State Of The Eagles: Breaking Down The Chip Kelly Experiment And Looking Ahead

It’s finally over, thank God. The Eagles season came to a close this Sunday following a 35-30 win in a meaningless game against the just-as-hapless New York Giants in the Meadowlands. The conclusion of the game marked the end of a chapter of Eagles history and the start of a new one, hopefully one that will wipe the Chip Kelly era out of people’s minds like it was Rocky V. Let’s break down the past, present, and future of a once proud franchise, a franchise desperate for answers on how to get back to their winning ways that seem like eons ago.

The Eagles hired Chip Kelly three years ago after it was clear that it was time for the Andy Reid era to come to a close. Despite Reid leading the birds to multiple conference championship games and even a Superbowl, his inability to get over the hump followed by mediocre seasons and then a dismal 4-12 campaign was the final straw. There was no ill will, but it was clear that both parties needed a change of scenery and a fresh start. The Eagles hired Chip Kelly, who was one of the hottest names at the time because of how he transformed the Oregon Ducks into a perennial national powerhouse, with it’s prolific and unique offense that operated at breakneck speed that some believed could revolutionize the way the game is played. This isn’t an exaggeration, Kelly’s uptempo offense and unique coaching methods made some seriously believe he could literally change the game to some degree. At the time, it wasn’t a surefire bet that Kelly’s success would translate to the NFL, but above all else he was hired because of his “football mind”, someone who just really knew the game and dedicated all his time and energy to the sport. That was why he was such a hot commodity coming out of Oregon. There was a belief that even if his team wasn’t putting up 50 points a game, he would figure something out and adapt because of his deep understanding of the game and manic work and study ethic.

Despite going 4-12 the year before, Kelly didn’t inherit a bad team, at all. After starting 1-3, the Eagles finished the season 10-6, good enough to win the division. They lost to the Saints in a close first round game but hey, not a bad start at all for a coach with virtually no NFL experience. People were excited, things were looking up. The Eagles had a coach committed to bringing a winning culture (more on that in just a bit) and attitude to Philly and the results backed it up on the field.

Following that year, something strange happened in the offseason. The Eagles cut star wide receiver DeSean Jackson after having over 80 catches and 1300+ yards. Why? There was no real explanation, just speculation that his attitude and perhaps demeanor didn’t fall in line with the kind of culture Chip Kelly was trying to instill in the locker room. Sounds kind of crazy doesn’t it? Especially after a great year? No big scandal, or suspension, just “rumors”, whispers of “gang affiliations” and such. In retrospect it really was pretty crazy. At the time, Chip Kelly was perceived as a potential guru since he just lead us to the playoffs in his first year. We thought we could be even better if we did things Chip’s way. Philadelphia wasn’t crazy for buying into the hype, at the time it made sense, even if we still had our lingering reservations about the whole thing.

The next season the Eagles went 10-6 again, however this time that wasn’t good enough for a playoff spot. Nick Foles was the starting quarterback after lighting it up the previous season, but got hurt and the team wasn’t able to overcome with Mark Sanchez. This was the offseason where things got weird. 10-6 wasn’t terrible by any means, just a little disappointing after making the playoffs the previous year. During the offseason Chip Kelly met with owner Jeffrey Lurie to discuss his role and responsibilities as head coach. Kelly wasn’t satisfied with just calling the plays, he wanted to be the general manager and pick the players too, have complete control over the roster. Despite only having two years of NFL experience, Kelly was given what he wanted. People were behind it. The reasoning was that Kelly had a vision and that (then current) GM Howie Roseman was holding him back from taking that vision to the next level. Nobody knew Chip Kelly’s system like Chip Kelly, so shouldn’t he ultimately be the one who decides on player personnel? Again, hindsight is 20/20 but at the time one could justify it. Philadelphia was all in with Chip Kelly.

Then Chip Kelly traded away one of the best running backs in LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso, a former Oregon linebacker who was coming off tearing an ACL for the second time and only had one full year in the NFL prior to that. Again, in Chip we trust. It was bold, but there was an aura of confidence around the Philadelphia area. Chip being the offensive minded guy he is could certainly find a replacement to carry the rock and he got a great talent on defense in the process. Keep calm and in Chip we trust.

Then this past season happened. I’m not going to detail every move because I’d rather discuss the future than recap the past. You know what happened. Long story short, Chip signed a bunch of new players, drafted some encouraging young guys, and the whole thing just crashed and burned to the ground like it was set ablaze by a pyromaniac comic book villain. DeMarco Murray (the league’s leading rusher from the year before) was brought in to replace LeSean and couldn’t get going, at all. Byron Maxwell was brought in to help the secondary and even though they knew they probably overpaid for him, he didn’t even come close to the difference maker they needed. Poor production from draft picks (besides Jordan Hicks, who got hurt) and an aging and just out of it offensive line all were big factors in the flub. The one bright spot was Sam Bradford. The injury prone quarterback was brought in to lead the offense and while there were many questions about his durability, he took a shaky start and actually played pretty well down the stretch, despite not getting much help at all from his receivers. Still, the season was a wreck and STILL they had a chance to make the playoffs because the NFC East was dreadful but they were eliminated once again by DeSean Jackson and the Redskins in a primetime drubbing at home.

Jeffrey Lurie had enough. Kelly was fired before the Eagles even played their final game of the season. The Chip Kelly era was officially over, a massive failure. I would still defend the hiring, it was a bold move but his perceived football knowledge and passion for the game is something you want in your head coach. Apparently his people skills were hard for players to connect to. In the end it just wasn’t working, simple as that. It was the right move, once you lose control of a locker room it’s nearly impossible to get back. It’s time to start yet another chapter in Eagles history.

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Now the Eagles are back with Howie Roseman as the GM and are in need of a head coach. There are a lot of potential candidates out there and this decision will most likely have a significant long term impact on the team either way, good or bad. Let’s take a look at some of the names that are floating around out there:

Sean Payton: I think this would be a fantastic acquisition. While he’s struggled with the Saints of late I think it really comes down to him needing a change of scenery, just like Andy Reid did. He’s a great offensive mind who has shown he can really bring a quarterback along and get the most out of his skill position players. He won a Super Bowl. He’s an outside the box thinker that can rejuvenate this team and salvage some of the promising talent that remains on the roster. However, there’s two potential problems. First, he’s still under contract with the Saints and the Eagles might have to trade for him. It’s rumored that it would take a second round pick to acquire him, which is something the Eagles don’t have this year. Second, Payton could want a great deal of control over the team, similarly to Chip Kelly. Ownership might be hesitant to award that to someone seeing how that just went with Chip but this is a little different. Payton is a proven winner and has much more NFL experience and a history of successes. If it’s feasible to get him, Sean Payton would be an exciting and promising head coach for the foreseeable future.

Adam Gase: Gase has grown on me immensely recently. If you look at his resume, it’s just stacked. The current offensive coordinator is young and if successful could be the Eagles head coach for a long, long time. He was able to take Jay Cutler (who has a reputation for being difficult to deal with) and have him deliver a career year. He’s worked his way up around the league and has commanded a great deal of respect around the league. TheEagles have talent on this offense and Gase could be able to get production from it. However, he’s still young and has no head coaching experience which is risky. It could be a Josh McDaniels type situation where he doesn’t cut it and goes back to being a coordinator.  Still, I guess I’d support this because his track record has been darn good and if he’s ready to take the next step then whoever gets him will get a great foundation for years to come.

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Doug Pederson: The current OC for the Chiefs is an Andy Reid guy and was actually on the Eagles coaching staff before as a quality control coach and then as the quarterbacks coach. He’s been doing a remarkable job with the Chiefs who are scalding hot right now going into the playoffs. In his one year as Eagles head coach the team amassed 6386 total yards with Mike Vick and Vince Young leading the way. He played in the league as a quarterback himself. This would be a solid move, but do you really want an Andy Reid guy after all those years? I’d support it I just think the Eagles need a fresh start and some new ideas. If he can bring back the Andy Reid esque glory days though, then it would be totally worth it, just have to consider if the risk outweighs what the other candidates can bring to the table.

Sean McDermott: Another former Eagles coach, this one was in Philly for a long time. The Eagles were his first job away from his college and he was here all the way until he was fired in 2010 as the teams D Coordinator. Since, he has been the defensive coordinator for the Panthers who have been extremely tough on defense over the past few years. Finishing up the year 15-1, the Panthers D is one of the key reasons to their historic year. Additionally, McDermott has hinted that he wants to be here. He also seems to have a lot of local support. Still, this would scare me. I don’t know exactly why but he struggled here. Sure he was younger and has probably gained a ton of knowledge since but those dark days of defense still linger in my mind. He’s young, no head coaching experience. I also wonder how much of the Panthers success on D is attributed to him and not defensive minded head coach Ron Rivera. If the Eagles reach out to McDermott, I will get on board with it. I just have a gut feeling that there are better candidates than him available this year.

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Duce Staley: A fan favorite running back for the Eagles and current coach of said position, the birds already interviewed Staley to be their head coach. It would appear to be a formality and just a respectful conversation but it’s probably not realistic to think he’ll be the head coach next year. Having said that, I’d love for him to stick around,hopefully finding a spot on next years coaching regime.

Pat Shurmur: Shurmur finished the year as the interim head coach after Chip was fired. Previously, he was the Offensive Coordinator under Chip Kelly. It was interesting to see how the team exploded for 35 points in the final game with him calling the shots. Shurmur has had a failed head coaching tenure before with the Browns and that’s tough to hold against somebody. Having said that, Shurmur doesn’t figure to be a serious candidate to take over full head coaching duties for the following season.

John Harbaugh: If John Harbaugh became available he would instantly become my number one choice to be the next head coach. The problem is that he probably won’t be available. The Ravens had a forgettable year but they don’t appear to be considering firing him, which is probably the right call. It’s wishful thinking, but as of now this is a Hail Mary, and not one being thrown by Aaron Rodgers.

Teryl Austin: This is my secret underdog that I’m rooting for. Currently the D Coordinator for the Lions, Austin has impressed recently. The reason I like this guy is that he had a tough job this season, being in charge of a defense that lost its best player in Ndamakong Suh. They still faired alright this year, despite missing the post season. They almost beat the Packers twice and the most impressive part to me was how they played hard even though they were already eliminated from the playoffs. That says a lot. Austin would bring a tough, defensive mind to Philly with no former ties to the Birds. His resume is impressive and has been a part of Super Bowl winning units. I’m not saying this is definitely the guy the Eagles should hire, I’m saying he is an intriguing candidate worthy of the teams due diligence.

Dirk Koetter: The Eagles are reported to have interviewed or plan on interviewing Koetter. He spent this past season as the Buccaneers Offensive Coordinator. His work with rookie Jameis Winston was impressive, especially their demolishing of the Eagles this year. He has a lot of experience in football at different levels of play but I just don’t think his resume stacks up to the other available candidates.

Hue Jackson: Jackson has been the Offensive Coordinator in Cincinnati since Jay Gruden left to torment the Eagles. He’s done great in that role and has a wealth of football experience under his belt. He even did well as the Raiders OC and was promoted to their head coach and went 8-8, not terrible for Oakland standards. He was still fired and eventually made his way to Cincinnati. He’s definitely worth interviewing and investigating, although right now he seems totally focused on his teams playoff game.

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John Gruden/ Bill Cowher/ Brian Billick/ Mike Shanahan: All these guys have rings and all these guys are long shots. Shanahan has been linked to some openings but the Eagles do not appear to be one of them. I’d love to see the Eagles throw a fat bag of money at John Gruden. I just want to see some passion back in Philadelphia football and you know Gruden brings that. It’s unlikely he walks away from his current dream gig at ESPN though. Brian Billick called the Eagles vacancy the most attractive but I’m not sure if he’s a candidate to return to coaching. Bill Cowher? Who knows.

What does it all mean? While it’s frustrating to be back to square one, I must say I’m excited for a new chapter. There are some great names on this list that have a lot of potential for continued success as an NFL head coach. Once a coach is hired, then we can start evaluating the roster, seeing who stays and who goes. When a coach is picked, we’ll have a better idea of the direction this team is headed and the steps it will take to get there. There is a lot of pressure to hire the right guy, and even with the failed experiment with Chip Kelly I have enough confidence in Eagles management to make a sound decision this time around.

Gratz’s Grumblings: Week 2, Breaking Down The Debacle In Philadelphia

For this week of Gratz’s Grumblings I will be focusing solely on the Philadelphia Eagles game against the Dallas Cowboys because well, that was the only game I watched this Sunday as I was unfortunate enough to have been there. The abysmal performance from the Eagles cannot be understated. Simply put, that was one of the worst displays of the sport I had ever seen. It’s early in the season, and there’s a lot to break down, definitely not too late to tweak things around and salvage the season, so let’s take a closer look at what the fuck is actually going on with this team after two games.

It’s no secret that the offense was atrocious. I think inept would be the correct word. Demarco Murray was held to 2 yards on 13 carries. Let me repeat that, Demarco Murray was held to 2 yards on 13 carries. However, if you talk to anyone who watched the game they would probably tell you this really didn’t fall on Murray or indicate what kind of runner he is at all. Murray had nowhere to run all game as the line played poorly. Also there was an even bigger problem than the offensive lines woes and Murray’s lack of running space…

Chip Kelly was out coached by Dallas this week and Atlanta last week. It was almost as if Dallas had the Eagles play call on each and every snap. Yes the offensive line played bad but there’s a deeper rooted problem and that is schematically the Eagles are off. This is a huge concern considering so much of Chip Kelly’s success relies on his schemes working each week. Chip Kelly has proven through two seasons that his offense isn’t a gimmick and I believe he is a smart enough coach to figure this thing out.  Whether there is enough talent to really take the offense to next level still remains to be seen. I’m really not too worried about this offense. The biggest concern for me is the line, which don’t get me wrong is a huge question mark going forward but as far as the scheme not working and getting out coached, I think Chip will figure it out.

Sam Bradford didn’t play all that bad. A lot of people are criticizing his play from yesterday but I really don’t think it’s founded. Listen, it’s hard to throw no matter who is under center when the defense knows exactly what you’re doing. The Eagles knew they couldn’t run against Dallas so were forced to pass and play catch up in the second half, what do you expect from Bradford? A Mike Vick type run of 30 yards to put them in scoring position? The red zone interception was a killer and a bad, bad play but I don’t think it’s fair to judge his performance off one mistake. With how the offense as a whole played yesterday that one interception should be at the very bottom on the list of concerns. I don’t think Bradford played particularly well but I don’t think he played poorly either. Again, it’s only his second game since 2013 so it’s going to take some time to get into a groove and get comfortable. He might not turn out to have the pro bowl season some of us thought he would under Chip Kelly but that’s not to say he won’t be effective going forward, and he’s still a whole lot better than Mark Sanchez. Also, he doesn’t exactly have the best receivers with the Eagles…

The receiving core’s ability might be limited this season. I’m sick and tired of defending Jordan Matthews. When they drafted him all I heard about was his tremendous work ethic and thirst for improvement. It was well documented that Matthews didn’t exactly have the most sound hands coming into the NFL but everybody was assured they would improve. Well guess what? He’s still dropping passes, important passes too. On one of his drops he leaped in the air for a pass he really didn’t need to jump at all for. He could have calmly put out his hands and secure the ball but he acted like a kid playing pick up football who was just trying to do too much. Don’t get me wrong I like Jordan Matthews and think he will have a fruitful career with the Eagles but his hands have to get better. It’s only his second year so it’s not really fair to hold him up to an elite standard. That’s really the problem with the receiving group as a whole, they are just young and inexperienced. As I just mentioned Matthews is in his second year and Nelson Agholar is only a rookie. You have to temper your expectations at least for this season. Josh Huff is only in his second year too but the former third rounder really isn’t showing much promise at all. Riley Cooper and Miles Austin are both on the downward sides of their careers which is OK considering they aren’t really supposed to be the focal point anyways. If the wide receivers underperform that falls mostly on Chip Kelly. These are his guys. He made the decision to let Jeremy Maclin walk. That is starting to show its ill effects as the Eagles really don’t have a respectable deep threat at the moment and its hindering them. I don’t remember Sam Bradford taking any big shots down the field because quite frankly we don’t have that type of receiver on the roster yet to throw it to, or we do and he’s not ready for that role at the moment. This hurts too, the five and six yard completions are great and all but when a defense doesn’t respect your ability to go deep it makes it much easier for them, plus it allows them to focus more on run stopping. Like the running game I think the passing game will see a lot of improvement too. If not, it’s another group of decisions you have to question about Chip Kelly. However…

It’s way, waaaay too early to start calling for Kelly’s job. Hey, even if this thing turns out to be a huge bust firing him now would only set us back another half a decade. Then, the next guy would have to bring his people in and the a new process would start and we would have an abundance of new players and recent draft picks who might be the total opposite of what they want. The bottom line is if the Eagles were unsure of Chip Kelly they should cut ties before this season. We’re pot committed at this point. Plus, at the end of the day it’s only two games, Andy Reid once took an 0-2 team to the NFC Championship so step back from the ledge. If the Eagles have a losing record this season then maybe in January we’re having a different conversation.

The defense is probably my greatest concern. I feel like a lot of people are excusing the poor defensive play due to the offense’s inability to stay on the field. That is a valid argument but I trust Chip Kelly’s ability to fix the offense more than I trust Billy Davis’ ability to fix the defense. His play calling seems off, his coverage personnel seems off and even their formations seem off.  Last week when asked why Julio Jones was able to run wild across the defense their response was because it’s hard to play him and double him because he gets lined up all over the field. So? Isn’t that the defensive coordinators job? To account for this and try to find a way to counteract it? There was a play this week where Maxwell was all alone on an island with no receiver on his side and two receivers lined up on the opposite side. It was evident that Maxwell would have no impact on that play, unless they gave it to the running back who was on Maxwells side, but still far from him and unlikely to cross paths with Maxwell. Yes the defense was on the field for a lot of the game but this wasn’t that hard of a game to plan for. Dez Bryant was out leaving the Cowboys with a weak group of playmakers. Their leading rusher from last year is now on the Eagles. Brandon Weeden is…Brandon Weeden. There is no excuse for letting Brandon Weeden go 7 for 7, none. Even when the Eagles knew the Cowboys were going to run the ball at the end of the game they still struggled to stop them. Like the offense, the scheme is off and unfortunately I’m not confident in Billy Davis’ ability to fix it. Speaking of Byron Maxwell though…

Byron Maxwell looked horrendous, again. Like really, really bad. They paid him a boatload of money not because he’s an elite cornerback, but because he was the best at his position in a weak free agency class and the Eagles needed to upgrade that position badly. If he’s unable to cover elite corners (or any corners at all) then the Eagles need to devise a plan that will put him in situations similar to where he found success in the past. That is, unless they can’t because they don’t have the Legion of Boom surrounding him. Maxwell plays better as a zone corner, not as a guy you throw on an island like Darrelle Revis. Whatever his deal is it needs to be figured out immediately.

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Yes, Sundays performance from the birds was dismal. Yes, there are huge question marks on both sides of the ball. Yes, it is early and the Eagles can still turn this thing around and salvage the season. You gotta remember our competition going forward, the Giants and Redskins don’t appear to be playoff teams and the Cowboys are going to be without both Dez Bryant and Tony Romo for an extended amount of time. Somebody has to win this division. Even the mighty Seahawks are 0-2. There’s plenty of reason to be scared silly right now but there is still a lot of football left to be played. Chip Kelly is now going to face the toughest challenge he’s ever faced in Philadelphia and the answer to whether he can handle it or not begins now.

Gratzfeed Special: Sixers Draft In Review

Ok so it’s Monday and we’ve all had a few days to digest what Sam Hinkie and company have done with their latest attempt to make basketball in Philadelphia relevant again. I was actually driving down the shore during the draft but had my radio turned all the way up for the entire way down, listening intently and trying to learn as much about this years draft as possible. During typical bro talk, the same question often came up, “what do you think about the Sixers?” Well, let’s break it down, shall we?

The Good: The Sixers got a very talented player with tremendous upside who can be an elite big man in the league for years to come. Although Jahlil Okafor was selected third overall, it wasn’t farfetched to argue that he should have gone second or even first. Although he was only a college freshman his arsenal of low post moves resembled a perennial NBA all star. He also proved himself as a winner, being the best player on a Duke team that won the NCAA championship. Additionally, this gives the Sixers some flexibility in regards to their big men. With recent news that Joel Embiid’s foot isn’t healing as expected, they at least now have another potential stud big to pair with Nerlens Noel for however long Embiid is dealing with whatever the hell is wrong with him.

Finally, another positive is that they passed on Latvian mystery man Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis garnered a lot of hype for himself as we got closer and closer to draft night, and maybe for good reason. Although it wasn’t the NBA, he did play, and played well, in a talented league overseas. He has a lot of potential as he’s super tall (maybe even taller than 7 foot) with a deadly outside shot. People have said he could be the next Dirk. So why was passing on Porzingis a good thing? Well, he very well could be a great player in the NBA, but frankly the Sixers weren’t in a position where they needed to take the risk. Even though he could be a scary force, so could Jahlil Okafor, so why wouldn’t you take the guy who you’ve seen first hand dominate consistently in the NCAA and could scout easier over a guy who just really started to gain hype a couple of weeks before the draft. Yeah we saw Porzingis draining three pointers, but it was literally against the air. He’s totally too skinny and still needs to put on a lot of weight, which is much easier said than done. The bottom line is yeah, maybe he is the next Dirk, but maybe he’s the next Darko Milicic or Andrea Bargnani, and quite frankly the 3rd overall pick in a talented pool isn’t where you take that type of risk.

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The Bad: The Sixers didn’t get D’Angelo Russell. Lets face it, this is the guy who everyone in Philadelphia really wanted, badly. The Sixers need a guard more than a drunk person needs Wawa at 2 am and that’s really, really badly. Despite this need, they did little to address their backcourt situation with their other picks. With their first of 5 second round picks they drafted a big man from overseas only to trade him to the Knicks. Then with their following two picks they drafted two more big men, one being Richaun Holmes, a complete project from Bowling Green who doesn’t figure to matter anytime soon and the other being a big man from Lithuania who also doesn’t seem to have any real relevance. They then took 6’6 small forward J.P. Tokoto, who actually has some promise, but he still isn’t a guard and is a long shot at best. Why not take a flier on a shooter or any type of guard who can improve the backcourt down the road instead of stockpiling big men in an already way too crowded logjam of centers and power forwards? The Sixers were said to have had interest in putting together some of their second round picks and trying to get back into the first round, but they never did which is disappointing. Listen, nobody expects much from second round picks, but still with an extremely deep pool of young frontcourt prospects, taking a few guards for a spin couldn’t have hurt.

The Bottom Line: It’s too early to really have a strong opinion one way or another on this draft. The Sixers didn’t do anything great or special, but at least they didn’t blow it. I think you have to look at this one as the glass half full because there wasn’t anything they could have done about not getting Russell. Emmanuel Mudiay I believe is going to be a stud but he does carry some risk, and with Embiid’s situation the way it is, Okafor makes total sense. This reminds me of the Eagles offseason, people were freaking out when they traded LeSean McCoy…until they signed DeMarco Murray. There was a complete void at wide receiver after not resigning Maclin… until they drafted Nelson Agholar. Right now, the Sixers plan isn’t as crystal clear as it could have been, but it’s also far from the impending train wreck it could have been either after picking a very good big man. We still have to wait and see with Embiid’s foot, that impacts a lot of things. I also still think if he ends up being healthy the Sixers could trade any one of the three big dudes, with Noel actually being the most likely to go, but who knows at this point. It would have been great to get Russell, but Okafor could be a blessing in disguise, he can really be a special player in this league. Now that they have their newest pieces or as everyone likes to say “assets” it’s time for Sam Hinkie to devise a plan accordingly. The Sixers didn’t really “win” this draft, but they didn’t blow their future either, and nowadays as a Philly fan, not blowing it is a “W” in itself.

Grade (as of now): B+