It seems like decades ago that the Andy Reid-led 2012 Eagles were playing out the end of their miserable 4-12 campaign. A year removed from a foreboding, misleading 8-8 record the previous season, the organization decided to bring Reid back for another season to see if he could right the ship. What followed was a calamity-ridden, torturous schedule that saw problems both on and off the field, and by mid-season, there was nothing the franchise could do to spin Reid in a positive light. Sure enough, Reid was ousted upon season’s end, and the bashing of the national media of the move commenced. The common narrative was that the Eagles could not find a replacement that could consistently put out a positive product like Reid was able to do during his 13 seasons as head coach.
When the league transitioned into its offseason, the coaching feeding frenzy began. Reid, the most experienced and distinguished of the candidates, was courted and ultimately signed by the Kansas City Chiefs to take over for the departed Romeo Crennel. As far as the Eagles go, it took a lengthy, extensive search before they were finally able to sway Oregon head coach Chip Kelly to leave the comforts of Eugene and make his first foray into the NFL coaching fraternity. While there were detractors and supporters of the Kelly hire, there was still an overwhelming contingency of those questioning why the Eagles let go of a proven product.
Both coaches were entering losing atmospheres with culture issues that needed an overhaul. The Chiefs had finished their 2012 season, despite boasting an NFL-high six pro bowlers, tied for the worst record in the league at 2-14. Romeo Crennel had been unable to manufacture success in the AFC West despite one of the more talented rosters, on an individual level, in the league. Meanwhile, the Eagles had seen mismanaged offseasons, poor drafting, and locker room dissent quickly turn them from one of the most respected franchises in sports to the laughing-stock of the league. Kelly and Reid would both be tasked with improving rosters from both a talent and cohesiveness standpoint.
At the time, there was very little made of it, but the two teams had very similar offseasons. Even after losing seasons, many would argue that both rosters had more talent on them than their record might have indicated. The Chiefs (#1) and the Eagles (#4) were both able to select offensive tackles in the draft. Both teams used their higher-than-average cap room to make multiple sensible free agent acquisitions to improve the depth of their rosters. Finally, both Reid and Kelly opted for a veteran presence at the quarterback position, with Reid bringing in Alex Smith and Kelly opting to bring Michael Vick back into the fold.
The training camp / preseason storylines could not have been any different. An apparently rejuvenated Andy Reid had energized a stale Chiefs roster and had many pegging Kansas City as a dark-horse contender. Meanwhile, the fascination with Chip Kelly’s innovations to the preseason schedule had many forgetting the football aspect of the new Eagles’ coach. Much more focus was put on the new ‘sports science’ alterations Kelly had brought to the NFL level and all the quirky drills and methods he had his players taking advantage of.
Adding to the challenge for Kelly was his insistence on an open quarterback competition. He refused to hand the job over to the veteran Michael Vick and, despite resistance from experts and even his own team’ allowed both Nick Foles and Matt Barkley (to an extent) a fair shot to earn the job. While it might seem cliché, Reid and Kelly only heightened the ‘old school-new school’ narrative regarding the former and new Eagles’ coach.
Some people try to make it out like Reid had a decided advantage from a personnel standpoint. Personally, I find this argument to be flawed. The Chiefs did have several pro bowl players returning from the year prior, but the Eagles had players with a similar talent-level who had either underachieved, or suffered injuries in 2012. Even though the Eagles probably had a bit more talent on offense and the Chiefs held the edge on defense, I find the roster talent argument is a weak one.
As the teams went about their regular season schedule, Reid surged ahead of Kelly and, until very recently, was a shoo-in for coach of the year. Including a 26-16 win in Philadelphia over Kelly, Reid’s Chiefs won their first nine games and sat atop a competitive AFC division. Reid had unleashed the collective talent of his defense and devised an offense that allowed Alex Smith to play in his comfort zone while taking advantage of a talented cast of skill players. Reid’s teams won close games and they won in more decisive fashion. They were able to utilize a relentless pass-rush, dynamic running attack, and an opportunistic approach to both sides of the ball to make their way through the first half of the season with relative ease. Kansas City entered their bye week without a loss and their first game against the Denver Broncos coming afterward.
Many felt that the Chiefs had the type of team to contend with Denver. Their pass rush and talented secondary looked as if they could challenge Peyton Manning at times, and Reid’s ball-control offense with an emphasis on the running backs seemed like a sensible approach against the quick-strike Broncos. Add in Reid’s notorious record coming after a bye, 12-1 with the Eagles, and many thought the Chiefs were poised to take control of the AFC.
For whatever reason, the Chiefs still appear to be on vacation. They have lost three straight after the bye, all to division teams. A devastating home loss to the Chargers was bracketed by two losses to the Broncos. In each game, they gave up over 27 points, something they hadn’t done at all prior to their first loss. Injuries had started to take its toll on the Kansas City defense, who saw prolific passing attacks pick apart their secondary and force the offense to try to play shootouts. While Alex Smith has performed quite admirably considering the play of his defense, he is not equipped to go toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers in an up-and-down affair.
Sitting at 9-3 with games against the Redskins and Raiders (both on the road), the Chiefs should be in good shape as far as making the postseason. Denver will probably end up winning the division, but with most of the AFC hovering around .500, nine wins through 75% of the season should be sufficient for getting Kansas City a wild-card spot. While other candidates (Bruce Arians, Ron Rivera) have emerged as coach of the year candidates, Reid looks as strong a selection as there is. That is not without some criticism, as some of the issues (time management, run/pass balance) have started to arise as the Chiefs drop games.
The Eagles had a much different journey to where they are at this point of the season. Chip Kelly was the talk of the town after the team’s week 1 win over the Redskins, but three straight losses, including the home loss to the Chiefs, had many souring on Kelly as quick as he arrived. At the midway point, following disheartening performances in losses against the Giants and Cowboys, there were those who questioned Kelly’s ability to manage an NFL locker room over the long-haul of the NFL schedule. Still, the first year coach and his staff preached patience while the team continued to adapt to Kelly’s philosophies.
Since their week 8 loss to the Giants, the Eagles have been as hot as any team in the NFL. The offense and defense are both performing exceptionally, both new and old players are performing beyond expectations, and Kelly has turned Nick Foles into the story of the NFL. The Eagles have washed away the home struggles that marred the end of the Andy Reid era, and the biggest complaint these days is that the team isn’t winning comfortably enough. The team is in control of their playoff destiny, as they sit tied with the Cowboys atop the NFC East with a week 17 date potentially deciding the division winner.
So the question remains, who has done the better job to this point. Reid has the one-on-one success, but the two teams have dealt with substantially different circumstances the last few months. For the first time with a new team, Reid will have to bring a team out of a rut to avoid their season being derailed. The way the Chiefs were built was to win in the immediate future with the management turning over the roster as needed. On first sight, the Eagles seemed like much more of a project as far as being put together in a way that worked for Kelly. Not just the offense, but a defense that had been put together with 4-3 ideals had to switch to a 3-4 with an entirely new coaching staff and a great deal of new personnel. On first glance, when one looks at the Chiefs, they are a conservative team that has the talent to play aggressive when they need to. They were unable to beat the one team that was ‘better’ than them in both contests, and have started to allow late blunders and mishaps cost them games.
The Eagles are so confusing, that their fanbase doesn’t really know what to think about them yet. The win over the Cardinals was arguably the team’s first over a legitimate contender, and many feel they need to see a win over the Lions to feel good about the team in the short-run. Still, their recent stretch of inspired play, which has been highlighted by different people stepping up on a weekly basis, has the mood surrounding the team as positive as its been since before the 2011 season. For all of his flaws (challenges, second half playcalling), Chip Kelly has, for the time being, beaten the detractors and shown he can adapt to the personnel of his team and still succeed.
The argument could work both ways, but it is this reasoning that makes me feel that Kelly’s job this year has been slightly more impressive. Even though the Eagles had the better record last season, the profile of their team’s pitfalls toward the end of last season painted a much bleaker picture as far as what was going on behind the scenes. Players appeared to be mailing it in toward the end of the season and, despite their insistence that Reid was still being respected in the locker room, it looked as if most were tuning out the long-time head coach. The reason that the argument of the national media regarding the Eagles and Reid was that he had lost the team that he had put together. Reid was in control of most everything by the time of his departure, and the enormity of his responsibilities had collapsed on him. Moving to Kansas City allowed Reid to get back to just coaching and going through the routine that allowed him to build up the Eagles teams of the 2000s. Reid moved to a lower-pressure area, from a media standpoint, and put together a coaching staff of familiar faces and proven commodities.
Kelly went from a location where he was essentially a ‘God’ to the buzzsaw of sports media that is Philadelphia. He had to assemble, with no credibility on the NFL level, a coaching staff that was going to be scrutinized upon the first hire. While Reid was bringing his old-school mentalities and success to the bread basket of the country, Kelly was trying to buck decades of NFL tradition in one of the most ridiculed sports markets in the country. Reid was trying to make up for a few years of struggles by a traditionally strong NFL team. Kelly was trying to re-invent the wheel while coaching the team of the most tortured fan-base in football. (debatable)
Kelly’s job is far from over in that sense. He has shown he can adjust to his personnel around him while still using innovative ideals, but is still working on a small sample size. While he seems to be advanced as far as offensive minds go in the NFL, Kelly is still in the infant stages of learning how to coach. We see it in every game, between the play-calling, time management, and missed challenges. Sometimes, the Eagles coach lets the tempo he creates get the best of him and he has to learn how to excel in all areas of being an NFL coach.
What Andy Reid has done with a team that did not know how to win last season is remarkable. They will probably make the playoffs and they have a roster that could make some serious noise should the draw play out in a favorable way. That being said, Reid has dealt with almost no pressure and did not have almost a century of tradition rooting against him. Kelly has a team that was as toxic as any in the league last year playing inspired football while they learn an entirely new way of playing the game. The Eagles are following the traditional arch of playing their best ball later in the season. Three of the four remaining opponents on their schedule are in the thick of the NFC playoff race, and Kelly will have to continue to have his team improve and progress should this debate stay the same. However, with all of the different factors working against Kelly both before and during the season, I weigh his 7-5, 1st place record a bit higher than Reid’s 9-3, 2nd place record.