You might think it's hard to find 5 good things about the Eagles horrifying loss to Dallas on Sunday, but actually it was pretty easy. Since there were so few possibilities to choose from, I could zip right through the list.
1. The emergence of Jordan Hicks
The Eagles lost their two best inside linebackers to injury Sunday, Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks. What had been their deepest position is suddenly one of the thinnest.
Luckily, they drafted Jordan Hicks in the third round, and he played well off the bench. Notably, he strip-sacked Tony Romo leading to a turnover. You can second guess a lot of Chip Kelly's moves, but building ILB depth is looking pretty smart right now. This scheme relies on the position for play making, and thinness there last year was a real problem.
The also team re-signed Najee Goode, who has apparently recovered from his own injury. He has played well off the bench and should help.
2. Red zone defense
The Eagles have now allowed their opponents a touchdown only once in 5 red zone visits. That's 2nd in the NFL. That's what kept the game close until the 4th quarter Sunday.
First place in red zone defense? Next week's opponent - the Jets -- with 0%. Zero.
3. Cody Parkey stopped the bleeding.
I'm not 100% reassured by Cody Parkey's performance Sunday, but it's great that he made a 46-yard field goal (plus an extra point). Sure, the field goal was end-over-end and didn't reach the net, but it worked fine and he needed to build confidence.
At the same time, his opening kickoff only got to the 3-yard line, and his onside kick late didn't go far enough to be recovered. He doesn't look great, but he looks OK and that's a big relief.
4. Malcolm Jenkins had a great game.
He was all over the place, from pass defense to run support. In fact, the defense was not terrible in general, even adjusting for the fact that Dez Bryant was out, until the end of the game when Byron Maxwell gave up an easy touchdown and Brandon Weeden went 7 for 7.
5. Chip and his coaches have to face reality.
There was clearly some overconfidence by Chip Kelly and Pat Shurmur about their ability to swap out players and have the system deliver success. They underestimated the need for the new guys to play together and build chemistry, and may have missed unique skills of players they let go (though it's too early to really judge that aspect).
Even after losing game one, the offense's success in the second half of that game allowed the coaches to whistle past the graveyard, mumbling about "rust." But Sunday they were murdered and got buried in that graveyard.
Thee utter collapse of this offense wiped away any illusions they might have been holding on to about the scheme's ability to beat NFL defenses or the talent level they have. They were simply humiliated by Dallas, and will be forced to re-examine everything.
That's a good place for Chip Kelly to be at, psychologically. He responded well in a similar moment after his first game at Oregon, where his much-praised offense didn't get a single first down in the first half against Boise State.
The problem is that he has only 53 players to work with, including a threadbare offensive line where the problems are centered, compared to the 100+ that the Ducks carry. And the problems are not limited to the two new guards, who surprisingly grade out pretty well at PFF. No one (other than Jimmy Kempski) was worried about the likes of Jason Kelce, Jason Peters, and Brent Celek in the blocking game, but they are struggling as badly as the new guys, and there are very few options for the Eagles to make mid-season corrections with.
Either the coaches will dig deep and find some answers, or this team might have some very high draft picks (and a new coaching staff) to rebuild with next summer.
Less Obvious Bad Things
I'm not going to insult your intelligence by listing "the run game" as a bad thing because, duh. And there were so many more interesting tragedies in this debacle.
1. Overly-cute play calling.
On the first play from scrimmage, Chip Kelly called an inside zone run to the right, leaving Jeremy Mincey seemingly unblocked on the left side. But it wasn't a zone read; Bradford didn't look at him at the mesh point.
Instead, Jordan Matthews started to go in motion right behind the line, then doubled back and tried to pin Mincey on the playside after the snap, while Murray cut back behind him. Not surprisingly, Matthews (212 pounds) had trouble sealing off Mincey (280), who hit DeMarco Murray in the backfield, limiting the gain to one yard. I'm all for surprising plays, but when your line is having trouble executing the basics, it might not be the time to play around. Maybe try one of the fundamental callss that the Eagles have been ignoring this year, like a power play?
2. Donnie Jones' punting
Donnie Jones has declined from being a superb punter in 2013, when the Eagles acquired him, to barely above average today. His distance is middle-of-the-pack (at 48 yards, 40.8 net after returns), and he already has a touchback and the NFL's only blocked punt so far this year.
To be fair, opponents have had very few runback yards on his punts (19), but that is probably the Eagles' special teams coverage at work more than his punts. Even with an average run back of just 4.8 yards, only 2 of his 11 punts have ended up inside the 20. In contrast, the guy Jones beat out for the Eagles' punter job -- Brad Wing -- has placed 6 or 8 in the red zone.
3. The team's psyche
This team is clearly rattled. Bradford was jumpy in the pocket, even though pass protection was not that bad. Jason Kelce snapped early, causing a fumble that wiped away a good turnover. Wide receivers are making skittish drops. They don't believe, and on offense anyway, they are acting like scared individuals rather than a unit weathering a rough storm together.
They need veteran players and better coaching to settle them down. This may be the less obvious cost of losing veterans such as Jason Avant, Mike Vick, Jeremy Maclin, Nick Foles and Evan Mathis.
At this point, to be honest, you have to say that the effort to build Culture is just not working. The whole point is to have intangibles that carry the team through tough patches, to methodically build that emotional bond that the best teams have.
As I wrote in my recent book "Controlled Chaos," the three-game losing streak at the end of the 2014 was a sign that the culture building project wasn't working. The losses to the Seahawks and the Cowboys were understandable, but that third game against Washington was exactly the kind of game where culture and attitude (as well as superior talent) should have carried them through, even after a couple of tough losses.
It didn't work then, and it failed again Sunday.
4. The Joy of Chip Kelly Haters
Some fans (and writers) are pretty obviously joyous at the collapse of Chip Kelly's team and schemes, crowing "I told you so" about Kiko Alonso's injury, Bradford's weak performance, and the failure of the running game.
These same guys love to brag about how they are REAL Eagles fans who will outlast Chip Kelly. Yeah, well, I don't know about that. "I told you so" is never a good look, and glee at your team's failures is no kind of real fan attitude.
5. It could get worse.
As Theon Greyjoy says on Game of Thrones, it can always get worse. (And he ought to know.) Late in the first half, I thought that the game had bottomed out, and then Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks got injured. And later the Eagles threw an inteception in the end zone, and then they had a punt blocked for a touchdown.
This team has a lot of strengths. Which means a lot more things can go wrong. The Jets are up next week. Did you see them on Monday Night Football? It can definitely get worse, and there's a good chance that it will.
The Eagles' biggest hope is that they don't have a passing game for the Jets to shut down. That should confuse them enough to give Philadelphia a chance to win.