NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA – The Eagles’ Friday injury report, the last official word from the team before Sunday’s game in Arizona, left open the possibility linebacker Mychal Kendricks could play.

Kendricks, who has missed four games after straining his calf in Indianapolis, was listed as questionable. That was also the category for running back Darren Sproles (knee) and center Jason Kelce (sports hernia). Wide receiver Brad Smith, coming off surgery for a muscle tear in his abdomen, is the only player listed as out for the game.

Three players were listed as probable: running back Chris Polk (hamstring), linebacker DeMeco Ryans (groin) and cornerback Jaylen Watkins (wrist). Watkins is likely to be inactive whether he’s healthy or not.

Most of the speculation revolves around Kendricks and Sproles. Both were limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, the most involved training sessions of the week. Both were listed as full participants in Friday’s session, but that tells you more about the session than the players’ condition. Friday’s practice is a walk-through with little football activity.

If Kendricks can play, he would start alongside Ryans on the inside of the Eagles’ defense. If not, Emmanuel Acho and Casey Matthews would replace him, a platoon that has gotten more effective over the last few games.

If Sproles is unable to play, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin could take his place as the punt returner. Polk’s availability would minimize the impact Sproles’ absence would have on the offense. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said the Eagles could use Polk in the same ways they’ve used Sproles this season.

Kelce seemed the least likely to play this week. The center had surgery to repair the hernia after being forced to leave the Sept. 21 game against Washington. After the surgery, Kelce said he was hoping to return for the Nov. 10 game against Carolina. There is a chance he could be ready for next week’s game in Houston.
PHILADELPHIA – Everything Chip Kelly wants done on a football field, he wants done fast. His offense is built to take advantage of mismatches created when opposing defenses don’t have the time to get their desired personnel on the field.

In previous games this season, opposing defenses had settled on one personnel grouping that could handle most of what the Eagles tried to do. That was not the case last year, however, when the Eagles met the Arizona Cardinals.

The teams play each other again Sunday, and Kelly expects the Cardinals to be as varied in their defensive approach as they were in 2013.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Eric Hartline/USA TODAY SportsNick Foles and the Eagles will face a Cardinals team that had some success with a varied approach against head coach Chip Kelly's offense last year.
“Todd [Bowles, Arizona’s defensive coordinator] does a really good job,” Kelly said. “They get in and out of everything. I don't think anything we did affected in terms of them, and they showed a lot of different looks, a lot of multiple looks, and did a real good job in defending us last year.”

The Eagles got out to a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter of that game. Nick Foles threw three touchdown passes to tight ends. After the third, to Brent Celek, the Cardinals shut out the Eagles the rest of the game. Arizona scored two touchdowns to get within 24-21, but were unable to close the gap.

While time of possession is not important to Kelly, that was one game where the Eagles held the ball nearly as long as their opponent: 29 minutes, 21 seconds compared to 30:39.

“We were just trying to work the clock a little bit more,” Kelly said. “So we were running the ball, and I think everybody in the stadium knew we were running the ball. So they went to some zero-blitz stuff and kind of crowded the line of scrimmage. But you're still working the clock. If you throw the ball in those situations and it's incomplete, you stop the clock.

“You're in that bleed-the-clock -- you're obviously trying to get first downs to stay on the field, but there's kind of a risk-reward situation if you say, ‘All right, now let's just throw the ball over the top.’ They are forcing you to throw it over the top -- if it's an incomplete pass, it stops the clock also.”

Kelly said it helps preparations when facing a team with the same coaching staff and offensive and defensive approaches. But quarterback Nick Foles said there wasn’t much benefit for him in facing the same defense he’s already played against.

“You go into each game as prepared as possible, whether you’ve played them or you haven’t,” Foles said. “Everybody switches up players from year to year, guys are injured. They might add different things. So maybe you’re used to seeing the jerseys a little bit more, but when it comes to playing each week, you try to treat it the same.”

The Cardinals are especially challenging because they change their defensive approach so much, even within the same game.

“Their scheme is somewhat unique in terms of getting in and out of fronts,” Kelly said. “They run a lot of different looks on the defensive side of the ball, so they can confuse you a little bit, but also they've got some really, really good football players on the defensive side of the ball.”
PHILADELPHIA – No news is seldom good news when it comes to injuries. Based on that truism, it seems more likely that Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks will miss a fifth game Sunday because of a calf injury sustained late in the game at Indianapolis.

Kendricks was listed as limited in practice Thursday, the last full session of the week. His participation was listed the same as that of center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis, who are not expected to play this week, and running back Darren Sproles, whose status is similarly unclear.

The Eagles will have a lighter walk-through practice Friday, but the real preparation for Sunday’s opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, is done. Kendricks was in the trainers’ room after practice. He was not in the locker room all week when it was open to media.

“Mychal’s been running around,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said before Thursday’s practice. “I’ve been watching him get acclimated back into drills, and the team settings and how does he fit in. We’ve still got three training sessions to figure out how much he can contribute – or can he contribute?”

If Kendricks is unavailable, Emmanuel Acho and Casey Matthews would again platoon at his inside linebacker spot. Veteran DeMeco Ryans, who injured his groin during the Eagles’ game against St. Louis three weeks ago but played the next week against the Giants, will start at the other inside spot.

Meanwhile, first-round draft pick Marcus Smith will play some inside linebacker in nickel defensive packages.

Expectations were high for Kendricks this season. He improved during the course of the 2013 season, his first in coordinator Bill Davis’ 3-4 scheme. Kendricks recorded three of his four sacks in the final three games of the season. After a strong preseason, he appeared poised to build on his strong finish from 2013.

Earlier this week, Kendricks wrote a blog post on his website saying he planned to practice this week. He was vague on whether he expected to play.

“It's a day-to-day thing,” Davis said Wednesday. “We're slowly leaking him back in there to see what he can do. These athletes know their bodies better than anything. Do all you can without going backwards with the injury. … So we're excited about the opportunity that we might get him back.”

They might or might not. Based on the available signs, the best guess is it might take another week.
PHILADELPHIA -- Normally, you’d look at the Philadelphia Eagles' matchup with the blitz-happy Arizona Cardinals and wonder whether quarterback Nick Foles can survive.

After all, the Eagles’ offensive line is still without left guard Evan Mathis and, it appears likely, center Jason Kelce. Surely the Cardinals -- a team that has already blitzed more than any in the NFL -- will bring as much heat as it takes to ruin Foles’ Sunday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/Matt RourkeDespite a lot of shuffling on the O-line due to injuries, Nick Foles hasn't been sacked for the past three games.
But then you look at the results and it’s hard to make sense of them. The Eagles allowed five sacks in the first half of their season opener against Jacksonville. That was the half of football in which Mathis and Kelce were actually playing together. Since that half, through 330 minutes of football, Foles has been sacked exactly twice.

We’re talking about the Philadelphia Eagles here. This is the team that allowed 104 sacks in 1986, setting an NFL record that still stands. This is the team that employed Randall Cunningham (sacked 422 times in an Eagles uniform) and Donovan McNabb (sacked 357 times while quarterbacking the Eagles). Sacks are not uncommon in these parts.

But here’s Foles, his offensive line in shambles because of injuries, going three full games without a single sack.

“There has been a change of personnel in a lot of spots,” coach Chip Kelly said. “Evan went down in the first game and then Allen [Barbre] went down. We started mixing and matching. Then [Jason Peters] got thrown out of the [Washington] game and Todd [Herremans] played tackle. I think that group of guys that have had an opportunity to play have all done a nice job when they were in there.”

Last season, all five starting offensive linemen started all 17 games -- regular season and the playoff game. Foles, Michael Vick and Matt Barkley were sacked a total of 46 times. Throw out the Jacksonville game and Foles is on pace to be sacked 10 times for this entire season. McNabb played games where he was sacked more than that.

“Part of it is how we train,” Kelly said. “We give those (backups) a lot of reps in the preseason, hoping that we’re developing depth from that standpoint. When those guys got an opportunity to go in there, they’ve done a really nice job. The biggest thing is continuity. If there’s a new guy next to you, how in tune are you to each other’s calls and making the right decisions? It’s really a credit to them, they’ve been able to do, on a consistent basis, a really good job.”

Kelce has returned to practice and is expected to return to game action within the next two weeks. Mathis is eligible to return from the injured reserve list in two weeks. That will mean another disruption in the continuity Kelly was talking about.

But right tackle Lane Johnson has played two games since returning from his PED suspension. There has been little evidence of trouble there. The Eagles gave up one sack in Johnson’s two games while averaging 5.0 yards per carry.

Given the experience Kelce and Mathis have together, their returns should be equally seamless.
PHILADELPHIA – Nick Foles was lined up under center more than usual during the Eagles’ 27-0 victory against the New York Giants last week. The Eagles’ running game also made a resurgence, with LeSean McCoy running for 149 yards.

Is there a connection? Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur didn’t really want to say.

“There are reasons why we do it,” Shurmur said, referring to having the quarterback under center rather than in the shotgun formation. “And we like to keep those somewhat private.”

There are all kinds of possible factors: center David Molk might not be as good at snapping the ball in the shotgun. Foles might prefer to get the ball snapped directly, then drop back. Head coach Chip Kelly talked last week about the angles created when the quarterback is under center.

All of those might be in the mix. But the one thing we now know for sure is that McCoy prefers lining up behind an under-center quarterback.

“It really helps out,” McCoy said Wednesday. “You can see it better. You can see the lanes better. If there is some pressure, you can adjust to it. In the [shotgun], you’re kind of going sideways and if there is pressure, it kind of knocks you back. I like under center more.

“What makes me a good back is just vision. I think being under center, about 7 1/2 yards deep, I can see everything happen. I’m the farthest guy from the game. I’m all the way in the back. If a guy has leverage on a block, or a guy gets beat, I can see it. I can adjust to it. That’s why I like it better.”

McCoy is facing a difficult challenge Sunday in Arizona. The Cardinals are ranked first in the NFL against the run. They have allowed 72.5 rushing yards per game while going 5-1. So the Eagles’ improvement against the Giants will be tested in Arizona.

“I’m sure they’ll try to take the run away,” McCoy said. “They’re a good team; they play well together. They do a lot of blitzes. We’ll see how they play us, a team that plays at a fast tempo. I’m waiting to see how they play us.”

The Eagles will try to run the ball, because that’s what they do. They just might find that lining up under center helps McCoy to get going again.
PHILADELPHIA -- It’s a fascinating suggestion from’s Greg Garber: the Philadelphia Eagles trading running back LeSean McCoy to the Oakland Raiders for what may be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

The biggest problem with the idea is the timing. The NFL trade deadline is next Tuesday. That means the Eagles would have to pull the trigger on such a deal with nine games left in the 2014 season. With Chris Polk, Darren Sproles and Matthew Tucker in-house at the running back position, that would look an awful lot like tanking. And 5-1 teams in the process of defending a division title aren’t typically inclined to tank.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsWidely considered one of the NFL's top running backs, would the Eagles consider dealing LeSean McCoy?
Of course, the Eagles and Raiders would be free to make a similar trade after the season. That may be a little more palatable to Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who really does focus all of his energies on the game that’s next on the schedule. Most of what Kelly has preached to his players over the past two seasons would sound pretty hollow if the coach jettisoned McCoy in the middle of the season.

Plus a deadline deal would give the Raiders nine games with McCoy carrying the ball, nine chances to improve their record and hurt their draft position.

But the idea is provocative for a couple of reasons -- and not just that illustration with McCoy in silver and black. Garber lays out the key elements: While Kelly has done quite well with Nick Foles as his quarterback, it’s ever more clear that the Eagles’ offense is radically limited by the absence of a true read-option threat at that position. When Foles was throwing 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions, that was a compromise Kelly could accept. With Foles throwing seven interceptions in his first six games of 2014, his lack of mobility may be a little tougher to accept.

If Kelly really believes it will take a quarterback like Oregon's Marcus Mariota to maximize his offense, then there will be few chances to get such a player. Mariota, whom Kelly recruited and coached, will be among the first players taken in the 2015 draft. For the Eagles to get him, they will have to be bold. Trading McCoy would certainly qualify.

As for replacing McCoy, it helps to bear in mind that he was a second-round draft pick. Running backs are easier to find than franchise quarterbacks. It's also possible, with a solid offensive line and a good scheme, to get more out of any back. As Garber writes, “Like Bill Belichick, Kelly passionately believes in the system, which is to say, himself.”

There is good reason for that. McCoy has been exceptional in Kelly’s offense. But other backs -- Bryce Brown, Polk, Sproles -- have stepped in and put up big rushing numbers. If Kelly was willing to jettison DeSean Jackson for nothing, he’d probably be willing to part with McCoy for a chance to acquire a quarterback custom-built to run his offense.

Will it happen? It’s unlikely, as Garber says right upfront. But it certainly makes a lot of sense, for both the Eagles and the Raiders.
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly has adjusted his practice schedule. Whether that was a result of cornerback Cary Williams' comments earlier this season or something Kelly already had planned, however, remains unclear.

Practices are closed to the media, so there’s no way to gauge the exact changes.

Williams revealed the schedule change while talking to reporters at his locker Tuesday afternoon. Last month, after the Eagles’ home win against Washington, Williams said Kelly’s uptempo practices were like playing a couple games during the week. Players were fatigued by Sunday, Williams said. Kelly called Williams in for a meeting the next day.

“We shortened a couple days,” Williams said, according to Birds 24/7. “We've taken a couple portions out of practice on both days. We've got a different schedule. We practice three days a week really, and everything else is a walk-through, tempo type thing. He's shortened some of those down.”

According to Kelly’s coordinators, the head coach constantly evaluates where the players are in terms of fitness and preparation and adjusts his practice schedule accordingly.

“As you get toward the middle of the season, we make slight adjustments,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “What we do is very dynamic. Certainly, we listen to what the players are saying. What they’re saying is important to us. But we have a plan, as we go forward, how much work we’re going to get done each week.”

“I haven’t seen a problem since Day 1, Week 1," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “Chip is doing what Chip always does. He reads the information. He gets the feedback from every player, from all the data he gets from all the sports-science things we do. And he adjusts daily, weekly. We’re always moving the target to make sure that the players are at the optimal spot on Sunday. I don’t think he’s missed the mark yet this year.”

Whether it was Williams’ words or the fourth-quarter collapse that almost cost the Eagles against the Rams, Kelly’s adjustments helped the team maintain its focus through the 27-0 shutout of the Giants.

"Physically, I definitely feel a change,” Williams said. “I think a lot of guys feel the same way. Chip is definitely understanding that, he understood that, and he came out and said that is probably the reason why we came out and did what we did and played at a high level (against the Giants).”
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly likes to describe his approach as a “one-week operation,” meaning the Philadelphia Eagles are currently focused only on the Arizona Cardinals, their next opponent. That was true last week during the Eagles’ bye.

Well, mostly true. The Eagles also focused a little bit on another team. Themselves.

“We just analyze what we did in certain situations,” Kelly said Tuesday. “We went through goal line, we went through coming out, we went through third-down situations, we went through openers, kind of looked at everything. What we were successful at -- kind of looked at it on film -- what we weren't successful at, why we weren't successful at it. Was it personnel, was it scheme, was it we weren't prepared for this? So, you're kind of looking at everything that you're doing.”

Late last week, the coaches began zeroing in on the Cardinals. It helps that the Eagles played Arizona last season. That gives the coaches a starting point in their preparation.

“We always look at everybody,” Kelly said. “We looked at both Giants games when we played the Giants. If we've played a team before, it's a benefit to us. We'll go back and watch it. When we played the Bears in preseason, we watched the Bears from the year before. We played the Patriots preseason, we watched the Patriots game in preseason from before. Whenever you have a game from a year ago and the coordinators are the same and the coaches are the same, you're going to take a look at it. If it's a whole new coaching staff, then sometimes that doesn't benefit you, but if it's got the same coaching staff, and obviously they do, so we looked at it.”

The Eagles won that game, 24-21. As it happened, they were also coming off their bye week before playing the Cardinals. That game was in Philadelphia. This week’s will be in Glendale, Arizona.

Kelly was asked if it was easier to prepare after a poor effort or a loss than it was after arguably the Eagles’ best overall game of the season, their shutout win against the Giants last week.

“I hope not,” Kelly said. “I wouldn't want it the other way, I'll tell you that. If I had my choice, I would rather have it the way we have it right now. I mean, you always want to continue to play, but we still have a lot of things from the Giants game that we can improve on. We didn't play a complete football game. We turned the ball over a couple times on the offensive side of the ball. We punted six times. You know, we've got to do a better job in a lot of categories, so it's not like we're patting ourselves on the back after that performance. I thought we played well, I thought we played with good energy, I thought we played hard, but there's still a lot of things we can do to be a better football team.”

Injured Eagles returning after bye

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
PHILADELPHIA -- The cavalry rode into town with the rest of the Philadelphia Eagles after the bye week. It will take a day or two for Chip Kelly to figure out which of his injured players is ready to help his team.

Left guard Evan Mathis is the easiest case to figure out. The Eagles placed Mathis on injured reserve with a designation to return. That means he can begin practicing Wednesday and he can play against the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 10. Mathis, who sprained his medial collateral ligament in the season opener, told CSN Philly that he planned to practice this week.

Center Jason Kelce, who had surgery to repair a sports hernia, also will try to practice this week. Kelly declined to speculate on Kelce’s return until he saw him on the field.

“I hope he ties his shoes right,” Kelly said. “I haven’t seen Jason Kelce do anything since before the surgery.”

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who injured his calf muscle in the Indianapolis game, was on the field for the early part of practice Tuesday. Kendricks wrote on his website last week that he hoped to practice this week.

Running back Darren Sproles, who sprained his MCL in the Giants game, was also taking part in practice Tuesday. Kelly indicated last week that Sproles’ injury was not as serious as it looked.

As always with Kelly, all injury information is filtered through the coach’s evident lack of interest. Unlike Andy Reid, who read from a detailed list of injuries from the training staff, Kelly wants to know only which players are available to practice or play. The specifics don’t interest him and neither does wasting time worrying about what might happen next week.

“We’re on a one-week season,” Kelly said. “We have been. That’s our total focus.”

Bottom line: There is a reasonable chance Kendricks and Sproles will be back for Sunday’s game in Arizona. Kelce could be back for that game or the one in Houston the following week. Mathis appears to be in line to play against the Panthers.

The Film Don't Lie: Eagles

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the Philadelphia Eagles must fix:

The Eagles beat the Arizona Cardinals at Lincoln Financial Field last season by playing a mistake-free game. Nick Foles threw zero interceptions, and the Eagles did not lose a fumble in that 24-21 victory.

Coming off their bye week with a game in Arizona, the Eagles need to clean up that aspect of their game. Let’s be completely honest with one another: Foles must clean up that part of his game. Watching the game tape, it’s hard to believe that Foles throws the two passes that wound up in the hands of New York Giants this past weekend. They were the kind of passes he never threw last year -- careless, poorly considered, badly aimed. Foles has turned the ball over 10 times this season with seven picks and three lost fumbles.

Coach Chip Kelly has said that sooner or later, turnovers will catch up to his quarterback.

“We were a lot cleaner last year from a turnover standpoint,” Kelly said, “and he'll be the first to tell you that. Because you can't continue to do it at that rate and end up on the right side of the ledger. The turnover differential is really big in this league in terms of being an indicator of wins and losses.”

With Patrick Peterson lined up on the other side, there’s little that Kelly can do about this problem. The ball is literally and figuratively in Foles’ hands.
PHILADELPHIA -- With the Philadelphia Eagles' running game on the way to a full recovery, the No. 1 order of business when Chip Kelly’s training sessions resume Tuesday is getting Nick Foles back on track.

The timing is pretty good. Although the Eagles face some teams with big-name defensive players over the next month, they do not face a truly elite defense. J.J. Watt and Clay Matthews may turn up on the highlight shows, but their teams are not ranked in the top 15 defensively.

The Eagles’ next opponent, Arizona, has the 18th-ranked defense as measured by overall yardage allowed. Houston has Watt but is ranked 29th in the NFL defensively. After that, Carolina is 26th and Green Bay is 19th.

More to the point when talking about Foles, Arizona is 31st among 32 teams in passing yards allowed. Houston is 28th and Carolina 22nd. Only Green Bay, which is ranked sixth in the league in passing yards allowed per game, has a respectable pass defense.

Of course, the New York Giants have the 25th-ranked passing defense and Foles managed to throw two woeful interceptions against them before the bye week. Foles has thrown seven interceptions through six games, and it’s pretty hard to find a simple solution.

The first one against the Giants was especially mystifying. Foles had Darren Sproles as a check-down receiver to his right. Knowing that, Foles looked downfield, mostly to his left, for several seconds. When he decided to swing the ball over to Sproles, he neglected the highly recommended step of first looking to make sure a defender wasn’t standing right there.

One was. But the really disturbing aspect of the play was just how terrible Foles’ mechanics looked on the throw. Maybe he saw the defender at the last moment and that threw him off. But Foles turned, failed to shift his weight and sort of pushed the ball to his right. Antrel Rolle made the interception.

On the second pick, Foles simply took off as the pocket collapsed in front of him. It was the perfect time to throw the ball away, which Kelly suggested was Foles’ intent. But Foles appeared to be throwing to Jeremy Maclin, except cornerback Zack Bowman was standing in front of Maclin. On both interceptions, it seems as if Foles was incapable of seeing the defensive players in front of him.

As Kelly said after that game, turnovers are a major no-no for teams that have opportunities to win their division and advance in the playoffs. Foles did a remarkable job of avoiding them last season. The Eagles need him to become that quarterback again now that the bye week is behind them.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles liked where their bye week fell this season. It’s fair to wonder, though, if they weren’t better served by their late-November bye last year.
The Eagles’ 2013 bye came after they had won three games in a row to improve their record from 3-5 to 6-5. They didn’t lose any momentum, going 4-1 after the bye to finish with a 10-6 record and the NFC East title.

This time, the Eagles’ bye came immediately after their first truly excellent performance of the season. After finding ways to win despite deeply flawed performances, the Eagles were flat-out dominant against the New York Giants a week ago. Their running game finally looked as powerful as it was last year, and their defense managed its first shutout in 18 years.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
AP Photo/Matt RourkeLeSean McCoy and the Eagles should have momentum heading into next Sunday's game against Arizona.
Not exactly when you want to call a halt to operations and force everyone to start over after a week off. But as coach Chip Kelly pointed out, this bye comes at the real midway point of the NFL season. The Eagles played four preseason games and six regular-season contests. They have 10 regular-season games remaining.

This is an opportunity to reboot, and the Eagles could use that. Start with their offensive line: The current group has begun to find some continuity after a few weeks together. If it can maintain that level of play, which enabled LeSean McCoy to gain 149 rushing yards and prevented Nick Foles from being sacked even once against the Giants, the Eagles will be in good shape. The return of Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis will still be welcome, but without that sense of desperation the Eagles were feeling a few weeks ago.

On the defensive side, the Eagles could get inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks back. Kendrick injured his calf muscle during the Week 2 game in Indianapolis. He hasn’t played since. The defense has improved in his absence, though, culminating with the eight-sack, no points allowed showing against the Giants. Adding Kendricks to that mix could really rev up the Eagles’ defense.

That’s important, because the Eagles face some tough offenses after the bye: Arizona next Sunday, Green Bay on Nov. 16, then the Dallas, Seattle, Dallas sandwich over the next three weeks.

It will help if the Eagles can get into the kind of groove they were in over the last few weeks. Starting in San Francisco, their defense and special teams ran off a streak of three impressive performances. Those games felt connected, with those units building upon the previous game’s momentum.

The Eagles have a chance to restart that process. It is better to be peaking as the playoffs approach, in the games that will decide the NFC East title. It was clear that after six games, that is what Kelly is expecting when the Eagles return to work this week.

“I've seen us get better,” Kelly said last week. “That's one positive where we are right now. We weren't in this situation last year, but I saw us get better. We were 7-1 down the stretch [and] we were a better football team at the end of the year than we were at the beginning of the year. I hope that holds true now, because I think we're moving in a positive direction right now.”


PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' bye week gives us a chance to catch our breath and contemplate some of the mysteries surrounding the team this season.

Here’s one: Chip Kelly is the 11th head coach of the Eagles during the Super Bowl era. Can he really become the first coach to win one here?

Can he? It certainly looks like he can. Will he? Ah, well, that’s where the rub has been for all of Kelly’s predecessors, from Joe Kuharich to Andy Reid.

Reid casts a large shadow, for obvious reasons. When you coach somewhere for 14 years -- nearly one-third of the Super Bowl era, incredibly -- and you flirt with ultimate success as regularly as Reid did, then you get to be the best and worst kind of measuring stick for your predecessors. That's just the way it is.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsIn his short time with the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Chip Kelly has shown he might have what it takes to win a Super Bowl.
Two years ago, during Reid’s 14th and final season as head coach of the Eagles, the offensive line was plagued by injuries. The Eagles went 4-12 as Reid wound up playing Nick Foles at quarterback. It was a disaster.

Today, with Foles as his quarterback and an offensive line nearly as beset by injuries (and one suspension), the Eagles’ record is 5-1. That’s a start better than all but one of Reid’s seasons, the one in which the Eagles actually went to a Super Bowl.

Does that prove Kelly is a better coach, or better-equipped to win a Super Bowl, than Reid? No. But it does illustrate one of the ways Kelly is different from Reid. And it is a difference that might translate into Kelly being able to close the deal and win an actual championship right here in Philadelphia.

In 2012, Reid’s line was being coached by Howard Mudd, who had a very particular style of play. Unfortunately, most of the linemen Reid had assembled and coached over the preceding seasons were poor fits for Mudd’s methodology. When the few who were capable of excelling under Mudd got hurt, the Eagles were left with a bunch of square pegs to fill the round holes.

Kelly always talks about tailoring his schemes to fit the players he has. He also practices at such a fast pace, there are many more plays run on the practice fields every day. That means all of his backups are getting regular work running his plays and learning to play together.

The line was obviously affected by the suspension of right tackle Lane Johnson and the injuries to left guard Evan Mathis, tackle Allen Barbre and center Jason Kelce. The Eagles’ running game, so potent in 2013, was not nearly as effective. But look at pass protection, the first thing to fall apart when a line is struggling.

Foles was sacked five times in the season opener against Jacksonville. Since then? He has been sacked exactly twice in five games. Foles was sacked 20 times during his six-game tenure in 2012. Or think of that 2007 game at the Meadowlands, when left tackle Tra Thomas was a late scratch against the Giants. Winston Justice had to start that game. Donovan McNabb was sacked 12 times, six of them by Osi Umenyiora.

Reid never adjusted, never addressed the problem. He just stood on the sideline and watched his quarterback take a beating.

Foles hasn’t been sacked that many times through six games. That’s just one manifestation of Kelly’s approach. He sees problems as challenges, not as obstacles. If things don’t go as planned -- Tra Thomas' back hurts, or injuries afflict your offensive line -- you make the necessary adjustments and try to win. You don’t stand on the sideline and wonder what hit you.

That trait might not guarantee that Kelly will win a Super Bowl as coach of the Eagles, but it is a trait found in most championship-winning coaches. It’s a start.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles’ bye week gives us a chance to catch our breath and contemplate some of the mysteries surrounding the team this season. Here’s a look at three surprises that helped define the season so far:

Jeremy Maclin. It’s not a surprise that the former first-round pick is a solid player. Maclin has always been that. But when Chip Kelly released DeSean Jackson, positioning Maclin to carry much more of the offensive burden than he’d ever had to carry before, you had to wonder. Maclin wasn’t as dangerous or explosive as Jackson when they were teammates, so why would he suddenly become that guy in Jackson’s absence?

Well, he has. Maclin isn’t quite as fast or quite the game-breaker Jackson has been, but he has produced Jacksonian numbers and had a major impact through six games. Some of that is Kelly’s offense, which morphs to get the most out of the players on hand. But most of it is Maclin. That diving, replay-reviewed catch he made near the sideline in San Francisco was the product of a true big-play receiver.

The pass rush. Take the 2013 Eagles defense and subtract playmaking linebacker Mychal Kendricks. What do you get? Not the disaster area you would expect (the fourth quarter against the Rams notwithstanding). Somehow, without Kendricks and with DeMeco Ryans playing on one leg, the Eagles came together to play their best defensive game in years against the New York Giants.

A shutout? No one does that any more. Eight sacks? Was Reggie White out there? It might have been a one-game illusion, but the Eagles defense sure looked like a disruptive, dominant force for the first time in ages.

Special teams. It would be intellectually dishonest to pretend Andy Reid didn’t emphasize special teams. He did. The Eagles gave special teams more attention in practice than many other teams, especially during training camp. John Harbaugh went from coaching the Eagles’ special teams to winning a Super Bowl as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens.

All of that is true. So is this: The Eagles’ special teams have had more positive impact on this season already than they had on the previous 20 Eagles seasons.

It was stunning to have punts blocked and returned for touchdowns in consecutive games, as the Eagles did against San Francisco and St. Louis. But even Sunday night against the Giants, with no game-changing play being made, the special teams were still very good.

Darren Sproles had a 43-yard punt return. Cody Parkey made two field goals and kicked off well. Donnie Jones punted six times and the Giants’ only return resulted in a 1-yard loss. That’s winning special teams.

Which is real Eagles defense?

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
PHILADELPHIA – The Eagles’ bye week gives us a chance to catch our breath and contemplate some of the mysteries surrounding the team this season. Here’s one:

Which is the real Eagles defense, the one that dominated the Giants or the one that nearly blew the St. Louis game?

The answer, unfortunately, is that both of those extremes are really the Eagles' defense right now. The good part is that there is time and precedent for the defense to evolve as the season goes on.

[+] EnlargeEagles Defense
Bill Streicher/USA TODAY SportsCasey Matthews and the Eagles defense were at their best against the Giants.
Remember the 2013 season? Everybody remembers the Eagles jumping out to that big lead in their opener at Washington, but little is said about how the defense let Washington close to within 33-27 in the second half. The Eagles gave up 33 points to San Diego and 26 to a very conservative Kansas City Chiefs team before heading out to Denver to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

At the end of that 52-20 blowout loss, the Eagles were 1-3 and wondering if they could salvage their season.

“We’ve got to get over it,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said in Denver. “We can’t dwell on it. We can’t let this demoralize us to the point where we can’t come back and fight.”

The Eagles won their next game against the Giants at the Meadowlands. It was the first of nine consecutive games in which the Eagles allowed 21 or fewer points. They went 9-3 after the Denver game, including 7-1 in the second half of the season.

Some of that was due to the emergence of Nick Foles as the starting quarterback after Michael Vick was injured. But the defense gets credit for holding opponents under three touchdowns. That ability to adjust in midstream and steadily improve on the field will serve the Eagles well this season.

“I've seen us get better,” coach Chip Kelly said Monday. “That's one positive where we are right now. We weren't in this situation last year, but I saw us get better. We were 7-1 down the stretch [and] we were a better football team at the end of the year than we were at the beginning of the year. I hope that holds true now, because I think we're moving in a positive direction right now.”

The defense was more disruptive against the Giants than it has been since coordinator Bill Davis got here. The Eagles had eight sacks, three more than their season high last year. They were tough against the run as well as the pass. There was no sign of the letdown that allowed the Rams to score three unanswered touchdowns in the final 16 minutes a week earlier.

“Our players went out and executed,” Kelly said. “That is the biggest thing, when you can see the plan going from just a plan to [when] it’s implemented in action. I think our players executed. We got a lot of sacks, but a lot of those sacks, I thought we did a really good job in coverage.”

After the bye week, the Eagles face Carson Palmer, Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers over the span of four weeks. They get Tony Romo twice in three weeks, with Russell Wilson in between. There won’t be a lot of time for reflecting on how well the defense played against Eli Manning.

But there will be plenty of opportunity to build on the aggressive, dominating effort they turned in against Eli Manning and the Giants. There will be chances to prove that was the real Eagles defense.



Sunday, 10/26
Monday, 10/27