Eagles-Bucs: What Did We Learn?
Where to start? The Eagles hit the nadir of Chip Kelly's tenure with a troubling 45-17 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday. It was a troubling in oh so many ways. Here's what we learned (an abbreviated, short-work-week version)
1. Chip Kelly has no answers. When you get trounced that badly, it's hard to pinpoint one reason you lost. That's why many of the questions Kelly has received over the last two days have been big-picture ones. There appears to be something systematically wrong with the Eagles. Is it personnel? Is it scheme? Is it culture? Is it the play-calling? Is it Kelly the general manager? Is it Kelly the coach? Kelly wants no part of answering these questions, and frankly, I kind of understand why. He works on a week-to-week basis. He has neither the time nor the inclination to step back and look at an entire canvas of his making. The Eagles are also still very much in the playoff picture. They're only a game behind the New York Giants in the NFC East. Is it likely they'll win the division? No. Is it anywhere near a remote possibility that they could win a playoff game if they somehow reached the postseason? Probably not. Is there any chance they could advance to the Super Bowl, and win it, if they somehow accomplished the previous two steps that are already unlikely? OK, these questions are getting more ridiculous. The point is Kelly and the Eagles have a divergent path from those on the outside. They can't permit themselves to see and acknowledge what appears to be blatantly clear to everyone – that they just aren't a good team. "We lost two games," Kelly said Monday. "I think sometimes people panic and throw the baby out with the bath water. I think we have a really good football team, and I'm very confident in those football players." Kelly already can't improve upon his first two seasons in the NFL. The Eagles are 4-6, and the best they can finish is with another 10-6 mark. It's almost laughable to mention that possibility with the 9-0 Patriots and 8-2 Cardinals still on the slate. Jeffrey Lurie said this season was about going from "good to great." Right now, great has left the building, good is in the driveway with the engine idling, average is standing at the exit, and bad is sitting inside, firmly entrenched on a couch.
2. Chip Kelly isn't a good coach right now. There is preparation and there is in-game managing and Kelly hasn't delivered a passing grade in either regard the last two weeks. He said after Sunday's game that the defense wasn't "ready to play." He backtracked from that comment a day later, but it's tough to distance yourself from such a comment made in the immediate aftermath of a game. That's when you're likely to get your most honest answers. If the defense wasn't ready, that obviously falls on coordinator Bill Davis, but that falls chiefly on the head coach. For weeks, the same could be said of Kelly's offense. It wasn't primarily responsible for Sunday, but how many other losses have fallen on an offensive unit that hasn't been ready to play from the first snap? There have been so many boneheaded mistakes this season. That goes back to coaching. Why were there 12 men on the field? Why was there an illegal substitution? Why were there four more dropped passes? Why were there 8-10 missed tackles? And then there was Kelly's play-calling. I'm not typically a nitpicker when it comes to play-calling. But I couldn't understand why Kelly got away from the run, particularly on first down, after the Eagles' first two drives. They had averaged 6.2 yards per carry when Kelly called for first-down pass plays on each of the next two drives. The Eagles went three and out on both drives as the Bucs built a 21-7 lead. The game was all but over late in the third quarter, but Kelly's decision to punt at midfield, down 35-14, was questionable. And then with 5:14 left in the fourth quarter, trailing 38-14, Kelly attempted a meaningless 43-yard field goal on fourth and 7. The Eagles were down three scores if you include three two-point conversions on three touchdowns. A field goal meant the Eagles were still down three scores. Yes, there was virtually no way they were coming back in that span, but the field goal was Kelly's white flag.
3. Mark Sanchez was never the solution. The backup quarterback is often the most popular football player in town. But hadn't people seen enough of Sanchez last season and over his entire career to know that he wasn't a better option than even Sam Bradford? He hasn't been good this season, but at least Bradford had shown some improvement, however mild. Sanchez is Sanchez and will always be Sanchez -- a turnover machine that has now thrown as many interceptions over his career (84) as he has touchdowns (84). He tossed three on Sunday. The first was particularly bad. He had the Eagles in field-goal range down, 28-14, before halftime. It would have been a 51-yard try had the Eagles failed to convert on third down, but Sanchez tried to squeeze a pass to Brent Celek over the middle and was picked off. He stared Celek down and linebacker Lavonte David read his eyes the entire way. Asked what Sanchez should have done differently there, Kelly said, "Not thrown it to Tampa Bay." There were open receivers. Nelson Agholor was wide open down the seam, and Darren Sproles was the safety valve in the flat. Bradford was cleared to return to practice on Monday, but he was limited and signs point to Sanchez getting the start again in Detroit.
4. The Eagles have an inside linebacker problem. The biggest problem with Davis' defense is the inside linebacker play. Who would have thought rookie Jordan Hicks was the glue keeping that unit together? There's no other conclusion to make after watching DeMeco Ryans, Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks the last two weeks. Hicks wasn't a man-eating run stopper, but he was solid. There were already signs of run-defense slippage in his last two games, against the Panthers (204 yards) and the Cowboys (134 yards). But it got out of hand against the Bucs with Doug Martin rushing for 235 yards and the Eagles allowing a total of 283 yards on the ground. "It was four runs," Kelly said, "four runs, I think, for 185." And if the queen were a man, she'd be king. Alonso played 54 snaps and had one more tackle than I did. He looked slow and sluggish. He said on Monday that his knee was 100 percent. There could be some rust still to kick off, but he just doesn't look anywhere near explosive. The same goes for Ryans. "I still think we're bringing him along in terms of him progressing," Kelly said of Alonso. "The same thing with DeMeco, too; I don't think DeMeco can play a full game right now." So why not just let Kendricks -- who isn't perfect, but certainly better than the other two right now -- play the entire game?
5. And a few leftovers … Josh Huff scored the Eagles' first touchdown when he caught a crosser, eluded four tacklers and went to the house for a 39-yard score. I'm not the biggest Huff guy, as regular readers here know, but he has a skill set and that is running with the ball in his hands. So why not ride the hot hand and call for a pass that gives Huff another opportunity? He didn't have another target the rest of the way and finished with just 17 snaps. Riley Cooper and Miles Austin, meanwhile, played 31 snaps, respectively. "He was rotating with [Agholor] on the other side," Kelly said of Huff. "Again, a lot of it is coverage-dictated. So if you watch the tape, we didn't get much man free after that snap. Specifically, it was a lot more Cover 2 with two high safeties and guys rolled up on the outside receivers." Oh, so it was that new-fangled Cover 2 defense in which outside receivers are never a threat that explained why the Eagles' crew once again underperformed. Lovie Smith, who has run the same defense for decades, sure did throw Kelly a doozie employing Tampa 2 coverage. … Can someone explain to me why Taylor Hart is playing more snaps (32) than Vinny Curry (15)? Yes, Hart plays more base defense than Curry. But Hart was on the field for 10 pass-rush opportunities. I've yet to see him get remotely close to a quarterback this season. "We have a rotation that goes on in our defensive line in terms of who's in and who's out, and that's the way they've always rotated," Kelly said. It's asinine.