The Difference Is Fitness

As a long-time moderator of the now-dying Eagles WarNest boards many of the members know that my posts on the Eagles have had recurring themes, often referred to as my broken records. Broken indeed. Over the years and to the annoyance of other posters, I've frequented such topics as the importance of passing more than running, the importance of safety play, the worthlessness of surprise, the lack of an adequate number of secondary coaches, and the risks of 1st down passing.

My two biggest broken records over the years have been the failure of former Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid to run enough early to beat up opposing lines, and the failure of the entire Eagles organization to manage the health and fitness of the players. For years we saw the outcome of teams that would not work through inefficient runs early: the O line struggling through the later and more crucial stages of games, accumulating injuries as each season progressed. We saw the problems with player fitness and wellness over the Reid years through the number and severity of injuries as well as in the failure to finish drives, games, and seasons.

Upon hearing the Eagles had hired Chip Kelly at the beginning of the year I knew that quitting on the run and unfit players would quickly become problems of the Eagles' past. It's nice to post here for the first time to be able to sing a song of praise about success in these areas because with these 2013 Eagles it's clear the past is truly past.

Today's insane running performance of the Eagles in the 4th quarter was proof of the importance of physical running and season-long fitness unlike any other I've seen from the Eagles in my 40+ years of watching them. Sure, Shady is incredible, absolutely, and he deserves all the praise and recognition for it. But you can't give all the credit to Shady.

The O line were the heroes of this game. The Eagles offensive line humiliated the most brutal run-stopping defense in the NFL during the last 15 minutes of the game. Our line was healthy and stronger when Detroit was most tired. In the 4th the Eagles' offense smashed big guys like Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in the face over and over again, out-working, out-punching, out-blocking, out-running, and out-scoring the devastated and bewildered Lions defense. While the Lions committed penalty after penalty and missed assignment after assignment, Shady ran 11 times for 148 yards in the last frame. 148 yards in 15 minutes of clock against a team that had't allowed a single rushing TD since September. That happened not merely because Shady is shifty. It happened because of the superior execution and fitness of Kelce, Herremans, Johnson, Mathis, and Peters late in the game when it mattered. The Lions run D couldn't do anything but make mistakes and get knocked backwards.

Some really important mechanisms critical to the physical superiority of the Eagles late in games should be acknowledged beyond smashmouth running. Chip's mastery of managing the health of players over the long haul provides season-long fitness by:

  • shutting down players in games when the Eagles have the lead, in order to preserve their physical resources
  • making sure the players eat and sleep right
  • picking the right combinations of days to practice and the right weeks to raise or lower intensity
  • tapping into peak performance late in games ONLY when you have to in the 4th quarter
  • slowly bringing up fitness over the season to allow players to peak in the later weeks of the season

By being greedy at every moment with the physical condition of his players, Kelly has engineered this team into a level of performance I haven't seen since, gasp, Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys teams of the early 90's. Now, sure, if someone wanted insight into Chip Kelly's approach, you couldn't hurt yourself by studying money ball or advanced sports medicine approaches or watch his innovative practices or study information theory to help decode his signal calling or keep up with Kelly's clinics or watch all of the Fish Duck's great videos on the zone read offense Kelly ran at Oregon. A simpler approach, however, is to witness what Jimmy Johnson says about player conditioning in the film, "Jimmy Johnson: A Football Life." In that documentary on Johnson you learn that, for Johnson, conditioning was the top priority of his teams. The reason? He claims that the more tired team makes more mistakes more frequently later in the game. Simple. The better conditioned team imposes its will and the less fit team gives in. But it takes an incredible amount of work from everyone in the program., every player and every member of the staff And look, as painful as it is for us Eagles fans to consider Johnson's Cowboys teams and the stars of his that dominated the league, it was that Cowboys O line, perhaps the greatest ever in NFL history, that destroyed defenses and led his teams to consecutive Super Bowls.

Today we saw beyond any shadow of a doubt that the approach of season-long wellness and fitness in combination with a trust in the run early, even when it fails, works for Chip Kelly. Today we saw in the Eagles an O line with superior conditioning dominating the best run stopping defense in the NFL late in the game. Clowning them, really. Humiliating them. Setting records. Having fun.

The Eagles demonstrated against the Lions that they are healthy, that their fitness level is superior, that they have the will to use the run early enough to make it hurt later, and that they can beat you late if they have to.
And they can put up 300 yards on you in less than a third of a game.
On snow and ice.
On the ground.
All this, and it's only Week 14.
I like our chances.
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