The pregame scene was almost surreal. As the imposing figure of Andy Reid made his way out of the vistor’s tunnel, one almost had to double-take upon sight of his new, fire-engine red garb. Now in charge of leading the resurgent Kansas City Chiefs, Reid stoically made his way to his position on the Chiefs sideline. While many wondered how the 14-year head coach of the Eagles would be received after his last two seasons ended in humiliating fashion. All doubts as to whether the national media would have any more ‘snowballs at Santa’ or ‘batteries on the field’ fodder would be solved quickly, when cheers showered upon the grizzled head coach. Opposing Reid, Chip Kelly, who was faced with the responsibility of overhauling 14 years of routine. As the coaches paced their respective sidelines, fans were given one more opportunity to appreciate Reid for what he was, an Eagle.
It barely took a second off the clock for the Eagles appreciation for Reid, shift to disgust in their own current regime. Former Eagle Quintin Demps took the opening kickoff a few yards deep, and gashed a rather lackadaisical looking coverage unit to the tune of 57 yards, setting up the Chiefs in Eagles territory. With their backs against the wall, after a stretch of days being showered with criticism, the Eagles defense was put in a difficult situation right off the bat. The much-maligned unit was up to the challenge though, forcing a three-and-out and a Kansas City punt. The momentum shifted back toward the Chiefs on the punt, as the Eagles special teams unit came up short again, this time in the form of a Damaris Johnson muffed punt on the 8-yard line. After sputtering out once with great field position, the Chiefs would get another chance, this time within the Eagles 10-yard line.
Much like the first drive, perhaps even more impressively, the Eagles defense held their ground, and even forced the Chiefs back a few yards, courtesy of a coverage sack scooped up by Nate Allen. With all the criticism Allen has faced over the first couple of weeks of the season, to see him make a play early was a promising sign for the fourth-year safety. Ryan Succup knocked home a 33-yard field goal try, and the Chiefs would settle for the 3-point lead after two possessions. With the offense gearing up for their first possession, to start out only down three, all things considering, seemed like a blessing.
Apparently three was not quite enough to spot the opponent in this one. On only their third play of the first drive, Michael Vick telegraphed a short pass intended for Brent Celek and, after a deflection, Chiefs safety Eric Berry snatched the ball out of the air and sauntered 38 yards to the endzone and, before one could blink, the Chiefs were up 10-nothing. Having collected negative yardage over their first two drives, the Chiefs had jumped out to a two possession lead before the 10-minute mark of the first quarter.
With the Lincoln Financial Field crowd fully shifted from pre-game appreciation, to the hushed tone with a smattering of boos, the team needed a spark. After team exchanged punts over the next couple of possessions, the Eagles started a drive on their own 13, looking for a shot in the arm. Coming off his first interception of the season, Michael Vick took it upon himself to provide that spark. On a beautifully executed read-option play, Vick ripped the ball out of the back’s stomach, juked a defender to remain in the middle of the field, and turned on the sort of long-distance speed not seen from Vick since his Atlanta days. The 34-year old quarterback covered 61 yards, a career-high for Vick, before finally being tackled at the Chiefs 26 yard line. Two plays later, Vick unleashed the athleticism yet again, this time in the form of a high-arching corner route to Jason Avant placed perfectly for the wideout who reeled it in from 22 yards out for his first touchdown of the season. A failed gadget play on the point after attempt left the Eagles with only 6 points, but a shred of momentum regained following the Chiefs early barrage of points.
Following an impressive stop on a third and one play for Kansas City, the Eagles would get the ball back poised to trim the deficit further, or take the lead. Another long run by Vick, this time only 24 yards, set the wheels in motion, but another Eagles miscue would halt yet another promising drive. The almost always dependable Jason Kelce misfired a snap, perhaps caused by his injured right thumb, and the Chiefs opportunistically jumped on the ball before Vick could corral it. On second glance, it may have been an instance where Kelce did not know whether Vick was under center or in the shotgun. Whatever happened, the Chiefs had the ball, with great field position, for another chance to put more distance between themselves and the Eagles.
After making their way into Eagles territory, the Chiefs looked as if they were on the brink of scoring again. However, another strong hold by the defensive unit, aided by a holding penalty on 1st overall pick Eric Fisher, put Kansas City in position for a difficult, 51-yard field goal attempt. Succup pushed the attempt wide-right, and the Eagles had dodged another bullet. They would go on to punt on the following drive, pinning the Chiefs on their own 18 yard line.
The Chiefs offense hadn’t exactly gashed the Eagles defense to this point, but a third down throw to Donnie Avery paired with a blown coverage on a blitz gave the Chiefs their biggest play of the evening. Avery took the slant 51 yards well into Eagles territory before finally being dragged down by Earl Wolff. Kansas City would go on to kick another field goal and the score was 13-6, a favorable situation considering how poorly the Eagles had played to this point.
Rather than taking solace in the fact that they only trailed by a touchdown, the Eagles only compounded on the problem. After nearly hitting Riley Cooper on a broken play earlier in the drive, Vick, faced with heavy pressure, forced a pass down the middle of the field. The pass was easily intercepted by Sean Smith, and in a single half, the Eagles had doubled their turnover total for the season.
The Chiefs, once again, settled for another field goal. Connor Barwin had an opportunity to make a huge play on 3rd and short, but allowed a probable pick-six slip through his hands the play prior to Succup’s third field goal of the night. Sitting behind a 10-point deficit, the Eagles would have another opportunity in the half to try to make up ground. When it appeared that things could not get worse for the Eagles, perhaps the worst did occur. On another impressive LeSean McCoy run, the Eagles running back was dragged down under yet another former Eagle, this time Akeem Jordan, and his right leg awkwardly landed under a defender. While Lincoln Financial Field was hardly a rock concert during most of the first half, one could hear a pin drop as nervous onlookers watched the Eagles elite running back writhe in pain, gripping his right leg.
Fortunately, McCoy was able to jog off under his own power into the locker room, and the Eagles avoided any further damage going into the intermission trailing 16-6.
With the Eagles receiving the ball coming out of the break, they actually had a chance to regain momentum from a Chiefs team that hadn’t posed much of a threat over the course of the game. With a touchdown, Philadelphia could have put extra pressure on an offense that seemed to be playing more not to make mistakes throughout the game. Rather than putting any points on the board, Vick nearly threw his third interception of the game, as Berry nearly scooped one off the turf. After the play was initially ruled an interception, the call was overturned. The Eagles ended up punting.
On their next drive, arguable their most impressive from a rhythm standpoint, the Eagles used a heavy dose of LeSean McCoy, who returned to the game following his injury scare, to get the ball down to the Chiefs 11 yard line with a favorable 2nd down and three. However, Chip Kelly elected for two pass plays on the following downs, neither of which connected. The Eagles settled for a Henery field goal to make it a one possession game at 16-9.
On their most impressive sequence of the second half, the Eagles defense put their offense in a position to take control of the game. A pair of sacks, one by Vinny Curry and one by Trent Cole, and a holding penalty forced the Chiefs into a quick three-and-out and the Eagles would have the ball with a chance to tie.
It was looking as if they were going to do just that, as Vick connected with DeSean Jackson down the sideline on a big third down throw to get deep into Chiefs territory. Kansas City did a marvelous job bottling up Jackson throughout most of the contest. The 40-yard connection was one of the few times Vick even threw it deep to DeSean, let alone connected with him. However, the drive quickly stalled after two short McCoy runs and an incompletion brought up a fourth down. The Eagles were still in a position to come away with points on the drive. Alex Henery was set up for a very makable 48-yard field goal to bring the team within four points. Henery hooked the kick wide left though and, the Eagles would come away empty-handed yet again.
With the defense gassed, Kansas City started to impose their will. After taking over following the Henery miss, the Chiefs used just shy of five minutes, highlighted by a few third down conversions, to punch it in for the first time on offense. Jamaal Charles scooted around the right tackle and snuck inside the pylon to put the Chiefs up 23-9. There was still just under 13 minutes to go, but it appeared that the defense was running out of ways to make up for the offense’s miscues.
The Eagles did hold serve in the fourth quarter on their following drive. After Vick picked up a 3rd and 7 on a scramble, the Eagles kept the pedal to the metal. On possibly the play of the game, Vick his Jason Avant for a 20-yard gain on a catch that we’ve almost become used to seeing Avant making. The extreme concentration and small muscle control necessary to reel a pass in with one hand the way Avant did is truly remarkable. Without top-end speed or explosiveness, it is catches like this one that has kept Avant in the league for eight years now. On the following play, with possibly their best push of the night, the Eagles offensive line blew a lane open for McCoy who exploded through the hole and 41 yards later it was a one score game again. For all of the issues the offense had in this game, between turnovers, lack of timing, poor protection, McCoy continues to shine like he never has before. Once again, the Eagles were a stop away from having a chance to tie the game up.
A muffed catch by Demps on the kickoff that followed the McCoy score set the Chiefs up on their own five with under 12 minutes to go. After two quick plays, the Chiefs had 3rd and 10 from their own five, and all signs pointed to the Eagles defense finally making a stop on 3rd and long and putting their offense in a position to take over the game. Thursday night, however, was not a night for hoping. On his best throw of the night, Alex Smith hit Donnie Avery for a 15-yard first down and the air was sucked out of the building. With Avery already torching the Eagles throughout the evening on 3rd down plays, its a wonder as to how the shifty wideout worked his way open. Guessing games aside, the Eagles defense, on their last gasps, could not get the opposition off the field. Chewing up clock at will, the Chiefs moved the ball into Eagles territory. When the Eagles were finally able to force a fourth down, the Chiefs had already burned over eight minutes and another Ryan Succup field goal made the comeback attempt seem impossible.
And so it was, as the Eagles sputtered their way to a turnover on downs. As Reid stood on the sidelines, much like Donovan McNabb did a few years back when the Redskins came into the Linc and gave McNabb a win against his old team, the first half against those same Redskins seemed light years away. The clock ticked away and once again, the Eagles had to walk off their own field defeated by an opponent who was far from elite.
Rather than breaking down every unit like I have in the past, I would rather address some issues that have been keyed upon as the team struggles to replicate their success of the first half vs. Washington. Before getting to that though, one has to wonder how long Alex Henery will remain on the team. Henery already has missed three field goals on the season. He was unable to recover a fumble that might have ensured an Eagles victory against the Chargers. Thursday, he managed to get flagged for two personal foul penalties on the same play. When a team actually spends a draft pick on a kicker, they expect him to be able to make anything within 50 yards on a consistent basis. They also expect him to be able to, at least on a somewhat consistent basis, make it from 50 or more yards. Missed field goals are almost as deflating as a turnover, especially in games like Thursday’s where points are at a premium. With a new regime in place, I can’t imagine Henery has too much of a leash for more misses.
As far as the team goes, Thursday’s game, much like last Sunday’s, was a prime opportunity to take advantage of uncontrollable factors. The Chiefs were coming off a hard-fought win against the Cowboys, on a short week, and their two starting tight ends were out. Their offense hadn’t blown the doors off of anyone, and they appeared as if their strategy, for this season at least, was to minimize mistakes. Over the course of the game, the Eagles were able to exploit the Chiefs run defense, supposedly a strength of theirs. However, it seemed as if every time Vick dropped back to throw a pass, it was well-defended. From an offensive standpoint, I feel as if their is almost too much exclusivity with how the team moves the ball. The Chiefs were able to win Thursday’s game with their most talented receiver, Dwayne Bowe, being an almost complete non-factor. Instead, Donnie Avery stepped up and made huge catches and adding an element of explosiveness to a very vanilla passing game. On the other side of the ball, whether it is favoritism or a lack of talent, Vick seems lost when he cannot hit DeSean Jackson on a consistent basis. Without establishing an early rhythm with DeSean, Vick averted to his old ways, where his feet chop in the pocket and he does not step into his throws. The issue goes beyond the wide receiver position as well. For the tight ends to have not served a more prominent role in this offense is baffling to me. For an offense that supposedly inspired some of the same ideals used by the Patriots the past few seasons, three receptions for a measly 23 yards between Brent Celek and Zach Ertz is puzzling to say the least. Vick only targeted six players over the course of the evening: three wide receivers, two tight ends, and LeSean McCoy. This would be somewhat less troubling if the team did not throw the ball 30 times. I realize the gamebreaking talent from the skill positions is not the level of the Denver Broncos, and the loss of Jeremy Maclin is starting to rear its head, but this offense must find a way to alleviate some of the attention on the usual suspects. I am also concerned that Bryce Brown may struggle to find his way on this team. While Thursday was a tough instance to judge, considering the turnovers and the deficit, Brown has barely sniffed the field. With a runner like Brown, putting him in for spot-duty does not utilize his skills. He is not a pass-catcher who can break a play when the offense needs a spark. Brown is a down-your-throat, thunderous runner with a burst that can separate from a defense. Shady McCoy has been elite thus far this season, probably the best back in the league. However, with his injury scare tonight, one must wonder if the team is confident in using Brown in a more featured role at times. So far, it has not seemed that way.
On a quick aside, the offensive line really had issues against the Chiefs. Jason Peters was abused on multiple occasions by Tamba Hali. With how Peters looked in the first two games, I figured it would take a truck to get by him in one-on-one situations. Hali was able to make his way around the Eagles tackle on numerous instances. As a whole, the line did not provide the type of pocket necessary for Vick to excel in. He had multiple passes batted down at the line, which indicated that the line had been pushed back too far for the smaller Vick to get an adequate release point on his throws. Todd Herremans really seems to be struggling at right guard. Lane Johnson is a good player, even after the loss. That being said, for the right side (Vick’s blindside) of the line to have a rookie at tackle and the guard playing some of the worst football of his career, one has to be concerned. I would be interested to see if the return of Dennis Kelly does not push Herremans for his spot at all. Kelly was a solid player last year and, should he return healthy, might be able to give the veteran a run for his money.
In terms of the defense, it was a shame that a mostly inspired effort has to be overlooked by a few lapses at the worst times. For the second week in a row, an unassuming slot receiver, this time in the form of Donnie Avery victimized the Philadelphia defense for a career night. Avery’s catches on third and long plays were absolutely back-breaking. Aside from the 3rd and 10 play on the Chiefs drive from their own 5 yard line, most of them were a result of blown coverages. For the second straight week, the Eagles defense found themselves running out of gas late in the game. While the Chiefs were unable to score a touchdown on offense until the fourth quarter, their ability to pick up long third down plays and extend drives an extra couple of minutes clearly paid dividends. Getting five sacks in a night is great, but it is all meaningless if a defense cannot get off the field on 3rd and long. What was even more frustrating, was the fact that on multiple occasions early in the game, the Eagles stopped Kansas City on third and short plays. This was a game where the Eagles were faced with an opponent that was not going to dazzle them, but also was not going to give them the game. For them to allow Alex Smith to convert third downs with over ten yards to go is unacceptable. For the second week in a row, Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans were exposed in coverage by way of check-down passes and short out routes. Connor Barwin still impressed for the most part, but opponents will continue to find more ways to avoid him and pick on the weaker links. Unfortunately, with all the safeties seeing enough playing time to make an assessment, it has become painfully clear that the team has no answer on the back-end as far as a player that keeps the opposition’s passing game in check.
On a somewhat brighter note, Fletcher Cox had arguably his most dominant game as a pro that I can remember. The second year lineman would be lined up against 2013 1st overall pick Eric Fisher. Needless to say, I don’t think Fisher saw many players of Cox’s skill level at Central Michigan. Whether it was by speed, quickness, or even brute strength, Cox made the top pick in the draft look very much the part of a wide-eyed rookie. With a sack, four tackles, and a pass deflection, Cox continues to show his potential from the three-technique in this defense. Should he remain healthy, the Eagles could have one of the premiere defensive players taken in the 2012 draft.
Obviously, there is always a need to take a step back and assess the situation from a big picture standpoint. It was brutal getting beat at home by a Chiefs team that, in all honesty, did very little to impress me. With than in mind, the Eagles just finished playing their third game in 11 days. While they will not admit it, the psychological, physical, and mental toll of going to battle that many times when some teams will not have played their third game until 21 days into the year is tough to imagine. The team will certainly benefit from the upcoming layoff as they prepare for their week 4 game. Unfortunately, they will be faced with the daunting task of trying to keep pace with the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning. With opponents starting to expose areas of weakness with the Eagles roster and how they run Chip Kelly’s schemes, it will be interesting to see what sort of adjustments the first year coach is able to make. The most important thing for a team dealing with this type of adversity, is to stay together and take things on a week-to-week basis. Last season, the Washington Redskins were 3-6 and seemingly out of contention after head coach Mike Shanahan hinted he may already be in the process of evaluating the roster from a projection standpoint. I do not expect Kelly to utilize any sort of psychological tactics in his first year, but this team has enough veteran leadership and experience to be able to roll with the punches. The fact of the matter is, the last two games were very winnable. As of now, the NFC East division still appears to be wide open. The crucial mindset that the Eagles must keep at the top of their priorities is that the first four weeks of a season do not dictate how it will ultimately play out. After starting 3-1 last season, the overwhelming opinion throughout the organization and the locker room was that they had fixed the mistakes that kept them out of the playoffs the year prior. 13 weeks and a 1-11 stretch later, everyone saw the true colors of last years Eagles. Despite carrying over several players from that roster, this is a different team. What they have to decide, from the first man on the roster to the 53rd, is whether they want to let a 0-2 stretch over five days derail a season that has a chance to be special.