November 09, 2015
Chip Kelly is never satisfied. And while that may be a negative quality in most bosses, it's exactly the kind of mentality you want from your football coach.
That doesn't mean the Philadelphia Eagles head coach isn't happy with his team's performance in Sunday night's 33-27 overtime win over the rival Dallas Cowboys. There's a difference between being pleased and being satiated. The victory kept the Eagles (4-4) very much in the NFC East race -- they're currently a half game behind the 5-4 Giants -- but Kelly knows their work is far from over.
“They were excited," Kelly said of his players Monday. "And rightly so, in terms of what you did and what you got accomplished. But, again, that’s in the past. It’s what we do moving forward. So if we don’t go out and have a good Tuesday, then we didn’t use the fuel we got Sunday night.”
That's the difference.
The Eagles are now at the midway point of the season. And while Sunday's win could be looked at as a turning point in the season, that's not a phrase Kelly likes to throw around. Not because the win wasn't important, but because a true "turning point" can only be identified in hindsight, once the season has reached its conclusion. What looks like a key win for the Eagles could be rendered meaningless if the team fails to back it up with home wins over the Dolphins and Buccaneers before heading to Detroit to take on the Lions on Thanksgiving Day.
If that happens, it means satisfaction's ugly cousin, complacency, has taken hold at NovaCare. Preventing that from happening may be the third-year coach's toughest task this week.
“I never look at things like that," Kelly said Monday when asked if their Week 9 win could be viewed as a turning point in the season. "It’s always about the next challenge. And we talk about that all the time. So the next thing for us is to have a really good day on Tuesday. Maybe as you write a story at the end of the season, what point was [the turning point] looking back, but I’ll just take you back to a year ago on Thanksgiving, when we beat these guys [the Cowboys] to go 9-3. Then what happened? We went 1-3 down the stretch, so that wasn’t a turning point for us."
And that's important for Eagles fans to remember in the wake of a big win over their division rivals. The city was riding high after beating up on the Cowboys on Thanksgiving a year ago. That quickly evaporated as the Eagles lost their next three games and were eliminated from playoff contention before their regular season finale against the Giants.
“It’s always what you do next," Kelly added. "And that’s why I try to make that reference. So I’m not deflecting [questions] when people say, ‘Was that a big game for you?’ Every game’s a big game. So if we don’t do something after this victory over Dallas, then that game wasn’t a turning point in our season. That’s our point. So you can’t just say, ‘Hey, we played a good game last night. That’s our turning point. Let’s go kick our feet up.’
"We need to go back to work."
Sunday's win in Big D, however, is not apple-to-apples when compared to last season's 38-27 win. When they met last season, both teams were 8-3. The Eagles, not the Cowboys, were the ones starting their backup quarterback because of injury. And it seemed like that team -- a team full of veterans and familiar faces -- had hit their ceiling.
This season, the Birds seem to be still be trending up -- and you don't have to reach far back into the past to find examples of other teams that have struggled out of the gate before finding their stride towards the middle of the season. Last year, the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks started the season 3-3. Two years ago, Kelly's first at the helm, the Eagles were just 3-5 through their first eight games before going 7-1 down the stretch and winning the division.
“I think everything in [Sam Bradford's] game has gotten better. As I’ve said before, I’ve seen Sam improve on a weekly basis here. We’re in Game Eight — he’s better in Game Eight than he was in Game One."
So even if you don't want to call this a turning point for the Eagles, it's hard to ignore the fact that things are beginning to point in the right direction.
Sam Bradford has looked better each week. He seems to be more confident -- and accurate -- each week, which is to be expected from a quarterback who missed the last two seasons with ACL injuries and is playing in his 700th offense since being drafted first-overall in 2010.
Against the Cowboys, Bradford even seemed to improve as the game went on. In the second half, he was 10-for-14 for 165 yards. And in overtime, Bradford was 5-for-5 for 56 yards, including the game-winning 41-yard score by Jordan Matthews. Furthermore, the Eagles QB even began throwing the ball down field -- and successfully, to boot. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, he completed all four of his deep passes, racking up 139 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.
For a coach that's stood by his new quarterback all season long, that had to be vindicating.
“I think everything in Sam’s game has gotten better," Kelly said Monday. "As I’ve said before, I’ve seen Sam improve on a weekly basis here. We’re in Game Eight — he’s better in Game Eight than he was in Game One. I think he’s more comfortable in terms of what we’re doing."
And with so many new key pieces on offense, Bradford included, it shouldn't be a surprise that we've seen better play on that side of the ball with each passing week.
“I know in terms of where we are as an offense with a lot of these guys, it’s like a movie’s being shown, and he showed up halfway through it," Kelly continued. "And then he’s supposed to figure out what’s going on and what did I miss in the first half of the movie, because he hadn’t been with us the same amount of time Brent [Celek] has been here, and [Jason] Kelce and some of those other guys.
“So, it’s just something you have to get through reps; it’s not something that can be forced. He works extremely hard at it. He’s in this building all the time; he’s watching film; he’s studying; he’s working at it. But we’ve seen constant improvement out of Sam. And I hope he continues to play even better as we move forward.”
Unfortunately for Bradford, there's no way for him to rewind "Gone with the Wind" -- that's the movie Kelly said the team was watching in the fictional scenario above. Instead, he has to keep working out the details from week to week, with the best lessons coming during game action (because we all know only certain aspects can be adequately simulated during non-contact practices.
The same applies to other new members of the offense, including running back DeMarco Murray. The former Cowboy had his best all-around game of the season Sunday night, rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown while catching six passes for 78 yards. To say that's an improvement over his first meeting with Dallas would be quite an understatement.
According to his coach, it was only a matter of time.
“I think that can be said about anybody," Kelly pointed out when asked if that learning curve applied to Murray. "We do have some new players here, so to think that on Day One, they’re just going to step in and plug and play, it doesn’t happen. This is a league where you have to practice, where you have to train. You have to get in sync with the 10 other guys you’re working with, so I think all those guys are just starting to feel more comfortable.”
Although it took half of the season, the Eagles seem like they're starting to gel in a way they hadn't prior to the bye week.
But on Tuesday, it'll be back to work as usual.
“What we realize is that we had a really good week of training last week," Kelly added. "If we have a good week of training, it carries over into the game, and that’s what we’re trying to get accomplished.”
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