NFL COACHES who win Super Bowls do it within five years and with quarterbacks they find within the first three. So unless one squints very, very hard while looking in the direction of Sam Bradford, Chip Kelly is behind schedule for perhaps the first time in his life.
Twelve coaches have won a Super Bowl this century. Only Bill Cowher had been with his team longer than five years before he did it. Across all of NFL history, only Chuck Noll, Tom Landry and John Madden join Cowher in the Late Bloomer Club, suggesting NFL owners aren't as patient as they once were and perhaps should be again.
Like Chip Kelly, Cowher's problem was the quarterback position. The Steelers chinned their way through a dozen seasons of Neil O'Donnell, Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox before finally landing on Ben Roethlisberger, who in his second season, helped Cowher win his first ring.
That slow burn is again the lone exception to the rest of the 21st century champions club. Every other coach in that group had either won a Super Bowl or installed his eventual trophy-winning quarterback as the starter by his third season with his team.
It's a measure of just how far down we've defined competency that there are folks defending Bradford's performance this year. Among qualified starters, he's 29th in quarterback rating, 32nd in ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating, and 30th in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (which dings him for the interceptions but gives him some credit for avoiding sacks).
Bradford's statistical output isn't just worse than Mark Sanchez achieved last year in the same offense — he's perilously close to falling below Sanchez's career numbers in these categories. This is not league-average productivity if you just assume away a couple of drops.
Of course, the bigger question is not how bad Bradford has been, but if he'll ever improve. NFL quarterbacks who flame out generally fall into one of three buckets: 1) hit so much they can't stop hearing footsteps; 2) unable to decipher NFL defenses; 3) lacking sufficient physical tools.
Bradford doesn't have the first problem. His calm ability to function within the pocket stands out after five years of Kevin Kolb, Mike Vick and Nick Foles. From the moment the ball is in his hands, he's always looking downfield (just not always very far).
The latter two issues were very much on display, again, during the Carolina game. In the first quarter, there weren't many open receivers. But Kelly and Pat Shurmur adjusted and gave Bradford a number of good looks — he just didn't hit them.
The Eagles missed a chance to get within four at the half following the Malcolm Jenkins interception, when Bradford missed Josh Huff streaking up the sideline after the cornerback dropped him to jump a shorter route in the flat.
Bradford's receivers aren't helping him out by making many tough catches, but he's also making a lot of catches tougher than they need to be, like on the other missed connection to Huff in the end zone, where the receiver has a step and Bradford just has to put the ball out in front of him.
Instead, the ball is behind him, forcing Huff to jam his foot into the ground and contort his body the other direction to leap for the ball.
For as physically gifted as Bradford has always been, it seems he must have a mechanical issue affecting his accuracy this season. As nice a story as it was when Kelly hired his former New Hampshire player, Ryan Day, to be his quarterbacks coach, it's fair to ask whether a spread-option guru from the college ranks is really the best choice to work with an NFL pocket passer.
It's also unclear how much Kelly coaches quarterback mechanics. When we see videos of him from practice, he seems to spend a lot of time telling quarterbacks where to throw the football, but less on how to do it. That's anecdotal, but fits with a guy who might be more offensive genius than quarterback whisperer.
Even if the Eagles don't make the playoffs this year, that's not a total harbinger of doom. In Mike McCarthy's third season, the Green Bay Packers plummeted from 13 wins to six; they won a Super Bowl two years later. The Giants' Tom Coughlin and Saints' Sean Payton each finished 8-8 in his third season with his current team before winning the championship in his fourth.
All of those teams had both a quarterback and a coach in place, however. The Eagles are still just 1-for-2.