Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Eagles can be positive, especially in NFC East

It would be easy, perhaps, to build a narrative around Chip Kelly's "positive reinforcement" in contrast to Malcolm Jenkins' "holding players accountable," and come to the conclusion that one or the other had more to do with the Eagles' upset win against the Patriots.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly talks to Sam Bradford.
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly talks to Sam Bradford.Read more(Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

It would be easy, perhaps, to build a narrative around Chip Kelly's "positive reinforcement" in contrast to Malcolm Jenkins' "holding players accountable," and come to the conclusion that one or the other had more to do with the Eagles' upset win against the Patriots.

Kelly showed each of his players film of one standout play they made this season on the eve of Sunday's game in Foxborough, Mass. Several said it was the first time he'd done so, but the principle behind the exercise wasn't any different than Kelly's core belief about accentuating the positive.

"I think positive reinforcement is a positive way to be successful," Kelly said Monday. "I don't believe in negative reinforcement. I don't think you get a lot out of that. You coach people up. You don't coach them down. And that's been a philosophy we've used a lot of times.

"And I've always shown guys positive plays after games and every Tuesday morning meeting."

Jenkins was critical of this practice. He said last week that he thought negative plays should also be viewed in a team setting, rather than in position meetings. He didn't necessarily suggest it as a form of punishment, but to assign responsibility for mistakes so that they aren't repeated.

Kelly disagreed with the notion. But Jenkins said that he thought his speaking up did, at the least, spur conversations about methodology.

"I don't know if what I said helped, but what I can say is, the vibe around the building felt a lot different," Jenkins said after the game. "I don't know if it had anything to do with what I said, but it was just different. Guys did a really good job of really detailing their part of the game plan, really taking ownership in what was going on."

In truth, it's unlikely either played a significant part in the win. Maybe it was Jeffrey Lurie's impassioned pregame speech that did the trick. Or maybe it was Sam Bradford's pregame rallying cry. Of course, if the Eagles had lost, there wouldn't have been one "Lurie's Talk Torpedoed Birds" story written.

They won because they executed their game plan. They won because a few bounces went their way. They won because a depleted Patriots team made uncharacteristic mistakes. And the Eagles won because of all of the above - and more.

It's possible they'll lose this coming week against the Bills for all the opposite reasons. It's been that kind of season - the kind Kelly could look back upon as a hurdle the Eagles had to clear as he went upon reshaping the team. Or it could be a foreboding season - one that already has fans looking to the draft or possibly the next coach.

But the Eagles won Sunday in spite of the negativity that has often surrounded this team. Maybe they even won partly because of it. Kelly isn't running his team based on the whims of the fan base and those in the media. But he did make alterations that many outside the NovaCare Complex have been clamoring for - playing less of DeMarco Murray, more of Darren Sproles and benching/releasing Miles Austin.

But Kelly is constantly reminding his players to "block out the noise." Asked if he focused more on positive reinforcement in light of Philadelphia's penchant for negativity, the Eagles coach joked, "You're talking about this town being negative? That's the first I've ever heard of that."

Kelly said that his approach has always been the same. He's read enough business-model books and attended enough conferences to reinforce his thoughts on Pavlovian responses to positivity.

"It's like raising your kids," Kelly said. "Are you going to beat them down every single time? Or when they make mistakes you talk to them about what they did wrong, but you also praise them when they do things right? . . . I think everybody works that way no matter what environment,[what] profession.

"Do you have a guy hammering you every day that you're not doing a good job. All of sudden you're like, 'Wow, this isn't a lot of fun.' "

Forget about personnel and scheme for a moment. It's clear the Eagles don't have enough this season. But if Kelly wants to build for the future, if he is indeed coming back next year as long as Lurie has him, then he needed to get his players to play for him again. And there was genuine reason to think they hadn't and wouldn't.

He needed to get them to believe again.

"There's a lot of good and that's what I told those guys last Tuesday," Kelly said. "Sometimes they don't see in themselves what we see in them. I believe we have a good football team. We proved yesterday we're a good football team. But, you know what, that doesn't matter this week because it's a whole brand new and it's going to start back over again."

Just because the Eagles beat arguably the best team where they hardly lose doesn't mean much beyond the "W" on the record. It took two special teams touchdowns and a defensive touchdown to pull it off.

Is that being negative? Perhaps. But it's providing context for a season that overall has been disappointing. All isn't lost because of the mediocrity of the NFC East. But four games remain and with that hope.

And that is positively a fact.