"Chip Kelly's offense is too predictable" is a sentiment that's popped up a number of times following losses during his Eagles tenure. It happened after the Eagles-49ers game in 2014. It also happened earlier this season when Josh Huff said the Cowboys called out the Eagles' plays before the ball was snapped. Following Philadelphia's 40-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night, Patrick Peterson echoed the same refrain.
"Well, you know with Philly, whatever they run in the first 15 plays, they are kind of going to keep running those same plays," Peterson said. "So you have get a good picture of what those first 15 plays are like. They are a tempo team. Out of those first 15 plays, when the game actually settles down, then we can scan and look at the formation and we knew what they were going to do. That just goes to great play-calling, great guys on the sideline like Matt Barkley, Rashad Johnson. It was just a great collective team win and a great defensive performance coming out of the half."
In fairness to Kelly, it's not like Arizona totally shut down the Eagles offense. Philadelphia managed to gain 424 total yards of offense on a Cardinals defense that is only surrendering 329.6 yards per game this season. The problem was that Kelly's offense got too predictable when it mattered most.
Late in the second quarter, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-1 at Arizona's 8-yard line. Kelly used a timeout to draw up a play, and then the Eagles took the field. But then Bruce Arians called a timeout of their own after the Cardinals got to see how the Eagles lined up. The Eagles took the field again and Ryan Mathews was stopped short of the sticks. On Monday, Kelly was asked if he stuck with the same play that he had drawn up prior to Arizona's timeout.
"We were motioning to a different play," Kelly explained. "So what they saw us in the original formation, we were motioning, so I don't think they got a beat in terms of what we were doing. We knew they were going to be inside and we were trying to get the ball to the perimeter on the DBs."
Kelly says he doesn't think the Cardinals got a read on the Eagles' fourth down play, but starting right tackle Lane Johnson seemed to suggest differently. Via Conor Orr of NFL.com:
Following a timeout, Kelly sent out his personnel grouping and the Cardinals immediately countered with a timeout of their own.
In that moment, Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson noticed that the Cardinals returned with a different defense.
"They brought (linebacker Alex Okafor) over and put him over (Eagles tight end Brent Celek)," Johnson said. "That's basically what they did."
Did the Eagles return with a different play call?
"Did the play call change? Our call was the same but the defense changed," he said.
So the defense may have anticipated the call?
"I think so. It was just a good play by them. We didn't execute like we should have."
Here's a look at how the Eagles and Cardinals lined up prior to the 4th-and-1 situation. As you can see, the Eagles appeared to be in the same formation twice while Arizona adjusted after their timeout:
4th and 1, before the timeout and after the timeout: pic.twitter.com/FlG5QZo2fS— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) December 21, 2015
Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice goes into further detail about how the Eagles were trying to run a play the Bengals used against the Cardinals earlier this season.
The Eagles had a run play called, similar to one that was run by the Cincinnati Bengals against the Cardinals earlier in the season. The Bengals were able to score on their play, so the Eagles ran their own version it.
"We were watching film, and the Bengals had some success on that play, so we tried to emulate it," said Lane Johnson. "Maybe they caught onto it."
Kempski also notes how the Eagles have only thrown eight out of 79 plays from the shotgun this year, which makes a run in this situation even more predictable.
Another issue with this fourth down play is how Kelly used Mathews over DeMarco Murray. It might not have made a difference, but why not go with Murray considering the $40 million running back is literally perfect (15 for 15) on 3rd/4th and short situations this year? Ryan Mathews is only three for eight on such conversion attempts. If Kelly is going to be predictable, shouldn't he at least use what's worked?
Look, it's likely the Eagles still would have lost even if they got the first down. The Cardinals are just really good. It's also too easy to nitpick plays and say Kelly should have done something differently. But it's the common refrain of how this Eagles offense has become too predictable that is most concerning. Kelly hasn't had a consistently good offense since 2013, his first year in the league. It's regressed ever since then. Predictability might only be a contributing factor to that problem. As Kelly says, execution is still important. There are times, such this fourth down conversion, however, when the Eagles could benefit from being less predictable.