On the off chance that you entered Saturday night thinking the Eagles might actually deserve a spot in this year's NFL playoffs, the boys took care of that in convincing fashion. By the end of a 38-24 loss to the Redskins, the pertinent question was how many of these players and coaches belong on any professional field.
The totality of the implosion that we witnessed last night demands that we start with the coaches. Sixteen weeks into the NFL season and the mistakes are the same: dropped balls, fumbles, receivers dashing through the defense like Donner, Prancer and Blitzen. For all of the moments that you feel like you catch a glimpse of the coach and playcaller that Chip Kelly can be, none of them overshadow the fact that he was outcoached twice by Jay Gruden.
That's the mind-boggling thing about what we witnessed on Saturday. The Eagles were facing a football team almost as dumb and ham-handed as themselves. And they still got blown out. When Kelly was coaching at Oregon, Jay Gruden was coaching in the Arena League. Whether either one belongs in the NFL is a legitimate question. In a sense, it's crazy to be typing those words considering all that Kelly accomplished in his first two years in the league. However you feel about the man, the record says he went 20-12 and hosted a playoff game. This isn't Ray Handley.
Even last night, you watched the ease with which the Eagles marched down the field on their scoring drives and you wondered where the guy who calls those kinds of series spends the rest of the game. Sam Bradford completes all four of his passes to set up a one-yard Ryan Mathews touchdown run and Kelly starts the next series with three straight Darren Sproles runs. Punt. Shocker. It wasn't just the play calls: the entire personnel package was different, Sproles replacing Mathews, Jonathan Krause replacing Josh Huff, Brent Celek replacing Zach Ertz. On drive three, it was DeMarco Murray's turn, and the results will probably sound familiar: a run for no gain followed by a run for three yards to set up a third-and-long jailbreak by the Redskins front.
Again: Bradford goes 4-for-4, draws a 22-yard pass interference penalty, the Eagles score a touchdown. . .and then run the ball on five of their next seven plays, none of them using the running back who recorded both first-possesion carries, including the touchdown. This goes beyond Kelly's failures as a GM, which were once again on display in virtually every facet of the game. The players are the same as they were during the first 15 weeks. Yet an opponent was once again allowed to use simple stunts and delayed blitzes to pummel Sam Bradford whenever he threw. The guards are not good. All of us know that. The left tackle is hurt or underperforming or both. All of us know that. All of us except Kelly, who doesn't seem to factor either Fact of Life into his gameplans.
Imagine how bad this team would be if Sam Bradford hadn't turned into a legtimate NFL quarterback in front of our eyes. It's one of those puzzling things. Under Kelly's watch, Bradford looks better than he ever has, particularly with his presence and mobility within the pocket. You can't discount the coaching part of it. But the Eagles are not paying Kelly to be a quarterback coach. They are paying him to win games, and his attempts at winning them this season have too often turned into disasters. Three years into a coach's tenure, with a roster he picked himself, a team should not be getting beat in all phases of the game as handily as teams like the Redskins and the Lions and the Buccaneers are beating them.
And we are only now arriving at the defense.
The problem with Billy Davis is there are too many moments like the one that occurred late in the first quarter of Saturday night's loss. Not only did Mychal Kendricks end up responsible for covering Washingon tight end Jordan Reed in the middle of the field with no inside help, the Eagles didn't even get an extra pass rusher out of it. Somehow, they ended up putting their notoriously unreliable inside linebacker on Washington's best all around receiver without getting an advantage anywhere else. Kendricks wasn't there because somebody else blitzed, or because Davis stacked the box against the run. He was just there: naked, alone, resposnible for covering a guy who already had receptions of 28 and 22 yards, the last of them for a touchdown. No doubt, things happen. A team playing without its top cornerback -- even one as undynamic as Byron Maxwell -- is going to offer exploitable matchups more than once. But a quarterback shouldn't be able to sniff them out with ease on every play, and that's exactly what Kirk Cousins did throughout the first quarter of last night's game. The jarring thing wasn't that the Redskins raced out to a 13-7 lead, it was how easy it looked. This wasn't a case of Cousins making great throws or his receivers making great catches. This was a case of guys running wide open in the middle of the field, with no defenders around to even contest the receptions.
Meanwhile, the Eagles' pass rush was as uninventive as always. On one 19-yard third down completion to Reed, Cousins could have strung a hammock between his two offensive tackles and taken a cat nap while waiting for his receiver to clear. We've reached the point of self-evidence on the part of the head coach: either his offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator is dropping the ball. They can't both be doing a heckuva job. Just like the Cardinals the week before, the Redksins managed to inflict plenty of damage on Bradford using basic twists and delayed blitzes. In the third quarter, Bradford overthrew a wide open Zach Ertz for what would have been a long touchdown because a stunting defensive lineman crushed him from the front. Earlier in the game, linebacker Will Compton destroyed him on a delayed blitz where he wasn't touched. That's been a hallmark of opposing defenses throughout the season, and in Week 16 the Eagles offense is still struggling to make the necessary adjustment. If it's a tip-your-cap-to-the-defense type of thing, why can't Davis make opposing offenses tip their cap to him?
It's pretty simple. It should never looke as easy as offenses make it look against Davis' defense. It just shouldn't. If you think that it should, if you think that there is some excuse, then you have low standards. Again, it's that simple. We are three years into this coach's regime. It's well past time for Kelly to demand as much out of his coaches as he does his players. At the very least, give Davis a GPS and monitor his sleep. Vanilla schemes are for the preseason. If you can't concoct a scheme that can slow Kirk Cousins and Jay Gruden, you should not be in charge of an NFL defense.
Maybe Kelly should say those letters again. NFL. Maybe he should repeat them to himself as he rewatches this game. NFL.