One of the more frustrating aspects of the Eagles’ offensive struggles is the extent to which they sometimes don’t have them.
On the first drive of Saturday night’s must-win game, the team needed only six plays, three minutes and two Washington penalties to drive 80 yards for a touchdown. One highlight was a nifty bit of play action that pulled up the linebackers and gave tight end Zach Ertz space to get behind them.
The disguise on this play was particularly convincing, as the three interior linemen all shot left at the snap, mimicking their action on an actual outside run. That tripped the circuits of Washington linebacker Will Compton, but with the downside that it opened a crease in the pass protection on the right side of the line.
That’s the crease Compton would run straight through when the Eagles ran this exact same play on the very next series. In the all-22 video of that one, it’s clear Compton recognizes the formation and pre-snap motion by Nelson Agholor – he’s staring right at him – and he blasts into the backfield so quickly that Sam Bradford never had a chance.
Earlier this week, Les Bowen wrote about a similar situation on the busted toss play that foreclosed a comeback after Washington’s DeAngelo Hall scooped up the fumbled pitch and scored. As with the play-action pass above, a carbon-copy repeat of formation and pre-snap motion keyed the defense onto the play; it was dead before it started.
A team can’t lose nine games without the players having a hand in things, but these are situations where the offense didn’t even have a chance. And it’s striking that after almost three years in the NFL, Chip Kelly is still underrating the ability of professional defenses to adjust to things they’ve seen before.
In the aftermath of the season-ending loss, Chip said the least Kelly-like thing I’ve ever heard him say: “[I]t's not good enough. But I'm going to continue to work as hard as I can and show up early in the morning and stay late at night and continue to work.”
The proselytizer of sleep-enhanced performance is now just another burned-out coach with a cot in his office.
Kelly seems to have discovered (and crashed into) the limits of efficiency. It’s hard enough to be a head coach in the NFL, let alone the overseer of the personnel department and virtual offensive coordinator. And other teams have lengthy playbooks and a full set of quarterback audibles not just because they like complexity – but because sometimes the simplest answer doesn’t work.
Much of what we’ve seen the past 12 months can be summed up as a series of shortcuts. The rapid-fire trade, release and signing of LeSean McCoy, Evan Mathis and DeMarco Murray. The slow re-filling of the practice squad after it dropped two guys in midseason. The offensive game-planning that has one set of wrinkles, but no answers to mid-game changes. It’s not just that Chip has made bad decisions. It’s that he’s made decisions badly, because he hasn’t had enough time to do everything on his plate.
Something has to change, not least of all because after a lost season, owner Jeff Lurie is running smack dab into a principal-agent problem. Lurie, the principal, wants to win a Super Bowl. Kelly, his agent, wants to win a Super Bowl before he gets fired. That’s a terrible mindset for a guy in charge of personnel to have, particularly when he wasn’t that patient to begin with.
Which brings us to the other big stay or go question: the quarterback.
Despite being on the receiving end of it almost every week, many Eagles fans still haven’t caught up to just how good the quality of modern quarterback play is. Ten years ago, the current team quarterback rating of 84.0 would have been 12th best in the league. Today it’s 26th.
There’s no question Bradford has played better the last six games. But it’s poor analysis to cherry-pick that subset of games and measure them against the rest of the league’s full schedule. If we really want to put his peak into context, better to do an apples-to-apples comparison of the best six-game streaks of every other quarterback in the league.
Do that analysis and you’ll find that Bradford, the league’s 28th-highest-rated quarterback overall, moves all the way up … to 24th. Russell Wilson’s last six games – in which he’s tossed 21 touchdown passes and averaged 9+ yards per attempt – is impressive. Bradford’s 8 passing TDs and 7.5 YPA over the same period is not so much.
And yet, for all that, Bradford is a competent professional quarterback and likely the best short-term option the team has. It’s just too bad competence at that position is so expensive.