Learning on the fly
This isn't "Fly, Eagles, Fly."
The Philadelphia Eagles have had 25 offensive possessions in the last two games -- against Dallas and the New York Giants. They've managed to score three points total. Chip Kelly's offense has been so anemic and ineffective that earlier this week the colorful Mike Missanelli, afternoon host at ESPN's 97.5 The Fanatic, recited the way those 25 possessions have ended, starting with the first and ending with the last. It was as melodic as the franchise's fight song, and yet more representative of the current state of the team under its first-year head coach.
Punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt.
Missed field goal.
Interception, interception, interception, interception.
Punt, punt, punt.
Punt, punt, punt.
Not exactly the road to victory.
This is where Kelly finds himself midway through his first season as an NFL coach. He isn't smarter than everyone else. He isn't an offensive guru. His philosophies on training and nutrition, while forward-thinking, aren't revolutionary.
Once he has an opportunity to select a quarterback in the first round of the draft -- presumably in 2014 -- and build around him with players he chooses and doesn't inherit, maybe then Kelly will prove to be an offensive innovator. Maybe then he can run teams out of the stadium with a rapid-fire offense that thrives under the repetitive accuracy of the starting quarterback. Maybe then Kelly can run more plays than the New England Patriots and exhaust opponents with a relentless attack that includes an effective read-option package and keeps defenses on their heels.
Maybe then Kelly will be all the rage in the National Football League, like he was supposed to be this season after one glorious half of football in the season opener at Washington.
But Kelly isn't that now. After eight games, Kelly's Eagles are 3-5. They haven't scored a touchdown in two games against weak defenses at home. In those two losses, the offense has averaged 239 total yards and 5.0 points per game, down from the 449.8 yards and 27.7 points it averaged through the first six weeks of the season.
While it is true that there has been unbelievable instability at the most important position on the field -- Michael Vick, Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley have all had turns under center -- the head coach hasn't exactly distinguished himself. He hasn't lived up to the hype that followed him from Oregon to the NFL. He hasn't revolutionized a game that, at its core, is about blocking and tackling.
No, week after week, Kelly, too, has made mistakes. He has proved to be much like two of the three quarterbacks on his 53-man roster: young, inexperienced and learning on the fly.
Kelly has made in-game decisions that have left knowledgeable Eagles fans scratching their heads. The Eagles' former head coach was vilified for many of his in-game decisions, like repeatedly throwing in goal-to-go situations or burning timeouts early in halves or failing to adjust the game plan at halftime. Andy Reid was stubborn. He believed in his passing offense. He often eschewed the run. And still, despite how his tenure ended, Reid won a lot of games in Philadelphia.
So far, Kelly has won three of eight. Already there are doubters.
In Week 2 against San Diego, Kelly opted not to milk the clock while trailing by three late in the game. Instead, he had the Eagles drive quickly down the field and settle for a field goal with just under two minutes to play, which gave the Chargers ample time to get into field goal range and kick the game winner. On the Eagles' final offensive possession, Kelly also had to substitute Foles for the injured Vick, because he was unaware he could call a timeout and keep Vick in the game.
In Week 3 against Kansas City, Kelly went for two after pulling within 10-6 in the first quarter of an emotionally charged game, when the typical call would have been to kick the no-brainer point-after and move on.
Two weeks ago against Dallas, Kelly called for a 60-yard field goal attempt before halftime. Last week against the Giants, he opted to go for it on fourth-and-10 with Barkley at quarterback rather than attempt a 50-yard field goal into the wind. Then, trailing 15-7 with 4:11 to play and one timeout plus the two-minute warning, Kelly called for an onside kick against the Giants' hands team instead of trying to pin New York deep and rely on a defense that had kept New York out of the end zone all day.
Kelly has repeatedly defied percentages, which points to a man who thinks he is smarter than the numbers. And in perhaps his most egregious act, Kelly let Vick talk him into getting the majority of the first-team practice snaps leading up to the Giants game, rather than cede the much-needed reps to Barkley. It became evident early in the game that Vick was less than 100 percent healthy.
For Kelly, this is a work in progress. He has never coached in the NFL. He has never coached a 16-game regular-season schedule spread over 17 weeks. He has never coached in a league where there is such a slim margin between good and bad teams, where every team has talented players, every team has speed and every team trains hard, eats right and sleeps well.
One day with Kelly as their coach, Philadelphia fans might be cheering, "E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!" But right now, the song sounds like this: "Punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt!" and no one wants to sing that tune.