I did not see that coming. When Adam Caplan tweeted a couple of days ago to not assume Chip Kelly would be back, that made sense. I assumed Jeffery Lurie would be doing some due diligence through back channels to get some perspective. Taking stock of the team after a tough year would be the prudent decision. Talk to people who are well plugged in to see who could be available and could have interest. Jeffery Lurie has a reputation as a good owner because he seems to know what he doesn’t know. Yet here we sit, only a couple of days later, and everything has changed. This moment serves as an interesting Rorschach test of sorts. So I’m going to provide my analysis on where the Eagles are and where things are going to go from here.
When I set out to write my post about this week the central theme was going to be flawed but fixable. Herm Edwards has an adage “There are about 25 plays a year that make the difference between being 10-6 and 6-10.” http://www.montereyherald.com/article/NF/20151021/SPORTS/151029951 Most teams fall somewhere in this meaty part of the bell curve. Think about that for a second. Variance on right around 1% of the snaps a team plays over the course of an NFL season is the difference between a good year and a bad one. Going to the playoffs or getting fired. Things are going to be very different now. A rebuilding year or two looms.
It’s lazy and at best misleading to say the 2015 Eagles failed because they weren’t talented and had bad schemes. All NFL teams are flawed. That’s a byproduct (or desired effect if you’re more cynical) of a hard salary cap. Even the best teams have half a dozen starters where you just scratch your head and say “sure I guess”. All offensive and defensive schemes are flawed. You beat cover two by attacking the hole between the corner and safety. You beat option attacks by loading the box and maintaining leverage, forcing them to throw.
The 2015 iteration of the Eagles failed because their areas of strengths were not able to patch over the holes, or in some cases gave out themselves, like a building breaking piece by piece. The additional strains of each successive failure causing more pieces give out.
The offensive line was going to have two JAGs at guard. That isn’t as disastrous as it’s made out to be. The Shanahan/Kubiak school of zone blocking has always made due with marginal talent at the position and thrived due to strong cohesion. Also you were going to have Peters, Kelce, and Johnson bookending them. Except Peters has been visited by father time and health and is no longer a starting LT in this league, Lane battled a myriad of injuries and didn’t take the next step in his progression, and Kelce had the inverse of a career year. Add in the fact that there were stretches where basic principles of zone blocking escaped them and suddenly a situation which should have been ok became bad.
Not even a lick of common sense to be found anywhere. None of these are physical limitations.
Suddenly without the ability to run inside zone, the fundamental building block of the scheme, Chip struggled to find answers to fix the ailing run game. That would have been ok, but he had a QB new to the system coming off injury that wasn’t prepared to handle having to shoulder the burden of carrying the offense. The run game finally got on track somewhere around the Jets game and was solid for a stretch, but then the receiving corps decided they really weren’t all that into catching the ball. Add in lots of untimely penalties, and pass blocking that faded as Peters got hurt and became ineffective, and the offense which should have been fine, ate itself.
Outside of a rough opener the defense was pretty darn solid for the first half of the year. Then Jordan Hicks got hurt, forcing a one legged Kiko Alonso back into service, put more burden on an aging Demeco Ryans, and there was another linebacker who wore 95 but we will refer to him as John Doe because he apparently went into witness protection at some point early in the season. The 34 2-gap is designed to get stops on early run downs to force the other team into 2nd and 3rd and long. This worked relatively well for 2.5 years. Finally the burden of pace and the lack of ILBs killed the run defense, and the whole thing came unraveled. This would have been ok if we had the 2013 offense and could get into shootouts.
One by one an element of the team broke, until Kirk Cousins yelled “JENGA!” and finally brought the whole thing down for good. No Kirk, I do not particularly like that.
The play the perhaps summarizes the 2015 Eagles better than anything I write can:
Chip. Oh Chip. I come not to bury you, nor to praise you. The GM Chip experiment was bad. Not franchise ruining. But I would have to grade it as a D. The playcalling wasn’t great either. Hopefully Chip finds more people he feels comfortable delegating to at his next stop. He simply felt overwhelmed at times this year. The offensive scheme hasn’t been “figured out” because it’s not a gimmick. It’s just a spread tempo, with a zone running scheme and WCO passing game. I think the most fitting sentiment about Chip would be
Chip has stayed largely stagnant in an ever evolving league. How many times did we see packaged plays this year? Like 5? If he’s to be successful at his next stop he needs to take some time off to self scout.
There will be lots of stories in the coming days about Chip is an ass or a weirdo. Some will try to rehash the tired racism claims. NFL head coaches are strange people. Bill Belichick probably isn’t exactly a cup of tea. Noted “players coach” Rex Ryan has had alot of players talk alot of trash about him in the press this year. Bruce Arians isn’t exactly discussing the musical stylings of Lil Boosie with Jon Brown. Winning makes all those types of things go away.
Jeffery Lurie has become much more present in the last month. The firing was pretty uncharacteristic as well. I only hope he isn’t suddenly feeling his age and becoming desperate to win. That historically is the way to become the sucker at the table.
It appears Howie Roseman will be back as GM. He gets a lot of shit from certain crowds. A lot of it is the moronic “he never played so he doesn’t know what he’s doing” crowd. There’s also an uncomfortable amount of anti-semitic dog whistling from some of his detractors. I’m not going to make Howie out to be Ozzie Newsome, Ron Wolf, or Bill Polian he’s a more than capable GM. He excels at valuation both in terms of draft resources and cap management. If he can surround himself with strong evaluators, it can work. The Machiavellian streak is concerning, but for now I can live with it.
The pool of coaching candidates currently underwhelms the soul. Adam Gase headlines this group. He would be a solid hire. Hue Jackson has HC experience and a diverse resume. Josh McDaniels would be a head scratching hire. Replacing Chip with a coach from New England, a reputation for offensive wizardry, an abrasive personality, and a penchant for questionable personnel decisions would be quintessential face-palm. I’m intrigued by Mike Shula. If that name sounds familiar, yes he’s the offspring of Don, and the guy who bequeathed Nick Saban a wholly mediocre Alabama program. But he’s currently running the most exciting (from a football dork standpoint) offense that has overcome many issues with personnel. Sean Payton may or may not become available.
Chip is gone. Howie appears to be back in the picture. Jeffery Lurie may be starting to meddle. A rebuild looms. What a time to be alive.!?