good job of stressing ourselves in practice so the game is easier."

That is precisely Kelly's intention, and it is precisely what set cornerback Cary Williams off after a Week 3 win over the Washington Redskins. Williams said it was difficult to play a game on Sunday after playing "three games" in practice sessions in the preceding week. The veteran, who previously played for John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens, said he thought the toll levied by the practice pace was being paid by a lack of energy in the beginning of games.

Kelly met with Williams, who stood by his comments. But it's also true that many players credited the practice schedule with helping them stay fresher last season than they had in previous seasons.

Period 12

Now the practices begin to resemble real football. There is not live hitting, although the Eagles do practice in pads once a week. But the offense and defense line up against each other and run plays.

One of Kelly's principles is that everything is done at the hurry-up pace he wants to operate his offense at in games.

"It's fast-paced," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We're getting a bunch of reps in a short amount of time. And then we're getting a lot of different periods. We'll go full speed, then a walk-through period. It simulates how we play the game. We run a 10-play drive, full speed the entire time, and then we sit on the sideline while the offense is up. And we keep doing that rotation the whole practice, so you're getting gamelike repetitions during the week."

[+] EnlargeDarren Sproles, Henry Josey
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsDarren Sproles (43) & Co. get a water break and some teaching time before going back at it.
There is a consequence of that. To have the first-team offense run a drive against the first-team defense -- and then have both squads take to the sideline -- you have to give the second teams a lot of practice time. In the past, the Eagles' backup quarterbacks would get exactly zero practice reps while the starter was preparing for a game. Under Kelly, all the backup players get nearly equal practice time.

When a starter gets injured, that pays off. It's not a guy who is cold and unfamiliar with his teammates stepping into the vacancy; it is a guy who has practiced with and against them all week.

"We get tons of reps here, which is great," said backup center David Molk, who was pressed into action because of injuries in two of three games so far and will start Sunday in San Francisco. "I'm extremely comfortable with how [the other linemen] move and react and shift. It's easy for me."

Period 16: 'Teach'

The sudden silence is jarring. With the music silenced, a voice is audible over the speakers.

"Teach," it says. And for the period that follows, players gather in position groups, around their position coaches, and instructions are given. It's also time for a water break.

But the "Teach" periods underscore that very little communication goes on in the regular practice periods. This is very different from the typical NFL practice.

Reporters who have covered the Eagles for a long time all do a version of Rich Kotite's distinctive nasal honk cutting through a practice session: "Back in the huddle," Kotite would yell, and the players would abandon their misguided formation and trudge back into a circle to be corrected by the coach. Then, they would spread out again, line up correctly and run the play.

Kelly has no use for this. His team doesn't huddle, for one thing. For another, there has never been an occasion in a game in which the coach was allowed onto the middle of the field to make sure the players were lined up correctly. If it doesn’t happen in a game, it doesn't happen in a Kelly practice session. What's the point?

But the "Teach" periods allow everyone to catch his breath and focus on the coaches' instructions. There aren't many of them.

Period 22

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia Eagles
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaThere's no rest for the weary, as the all-important red zone drills are about to start.
By this point in a practice, everyone has been on the field for almost two hours and is getting tired. But this is the point at which Kelly conducts his red zone drills, the most intensely competitive aspect of any NFL practice.

The importance of these drills was brought into sharp relief by the Eagles' come-from-behind, Monday night victory over the Indianapolis Colts. During that comeback for the Eagles, Period 22 became a rallying cry.

"No one rises to the occasion," Kelly said after the game. "You always sink to your level of training. That's how we trained them. You heard our guys talk about it after the game. This is no different than Period 22 on a Wednesday or Thursday for us."

You heard versions of that in the locker room afterward.

"Some people were saying, 'This is just like Period 22 for us,'" Jenkins said that night. "We practice at such a pace that, when we get into the fourth quarter, guys are fresh. Guys are still at full speed. This is what we train for. It’s Period 22."

Period 26

The players are on the grass, forming a large circle. They are on their backs, legs up, stretching one last time. Each player has a long rubber band that allows him to stretch his tired leg muscles. They are already beginning the recovery period that will allow them to be strong the next day.

[+] EnlargeCary Williams
AP Photo/Matt RourkeCary Williams wasn't kidding when he spoke about the intensity of an Eagles practice: They aren't a joke.
Aides scurry around, collecting the tiny GPS devices players wear. These monitor movement and help the training staff keep track of how much each player is exerting. This information is used to help create the famous post-practice smoothies players consume and to tell coaches which players need a little time off.

"Not many teams have done that, as far as catering to the individual athlete," said Acho, who spent time with the Giants last year. "Whether it’s their own meal plan or their own workout regimen, their own recovery regimen, everybody has something individualized for them. It's very unique to this organization."

Bill Davis knows. Unlike Kelly, who arrived in the NFL last year after many years coaching at the college level, Davis is an NFL lifer. His father, also named Bill, was an assistant coach and executive with the Eagles and other NFL teams. Davis himself has been an NFL assistant for more than 20 years. This is his third time as a defensive coordinator. He has fully embraced Kelly's new world order.

"We train in a great way," Davis said. "The sports science we have, the way we handle it, there's no concern. I actually think we are the strongest team in the fourth quarter, and it shows. We keep finishing the games. Where others don't have it in the tank, we have it in the tank, and it shows. This is an elite program. I've been with 10 different organizations, and it's not even close."
PHILADELPHIA – It was a debate that lasted for more than a decade while Andy Reid was head coach of the Eagles. Reid was partial to throwing the ball and quick to abandon the running game after a few fruitless attempts.

It’s impossible to imagine LeSean McCoy averaging 1.1 yards per carry for 20 carries under Reid, as McCoy did Sunday against Washington. That’s because McCoy never would have gotten 20 carries under those circumstances.

On Sunday, he did. There’s a logic behind that.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy, Chip Kelly
Alex Brandon/AP ImagesChip Kelly kept calling LeSean McCoy's number against the Redskins, even when it wasn't working all that well.
“We’re not striving for balance just for the sake of balance,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “But I also think you just can’t totally go one-dimensional and say we’re going to chuck it every down. There is a little bit to it in terms of, if everybody in the stadium knows what you’re going to do, then that makes it a lot more difficult. Obviously, they’re going to scheme up a lot more pressures in terms of trying to attack protections and get after the quarterback a little more.

“Sometimes a run just takes a little pressure off the quarterback from a rush standpoint.”

Exactly. Nick Foles was under pressure in Sunday’s game. Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett counted the number of hits on Foles at 15. But Foles was not sacked despite throwing the ball 41 times. There are several reasons for that, but one is that Washington had to continue to respect McCoy and the run game because Kelly stayed with it.

The other factor: play-action passes. The Eagles lead the NFL, having used a fake handoff on 44 plays through three games. That can be an effective way to slow down a pass rush and mislead defenders, but only if there is a legitimate chance that you’ll actually run the ball.

“I think the fact that not allowing them to gang up on just one aspect of it does help you,” Kelly said. “But we do need to be more productive in the run game right now.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly said he’ll check with the NFL for clarification on the rules governing hits on quarterbacks after a change of possession. Kelly was surprised by word that the league determined Chris Baker's hit on Nick Foles Sunday was legal.

“Everything we’ve talked, we know, you can’t blindside a player, no matter if it’s a quarterback or not,” Kelly said. “From my understanding, a quarterback on a change of possession is basically a defenseless player. We’ll get it clarified so we don’t get put in that situation in the future.”

Foles was hit during what appeared to be an interception return. The play was later ruled an incomplete pass after replay review. Foles said he was trying to funnel the returner toward his teammates to prevent him from cutting back and getting a clear path to the end zone.

Baker hit Foles in the rib cage from the side. The quarterback said he never saw Baker coming.

“I’m still under the impression you can’t blindside a player, whether it’s a quarterback or not a quarterback,” Kelly said. “I’ll touch base with league officials before we play again. That’s news to me that that’s a legal hit. I know the referee threw the flag pretty quickly and threw him out of the game. I don’t know if they’re going to reprimand the official for making that call.”

Kelly generally has not complained about league rules or officials’ calls. His approach has been for his players to know the rules and play within them. So it was fairly unusual for Kelly to react this way to a league ruling. That suggests legitimate confusion about the league’s interpretation here and a desire to make sure the Eagles are coached appropriately.

“We’re hands off on the quarterback,” Kelly said. “That’s the way we’ve interpreted the rule.”
PHILADELPHIA – The label is gone. Marcus Smith is no longer the only healthy first-round pick from the 2014 draft who hasn’t appeared in a game.

The Eagles’ linebacker took his two weeks of inactivity -- one of which saw him literally inactive for a game -- in stride. But Smith was very glad when his name was finally called Sunday, especially since his father and grandfather had come to Philadelphia to see the game.

“It was probably the best feeling I’ve ever felt, just being out there with those guys,” Smith said. “Just the intensity, being a matchup with the Redskins. Seeing DeSean Jackson out there. Being out there with great players. It was big for me.”

After watching the game film, Smith said he still has plenty of room to grow.

“I would say I was average,” Smith said. “I didn’t make any plays. I did everything right, did everything I was supposed to do. Now it’s about me getting more a little more snaps and going to make plays and making an impact for the defense.”

Smith played inside linebacker with the Eagles’ nickel defensive personnel. Throughout training camp, he played at outside linebacker. With backup Najee Goode out for the season and starting inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks out with a calf injury, the coaches decided to try Smith inside.
On the outside, he was blocked by Trent Cole, Connor Barwin and reserve Brandon Graham.

“I think it’s a benefit to him,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “It’s a learning curve. We’ll see if he has the skill set. We’ll continue to grow him. Right now, there’s three guys playing out there. We can move him out there in a second. Let’s see where he is. He’ll get a broader understanding of the defense and all the calls. It will make him a better outside ‘backer if we do move him back outside.”

Smith is no stranger to changing roles. He went to Louisville as a quarterback, but so did a guy named Teddy Bridgewater. The coaches moved Smith to linebacker and then to defensive end. That was a bigger transition than outside to inside linebacker, although this move also requires Smith to call signals sometimes -- especially when DeMeco Ryans is not on the field.

“It’s kind of scary at first,” Smith said. “But after I got done talking to DeMeco, he told me that it’s not all bad and that I can do it. So it wasn’t all bad at first. Now it’s just a better role and an opportunity for me to learn the defense better.”