It was hard not to notice the sense of déjà vu during this past week's game. We'd seen it before: the Eagles own the first half only to let up on the gas pedal and allow their opponents back into the game. It happened in both of the Redskins games, and then again in the Battle of the Birds. But why?
The answer is clear, if you've seen the past few games. As plenty of other writers and bloggers have noted, the Eagles have committed to running out the clock with lots of zone-reads, while continuing to spread out the offense with 2 or 3 WRs. The plan would work, if the defense were even slightly worried about being burned by a pass. Instead the defenses are loading the box in an effort to stop the run, and the Eagles are running right into them without ideal personnel. This strategy has lead to plenty of stalled drives for the Eagles late in the games, when a clock-churning drive is what they need.
There are two different options for Kelly: running the ball with more advantageous personnel, or throwing the ball. At first glance, the first seems to be the best option. The Eagles have arguably the best run-blocking offensive line in the league. They have a fantastic back in LeSean McCoy. First downs by just pounding the rock should come as easy as cake.
But here's the problem with that strategy, as far as I can tell. While our offensive line is undoubtedly excellent, it's been established that we can't simply run over and over against stellar defensive lines expecting runs. We rely primarily on our offensive line's athleticism, not its sheer strength. Not to mention McCoy is not the best at lowering his head and powering the ball up the middle.
I like option two. Or more to the point, sticking to the normal offense. If we can move the ball with relative ease at the beginning of the game, when defenses are generally balanced in terms of defending the run or pass, surely we can do it when defenses are fully expecting runs. After all, isn't that the basis of Kelly's offense- taking what the opponent is giving you? The key is not just to threaten the pass, but to threaten the deep shot as well. Once the safeties are duly concerned with the intermediate-to-deep passing, it's back to the standard offense.
Kelly is likely deciding to dial back the offense because of the somewhat conservative inclinations he's shown so far in the NFL, which were quite possibly instilled by the conservative culture of the league. He was known in college for making gutsy coaching decisions, yet he hasn't really lived up to those expectations in his first season. Kelly just needs to trust his offense, the offense that got them the lead in the first place. Foles will make the right decisions. Shady will be Shady again, comfortable against six-man boxes. Push the pace as usual, since the fast pace has been beneficial so far. Critics will say that oftentimes dropping back to pass on a clock-eating drive is an unnecessary risk and ineffective besides. It's true we probably won't be winding down the clock by a substantial amount, and turnovers are always a threat. But I like the odds of our offense scoring a lot more against a defense who thinks we just want to run the clock out.
If I had to choose between the Eagles' offense or defense to decide a game, I'm taking the offense 100 out of 100 times. Only until our defense shows signs of becoming a real shutdown unit would I consider leaving the game in their hands. The defense has held on these past few games, but only barely. Trust the offense, Chip. It's working so far.