Chip Kelly Must Make Personal Adjustments In Wake of 2014 Collapse


There’s no question that the Eagles week 16 loss to the Redskins stings unlike any other over the last 35 regular season games. Washington is not a very good team and, quite honestly, did very little to prove otherwise in a 27-24 win Saturday evening. I refuse to buy that Robert Griffin III has turned a corner in his re-development as a legitimate franchise quarterback and the Washington defense, according to several members of the Philadelphia offense, was ripe for the picking were it not for the shortcomings of quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Despite all of that, the Redskins are an NFL team. I would make a case that professional football is the sport where  the talent discrepancy is the least skewed. The amount of preparation and discipline required to win each and every game is difficult to fathom for anyone who hasn’t stepped on the field, myself included. When one listens to players, however, the common trend is that coming into a week with anything less than 100% is a recipe for defeat no matter who the opponent.

Accepting the fact that the Eagles will not be in the postseason is more cringe-inducing than disappointing. When one looks back on the 2014 season, it is much easier to magnify all the missed opportunities at collecting the one more necessary win to make the playoffs than any of the bigger issues that plagued the team throughout. Between the goal line failures against the Cardinals & 49ers, John Brown torching Cary Williams for a game-winning touchdown, and any number of incidents against Washington; it’s much easier to highlight shortcomings in individual instances than focus on the real problems that the Eagles are faced with fixing if they want to return to the postseason next year.

Saturday’s game against Washington was a microcosm of a trend that Eagles fans have tried to shut out for the better part of the 2014 season. For the better part of nine games, the team managed to win in spite of their shortcomings in the turnover battle and the fact that something always seemed ‘off’ about how they were going about their business. Yet when their prolific special teams unit or ability to wear opponents down with tempo no longer bailed them out, the Eagles problems finally cost them when it mattered most.

Two seasons, both which will end with winning records, are enough to where there is no room for excuses as far as what Kelly inherited when he agreed to take over as head coach. Save for the quarterback, which could be the most difficult position in sports to land a franchise-caliber talent, Kelly has either hand-picked or retained to make up the roster he has defended as sufficient to get the job done on a weekly basis. It’s been made perfectly clear that Chip calls the shots when it comes to personnel decisions and he must live with the fact that his ‘hits’ are matched, if not exceeded, by his ‘misses. Though one has to think that Tom Gamble and Howie Roseman have a great deal to do with how the team is built, Kelly has stated that he makes the final call.

Kelly’s big picture approach to football, culture, and developing all three phases in a way that is most conducive to victory is arguably his biggest strength as a coach. His staff and he quite possibly put more work in the days leading up to each game than any other team. Though he has had his ‘off’ days as far as a play-caller goes, one would have to lean towards the notion that he is a pretty strong coach when it comes to in-game responsibilities as well. I would imagine there are about 20 NFL teams would, given the chance, would trade their head coach for the services of Chip Kelly. Unfortunately, it is perhaps one of Kelly’s most admirable traits as a human being that may be one of his biggest flaws as an NFL coach.

More from Section 215

As a college coach, Kelly had to keep in mind the fact that he was dealing with children on a week-to-week basis. Whether it was one of his most dynamic talents or a player buried on the depth chart, coaching at the NCAA level brings with it a certain level of sensitivity to the unstable emotions of a student not being paid for his performance on the field. College football players, a vast majority of which will never step on an NFL field, dedicate their lives to their coach for several years of their youth with no promise of the sort of riches or notoriety of a professional athlete. When Kelly decided to leave the comforts of Eugene to accept the challenge of trying to deliver the Eagles their first Super Bowl, he also left behind the days of treating his players like children, or should have at least.

This does not mean Kelly should be publicly throwing his players under the bus. In his Monday afternoon press conference, despite being baited to do so, Kelly took ownership for Bradley Fletcher remaining as his starting cornerback for the season. He approached the topic like an adult. Were he to have come out and roasted Fletcher for his performance the last three weeks, he would have taken the first step toward losing his locker room. Chances are the core of this team will remain the same heading into next season. Because of this, Kelly has to think big picture when it comes to how he discusses the disappointing end to 2014.

That being said, it’s a bit unnerving how little ‘edge’ the Eagles have played with, even in victory at times. Dating back to 2013, there have been far too many instances where Kelly’s team failed to step on the throat of an opponent and either allowed them to make the game close or even overtake them for a win. The second game against Dallas could have very well been sewed up if the Eagles had come up with one more stop after taking a 24-21 lead. Instead, the Cowboys sauntered down the field to re-take a lead they would not give up. Against Washington, the special teams put them in a position where they could have built a double-digit lead against a team with nothing to play for. A three-and-out from deep in the red zone and a missed field goal was just the momentum boost a wounded squad like the Redskins needed to put together a second half that was enough to put the hammer down on the Eagles postseason hopes.

This trend goes beyond game-day as well. For all of the depth that Kelly preaches on his 53-man roster, it certainly seemed that, by season’s end, his starters had gotten a bit too comfortable in their roles. When a team that was not heavily penalized and did not turn the ball over starts to struggle in those areas, it’s not as if they magically forgot how to play football. Urgency is something all 53 men must bring to every snap of every practice or game and that was simply not the case in 2014. When Jason Peters is starting to give up sacks to second-string pass rushers on the worst team in the NFC East, either he is losing a step or he is in a position where there is no consequences for his mistakes. That is where the Eagles were by the end of the season. No matter how poorly any member of the team played, they knew they would remain in the starting lineup. I would argue that the reasons for this are two-fold. One, Chip Kelly is overly committed to his starters that he named at the beginning of the season. Whether it is hubris or a longing for week-to-week consistency is a mystery to me. It became evident, however, that there would be no changes in the Eagles starting lineup at any point during the regular season.

The second reasons for this has to be with the fact that the bottom line is insufficiently pushing the top. I understand if Kelly does not feel that players like Marcus Smith, Jaylen Watkins, or even Josh Huff had done enough in practice to merit playing time. With that being the case, some individual or group of coaches has to face the music. Did the Eagles mis-evaluate their draft picks and acquire individuals who did not have it in their makeup to improve on a consistent basis? Is Kelly’s coaching staff capable of eliciting a level of play from the 2nd and 3rd string that can push the starters and feel some level of urgency about possibly losing their job? Kelly’s rep-heavy practices are supposed to maximize meaningful snaps for players who otherwise would not be able to gain such exposure. However, if the individuals do not bring the right attitude to training sessions or are simply going through the motions, one would have to think there needs to be adjustments to be made. Even Zach Ertz, who by all accounts had been putting in extra work on the blocking element of his position after practices all season long, did not see the field as much as he should until the last games of the season. All he did was break the franchise-record for receptions in a game. I love Brent Celek as much as any Eagles fan, but Ertz is a thoroughbred talent that Kelly drafted after already having signed James Casey. Waiting 15 weeks into a year so crucial to a tight end’s development to feature him in the offense is irresponsible. I don’t care what he looked like in practice.

Finally, there is the matter of the type of individuals Kelly prefers on his team. For the record, I will not hold it against him for cutting ties with DeSean Jackson. Were it not for Robert Griffin III’s whirlwind season in D.C., much more would have been made about Jackson’s antics throughout the year. Jackson had a very good season for the Redskins. He also did so on a team that is 4-11 and still ways away. If Richard Sherman and Jackson weren’t friends, the national media would probably not make a big fuss about his torching of the Eagles in week 16. Jeremy Maclin served as a sufficient deep threat when the Eagles were starting a quarterback capable of throwing a deep ball. It was not until Nick Foles was injured that the Eagles’ vertical passing game abandoned them, due to Mark Sanchez’s inability to push the ball downfield. Chip Kelly is correct in that developing the right culture is essential to winning in the NFL. However, the oversight of this thesis is that commitment to culture can make up for insufficient talent. It’s impossible to say at this point whether Kelly will soften his stance on this issue. Often times, some of the most talented players who enter the NFL are more available than they should be because of something that does not show up on the football field. The teams that can maximize this talent and deal with the ‘baggage’ enough to where it does not have a toxic effect on the locker room are often those who contend for Super Bowls. I’ve spent time in the Eagles locker room. It is as cohesive a group of professional athletes as one could imagine. That said, I’m sure the locker room was a far less jovial scene after Saturday’s game when the Eagles let DeSean Jackson out-talent them to the tune of 126 yards receiving.

Players like Jordan Matthews, ones who have a rare combination of talent, work ethic, and coachability, are rare. For Chip Kelly, the primary talent evaluator and personnel decision maker, to completely eliminate a demographic of prospective players for POSSIBLY being a distraction off the field is irresponsible. The best coaches in the league are the ones who can add talent to their team with players like this and trust themselves and the leadership within the locker room to making sure they won’t be a problem. While Kelly is correct in saying that culture outweighs scheme when it comes to winning on Sundays, he seems partially blind to the fact that talent is just as important if one wants to achieve the ultimate goal. The Eagles, once again, will be drafting in a position where the top prospects in terms of the total package will have been off the board for some time. Will Kelly ignore a player like Washington cornerback Marcus Peters? A potential top-10 talent whose off-the-field issues may mean he falls to the Eagles. Another failed first round pick like Marcus Smith could doom Kelly’s roster as far as building a long-term contender. The organization flat-out lied to its fanbase last offseason when it preached it would be selecting the best player available in the draft. In fact, they ignored the best player available in almost every round of the draft. I’m sure guys like Taylor Hart were great in the locker room this season. Cohesion is necessary on a roster but plays on the field are what bring teams postseason berths and championships.

The Eagles will not make any adjustments to their starting lineup in their meaningless season finale against the Giants. I would be surprised to see Marcus Smith or Jaylen Watkins on the field in any sort of impactive capacity. This has simply been the trend of the 2014 season. At this time next week, the Eagles will officially be in their offseason. No one is going to tell Chip Kelly to change the way he is. He is the most powerful individual in the organization right now and he was hired to be that type of figure. If Kelly is sincere in wanting to bring a Super Bowl to Philadelphia, it is all on his shoulders. One of Chip’s greatest strengths as a coach is that he stands behind his decisions and is confident in what he preaches. What may end up defining his tenure in Philadelphia is whether he can look himself in the mirror and realize that a team with a roster perfectly capable of playing postseason football collapsed from within because it didn’t have what it took to finish the job in any number of instances. The roster is showing its first signs of deterioration and will likely have substantial overhaul heading into a crucial 2015 season. We will find out over the next six months whether or not Kelly has the humility to tweak his approach to coaching in the NFL. He is a smart enough individual to realize that two seasons and no playoff wins is not a result of coincidence. Changes have to be made and if he is going to be the figurehead of the Eagles franchise, they have to start with him. This doesn’t mean Kelly has to reinvent himself as a coach. Instead, he must put the same pressure on himself that he will have to put on his team in the future. The league volleyed back against Kelly in 2014 after being a step behind the year prior. The next move is on Chip. Does he have it in himself to make the adjustments to how he goes about his position to surge back in front of the curve? Or is he the stubborn, arrogant college coach convinced he’s smarter than everyone else that detractors have tried to pigeon-hole him as?

"“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”-Albert Einstein"