September 22, 2015
There are nine teams off to 0-2 starts, but none of those is trying to navigate more turbulent waters than Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles 0-2 start is matched by the disturbing beginnings by, among others, the Colts, Seahawks, Ravens and Giants. The difference is that none of those teams are led by a third-year coach who entered the NFL as a presumed “genius” who was going to change the face of the game.
Kelly came into the season as the coach that took over the general manager’s office and proceeded to make enormous changes to the roster. He was confident enough in his system to wave aloha to stars like Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Even Mathis.
Kelly came into the season with a revamped defensive backfield that included Byron Maxwell. He came into the season with a rebuilt running attack with a huge name from the Cowboys, DeMarco Murray. And Kelly came into the season with a presumably revitalized quarterback in Sam Bradford.
Kelly came into the season with huge expectations based in part on a remarkable pre-season performance. They may have only been exhibition games, but Bradford and the offense looked totally in sync as they marched downfield in their limited playing time.
Indeed, Kelly came into the season with a huge target on his play chart.
He had to be right -- or else.
If you survey the landscape of the NFL, there isn’t a coach who has earned as much attention and has had less success than Kelly. He arrived with the legacy of offensive machines at Oregon and the Eagles had to double back to get him to leave Eugene for Philadelphia. He also arrived with an aura of magic -- a football potion of one-part sports science, one-part smoothie and several parts pace-of-play.
There were stories upon stories of football people who visited Kelly’s football heaven in Oregon to study the Ducks’ practice sessions. Stories about NFL coaches, even the Hoodie himself, Bill Belichick, who talked to Kelly about how to electrify an offense.
The irony here is that Chip Kelly has never advertised his self as a football genius. The fact of the matter is that Kelly downplays all of that stuff. He tries to play the role of just a football coach, but he can not sidestep the image.
Chip the Genius.
The Sunday loss to the Cowboys was ugly, but for many fans in Philadelphia who were watching on TV, it was made even worse by the analysis of Troy Aikman.
The former Dallas quarterback went out of his way to point out how brutal the Eagles looked and correctly indicated that Kelly was embarrassed by the whole scene.
It was a pretty clear indication that the entire NFL is watching for any sign that Kelly’s newfangled offense and up-tempo system won’t be a long-term success in the league. It was a pretty clear indication that the NFL is still a league ruled by pocket passers, big, powerful line play and deep wide receiver threats.
Despite their 0-2 start, the Eagles are hardly doomed.
The Eagles will benefit mostly from their station in the NFL East. At this juncture, the division is a combination of mortally wounded teams and dumpster fires. Despite a victory, the Washington Redskins are a disaster, and the New York Giants are winless and run by a quarterback wearing a dunce cap.
Already missing Murray, they quickly lost Dez Bryant who is nothing but a touchdown machine as one of the NFL’s most lethal weapons as a receiver. And now, the Cowboys are without quarterback Tony Romo, who suffered a broken collarbone in the Eagles game and is gone for a long stretch.
Believe it or not, the Seahawks and Colts are in a lot more worrisome situations than the Eagles, who simply have to prove they are the least hot dumpster fire in the NFC East. If they can survive these next few weeks, and the offensive line starts to figure out its assignments things could get fixed.
In the meantime, if things go sideways or even further south, brace yourself for a national narrative about a coach named Chip Kelly who couldn’t take his college game to the NFL.