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October 26, 2015

Eagles are dropping the ball – and so is Chip Kelly

If you’re trying to come up with the perfect treat for the Eagles this Halloween, there’s really only one choice: Butterfinger. That classic candy bar should be the official holiday candy of our beleaguered football team. The Birds simply cannot catch the football.

In all, the Eagles dropped eight passes during their 27-16 loss to the Panthers, with Jordan Matthews leading the way with three more flubs. He called his performance “embarrassing,” and he was right. The second-year receiver’s hands have turned to stone this season and no one – least of all him – can explain why.

According to the latest statistical breakdown by Pro Football Focus, Matthews has dropped more than 10 percent of the passes thrown his way so far this season, which ranks him among the NFL leaders. His drop in the opener at Atlanta led to a game-clinching interception. He hand-delivered another turnover early in Sunday night’s loss.

When I asked Chip Kelly on my WIP radio show Monday morning why his team has developed the drops, he cited fundamentals. The receivers aren’t looking the ball into their hands. They’re not focusing on the simple task of securing the football.

“Then it’s psychological,” I suggested.

“That’s a possibility,” he said.

If Kelly hires a shrink for his underachieving team, he might want to reserve an extra hour or two for himself. After the latest loss, fans reached a new level of exasperation with a coach they no longer find refreshing or innovative. Many are now calling for his departure, after less than two and a half seasons. Their No. 1 complaint is his stubbornness.

For example, Kelly has become adamant about forcing DeMarco Murray into the running game when there is a far better choice – Ryan Mathews. So far this season, Mathews is averaging six yards per carry, compared to 3.5 for Murray. Mathews scored the Eagles’ only touchdown in Carolina on a 63-yard run, and then carried the ball just once in the final 17 minutes of the game.

Kelly blamed “circumstances” for Mathews not getting more carries, saying the Carolina defensive alignments invited mostly passes when the backup runner was in the game. But if the Eagles were dropping passes at such an alarming rate, didn’t it make sense to try running it with Mathews anyway?

Here’s another way to look at it: Which player gave the Eagles the best chance to make a big play, Ryan Mathews or Jordan Matthews or Josh Huff or Miles Austin or Darren Sproles? All of those Eagles dropped balls on Sunday night. Mathews had 97 yards on six carries and another 24 yards on three catches (no drops).

Meanwhile, Sam Bradford faced his weekly dose of criticism, Philadelphia-style, despite one of his best games as an Eagle. The struggling quarterback was blamed for not throwing with precision, not hanging in the pocket long enough and not finding the open receivers. The truth is, if those eight dropped balls were caught, he would have had an amazing night, and the Birds would have won.

Instead, the Eagles enter their long-awaited bye week with a 3-4 record, a battered roster, and maybe even a case of the yips when the ball is in the air. They need to catch the football. It’s really that simple.

Even before Sunday’s nightmare, Jordan Matthews made a profound statement about who he is and what he does.

I’m a wide receiver,” he said last week. “I’m supposed to catch the ball.”

At least now we can all agree about that.


It hurts me to write this, especially as someone who has no clue about college football, but Temple is going to get crushed when the Owls face Notre Dame on Saturday night. It’s about to happen again, Philadelphia sports fans. You’re getting set up for another major disappointment.

Now, please understand that this message comes from someone who couldn’t name five players on the first truly relevant Temple football team ever. I graduated from college 38 years ago, and so did my tastes. I love pro sports — except for basketball right now — in Philadelphia, at the exclusion of everything else.

What a quarter-century of working in sports radio has taught me is that wannabe teams like Temple follow a distinct pattern. They start strong, building fan hope. Then they escape some near disasters, the way the Owls have in recent weeks. And then they face their true test — where they fail spectacularly.

The 2014 Eagles, with their 9-3 start, are the most recent example of a team that teased their fans, and then demoralized them. The Owls are going to do the same thing. After impressive wins over Penn State and Cincinnati, Temple has scraped by against UMass, Charlotte and East Carolina. Notre Dame is their reality check.

What happens Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field will not erase a season of redemption for the Owls, who have already leveraged this surge of success into a $100-million stadium project and some national attention. Who could have ever imagined ESPN Game Day broadcasting live from Philadelphia?

The Owls and their promising young coach Matt Rhule are a terrific story for Philadelphia sports fans desperate for something positive during a depressing period.

Unfortunately, there will not be a happy ending. The Irish are going to destroy the Owls on Saturday night. I’ve seen this all before.


There has never been a less likable sports franchise in Philadelphia history than the Sixers are right now. With a new season — another insult to our intelligence — starting Wednesday, am I the only lifelong fan actively rooting for them to lose?

I’m not cheering for Sixer opponents because I want GM Sam Hinkie to have another shot at a top draft pick; the folly of this three-year tanking expedition has become apparent to all but the naive and the stupid. No, I’m rooting for the Sixers to lose because failure leads to change, and change is the only real hope for this franchise.

Even with a promising young addition like Jahlil Okafor, the Sixers will be putrid again this season, sure to add to the disgrace of the 37-127 record amassed by Hinkie and his clueless minions. The fact that there is still no timetable to reverse this fate is tangible proof that these novices have no actual plan.

Last week, in the wake of a blockbuster story about inner front-office turmoil caused by the bizarre behavior of center Joel Embiid, the Sixers decided to dabble in politics. As usual, the biggest loser was them.

After a chance encounter involving some Sixer players and nondescript presidential hopeful John Kasich in New Hampshire, the Republican candidate playfully Tweeted that “not too many (Sixers) have had that many skills lately,” The weak nature of that comment tells you all you need to do about what a dud Kasich is, but the Sixers had to return fire anyway.

Under their team account, they replied: “At least we win more than 2% of the time,” referring to the poll support Kasich has gotten so far. A few minutes later, the Sixers removed the Tweet – too late to avoid the embarrassment of another public display of pettiness.

The Sixers play in a building whose name they won’t acknowledge, are run by a GM who refuses to speak in public, and have a top draft pick with a chronic foot injury and an addiction to Shirley Temples.

If you’re rooting for them this year, congratulations. You’re a more loyal fan — and dumber one — than I am.

And finally ...

• Ruben Amaro Jr. is moving from a GM job with the Phillies to first base coach with the Red Sox. Read that again, please. The man who oversaw a baseball franchise for seven years is now going to be telling runners when to get a bigger lead. No other team was dumb enough to put him back in the front office.

• Andy MacPhail’s decision to hire Matt Klentak as the new Phillies GM is not a good sign about the creativity of the new president. MacPhail worked with Klentak twice before, so he made the safe pick. I still wish he had given Kim Ng a chance to be the first female GM in any major sport. Unfortunately, she was not part of the old-boy network. She never had a chance.

• Why is it so hard for leagues to determine an illegal hit? The NFL has been struggling with the question all season, and the NHL got it wrong last week when Boston goon Zac Rinaldo slammed his elbow into the head of Flyer center Sean Couturier, causing a concussion. What exactly did the NHL find on the tape of that assault that absolved Rinaldo? Ridiculous.

• Apparently, the TV networks are no happier than the fans about the deluge of penalty flags in the NFL this season. Fred Gaudelli, producer of Sunday Night Football on NBC, told me last week that the flags are “hurting the flow of the game.” Since the networks are paying billions to the NFL, I urged Gaudelli to tell the league how he felt. Money talks. Stay tuned.

• Los Angeles police are investigating the invasion last week of a home owned by former Eagle DeSean Jackson. At least four people stormed the house and pistol-whipped one of the residents. Early indications are that the attack was gang-related. Hmmm. How many fans still believe Jackson is not involved in gangs? Anybody?

• I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here, since you’re already on this website, but there is no one in the Philadelphia media better at explaining the intricacies of football than our own Jimmy Kempski. Just check out his dissection of the Nolan Carroll pick-six against the Giants. Jimmy Kempski knows football.