If the Chip Kelly offense has a flaw, its that it works best with the pedal to the metal. He is not opposed to quick strikes. But wait, you say. How is that a flaw?
For much of the game, it may not be. As long as team conditioning allows his players to set the high tempo and keep pace, it would generally be an advantage. But, in the final moments of Sunday’s 33-30 shootout loss to the visiting San Diego Chargers, how this is, or can be a flaw, became quite evident.
The Eagles took over with 3:11 to go in the game, trailing 30-27. They had all 3 timeouts plus the 2 minute warning, so provided they could get first downs and were patient, there was no reason that the Chargers needed to get the ball back with any meaningful time remaining. Whether the Eagles got a touchdown or settled for a field goal and the tie, the clock should have been run down enough that at most, they’d be defending a last-second heave before overtime. Just ahead of the 2 minute warning, it appeared as though the Birds were driving for the end zone and would strike soon. Had they scored a touchdown, you could almost forgive them for moving the ball so far so fast. Putting 7 on the board would have then made the Chargers need a touchdown to win. But just before the stoppage, both Vick and tight end Brent Celek were shaken up on the same play. Nick Foles came in for a play before the warning, and had the ball caught-out of bounds, in the end zone. Between the injuries and the two minute warning, it was like a wet blanket. Momentum was killed, and the Birds settled for a field goal.
But, this is where the flaw comes in. They started the drive with 3:11 to play. They started on their own 29 yard line. They used 9 plays to get to kick the field goal, but only took a minute and twenty seconds off the clock. To put that into perspective, outside of their last drive of the game that set up Nick Folk’s winning field goal, the Chargers had 5 drives of 9 plays or less, all of which took more than 1:20 to run.
In other words, sometimes Chip may need to let off the gas just a hair. He has the running backs capable of burning the clock up late in the game, but part of it requires more clock to elapse between plays. Had they managed to give the ball back to the Chargers with even just a minute to go, it might have meant overtime.
To his defense, this flaw may be short-lived in a sense. Part of why it is and will be an issue this year is because the Eagles are still a team in transition-both from one coaching staff to another, as well as from one defensive scheme to another. Personnel is still being upgraded to best suit the new scheme, and many have noted that it will take at least a couple off seasons before things are really turned over. In the meantime, this Eagles defense is going to struggle at times to stop teams-which is why they really needed the Chargers to have less time to work with. These are not the vaunted Eagles defenses from Jim Johnson or earlier. In a year or two, the defense ought to be better, and it will have to be. You need to be able to rely on your defense to get a stop when it counts, and right now this defense just cannot.
Beyond that issue with time management, there was one other piece of the game which left many wondering. That would be the use of timeouts. As someone who has watched the Eagles, especially the Andy Reid era, there were two things which always frustrated the fans. First was Reid’s lack of time management skills (call it the opposite of Chip Kelly’s. Where Chip had things moving too fast at the end of the game, Reid’s offenses would at times struggle to show a sense of urgency and squander precious time away). The second would be the mis-use of timeouts. Many a time, you’d see an Eagles QB under Reid calling a timeout just minutes into the quarter. Sometimes right after a stoppage. So yesterday, as I wanted the Eagles on their final drive for the game tying field goal, I was in awe of the fact that they had ALL THREE timeouts remaining, and did not use a single one during that last drive. But then used all three within the last minute, as San Diego was working to get closer for their game winning kick. On the one hand, I can understand trying to stop the clock so that, should they make it, you have at least some time left to try and respond (though, with better clock management on offense….). Perhaps he wanted them to run another play or two in hopes of getting a turnover or a play going for a loss to knock them back and possibly out of range. At the minimum, Kelly wanted the ball back, and got it back for one last play.
There are a few takeaways from this, the 2nd game of the Chip Kelly era. First, if the first two games are an indication, this team is going to score a lot of points and be exciting and entertaining. Second, this is very much a work in progress. The Eagles are still learning and adjusting to Kelly, and Kelly is doing the same to the NFL game. Had he slowed down just a tiny bit, things could have ended much differently. At the end of the season though, I’d have to imagine that if the Eagles treated their fans to 14 more games such as this-high scoring, down to the wire matches-regardless of the win-loss record, it would be hard to complain. After all, coming in to this season, many already had relatively low expectations for things.