WITH JUST over seven minutes remaining in the first quarter of the Patriots' loss to the Broncos on Sunday night, Denver quarterback Brock Osweiler dropped back to pass with six blockers in front of him and one by his side. At the top of his drop, he saw nobody open, but he also saw 6 yards of grass and 1,900 pounds' worth of orange jerseys between him and the closest defender.
As he stepped up in the pocket, he saw Emmanuel Sanders clearing deep across the zone. Osweiler slid another step forward, unleashed a throw, and Sanders hauled it in for a 22-yard first down.
Schematically, there was nothing remarkable about it, which is the precise reason it looked so remarkable to somebody who had spent the previous few weeks watching the Eagles attempt to out-misdirect the opposition in an attempt to fool their way into the end zone.
It's interesting that Chip Kelly made a crack about the wishbone the other day, because whatever he wants to call his offense, it looks awfully similar at this point. Sure, the formations are different, and the players are more spread out. Really, though: Isn't this what Georgia Tech or Navy looks like when it plays a team with superior talent that is coached up on the proper way to defend the scheme it is about to face? When it can no longer depend on the benefit of the unfamiliar? This is exactly what it looks like.
Like an icy highway in the South, a mangled mess of professional athletes tripping over one another and doing doughnuts in the dirt. That is what the Eagles' offense looked like for the final three quarters of its nationally televised tryptophan overdose against the Lions. Like slop.
Oh, there were moments when it worked, just as there were moments when it worked against Tampa Bay, and Miami, and Atlanta, and Washington, the kinds of moments that can make a head coach lean back from the video screen and say, "See!? It works. If only . . . "
And there it is. The "If." It has been three years now, and we still find ourselves back at, "If." If only the kicker had made that kick, or the center had made that block, or the receiver had made that catch. If only they could have come one score closer against the Saints or the Seahawks or the Cardinals or the 49ers or the Falcons or virtually any of the other big games Kelly has coached since he arrived here.
There is only one "If" in the NFL: If you don't adapt, it will destroy you. Not only does a coach need to adapt to the rest of the league, but to his own personnel, and it's that second part where Kelly's failure might truly lie. While the Broncos took great care to put their new quarterback in situations where he would be comfortable, routinely deploying a running back to help the interior of the line in pass protection, the Eagles let Ziggy Ansah and Stephen Tulloch stunt and slant and delay their way into Mark Sanchez's face throughout Thursday's loss. In that sense, the term "spread offense" was appropriate, because by the end of the game the quarterback looked like something you might put on top of a cracker.
Regardless of how many plays you run, you are no more than three plays away from fourth down. Focus on the defense if you'd like, but defense wasn't why the head coach was hired. He was hired to score points, and at the moment, the Eagles have done so on only 29.1 percent of their drives, which ranks 27th in the league. Those drives have lasted an average of 2 minutes, 4 seconds, which ranks last. Argue all you want about the relevance of time of possession, but it is an undisputed fact that an opposing offense cannot score points when it does not have the ball.
Right now, the Eagles are getting destroyed. Not just defeated. Destroyed. As somebody who has argued all season that Kelly has a sharp enough mind to adjust to whatever the league throws at him, it is getting rather difficult to produce any evidence to support such belief.
He wouldn't be the first good coach to fail in his first attempt at solving the league, so I guess there's that. Maybe that's where this thing is headed. From this vantage point, it still makes more sense for Jeffrey Lurie to trust in the judgment that led him to double down on his commitment to Kelly this offseason. At this point, though, the argument is more lie-in-the-bed-you-made-and-hope-for-the-best than it is a rational deduction from the facts.