THE IMAGE might belong on the cover of the Eagles' defense's year-end highlight reel: Daniel Fells thundering down the field like a Pamplona bull, the ball in his right hand, the end zone in his sight, and, clinging to his shoulder pads like a dude-ranch novice, Byron Maxwell. Maybe they could set it to that song from "Frozen." Let it go, let it go. You could almost see Maxwell whispering in his earhole:
Come on man, just go down. You got Venmo? Paypal? My cell's in my locker.
This was the first quarter. Fells eventually went down. Giving piggyback rides to full-grown men is hard work. We don't mean to single out Maxwell. The play was a microcosm.
What Chip Kelly the coach saw Sunday night in his team's 40-17 loss to the Cardinals was just how much work Chip Kelly the general manager has to do in order to give himself a realistic chance against a legitimate NFL team. That's not a burial, that's just reality. The easy narrative was Kelly vs. Bruce Arians, new school vs. old school, tempo vs. tradition, the guy the Jeffrey Lurie hired vs. the guy he wouldn't even interview. Turns out, that story line was dead on arrival, as were the Eagles. This wasn't about coaching. This was about size, speed and talent. At some point in the near future, Kelly is going to have to sit down and figure out a way to bolster his roster with a serious dose of all three. It might be after Week 17, if the Eagles lose to the Redskins or the Giants. Or it might be after the wild-card round of the playoffs, when the Eagles lose to the Seahawks.
Either way, the team you saw Sunday night is losing. The only questions are the time and cause of death. Sunday night's loss might have been meaningless in a concrete sense - their route to a playoff berth is unchanged from a week ago - but it offered a pretty good test drive of what they are likely to face if they end up backing into the postseason by beating the Redskins and the Giants. (They could actually lose to the Giants and still qualify if New York loses to the Vikings next week).
Let's pretend the Seahawks are the team the Eagles would face in the first round, and that injured running back Marshawn Lynch is back and healthy for the game. After spending four quarters watching Billy Davis' defense bounce off rookie running back David Johnson like Nerf balls, how could anybody possibly expect them to slow down Seattle's power running game? Beast Mode vs. Least Mode. If Davis ends up returning as defensive coordinator next year, Kelly is going to have to figure out a way to get him some players capable of executing his man-high scheme.
Johnson carried the ball 29 times for 187 yards and three touchdowns, none of them more telling than a 47-yard run in the second quarter in which he cut inside Walter Thurmond, bowled past Kiko Alonso and Friends, and broke four or five more tackles, and rumbled into the end zone.
Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins can't do it all. They need at least one cornerback capable of at least giving the old college try on timing routes, something Maxwell has yet to show himself capable of doing. They need a middle linebacker who can make plays in traffic. They need somebody, anybody, who can bring some consistent pressure from the edge. Soft cornerbacks and a mediocre pass rush are not a good combination.
Palmer completed 20 of 32 passes for 274 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked twice, but for the most part had more than enough time to do whatever type of damage he preferred.
Throughout the night, you saw the snapshots. There was John Brown shaking off E.J. Biggers at the 4-yard line and strutting into the end zone for the proverbial cherry on top with 40 seconds left in the third quarter (turns out, there were quite a few cherries). There was Ryan Mathews failing to convert a fourth-and-inches at the Cardinals' 8-yard line in the second quarter. DeMarco Murray was as absent from the game plan as he has been all season, the win over the Patriots included. Cutting him is cost-prohibitive. Trading him might not be an option.
There was Markus Golden ducking under Jason Peters' outside shoulder and mauling Bradford from the blind side, forcing a critical fumble. A potential Hall of Famer, Peters has played through a chronic back condition, but, well, chronic back conditions are chronic. Peters will be another year older next year. The Eagles likely hoped they could count on him for one more season. If they can't, it will add another huge question mark to an offensive line that already needs to rebuild its interior.
Sunday night, the Cardinals were bigger, faster, stronger and more physical. They had an NFL roster. It's on the GM to find a solution.
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy