Chip Kelly, the Learning Curve, and the Quarterback

Patrick Causey, on Twitter @InsdeTheHuddle

I want to start by telling you a story.

Gather round. Grab a beer and put your feet up.

This story is about a coach.

A coach that was filled with ambition and whit, an acute knowledge of the game, a mastery of details, and the ambition to go after what he wanted most.

He had proven his worth by excelling with every coaching opportunity he received, and while he had yet to be an NFL head coach, he seemed destined for greatness.

His first break finally came for a franchise in a blue collar city whose fans were as passionate as they were desperate to break the city’s long streak of futility. That frustration was sometimes expressed through negativity, and anger, and maybe even a little venom.

This coach enjoyed some success, even making it to the playoffs. And pretty soon, his team was being mentioned as a trendy pick to win the Super Bowl.

But there were issues bubbling just underneath the surface, issues that were threatening to explode like a powder keg if things went awry.

For starters, he despised the local media, and over the years, they started to despise him, most particularly because the coach went to great lengths to reveal absolutely nothing to them at any chance he could get.

He was also “wound tighter than a hair braid” and handled roster decisions with the bedside manner of the Tasmanian Devil. It began to wear on the veteran holdovers from the prior regime.

That was especially true when the coach started bringing in “his guys” and jettisoning a fan favorite, in part, because he clashed with the coach. Maybe as a result of inexperience, hubris, or both, the coach didn’t anticipate the blowback from these decisions or the effects they would have on the team.

Over time, he had alienated the veteran players, the hyper-loyal fans, and the media. They loathed him for his smugness and his inability to connect. So when the wheels fell off the wagon and it became clear that the Super Bowl aspirations would not be reached, they had a field day at his expense. The fact that it came about as the result of his own errors in football judgment made it all the more sweet.

If I gave you a guess as to who this coach is, odds are you would guess Chip Kelly.

It’s a good guess all things considered.

But you are wrong.

It was a story about Bill Belichick while he was the coach of the Cleveland Browns. You can read the article I based my story off of here.

I could craft a similar story about a college coach who was in over his head in the NFL. A college coach that was once listed as one of the Top 10 NFL Coaches who never should have left the college ranks.

But I won’t bore you with another contrived story; we can skip right to the end: that coach would be Pete Carroll, when he coached the New York Jets and New England Patriots.

It’s easy to forget these blips on the otherwise illustrious coaching resumes of Carroll and Belichick. But they are great case studies to consider given our current predicament for two reasons:

  1. Like Belichick and Carroll, Kelly is finding out the hard way that the NFL has a steep learning curve.
  2. That learning curve is being exasperated by a lack of a franchise caliber quarterback.

The Learning Curve

The NFL is a brutal league. It will expose your flaws, as a player or coach, without hesitation or equivocation.

All new head coaches learn this eventually. It normally happens in the first few years of a coaches tenure, while coaching mistakes are often overshadowed by the poor play of a rebuilding team. You hope as an owner and fan that the coach figures it out by the time the team starts to get better.

Carroll and Belichick certainly had their fair share of mishaps during their first coaching stints. Belichick was aloof, too controlling, and rubbed those around him the wrong way. He made personnel blunders galore and had only one winning season in five seasons with the Browns.

Carroll was too laid back and empowered his players too much. They were used to the rigid, in your face style of Bill Parcels. The California Cool act didn’t fly, and he was quickly and unceremoniously shown the door in New England for none other than… you guessed it, Bill Belichick.

For Carroll and Belichick, vindication came after they were kicked to the curb, discarded as failures, and given the fortunate opportunity to be allowed to step up to the plate and take another swing. The fact that they were able to find success their second (or in Carroll’s case, third) time around had as much to do with learning to fix their past mistakes as it did finding a franchise caliber quarterback (more on this in a moment).

Which brings us to Chip Kelly. Perhaps buoyed by his newfangled offense, Kelly was able to delay that learning curve, starting out his coaching career with an impressive 20-12 record.

But the NFL caught up — it was always going to catch up — in year three. And we are starting to see it unfold before our eyes. I have criticized Chip Kelly from a managerial and head coaching perspective many times his year, even when it wasn’t the trendy thing to do (allow some shameless self promotion for a moment, you can read them here, herehere and here).

If you don’t want to read approximately 10,000 words on the subject, let me give you the cliff notes version: Kelly did a poor job rebuilding this team, investing in the wrong positions (RB) instead of the right ones (oline, edge rusher). He has abandoned the run too quickly, failed to utilize players properly, and struggles to make in-game adjustments in a timely fashion.

But, let’s not pretend that this is a repeat offense from Kelly. Let’s not pretend that his teams have been mired in mediocrity, or worse, during the first three years of his tenure. Kelly has hit a rough patch — and indeed, the latest loss was about as rough as it gets.

But I think we are making a mistake if we think it is too late for Kelly to turn things around. Kelly is a football junkie, one who spends an inordinate amount of time studying up on team building, and culture, and football strategy. He’s not Steve Spurrier, who spent as much time on the golf course as he did in the film room. So I don’t doubt for a moment that Kelly can turn this around. It just largely depends on whether he can find that quarterback.

Speaking of which…

The Coach and the Quarterback

It is exceedingly rare for a head coach to succeed in the NFL without a top-15 quarterback.

Consider this: prior to getting Tom Brady, Bill Belichick had just one winning season in six seasons as head coach of the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots, with a combined record of 41-55 (.427 win percentage). In the 15 years since he teamed up with Brady, Belichick does not have a single losing season, and has a combined 165-54 record (.687 win percentage).

Pete Carroll’s combined record at the Patriots, Jets and Seahawks before drafting Russell Wilson? 47-49. Since Russell Wilson became his starting quarterback? 40-17. (With the obvious caveat that the defense has as much, if not more, to do with that winning record as Wilson).

Belichick and Carroll are considered two of the best coaches in the game today, but were largely ineffective until they were able to secure a top level quarterback.

Now look at this chart:


Win %

Bruce Arians .690
Bill Belichick .670
Mike Tomlin .638
John Harbaugh .615
Sean Payton .609
Andy Reid .585
Ron Rivera .574
Chip Kelly .571
Pete Carroll .571
John Fox .564
Marvin Lewis .540
Jason Garrett .537
Tom Coughlin .538
Jeff Fischer .520
Rex Ryan .481
Bill Belichick without Brady .427

Bruce Arians has Carson Palmer. Bill Belichick has Tom Brady. Mike Tomlin has Big Ben. John Harbaugh has Joe Flacco (and arguably the best GM in football). Sean Payton has Drew Brees. Andy Reid’s high win percentage is largely due to his time spent with Donovan McNabb. And the same can be said about Ron Rivera and Cam Newton.

The fact that Kelly has been able to go 24-18 with a cast of Foles, Sanchez, Vick, Barkley and Bradford as his starting quarterbacks is somewhat remarkable. His .571 winning percentage puts him at a tie with Pete Carroll and ahead of good NFL coaches like Tom Coughlin, Marvin Lewis, and John Fox.

In fact, the one time that Kelly was given above average quarterback play — that would be during the second half of 2013, when Nick Foles went absolutely bonkers — the Eagles went 7-1. The remaining time when Kelly got below average production from the quarterback position? The Eagles are 17-17.

Would a franchise quarterback have cured all that ails this Eagles team? Of course not.

But did anyone else notice that the Cowboys, losers of seven in a row without Tony Romo, looked suddenly competent again last week in their win over the Dolphins?

Or did anyone notice how the Colts went from 10 wins with Peyton Manning in 2010, to two wins with Curtis Painter in 2011, to 11 wins with Andrew Luck in 2012?

Does anyone else remember how quickly Andy Reid’s regime fell apart when he was unable to replace Donovan McNabb (save for the one year of competent play from Michael Vick in 2010)?

A quarterback has a funny way of changing a teams fortunes and masking its flaws. That’s why it is considered one of, if not the most important position in all of sports.

How Good Does the Quarterback Need to Be?

If you have read this far along, perhaps I have convinced you to keep an open mind to the possibility of not giving up on Chip Kelly just yet. You see, it is not far fetched for me to envision a scenario in which Kelly enjoys a resurgence — maybe not this season — but in the not so distant future.

And while Kelly will need to do some soul searching this offseason, consider his approach to team building, consider adjusting his rigid adherence to playing at a fast pace, etc., he can solve a lot of his problems by finding his quarterback.

The only question is: how good does this quarterback need to be? There seems to be a common misconception about this answer, so I decided to try to figure it out.

As you can see from the chart below, I broke down the DYAR and DVOA from for the Super Bowl winning and losing quarterbacks since 2000. I chose this time period because of the rule changes that occurred around this time that favored the quarterback and the passing game. The new-aged NFL is a different game from years gone by, as the old-timers are quick to remind us.

Now, this isn’t the perfect methodology (I am not, and never will claim to be, an advanced mathematician). Perhaps I could have studied the DYAR and DVOA ratings of the top five teams each season, since the regular season is a much more reliable sample than the unpredictable playoffs. But at a minimum, I think this approach gives us a good bench mark to consider.

The numbers suggest that you need a quarterback in the top 13 to compete for a Super Bowl:

2000: Baltimore: T. Dilfer (39th / 39th) New York: K. Collins (8th / 9th)
2001 New England: T. Brady (13th / 12th) St. Louis: K. Warner (1st / 1st)
2002 Tampa Bay: B. Johnson (10th / 11th) Oakland: R. Gannon (1st / 4th)
2003 New England: T. Brady (9th / 13th) Carolina: J. Delhomme (18th / 23rd)
2004 New England: T. Brady (4th / 4th) Philadelphia: D. McNabb (6th / 6th)
2005 Pittsburg: B. Roethlisberger (10th / 15th) Seattle: M. Hasselbeck (30th / 31st)
2006 Indianapolis: P. Manning (1st / 1st) Chicago: R. Grossman (29th / 29th)
2007 New York: E. Manning (40th / 34th) New England: T. Brady (1st / 1st)
2008 Pittsburg: B. Roethlisberger (26th / 27th ) Arizona: K. Warner (5th / 8th)
2009 New Orleans: D. Brees (4th / 3rd) Indianapolis: P. Manning (3rd / 5th)
2010 Green Bay: A. Rodgers (4th / 4th) Pittsburg: B. Roethlisberger (7th / 2nd)
2011 New York: E. Manning (8th / 9th) New England: T. Brady (3rd / 3rd)
2012 Baltimore: J. Flacco (17th / 17th) San Francisco: C. Kaepernick (13th / 3rd)
2013 Seattle: R. Wilson (9th / 8th) Denver: P. Manning (1st / 1st )
2014 New England: T. Brady (6th/ 6th) Seattle: R. Wilson (13th / 14th)
Avg. 13th / 13th 9th / 9th
Here’s a quick summary of what this chart tells us:
  • 4 out of 15 Super Bowl winners ranked in the top 5 of DVOA and DYAR.
  • 8 out of 15 Super Bowl winners ranked outside the top 10 in either DVOA or DYAR.
  • In other words, twice as many quarterbacks outside the top 10 have won a Super Bowl as those inside the top 5.
  • 7 out of 15 of Super Bowl runners up were ranked outside of top 5 of DVOA and DYAR.

Now let’s be clear and distinguish between what these numbers do and do not tell us. These numbers do NOT say that elite quarterbacks are overrated. Having Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers dramatically increases your chances for regular season success, which in turn gives you more chances to win a Super Bowl.

But these numbers DO tell us that an elite signal caller is not a prerequisite to winning a Super Bowl. Remember, the average DVOA and DYAR ranking for Super Bowl winning quarterbacks over the last 15 years was 13, while 71% of the Super Bowls winners had a quarterback that ranked in the top 15 of DVOA and DYAR that year. So if the rest of your team is good enough, history shows us you can realistically compete for a Super Bowl with a quarterback in the top 13-15.

And for those wondering, I also went back and looked at the team efficiency rankings for the Super Bowl winners and runners up so we can understand how good the team needs to be:

Year Team DVOA Off




Team DVOA Off


Def Rank
2000 Ravens 3 22 2 Giants 11 8 12
2001 Patriots 11 11 13 Rams 2 2 5
2002 Bucs 1 20 1 Raiders 2 2 7
2003 Patriots 4 14 2 Panthers 16 18 10
2004 Patriots 2 3 7 Eagles 6 9 16
2005 Steelers 4 8 3 Seahawks 3 1 16
2006 Colts 7 1 25 Bears 5 20 2
2007 Giants 14 18 13 Patriots 1 1 11
2008 Steelers 4 21 1 Cardinals 21 15 21
2009 Saints 6 2 17 Colts 8 6 16
2010 Packers 4 7 2 Steelers 2 5 1
2011 Giants 9 10 3 Patriots 1 1 21
2012 Ravens 8 13 19 49ers 4 5 3
2013 Seahawks 1 7 1 Broncos 2 1 15
2014 Patriots 5 6 12 Seahawks 1 5 1
Avg. 5.53 10.86 8.06 Avg. 5.66 6.6 10.46

Putting these numbers together, the following picture emerges for the average NFL Super Bowl Champion:

  • A top 5 ranked team;
  • With a top 10 offense;
  • A top 8 defense; and
  • A top 13 overall quarterback.

Each individual champion does not fall neatly into that category. The 2000 Ravens, for example, were 3rd overall, with the 22nd ranked offense, 2nd ranked defense, and 39th ranked Trent Dilfer at quarterback. But again, we are focusing on the big picture.

Now, here are the Birds numbers under Chip Kelly:

  • 2013: TEAM: 8 overall; 3rd offense, 23rd defense. QB: Bradford: 28th/28th
  • 2014: TEAM: 7th overall, 13th offense, 10th defense. QB: Foles: 19th/20th; Sanchez: 24th/23rd.
  • 2015: TEAM: 12th overall, 23rd offense, 2nd defense. QB: Bradford: 28th/28thQB: Foles: 5th/2nd.

These numbers suggest two things: the Eagles are not that far away from being a contending team, and the thing most likely holding them back has been the subpar play at the quarterback position. It’s not a stretch to think that a top 13 quarterback could improve the Eagles 23rd ranked offense this year, which in turn help out the overall ranking (and arguably, help out the defense too).

But I digress. The purpose of this exercise was to dispel the notion that we need the next Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady to compete for a Super Bowl. Remember, Eli Manning and Big Ben have more Super Bowl rings than Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning combined. So while it wouldn’t hurt to get a top five stud, we can still realistically compete if we can find a top 13-15 guy.


While I was beating the drum on Kelly’s coaching mistakes all season (and got crushed for doing so by some in the process), I am getting the sense that the pendulum is swinging too far in the other direction. While Kelly is not without his flaws,  especially on the personnel side, he is still a good coach. And it would be a mistake to run him out of town.

Kelly’s future success will depend on finding that top 13-15 guy, through free agency, trade, or the draft. Here is hoping he can do so in the next year or two, otherwise we might be looking at Philadelphia being to Kelly as Cleveland was to Belichick and New England/New York were to Carroll.

Eagles Hit Rock Bottom

Patrick Causey, on Twitter @InsdeTheHuddle

The Eagles hit rock bottom today with one of the worst losses in recent memory. In a critical game that could have put the Eagles in first place of the NFC East, the Eagles didn’t just play poorly, they didn’t even show up.

This game, this performance, this team was an indictment on the Chip Kelly rebuild process that saw him overhaul a roster that went 10-6 in consecutive seasons. Kelly spent the entire offseason getting “his guys” that bought into “his culture,” — and this was the result. 4-6 and unable to take advantage of repeated opportunities to grab the weakened NFC East by the throat.

While I have not bought into the “Fire Chip Kelly” mantra — yet — it is becoming harder to ignore as the bad losses start to pile up. The Eagles loss to the Dolphins seemed like the low point of the Chip Kelly era; up 16-3 on a team that was begging to be put out of their misery, but the Eagles could only muster three points the rest of the way and lost a game they undoubtedly should have won.

But this loss to the Bucs made the Dolphins game look like a walk through the park. Pick any adjective you can think of — pathetic, embarrassing, unprofessional — and it still doesn’t seem strong enough to explain how poorly the Eagles played.

If these losses don’t shaken your resolve in Chip Kelly, then you have the patience of Job.

And while you don’t need me to remind you of how ugly this loss was, here are seven numbers to put this loss in perspective:


I understand why Chip Kelly focuses on number of plays run to an extent. But a dogma like adherence to that philosophy can be a fools errand, and today’s game was a prime example of why.

Both the Eagles and Bucs ran 72 plays today. So from that perspective, everything was just peachy. But the Bucs had the ball for almost 36 minutes (35:54) compared to 24:06 for the Eagles. And while the defense played terrible today, the time of possession disparity had to play a factor.

Consider the following drives in order, with time of possession in parenthesis:

  • Eagles: 5 plays, 14 yards, punt (1:53)
  • Bucs: 5 plays, 75 yards, touchdown (2:55): 7-7
  • Eagles: 3 plays, 4 yards, punt (:46)
  • Bucs: 5 plays, 59 yards, touchdown (2:09) 14-7
  • Eagles: 3 plays, 3 yards, punt (1:11)
  • Bucs: 3 plays, 0 yards punt (2:06)
  • Eagles: 3 plays, 6 yards, punt (1:30)
  • Bucs: 4 plays, 85 yards, touchdown (2:03) 21-7

According to Chip, this sequence was okay: the Eagles ran 14 plays to the Bucs 17. But from a time of possession perspective, the Bucs more than doubled the Eagles: 9:13 to 4:20.

The impact on the Eagles defense was as painful as it was obvious. Yet Chip Kelly did nothing. He did not call a timeout to give his defenders a breather. He did not ask his offense to slow it down despite multiple three and outs. He stuck to his guns, insisting his way was the right way, and it provided the Bucs the opportunity to put the game away before it started.


Mark Sanchez’s interception rate in five and a half quarters of play. He’s thrown four interceptions on just 64 pass attempts. Obviously, that number is not sustainable and some regression to the mean should be expected. But for a quarterback being given every opportunity to win the starting job, Mark Sanchez has really dropped the ball (or given it away, is probably more appropriate).


The number of touchdowns the Eagles gave up to rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. That ties the NFL record for most touchdown passes thrown by a rookie, and was equal to half of the touchdowns Winston had thrown all year prior to today.


The total yards the Eagles allowed today, the fifth most they’ve ever allowed at home. 283 of those yards were allowed on the ground, where Doug Martin absolutely eviscerated the Eagles once vaunted run defense, running 27 times for 235 yards.


The Eagles record over the last 14 games, which is why it is wrong to lay all of the blame for this season on Chip Kelly the general manager. These issues started last year — the chemistry problems, the mistakes, the three and outs — but they became an afterthought after this crazy offseason. Despite overhauling the roster, the results are largely still the same, and arguably even worse. Chip Kelly better figure out a way to fix these issues, or his tenure as the head coach and head of player personnel could be over sooner rather than later.


The number of times Eagles players (in this instance, Malcolm Jenkins and Connor Barwin) dropped interceptions. On the very next play, the Bucs scored touchdowns. We always hear that football is a game of inches, and these plays certainly lend credence to that theory.


That was the Bucs third down conversion rate. The Bucs also went 1-1 converting fourth downs. It was comically bad at times, with the Eagles giving up multiple third and longs. I’ll be interested to see Eric Rowe’s snap count for today’s game. We heard a lot about him getting more reps today, but I did not see him much. And that was despite E.J. Biggers getting beaten — repeatedly — on multiple third and longs.


Speaking of bad secondary play, Nolan Carroll gave up three touchdown passes today. On two of those passes, Carroll gave large receivers — Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson — free releases at the line of scrimmage. It was a curious decision for a team that likes to play press man coverage. Again, Eric Rowe cannot get in the field for this guy? And to think, the Eagles traded multiple picks to move up and get Rowe.

Final Word

A final word on the state of the quarterback play. It is abundantly clear that the Eagles do not have the long term solution at the quarterback position on their roster. That doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out.

And anyone using this game to pound their chest about Sam Bradford would be sadly mistaken. As Brent pointed out during the game:

Add to it Bradford’s significant injury history, and do you honestly feel comfortable committing the $15-18 million per over the next 3-4 years that it would take to sign him? I know I wouldn’t.

(And before you say that is an insane valuation, remember that Jay Cutler signed a seven year $126 million contract ($18 mil/year), and Colin Kaepernick signed a six year $114 million contract ($19 mil/year)).

I don’t want to short shrift this analysis; I plan on getting a post up later this week that puts into proper context what we need to obtain to make the quarterback position work. But the easy conclusion here is the Eagles have a huge hole at the most important position in football, with no easy solutions in sight.

Keys to the Eagles v. Bucs Game

Patrick Causey, on Twitter @InsdeTheHuddle

The Philadelphia Eagles face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 1 pm at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles are 5.5 to 7 point favorites over the Bucs depending on which site you use, with the line set 44.5 points, which suggests a lower scoring affair.

Full disclosure, I am expecting another frustrating game from the Eagles. This entire season has been predicated on slow first halves followed by the Eagles coming alive in the second. Last Sunday, the Eagles flipped the script, starting strong with a 16-3 lead at the end of the first quarter — sucking us into believing the team had finally turned the corner — only to score three points the rest of the way.

At this point, I think it is time we accept the fact that there won’t be a flipped switch, magical spark, or “aha” moment that turns this season around. 10 weeks into the season, this is who the Eagles are, and they aren’t very good. The only reason they are still relevant is because the rest of the NFC East has been terrible. But that should not change the fact that the Eagles are a bad team. And bad teams don’t tend to turn it around midseason.

But I digress. Let’s breakdown the game and focus on some of the key matchups that will go a long way towards determining its outcome.

Big Picture on the Bucs:

A few weeks ago, this game seemed like a lock on paper. The Eagles had just come off a solid win against their division rival, Dallas Cowboys, and Sam Bradford was starting to look like a competent starting quarterback. But Bradford is now hurt and the Eagles laid an egg against the Dolphins.

To make matters worse, while the Bucs are 4-5, they are playing with newfound confidence on both sides of the ball. Led by rookie quarterback Jameis Winston — who looks every bit the part of a franchise caliber quarterback — the Bucs find themselves winners of three of their last five games.

The Bucs defense was a train wreck during the first six weeks of the year, but has turned things around over the last two weeks. And while they have allowed the sixth most total yards on the year, they are one of the top run defenses in the league, ranking second overall by limiting teams to only 3.4 yards per carry.

The Bucs have lowered their passing yards allowed per game from 243 to 233, thanks to impressive efforts against the Cowboys (186 passing yards) and Giants (243) the last two weeks. During that time, the Bucs have switched cornerbacks to Sterling Moore and undrafted rookie Jude Adjei-Barimah. While neither have been spectacular, they have cut down on the mistakes that were allowing too many big plays earlier in the year.

On offense, the Bucs take a balanced approach (53/47 pass to run ratio), but still rely on the run game to set the tone. Doug Marin is fifth in the league in carries and rushing yards, with 161 carries for 706 yards. Charles Sims has been an effective second option for the Bucs, with 66 carries for 302 yards (4.6 ypc) and 22 catches for 251 yards (11.4 ypc). The offense has been stagnant over the last three games, scoring four touchdowns, three of which came on runs from Jameis Winston. But the offense should get a boost today with Vincent Jackson reportedly playing:

Here are some of the key matchups for today’s game:

Eagles Interior Line Against Gerald McCoy

Gerald McCoy often gets lost in the discussion of best defensive tackles in football because the Bucs have largely been irrelevant over the last three plus season. But make no mistake, McCoy is a dominant force up front that could pose a significant challenge to the Eagles underwhelming offensive line, much like Ndamukong Suh did last week.

While I generally avoid’s ranking systems, this is the easiest way to show you what I mean instead of just saying “take my word for it.” Below is a chart showing McCoy’s ranking according to for defensive tackles in the league compared to Suh:






G McCoy





N Suh





Again, take these numbers with a grain of salt. I think Suh has been the better player over the last four seasons, but this should give you an understanding of how good McCoy has been. And while McCoy’s play has regressed somewhat this year, don’t let the number 25 ranking fool you, he’s not playing nearly that bad.

Simply put, McCoy is a menace up front, and should pose a significant issue for the Birds. And their offensive line is going to need to improve significantly from last week in order to accomplish anything on offense.

Eagles Offensive Line Generally and in Blitz Pickup

All week we heard that Jason Peters was going to play. But that is looking less certain now, according to’s Ian Rapoport:

Losing Peters would obviously be a huge blow to the Eagles, as it would force Lane Johnson to kick out to left tackle and reserve lineman Dennis Kelly — who was absolutely brutal against the Dolphins — to start at right tackle.

At this point, most Eagles fans should be cursing Kelly’s decision to not address the offensive line in each of the last two offseasons. And while I will concede that it is hard for any team to recover from losing two starters to the offensive line, the Eagles were already starting two backup lineman in Allen Barbre and Andrew Gardner. In essence, the Eagles are on their third and fourth reserve lineman with Matt Tobin and Dennis Kelly, and it is starting to show.

Last week Kelly made the mistake of not giving the offensive line any help despite their struggles. Kelly should not make that mistake this week. The Bucs have a very good front seven that likes to blitz often. The Eagles need to have Celek and Murray/Sproles help provide Sanchez extra time with which to operate. Otherwise, it could be another long, frustrating day for the offense.

Sticking with the Run

Another major issue for the Eagles today will be getting the ground game going. With the Eagles most effective runner — Ryan Mathews — out today, the onus will fall on DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles to carry the load.

However, the question becomes just how much of an opportunity they will receive. Chip Kelly has shown a tendency to give up on the run game if he sees a decided advantage in the passing attack and/or if the opposing defense is stout against the run. During the first four games of the year, the Eagles averaged only 22.75 carries per game when the offensive line could not run block to save its life.

The Bucs enter this game with the fourth ranked rush defense per, rank third in allowing only 3.4 yards per carry, and are ranked 10th overall in rushing yards allowed.

The temptation might be there for the Eagles to go for a pass heavy attack. In fact, I largely expect it. But it would be a mistake. As I’ve discussed at length, the Eagles are a much better team when they take a balanced approach. But more importantly, we cannot rely on Mark Sanchez to win this game throwing the football. Asking a quarterback with a 3.8 career interception rate to win the game throwing the football seems like a recipe for disaster. Especially given that his first five drives this year from Sanchez ended with a field goal, an interception, two punts and a turnover on downs.

Stopping the big receivers 

As I mentioned before, Vincent Jackson will be playing today according to’s Adam Schefter. Jackson, at 6’5 230 lbs, will be joined by second year wideout, Mike Evans, who is also 6’5, 231 pounds. On the year, Evans has 40 catches for 662 yards, 16.6 yards per catch, and 1 touchdown. While Evans has been inconsistent this year, leading the NFL in dropped passes with 11, he is still a dynamic receiving threat, especially in the redzone.

This receiving duo will challenge the Eagles secondary. Neither receiver is a burner, but both have good size and are great at high pointing the ball (i.e. catching the ball at its peak). While the Eagles have valued size in their secondary, both Maxwell and Carroll are 6’1, giving the Bucs receivers a four-inch height advantage.

As I mentioned earlier on Twitter, expect to see a lot of jump balls and back shoulder throws today from the Bucs:

Forcing Turnovers from Winston

Last week’s final drive against the Dallas Cowboys perfectly encapsulates the season Jameis Winston is having. He engineered a 56-yard drive that ended with Winston scoring a 1-yard touchdown run with 54 seconds left in the game. But that touchdown was made possible only after his lost fumble was negated by a Cowboys penalty.

In other words, Winston is playing like a rookie: great plays one minute, head scratching plays the next. His numbers on the year bear that out: Winston has completed 57.% of his passes for 2,159 yards, 10 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 80.1.

Again, nothing to fear, but given that Winson is a rookie, those numbers are actually fairly good.

The Eagles need to disguise their blitzes and coverages to confuse Winston and hopefully force him into turnovers. He had gone four consecutive games without a turnover until last week when he tossed two interceptions. The good news for the Eagles is that forcing turnovers is their specialty: they are tied for second in the NFL with 20 total takeaways.

One final thought on Winston before my ill-advised prediction.

This game has the makings of being a close, and probably ugly contest. If the Eagles have a chance to put the Bucs away early on, they need to seize that opportunity. That means scoring touchdowns instead of field goals (or worse, redzone turnovers, cough, Mark Sanchez).

Because if there is one thing I have learned watching Jameis Winston closely over the last three years, it’s that no game is out of reach when he plays. I know that sounds silly to say about a rookie quarterback, but Winston just has that “it” factor. He led his first career NFL comeback victory last week, which is something he did routinely in college. Don’t give him that chance this week.


As you can probably tell by the tenure of this article, I do not feel good about this game. I would feel better if Peters was playing, but signs are pointing to him missing his third straight game. Given how bad the offensive line played last week, and how good the Bucs front seven is playing, I see Eagles dropping this game 24-17.

The Eagles are Bad and Chip Kelly (the GM and Head Coach) is to Blame

Chip Kelly the general manager deserves all the blame he has received, but Chip Kelly the coach is also part of the problem.

Patrick Causey, on Twitter @InsdeTheHuddle

In January of this year, I was sharply critical of Jeffrey Lurie’s decision to make Chip Kelly the head of player personnel. I did not like the decision to vest that much power in one person, especially when that person already had to handle being the head coach and play caller.

I was equally concerned with the manner through which Kelly sought to rebuild this Eagles franchise. Kelly seemed to take a page out of the playbook employed by the Daniel Snyder-led Washington Redskins of the early to mid-2000s: high roster turnover, big free agent signings, and even a new wrinkle: relying on oft-injured players.

Many others saw these issue too. Perhaps the most ominous warning came from Bill Barnwell, after the Eagles signed DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell to big money free agent contracts:(and Barnwell is looking especially on point, predicting that the Eagles would fail to live up to the preseason hype and finish the season 9-7):

Here’s the simplest way I can put this: Pretend, for a moment, that the Raiders or the Jaguars or the Browns made this exact same pair of moves. They would be the laughingstocks of the league, fools making the same stupid mistakes that bad franchises always make. The Eagles understandably aren’t being painted with that brush because Kelly has earned a certain level of credibility as a forward-thinking coach. With the moves Kelly has made this offseason, that credibility is on the line.

Kelly may very well make these signings work, but the Murray deal is a classic example of what bad teams do in free agency. Two years from now, we may very well look back at the past 72 hours in Eagles history as the moment when Kelly sealed his status as the next Bill Belichick. We also may look back at it as the time when Kelly sealed his fate.

And yet, we largely ignored these problems, giving Chip Kelly the benefit of the doubt because he had won 20 games in his first two seasons. Perhaps part of us ignored the issues because we wanted Kelly to succeed at all costs, warning signs be damned. You can only so through so many years of disappointment before you start grasping on something, anything to believe that this year is finally the year.

But there are certain truisms to building a successful team in the NFL that should not be ignored. You build through the draft, supplement with free agency, and do your best to retain “your guys.” Get lucky along the way with some late round picks, secure a franchise quarterback, and keep the roster intact, and you give yourself a chance.

Those aren’t platitudes. They aren’t catch phrases used to opportunistically criticize a coach because he is having a bad season. They are tried and true methods that we have seen work over the years for teams like the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New England Patriots.

Chip Kelly wholly ignored this blueprint for success: he has 11 new starters on this team — many of whom are in significant positions — and was one of the biggest spenders in free agency.  Couple that with a marginal success rate in the draft, and the team is currently mired in a season that is as disappointing as it is frustrating.

Up until this point, we have largely blamed Chip Kelly the GM for most of the Eagles issues. But watching the Eagles latest loss against the Miami Dolphins reveals that Chip Kelly the head coach might also be part of the problem.

Now, to be clear, this is not a “fire Chip Kelly” #hottake. I still think Kelly is a good football coach. You do not go 20-12 in your first two seasons in the league by accident. And while Kelly never “revolutionized” the game in ways that some may have predicted, his fingerprints are now seen all over the league. Every time you see a team tout their investment in sports science and player monitors, or hear a team using loud music during practice, or watch a team run spread concepts at a fast pace, just know Kelly had a hand in it. And for those facts, Kelly deserves credit.

But we cannot continue to ignore that Chip Kelly not only failed in acquiring talent this offseason, but is also failing in how he manages and utilizes that talent during the season. I covered a few weeks back during our self-scouting series, but it deserves further attention.

Miles Austin is this year’s Bradley Fletcher

Let’s start with the low hanging fruit. We can and should criticize Kelly the GM for signing Austin to a $2.5 million contract, with $1 million guaranteed, when no other team seemed to have any interest in signing him. That is especially true when Kelly could have found much better production elsewhere.

Nate Washington’s stat line of 26 catches, 411 yards, and three touchdowns rivals Austin and Riley Cooper’s combined stat line of 23 catches, 417 yards and three touchdowns. Only the Eagles are paying Cooper and Austin a combined $7.1 million while Nate Washington is making $1 million.

The Eagles could also have signed Michael Crabtree, the 28-year old former first round pick, who signed a $3.2 million contract to play for the Oakland Raiders. Instead, they spent $2.5 on Austin, who is three years older and has a significantly longer injury history. Crabtree’s production: 51 catches, 646 yards, and five touchdowns.

Or if you really want to make your blood boil, consider that the Eagles are currently paying Riley Cooper $4.5 million, while the New England Patriots are paying Julian Edelman $4.25 million this year.  (Yes, the Cooper extension occurred when Howie Roseman was the GM, but Kelly is reported to have pushed for the deal, so he deserves some of the blame).

Even if you dismiss the criticism of the personnel moves as benefiting from hindsight 20/20 — and I think it is a mistake to do that — you should recognize that Kelly is compounding his mistake by playing Austin week in, week out, despite mounting evidence that he is not a competent wide receiver.

If this sounds vaguely familiar to you, it should. Kelly had the same issue last season when he refused to bench Bradley Fletcher, despite Fletcher playing at a comically bad level. It was not until this past offseason that Billy Davis finally admitted that not benching Fletcher was a mistake, which he attempted to write off as a result of having “tunnel vision” during the season.

Regardless, the decision to stick with Austin represents the continuation of a troubling trend for Kelly, who seems either loyal to a fault or unable to correctly determine when a player no longer warrants the playing time he is receiving.

I do not like to call for anyone’s job, but in this instance, I am willing to make an exception. Miles Austin should not be starting for this team, and he arguably should not even be on this roster anymore. This fact has become increasingly obvious as the season has progressed. As we covered before, Austin has an embarrassingly low 50% catch rate on the season, one of the worst marks in the league.

During the Dolphins game, there were at least five plays in which Austin made critical mistakes. Benching Austin after one or even two of those mistakes probably would have been justified. Allowing it to progress to the third, fourth and fifth mistake? Seems like coaching malpractice to me.

Let’s take a look.

In the third quarter, the Eagles were clinging to a 16-13 lead and in desperate need for some positive momentum. Sam Bradford delivered an absolute perfect strike to Austin streaking down the sideline, but Austin (predictably) dropped the ball.

Here are multiple angles of the drop:

Had Austin made that catch, the Eagles would have been set up nicely inside the Dolphins redzone. Instead, the drive stalled, and the Eagles were forced to punt from the Dolphins 38 yard line.

Later in the third quarter, Sam Bradford notices that Austin is wide open at the line of scrimmage in what looked like to be a designed run play. Bradford attempted to change out of that play and make the quick throw to Austin. The only problem? Austin does not realize he is open, and instead tries to block his defender 10-yards down the field. The result is Bradford having to take a sack for the loss:

When Sanchez came into the game, the quarterback was different but the result was the same. To start the fourth quarter, Austin broke free on a go route in the end zone. Sanchez found Austin in stride for what should have been the go-ahead touchdown:

But Austin could not drag his foot down, despite having a solid two to three yards with which to operate:

Austin Foot Drag

On a critical second down on the last drive of the game for the Eagles, Miles Austin broke free on a crossing route. Prior to the snap, Sanchez seemed to be directing Austin to run a slant, almost telegraphing that he was coming in Austin’s direction:

Austin was wide open, but did not lift his head up to look for the ball. Here is a better angle:

That’s four bad plays, five if we count the interception Mark Sanchez threw in the endzone when Miles Austin appeared to stop short of his route.

Given Austin’s poor performance to date, Kelly would have been justified benching Austin after the first bad play — the egregious drop in the third quarter. Instead, Kelly stuck with Austin, putting him in a position to fail to make the play over and over again.

Perhaps the most alarming trend was how willing Austin’s teammates were to throw him under the bus. Look at that last vine again and see Sanchez’s reaction.  Now consider Agholor’s reaction after Austin dropped that perfect throw from Bradford:

And finally, watch Bradford’s reaction after Austin failed to realize he was open, leading to the sack:

It’s one thing for the fans or reporters to get on Austin for his poor play. It is an entirely separate matter when his own teammates start to publicly call Austin out through their body language. Simply put, Chip Kelly must bench Austin this week.

Who Can Replace Austin?

A number of you on Twitter have asked who should replace Austin. And given that the Eagles receivers aren’t exactly lighting the world on fire, it is a fair question to ask.

Let’s start with the offensive snap count, courtesy of Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Miles Austin played 47% of the offensive snaps, which equates to 45 snaps. Splitting up those snaps should not be too difficult of an issue.

The name that immediately jumps to mind is Darren Sproles, who played only 17 offensive snaps Sunday (18%). Why are we paying Sproles $3.5 million this year if we aren’t going to use him? To put his salary in perspective, consider this:

All this offseason, we heard from the coaching staff that it was going to be a priority to get Sproles more involved in the offense. Yet, it is week 10 and Sproles still is being underused.

It is not unreasonable to give Sproles 15 of those 45 snaps (bringing his total to 32), and splitting the rest between Matthews (who played 59% of offensive snaps), Celek (60%), Agholor (55%), and Huff (44%).

And don’t get fixated on the positions: while Celek and Sproles play different positions than Austin, they are still creative ways to make this offense work without leaving Austin on the field. For starters, the Eagles can run more 12 personnel (two tight ends, two wide receivers, one running back) to have Celek take over some of Austin’s stats. Similarly, they could line up Sproles in the slot, pushing Matthews to the outside, to take Austin off the field. Or, they could even split Ertz out wide (something the Saints and now Seahawks use to great success with another blocking deficient tight end, Jimmy Graham), with a combination of Matthews, Agholor and Huff sharing the outside reps.

(Note: I split this up into two parts; click the number 2 below to get to the second page)

Keys to the Eagles v Dolphins Game

Patrick Causey on Twitter @InsdeTheHuddle

The Basics

The Philadelphia Eagles come into Sunday’s game 4-4, looking to break the .500 mark for the first time all season. They are one game back of the 5-4 New York Giants, who take on the undefeated New England Patriots this weekend. While nothing is guaranteed in today’s NFL, this certainly seems like a golden opportunity for the Eagles to grab sole possession of first place in the NFC East (the Eagles own the tie breaker over the Giants).

The Eagles are six point favorites against the Dolphins, who have lost two in a row to the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills by a combined score of 69-24. This came on the heels of the Dolphins winning two straight in dominant fashion against the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans by a combined score of 82-54. Many thought the Dolphins had turned the corner after firing their head coach Joe Philbin, but the success was short-lived as they came crashing down to earth in consecutive road games against AFC East division rivals.

Despite being 4-4, the Eagles are still respected by the analytics community. Led by a stout defense and strong run game, the Eagles are ranked 10th overall in Team Efficiency Ratings by That places them only two spots behind the Denver Broncos and seven spots ahead of the Atlanta Falcons. Their week 10 opponent, the Miami Dolphins, come in ranked 21st overall.

A Familiar Foe

Most of you know that the Dolphins offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, was the Eagles quarterbacks coach in 2012 when Nick Foles put up the absurd 27/2 stat line. Lazor parlayed that performance into the offensive coordinator gig with the Dolphins, and (somewhat surprisingly) survived the recent firing of Philbin.

Lazor has incorporated some of Kelly’s offensive philosophies in Miami’s offense, running heavily out of shotgun formations, using zone read running concepts, and throwing a lot of wide receiver screens. According to Chip Kelly, about 25 percent of the Dolphins’ offense is based on what Kelly does in Philadelphia.

But Kelly’s influence has lessened since Dan Campbell has been name head coach of the Dolphins. Campbell has committed to playing smash mouth, physical football, running more out of power formations over the last four weeks. Still, in a game that will likely be decided by only a handful of plays, the Eagles familiarity with the Dolphins offensive scheme could prove beneficial this week (and of course, the same could be said in the inverse, with Lazor’s familiarity with Kelly’s offense).

5 Keys to the Game

Here are the keys to the Eagles v Dolphins game which should go a long way towards determining the outcome of this game:

Establishing the Run

As I covered earlier this week, the Philadelphia Eagles have finally found themselves a run game. In the first four games of the year, the Eagles averaged 22.75 carries per game, for 70 yards, on 3.1 yards per carry and .75 touchdowns. They went 1-3 in those contests.

However, over the last four games, the Eagles are averaging 34 carries, 173.25 yards, 5.1 ypc and 1.5 touchdowns. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Eagles are 3-1 in those contests.

Fortunately for the Eagles, the Dolphins are dreadful against the run. They come in ranked 26th in terms of yards allowed per rush (4.5 ypc), and rank second-to-last with 142.1 yards surrendered on the ground. Against LeSean McCoy and the Buffalo Bills last week, the Dolphins gave up an absurd 266 rushing yards.

So it will be important for Chip Kelly to establish the run game early and stick with it. I know I will sound like a broken record here, but the Eagles are 12-2 under Kelly when they run more than pass, and 20-3 when they carry the ball at least 30 times. This is in line with the NFL trends this year, where the team that wins the rushing battle wins a whopping 68% of the time.

However, this might be the game where the Eagles would be better served relying on Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles this week. The Dolphins are stout up the middle with the likes of Ndamukong Suh and linebacker Koa Misi. They are not nearly as good on the edges, especially after losing defensive end Cameron Wake for the year because of a torn achilles. The Bills had great success last week running McCoy and Karlos Williams to the edge of the Dolphins defense. While the Eagles will likely commit to giving Murray the rock at least 18 times this game, they arguably would be better served relying more on Mathews given his ability to get to the edge.

Taking Advantage of Jason Fox

The Dolphins lost their starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James to a toe injury for the next month. His replacement, journey-man Jason Fox, was abused by Buffalo Bills’ Jerry Hughes last week, who registered 3 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced fumble. According to Orlando Alzugaray of the Big O Show in Miami, Fox has no business starting in the NFL at this point in his career. 

Look for the Eagles to test Fox early and often with a combination of Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Cedric Thorton. While Barwin’s sack numbers are down this year, he is still one of the Eagles best pass rushers and could be in line for a big game.

Ryan Tannenhill is the 11th most pressured quarterback in the NFL, per Tannenhill completes 55.6% of his passes, which is good for seventh best in the league. However, Tannenhill has also thrown three interceptions when under pressure, tied for the 11th most. Given that the Eagles lead the league in takeaways with 20, they could be in line for a big game in the turnover department if they are able to take advantage of Fox and force Tannenhill into making some mistakes.

Starting Fast 

Starting fast is important every week, but it could be especially important this week.

The concern is not so much that the Dolphins will run away with the game, but rather the impact getting an early lead has on the Dolphins play calling. The Dolphins have a habit of abandoning the run game when they fall behind early, despite the fact that the Dolphins have a very strong run game: the Dolphins rank second in the league averaging 4.9 yards per carrry, but rank 31st overall with just 21 attempts per game. Similarly, Lamar Miller is averaging an impressive 5.3 yards per carry, but has just 91 carries in 8 games. The Dolphins 34.2 run percentage is the third lowest in the NFL.

The only problem? The Eagles have scored just 10 points in the first quarter all season, and have been equally anemic in the second quarter. It will be critical for the Eagles to get out to a fast start against the Dolphins and turn them into a one dimensional team.

Limiting Jarvis Landry

Jarvis Landry is the Dolphins most explosive weapon on offense. Landry primarily lines up in the slot, which means he will be covered by Malcolm Jenkins on most plays. Up until last week’s game against the Cowboys, Jenkins had been downright sensational this year. But an apparent concussion in the second quarter of the Cowboys game limited his effectiveness, with Cole Beasley feasting on Jenkins to the tune of nine catches, 112 yards and two touchdowns.

This just in: Jarvis Landry is much better than Cole Beasley. Landry has 53 catches, 533 yards and two touchdowns on the year. Jenkins is going to have his hands full with Landry, who is an explosive playmaker with the ball in his hands. Landry can use his precise route running (I thought he was the best route runner in his draft class) to get open deep, and his explosiveness to turn the most innocuous wide receiver screen into a large gain.

But expect to see Landry line up all over the field. Lazor has used Landry as a running back 12 times this year, and will also line up Landry outside. So the Eagles will need to be mindful of Landry at all times on Sunday.

Controlling Ndamukong Suh

This one doesn’t take a lot of analysis. Ndamukong Suh is one of the best defensive players in the NFL. He has the ability to wreak havoc on an offense, collapsing the pocket in ways that few lineman can in the league. And with Cameron Wake lost for the year to a torn achilles, the Eagles will have the ability to put more focus on stopping Suh.

It will be important to keep Suh out of the backfield so the Eagles can establish the run game early and to protect Sam Bradford for a potential cheap shot from Suh — let’s be honest, Suh isn’t exactly a saint. Expect the Eagles to try to double team Suh often with Matt Tobin and Jason Kelce. The last thing the Eagles need is Bradford getting hurt because of a cheap shot from Suh.

Big Picture Take-Away:

The Eagles SHOULD win this game. They have decided advantages on the Dolphins when they are playing on offense, and the Dolphins don’t do anything particularly well on the offensive side of the ball that should threaten the Eagles. But, as we have seen every week, nothing is guaranteed in the NFL. So your guess is as good as mine.

Eagles 31, Dolphins 21

Inside the Huddle Part 3: Predictable Play Calling and Inconsistency on Offense and the Eagles Remaining Schedule

Patrick Causey, on Twitter @InsdeTheHuddle

This is a three-part series analyzing where the Eagles stand after the game against the Dallas Cowboys. This is part three. You can read all three by clicking the following links below:

Predictability of Play Calling: Murray swing pass, Murray run

Lost in the euphoria of the Eagles win over a hated division rival is how poorly the Eagles played for the first three quarters of the game. As I mentioned about 3,000 words ago, the Eagles offense produced just 91 yards of total offense in the first three quarters, excluding their two touchdown drives.

Many expected the Eagles to come out of their bye week swinging. Instead, the Eagles started off the game with a rare feat, running six plays without getting a single first down. It was an ominous sign of the things to come, and was made worse by the fact that the defense allowed the Matt Cassell-led Cowboys to drive the ball 93 yards down the field for a touchdown.

The Eagles next two drives combined yielded just nine plays for 38 yards.  On three third downs the Eagles faced to start the game, Bradford threw the ball short of the sticks and unsurprisingly, failed to gain a first down. Here are examples of two of those throws:

Eagles fans and media members were understandably frustrated. Throughout the game, Twitter was filled with examples of frustrated fans and media members who had seen enough

Simply put, it was an incredibly frustrating first 45 minutes of the game.

Many people have asked why the Eagles have consistently struggled in the first halves of games. One explanation is that Chip Kelly has become too predictable of a play caller. Some of this probably unfair, since every team has tendencies in certain downs and game situations. Some level of predictability is to be expected.

But some of it was entirely justified. For example, earlier this year Kelly started running the ball with Bradford under center after it became clear that Murray was struggling running from the shotgun. The Eagles ended up calling 17 plays with Bradford lined up under center against the Saints, which had to be some sort of record for a Kelly-led offense.The only problem? On every single play, the Eagles ran the ball.

Before that, Kelly was telegraphing the direction in which he run plays were designed by the formation of his running back. Specifically, when a running back would line up on one side of the quarterback in the shotgun formation, he would run to the other side of the field 80% of the time.

Each of these examples are far too predictable against NFL defenses and defensive coordinators. It’s why you heard stories about defensive players calling out the Eagles plays before they were snapped.

While Kelly has done a better job switching things up as of late, there is one area that really stands out that needs to be changed. To start the game against the Cowboys, the Eagles called a pass that incorporated a swing pattern for DeMarco Murray out of the backfield:

The next play, Murray did an inside zone run on second down.

The problem with this series of play calling — in addition to gaining only one yard total — is that it has become a staple for the Eagles to start each half.

There have been 16 halves of football played by the Eagles.The first play run in eight of those halves was a designed pass play to Murray out of the backfield. He was targeted on seven of those plays, six of which involved Murray running a swing route.

To make matters worse: on nine of the 16 drives in question, the Eagles ran the ball on the very next play, usually on an inside zone run up the middle.

In other words, there is approximately a 50% chance that the Eagles will start the first and second halves by throwing a swing pass to Murray followed by Murray running the ball up the middle.

If I can figure this out in 30 minutes looking over NFL Films, you can rest assured NFL defensive coordinators have figured this out as well.

And how did the Eagles do on those plays? Not good. On those seven pass plays to Murray on first down, the Eagles have gained an average of 2.14 yards per play. And on those follow up run plays, the Eagles have gained only 3.88 yards per play.

To be fair to Chip Kelly, this is not entirely his fault. Almost every pass play in his offense comes with multiple options. So Bradford can go in another direction if he so chooses, as we saw on the one occasion where Bradford threw the ball to Agholor instead of Murray.

But, if the defense knows what routes are coming — and it says here that they do — then it is much easier for the defense to shut those other routes down and force the Eagles to settle for a dump off to Murray.

The most troubling thing, at least for me, is that the Eagles coaching staff failed to pick up on this during the bye week. The Eagles coaching staff spent the bye week self-scouting themselves, including their play calling.

The fact that the Eagles came out against the Cowboys and ran the exact same two plays to start the game is somewhat shocking. The Eagles need to switch things up on opening drives. One thing we’ve seen is that the offense gets rolling after it is able to convert a first down or two. But that momentum will be much harder to manufacture if the defense knows which plays are coming. Keep an eye against the Dolphins to see if the Eagles run these plays to start each half. If they do, do not be surprised if it leads to another three and out.

The Eagles Remaining Schedule

A short word on the Eagles remaining schedule. The Eagles are in prime position to go on a mini-win streak here, as their next three opponents (Miami, Tampa Bay, and Detroit), are a combined 7-17. If the Eagles handle their business, they will be 7-4 by the time they travel to New England to take on the Patriots.

But it gets better. Looking over the NFC East, the Eagles have a decided advantage over the New York Giants in terms of strength of schedule. Here is a breakdown of the NFC East by records plus the records of their remaining opponents:

  • Giants 5-4 (37-19)
  • Eagles 4-4 (33-32)
  • Redskins 3-5 (31-34)
  • Cowboys 2-6 (35-29)

The Giants have a demonstrably harder schedule than the Eagles. And this is made worse by the fact that five of their remaining eight games are being played on the road. Conversely, the Eagles are playing five home games to just three road games. In what figures to be a close race down the stretch, the Eagles have an advantage over their biggest threat for the NFC East crown.

And while I hate to pick games — usually because I am wrong — it is not hard to get the Eagles to 9-7 or even 10-6:

  • Mia (W)
  • TB (W)
  • Det (W)
  • NE (L)
  • Buf (W)
  • Arz (L)
  • Was (W)
  • NYG (W)

This puts the Eagles at 10-6, a remarkable feat given how inconsistent they were to start the season. But even if we assume the Eagles might lose a game they should win, they could still easily land on 9-7. Given the current state of the rest of the NFC East, that might just be enough to win the division.

Inside the Huddle Part 2: The Passing Game Showing Improvement

Patrick Causey, on Twitter @InsdeTheHuddle

This is a three-part series analyzing where the Eagles stand after the game against the Dallas Cowboys. This is part two. You can read all three by clicking the following links below:

The Passing Game

My reservations about Sam Bradford are well-documented, but I have also said that he deserves until after the bye-week before we pass judgment on his game. Not to beat a dead horse, but Bradford missed the last two-years recovering from multiple acl tears. He was then forced to learn a new offense and develop chemistry with his new teammates this past offseason. But he was prevented from doing either of those things because he spent most of his time in March through August rehabbing his knee. So the inconsistent play was to be expected.

Chip Kelly was steadfast earlier in the year that chemistry or a lack of understanding of the offense was not hurting Bradford. But this past week, Kelly finally relented some in his press conference. The quote is courtesy of Jimmy Kempski at

“I think everything in Sam’s game has gotten better,” said Kelly. “As I’ve said before, I’ve seen Sam improve on a weekly basis here. We’re in Game Eight. He’s better in Game Eight than he was in Game One. I think he’s more comfortable in terms of what we’re doing.”

“In terms of where we are as an offense with a lot of these guys, it’s kind of like there was a movie being shown and (Bradford) showed up halfway through it,” said Kelly. “And then he’s supposed to figure out what’s going on and what happened in the first half of the movie because he hasn’t been with us for the amount of time that Celek has been here and some of the other guys, like Kelce, have been here. It’s something you have to get through reps; it’s not something that can be forced.”

And while Bradford got off to a slow start yet again this past Sunday, he played arguably his best half of football in the second half. And this came on the heels of an equally impressive performance turned in against the Carolina Panthers.

Bradford’s numbers over the last two games aren’t anything to write home about: 51/82, 62.2%, 500 yards, 1 td, 1 int, and an 81.05 quarterback rating. But if we go beyond the numbers and look at the tape, some encouraging signs are starting to emerge.

One of the biggest issues Bradford had earlier in the season was not getting through his progressions. Bradford would predetermine where he wanted to go with the ball, which would cause him to often miss open receivers in the process.

Over the last two weeks, however, Bradford has been doing a better job working through his progressions. One such example occurred on this perfectly delivered ball to DeMarco Murray on a swing pass, a route that Bradford has shown an affinity towards throughout the year:

Bradford starts by looking to the far side of the field, where he has three receivers lined up in a trips formation. Watch how quickly he diagnoses that the receivers are covered. By the time he gets to the top of his drop, he is able to pivot and deliver an accurate strike to Murray down the sideline.

Here is a better angle where you can see Bradford work through his progressions and fluidity with which Bradford pivots to Murray:

Another thing we are seeing from Bradford is his ability to manipulate a defense with his eyes. We started to see glimpses of this against the Carolina Panthers, where Bradford was able to manipulate All Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly with his eyes to open up the passing lane for Miles Austin:

That is not something we saw from Bradford through the first six weeks of the year.

It carried over and became even more frequent against the Cowboys.

Early in the game, the Eagles were faced with a third and long deep inside their own territory. Watch Bradford’s head before he throws the ball to Miles Austin for a first down:

Now look at what that action did to the single high safety, who follows Bradford’s eyes to the other side of the field which opens up things for Austin:

When I see things like this happening on a more frequent basis, it tells me that Bradford is starting to get a better understanding of the offense. He is growing more confident in what each play on offense calls for, and is starting to recognize how certain route concepts within this offense work against specific defenses. This is, without question, an encouraging sign.

The last thing I am seeing from Bradford is an increase in the frequency with which he is delivering accurate passes. In the preseason, players and coaches raved about Bradford’s ability to put the ball in the exact location that it needed to be, which gave receivers the opportunity to make plays after the catch. That accuracy was on full display against the Green Bay Packers in a performance that got most Eagles fans dreaming of playing in Phoenix in February.

But as I covered before, Bradford struggled to replicate that accuracy when he was under pressure in real game situations, an issue that has plagued Bradford throughout his career.

Over these last two games, however, Bradford has shown significant strides in his ability to deliver the ball accurately under pressure.

In the fourth quarter, Bradford threw, at least in my opinion, one of his most accurate passes of the year, a 20+ yard strike to Zach Ertz who was streaking along the sideline in single coverage:

If you look at the tail end of that play, you will see that Bradford is not operating with a clean pocket. David Irving (#95) is pushing Matt Tobin back and able to get in Bradford’s face. Yet, Bradford was able to deliver a strike to Ertz, who was blanketed by a defender:

Now, I wouldn’t start planning parades down Broad Street or clamoring for Kelly to resign Bradford to a contract extension just yet. Bradford struggled yet again in the first half, completing only 10 of 18 passes for 74 yards and zero touchdowns, before rebounding in the second half completing 15 of 18 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown.

This continues a troubling trend from the quarterback, who has completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 821 yards, three touchdowns, five interceptions for a 62.9 quarterback rating in the first half, compared to completing 68.7 percent of his passes for 1,240 yards, seven touchdowns, five interceptions and a 95.4 rating in the second half.

If the Eagles are going to have any chance of competing for the NFC East and making a run in the playoffs, Bradford will need to play more consistently. But we are starting to see signs of incremental improvement; which is encouraging to say the least.

We cannot cover the passing game without also spending some time giving love to Jordan Matthews for his performance Sunday. The stat line was sensational: 9 catches, 133 yards, 1 touchdown and ZERO drops.

We read all during the bye week that Matthews was hard at work at his alma matter, Vanderbilt University, trying to correct the issues that plagued him. But my favorite anecdote from this past week came after Matthews dropped a pass during a Thursday practice. Courtesy of Mark Eckel of

“You can’t say enough about the way Jordan worked this week in practice,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone work as hard as he did.

“It was Thursday and he dropped a pass in a red zone drill. He stayed out there and took every snap to make up for it. He never came off the field. When he wasn’t running with the ones; he was on the scout team. I’ve never seen a starting receiver do that before. He just wanted to work at it. He’s relentless.”

It is this type of effort that makes Matthews so easy to root for. He is humble, hard working, and a team first guy. In other words, he embodies exactly the type of player that Chip Kelly wants on this roster. So it was great to see him break out of his slump.

Chip Kelly deserves credit for helping Matthews with some crafty play calling. During the game, the Eagles kept hitting Matthews over the middle with crossing routes. It is a staple of Kelly’s offense and allows Bradford to hit Matthews in stride for easy YAC opportunities.

But Kelly noticed that the Cowboys were jumping the route, so he called the perfectly timed inside-out double move, which played off the Cowboys’ over-aggressiveness:

While the lack of drops and big numbers were impressive, so to was Matthews route running. Here is a better angle, watch how he is able to turn the defender around with ease:

Does this play look familiar? It should, because it was the same play that the Eagles ran in overtime to win the game. Here you can see Matthews running the same route (albeit from very high above):

Here is somewhat of a better angle from the All-22:

The Eagles have to be encouraged by Matthews breakout game, but he cannot do it alone. Zach Ertz has been effective when thrown to, but needs to see more targets (he received only 6 against Dallas).

And Nelson Agholor, who has been hampered by a high ankle sprain, needs to validate his high draft position. The Eagles cannot continue to roll out Miles Austin in the starting lineup. Getting Agholor up to speed will give the Eagles a viable outside threat so the team can spread the field vertically.

And of course, the Eagles need to feed Darren Sproles more. Over the last four games, he has averaged only six (!) touches per game. That is a ridiculous mismanagement of talent by the Eagles coaching staff. There is no reason that Sproles cannot get 10-15 touches a game. He is an obvious mismatch for opposing defenses, and the Eagles are limiting their offense by keeping him on the sidelines.

With all that said, there are signs of improvement. With Bradford gaining confidence, Matthews (hopefully) putting the drop issue behind him, and Agholor finally healthy, perhaps the Eagles can start to get more consistent production from their passing attack.

Note: This is a three-part series analyzing the Eagles. You can continue reading by going to part three here. Or, you can go back to part one, where I analyze the run game, by clicking here.