BRENT CELEK and Jason Kelce are Chip Kelly guys. They've embraced the training methods, the pace, the ideas about spreading the field. They've defended Kelly after losing friends to the coach's personnel/culture dictates. Kelly makes no secret of their importance to his offense's blocking game and to his locker-room culture.
The veteran tight end and the savvy center are the rocks upon which Kelly has built his vision of the Eagles, or at least, they are among the handful of broadest bricks at the base of the pile. If Celek and Kelce aren't succeeding, Kelly's offense isn't succeeding.
And that's kind of where we are at 0-2, with an unpromising visit to the 2-0 New York Jets on tap Sunday. Celek and Kelce are coming off the worst game in recent memory for either player, and for Kelly's offense.
"I played like (bleep)," Celek said yesterday, the first day of practice in the aftermath of a loss to Dallas in which the Eagles gained 7 yards on 17 carries.
Celek and Kelce both talked about "thinking too much," continuing a theme from Kelly on Monday.
"If you think (the defensive player) is going to go upfield, and he goes inside, and you don't react," Celek said, when asked what that means - basically, that he was anticipating, rather than just letting the game come to him.
"We knew they were going to slant, we knew they were going to move the defensive line around, because if they just played stationary, we were going to drive 'em off the ball the way we did last year," Kelce said. "We knew they were going to play the linebackers downhill hard, so we were trying to get ready for all these game-plan things, and we all of a sudden start playing timid - we aren't attacking them, we aren't aggressive, we aren't hitting the double-team blocks the way we usually do . . . (You) lose track of what the basic fundamentals are, when you think too much." He said this also was a problem in Atlanta.
Kelce said he faults himself in both losses - he took a silly penalty that negated a long run just when the Eagles seemed ready to take control late in the Atlanta game, then he made repeated mental errors, he said, against Dallas, most notably when he snapped the ball off Sam Bradford's chest for a fumble after erroneously thinking he'd heard the snap cadence.
"Those are two huge mistakes that ended up culminating in huge problems for our offense and for our team," Kelce said.
The good news would be, both players said they do not think their struggles indicate that the offense no longer works, that opponents have schemed it into futility.
"It was almost like a perfect storm," Kelce said. "We missed plays where it was almost perfectly blocked by 10 guys, and then all of a sudden you've got one guy here, one guy there . . . almost every single time, when we had a great play called, one guy screwed it up . . . It was a culmination of everybody screwing up, the whole day."
Kelce said his own mistakes "were absolutely correctable, but they're stupid. At this point in my career, I shouldn't be making them."
Kelce cited a Darren Sproles run for a 4-yard loss, on the Eagles' second series, on which he tried to go through the line to get to Dallas linebacker Sean Lee, who played an amazing game. Kelce couldn't get there and Lee made the tackle.
"If I go around (instead of through traffic), I don't have to beat Lee to the spot, I just have to beat Sproles," said Kelce, who is known for his quickness. He said he should have recognized what the Dallas defense was doing before the snap and planned to run around, instead of through.
"If I pull around right there, I think I make that block on Sean Lee, we had the corner blocked . . . we potentially have a good play," Kelce said.
The Eagles don't have a complicated playbook; they depend on tempo to catch the opponent in the wrong defense, or at least leaning the wrong way. But teams are slanting and stunting despite the tempo, showing a strong recognition of what's coming, as wide receiver Josh Huff said yesterday.
"I know a couple of times this past game, when I was on the Dallas sideline, lined up, I would hear 'em call out our plays," Huff said. This happened last season at San Francisco, another game in which the running attack was shut down. "With our tendencies, that comes about, where teams really focus in on how our tight ends are lined up or how we (the wideouts) are lined up, what the splits are . . . We've made adjustments and moved forward. You guys will see a better offense going forward."
"That's not anything new," Kelce said, when asked about Huff's contention. "We try not to run a lot of plays, we try to major in the ones that we do. That's been our MO since (Kelly has) been here, and it's been something we've done very effectively . . . If we execute better (against Dallas), I still think we have a good day running the ball."
"If you're a good defensive player, you should know it's one of four or five plays coming at you, based on formation and whatnot, situation," Kelce said. He said some Eagles plays look identical initially, but are completely different.
Julian Vandervelde was released yet again, to clear a spot for inside linebacker Najee Goode . . . Upon further review, Byron Maxwell said he didn't really get tired Sunday after all . . . Ced Thornton said he doesn't know when he broke a bone in his right hand, but he started to feel it at halftime Sunday. Thornton has started 34 games in a row at defensive end, but he'll probably miss the Jets game, and backup Taylor Hart was wearing tape and an ice bag on his right shoulder yesterday. Hart didn't practice, and he said he didn't know whether he would be able to practice later in the week. So Brandon Bair might get more than a few snaps. Fletcher Cox also didn't practice; no injury update was provided . . . Seyi Ajirotutu (concussion) practiced and said he's cleared and full-go . . . Wide receiver Quron Pratt and running back Kevin Monangai are off the practice squad, quarterback Stephen Morris is back, and the Eagles added WR Jonathan Krause to that group.