Kelly Needs to Back Up Lip Service in Season’s Second Half
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — NFL coaching staffs generally use their bye weeks to look inward.
Self-scouting is the buzz word when the players have their in-season vacation. Good teams generally use the time to make sure their tendencies aren't too predictable, and bad ones can take more drastic actions like coaching changes.
For mediocre teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, the bye week is about patching tires in order to limp toward the finish line.
"Just a lot of film watching in all three phases," Eagles coach Chip Kelly explained when discussing what happens during the bye. "All staffs get together and break it down by situation.
"(On offense) break it down by field position, break it down by red zone, third down, coming out, four-minute offense; it’s the same thing for Billy (defensive coordinator Bill Davis), (breaking down) short yardage; (looking at) what are we doing in the special teams aspect. So pretty organized. It's very organized; it's been the same since I've been here. Take a lot of input from guys that have been at other places. Got a lot of good work done."
Expectations have changed in Philadelphia over the first two months of the NFL season and while Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara is not a feasible goal right now, winning the moribund NFC East certainly is.
To guarantee that, however, the Eagles most likely will only have to reach nine wins, which means a .667 run (6-3) from now until the end of the season is necessary.
Davis' defense has proven to be good enough and needs only to stay the course but Kelly's offense, which is supposed to be the identity of this organization, has been unable to carry its own water through Week 8.
Early in the season every part of the unit could shoulder some of the blame. The offensive line was underachieving, DeMarco Murray wasn't producing, the receivers were pedestrian, Sam Bradford was very inconsistent throwing the football and Kelly's play-calling was far too predictable.
Since then the big guys up front have picked up their play, Murray has at least started to put up some acceptable numbers and Bradford has begun to show flashes, leaving two issues -- an egregious receiving corps, which leads the NFL in drops, and Kelly's repetitive play calling.
Because Kelly's entire offensive philosophy is based on tempo and not some 300-page Bill Walsh-like playbook, his part of the equation isn't changing, meaning that embattled group of pass catchers has to start holding onto the football.
Eliminate those drops, the chains start moving and when that happens, the tempo is back in the offense and the Eagles could be successful despite the dearth of talent at certain positions.
"Too many drops," Kelly admitted when talking about the offense's struggles. "That is the first thing with everybody when we came out of there: we dropped too many balls. I think we were last in the league in drops or first in the league in drops, however you look at it.
"There were a lot of things that could have extended drives for us and kept us on the field. We really affected our third-down efficiency in terms of holding onto the football and we've got to do a better job catching the football."
Kelly's preferred look on offense requires “11” personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR), but the talent he has on hand is more suited for "12" (1RB, 2TE, 2WR) or "22" personnel (2RB, 2TE, 1WR).
The Eagles used “12” personnel (with the two tight ends) just 20 times in 242 plays over their first four games, 8.3 percent of the time. In games five and six, it was 55 of 155 plays (35.5 percent). And against Carolina is was almost even, the Eagles ran 11 personnel on 45 plays and 12 on 40 plays. Other groupings are practically non-existent in a Kelly offense.
Part of that shifting mentality, however, was due to the injury to rookie receiver Nelson Agholor and the fact that Riley Cooper was banged up. Both are now ready to go for Dallas after the bye so a return to the default setting is likely coming.
So Dallas is about more than just winning and losing, it's also about gauging whether Kelly is finally getting the message about his wideouts -- you can’t keep putting three mediocre-to-below receivers on the field at the same time and expect to succeed.
"We all feel it's not just about getting your hand on it, there are times we've had drops that hit us in the hands and we haven't caught the football," Kelly said.
"A lot of it goes back to drops. We've got to hold on to the football better. ...If we catch those balls on third down, we're not off the field. So hopefully we can clear that up."
It's now time to start backing up that lip service and putting the best players on the field is the first step toward doing that.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen