2013-14 NFL: What do we make of the Eagles season?

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Just 15 minutes after Andy Reid witnessed Andrew Luck and Ty Hilton connect for a 64 yard touchdown to complete the second biggest comeback in NFL postseason history, the Philadelphia Eagles began their quest to end the final bit of negativity from the old coaching regime in Philly.

The streak of playoff losses left by Reid during his final few years in the city of brotherly love.

The Eagles 2013 season may have been viewed as a rebuilding year before the first regular season game in Washington on the second Monday of September, but the opening drive of that game changed the perception of what Chip Kelly’s offense would look like in the NFL. For everyone who pays attention to the league, it was exciting to see a coach adapt new-school philosophies such as, disregarding time of possession (Eagles ranked last this season in that category, going for it on fourth and short instead of taking the points (Reid sent Ryan Succop out to attempt a 19 yard field goal against the Colts instead of going for it on fourth and goal from the one.) and the concept of running the same play multiple times on a drive to success.

That opening drive either gave you hope (as an Eagles fan), or changed your perception of how dangerous the Eagles could be.

Even though that drive and first half seems like it was years ago because of Michael Vick’s presence as the starting quarterback, the impact of those opening 30 minutes of football never really left the Eagles all season. Every time the offense was on the field it was expected to move the football down the field like a fastbreak in basketball.

It’s the reason why everyone began to question if Kelly’s offense would really work in the NFL after the Eagles offense put up a combined 36 points against the Chiefs and Broncos. If you want to vent about the ridiculous news cycle of the NFL’s regular season go ahead, your argument applies here.

When Vick left against the Giants in Week 5, the world was reintroduced to Nick Foles. It didn’t seem like an important moment at the time, but much like Vick’s improbable run to an MVP candidate in 2010 after Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion, it was a key moment for the organization. Foles needed an opportunity to show that Chip Kelly wasn’t crazy for stating that the Eagles starting job at quarterback was an “open competition” in training camp. Back in August Vick appeared to be the right quarterback to run Kelly’s offense, while the stench of Foles’ run as a starter last season hadn’t worn off yet.

As the first month of the season played out Vick went from outstanding, to better than average, to mediocre and then missed time due to injury. It was not only a microcosm of Vick’s career, but a reminder that Vick and Kelly didn’t come together at the right time. It’s scary to think what Vick could have looked like if Kelly had been able to go back in time and coach the 2010 version of Vick, but it wasn’t 2010 anymore. This version of Michael Vick just couldn’t handle the hyper-tempo nature of Kelly’s offense.

He wasn’t quite accurate enough.

He couldn’t’ take care of the football and Kelly believes turning the ball over is just about the worst thing you could possibly do on a football field.

His body broke down.

While Vick had a sequel to his incredible performance from three season ago against the Redskins on Monday Night Football, Foles’ moment against the Raiders was the first step on a different path for the 2013 Eagles. His seven touchdown performance once again put national eyes back in Philadelphia. The subsequent five game winning streak validated Kelly’s statement regarding Foles’ ability to run his offense.

This is where it’s time to give credit to the offensive line for giving Foles the ability to pick apart defenses. This is where it’s also time to worry about said offensive line, but I’ll get to that later.

The inexcusable blowout to the lowly Vikings in Week 15 made the city nervous. If Billy Davis’ defense could surrender over 300 yards and two touchdowns to Matt Cassel and three rushing touchdowns to someone named Matt Asiata, what would happen to a team with a prominent offense?

The loss in the Metrodome was nothing more than a small speed bump on the season. The blowout win over the Bears in Week 16 brought the media attention back to Philly, while the victory over the Cowboys in the final week of the season made you wonder just how far this team could go. There was only one other team in the tournament (Broncos) who had the offense capable of putting together a 40-burger.

(If you thought the Colts and Chiefs were going to combine for 89 points on Saturday, I hope you spent your winnings on something nice.)

The 800 words before this paragraph describe why I was stunned to see Chip Kelly run an offense during the first half against the Saints that looked oddly similar to the one Reid ran during his time in Philly. Foles was constantly under center. There were multiple play action pass plays called in the same drive. Even though Foles was sharp on those plays (7/7 at one point), this was not the offense that had set franchise records.

LeSean McCoy was constantly bottled up. The athleticism from the offensive line was minimalized by the playcalling, yet somehow the Eagles were up by a point heading into the locker room at halftime thanks to a touchdown from Foles to Riley Cooper.

It’s easily to speculate and say that Kelly perhaps overthought how his offense should look in the first half, before switching back over to the shotgun based attack that led Shady to a rushing title, but what’s for certain is that Kelly and the offense squandered an opportunity to put the Saints into a deep hole after a subpar first half from Brees, who was wildly inefficient (two interceptions).

***

When a team loses a game by less than a field goal, there are multiple moments in the game that can be viewed as the “reason why the team lost”. For Eagles fans the easiest person to blame is Alex Henery for missing a 48 yard field goal in the beginning of the second quarter. It’s simple right? If he makes the kick, the Eagles win by one and move onto Carolina next week.

But it’s really not that simple, in fact Henery shouldn’t be blamed for missing a field goal that is just barely in his range during optimal weather conditions. Foles has to take the heat for losing a precious 11 yards on a second down sack by Cameron Jordan, which pushed the Eagles to the edge of Henery’s range. Foles had enough time to read this column and then make a sandwich before getting hit by Jordan. He needed to just throw the ball away, but when you command an offense that gains huge chunks of yardage in a short amount of time, it seems counterproductive to just throw an opportunity away.

Sidenote alert: That play made me wonder if Kelly is totally sold on Foles’ ability to run his offense. Kelly hates when his quarterback takes a sack. It throws off the rhythm of his up-tempo offense. If Foles had the ability to make a play with his legs, he could have picked up an easy five or six yards instead of sitting back in the pocket and waiting for someone to get open. Foles has shown the ability to be much more mobile than anyone could have anticipated, but it’s hard to not watch someone like Marcus Mariota or Colin Kaepernick and wonder just how good Kelly’s offense could look.

One of the stats that was floating around quite a bit before the game was the record setting amount of plays the Eagles ran for 20 yards or more this season (98). That’s an average of six per game. Rob Ryan’s defense only allowed two plays of 20+ yards on Saturday night (three if you want to count the 40-yard defensive pass interference call DeSean Jackson drew in the second half).

For me the moment that really sticks out from this game wasn’t the missed field goal, Kelly’s unusual offense in the first half or Rob Ryan’s defense. The moment was a sequence early on in the third quarter where Kelly did his best impersonation of Reid and called his first timeout just six minutes into the second half. On the next play, Riley Cooper dropped a pass that would have not only gained the four yards needed for a first down, but could have easily been a 20+ yard gain to spark the offense.

On the Saints next drive, CB Cary Williams, the best member of the secondary, had to leave the game for a play after suffering an injury. The Saints faced a 3rd and 12 after a holding penalty negated a first down catch by Marques Colston. Kelly couldn’t afford to burn his second timeout with over 20 minutes left in the second half. If he hadn’t used the timeout on the last drive before the Cooper drop, he could have taken the timeout, got Williams back into the game and patched up the only visible hole in the secondary, outside of Pat Chung of course.

Instead, Roc Carmichael replaced Williams on the 3rd and 12 and promptly surrendered a 14 yard gain on a corner route by Kenny Stills. When Carmichael entered the game he immediately looked to Chung for advice, which is a huge mistake. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re asking Pat Chung for advice on a football field, you’re screwed.

Williams reentered the game on the next play, but the damage was already done. Brees promptly drove the offense right down the field to give the Saints a 20-7 lead.

***

Obviously when a team exits the playoff tournament after a loss, it’s fair to wonder if they’ll make it back the next year. The expectation levels are much higher. Instead of catching everyone by surprise, the Eagles will be penciled in to win the NFC East. Foles will be expected to improve. The secondary will be expected to look like something other than rotten swiss cheese, which can be achieved by getting rid of Pat Chung.

The biggest question mark if you’re an Eagles fan has to be the offensive line, which seems like a weird statement. The O-line was the foundation for the offense to succeed this season, but what are the realistic chances that the ENTIRE line plays every single game next season? Surviving injuries with depth is one of the major keys to winning in the NFL (just ask the Cowboys).

The Eagles aren’t going to sneak up on anyone next season. Kelly will have to continue to tweak the offense to keep it fresh, which is something he had to do at Oregon, but teams like Louisiana-Tech won’t be on the schedule. It only takes an offseason for the rest of the league to adapt to trends that were introduced in the prior season.

Even though the season ended with a playoff loss at home, 2013 was a massive success for the Eagles. The organization put the scrapbook with all of the memories from Andy Reid’s tenure in the attic and became a sensation.

How many franchises wish they could have done the same this season?

Follow me on Twitter @ScottDargis

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