This season has been murder on narratives. As soon as one gets started, reality crushes it.
Chip Kelly is a college-bound fraud! Oh wait, he's good again. Until the next Eagles loss. Sam Bradford was 20 for 22! Genius! Wait, he sucks now.
The new guards suck! Chip was a fool to let Mathis and Herremans go! Wait, they suck now too. And Gardner's actually pretty good (15the out of 75 according to PFF). Oh no, he's injured! Etc.
Amazingly, Philadelphia at 1-2 is right in the thick of the playoff race, at least in the miserable NFCE. They're in a three-way tie with Washington and the Giants. Dallas is one game ahead but missing Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and several key defenders for several games. Their loss to Atlanta -- a delicious collapse that blew two different 14-point leads -- won't be their last during that stretch.
2) They beat a tough team
It wasn't just any sucky opponent, either. This was the 2-0 Jets, who have been surprising the NFL with a competent offense and a great defense under new coach Todd Bowles. It amazes me how many writers are talking about the Eagles' offensive weakness in the second half, or their passing troubles, without mentioning that they faced a great front line and one of the best secondaries in the league -- safeties Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist, and a couple of cornerbacks named Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis. Maybe you've heard of them. They're pretty good.
The passing game was also affected by the early lead; Philadelphia was burning clock and had no reason to pass. Bradford threw 20 times in the first half -- and 8 in the second.
3) Chip got creative again
The offense was clearly predictable in the first two games, as opponents were yelling out plays pre-snap. For some reason Chip had thrown out half his playbook -- maybe it didn't fit on his new S-8 mini-menu -- and defenses flummoxed the Eagles' line with stunts and twists.
Sunday, Chip called more than just inside zone runs and sweeps. He used unbalanced lines and center snaps, ran plenty of outside zone, and mixed up the tempo to catch the Jets by surprise.
The second half was a different story, as the Eagles tried to run out a lead. They stuck to the run, got predictable, and the Jets shut them down. Chip needs to learn how to mix in enough short safe passes to get a first down. Three-and-outs are not a good way to burn clock, even if you milk every last one of the 40 seconds between plays.
4) The defense kicked ass
We've known that the Eagles have a good run defense since last season. (They currently give up the fewest yards per carry in the league -- 3.1 -- and held the Jets to just 47 yards.) The surprise Sunday was how much the infamous secondary has improved. They were 31st and 32nd in the league the last two years, but did well Sunday in pass defense, run support, and making plays.
Surprisingly, big free agent acquisition Byron Maxwell is now the weak point, though he didn't have a bad game either despite playing against a tough WR (Brandon Marshall). Walter Thurmond had another elegant interception with great footwork on the sideline to make sure it counted. It's easy to forget that this was just his third game ever -- at any level of football -- playing safety.
Nolan Carroll was solid with four tackles and two pass breakups, and Eric Rowe answered a lot of critics with two tackles and great pass coverage on WR Devin Smith, including an interception.
Part of what made this win so satisfying is that everything lined up against the Birds -- early losses, off-season turmoil, a strong opponent, intense media criticism, and then a bunch of injuries to key players: DeMarco Murray, Kiko Alonso. Mychal Kendricks, Cedric Thornton, Taylor Hart and Josh Huff.
This is exactly the situation that Chip Kelly's emphasis on Culture is supposed to help with. Unfortunately, results have not been all good. The team's loss against a bad Washington team last December called the whole strategy into question, as did last week's loss to the heavily depleted Cowboys.
Sunday, the Eagles were focused, determined, and efficient. The offensive line was much better, especially in pass protection, and several bench players stepped up, including 6'7" DE Brandon Bair (with 3 tipped passes and solid run defense in his first start ever) and rookies Eric Rowe and Jordan Hicks.
Hicks, an inside linebacker drafted in the third round, was a monster with 10 tackles (9 solo), a pass breakup, an interception, and a recovered fumble. Every time you complain that the Eagles didn't draft any offensive linemen last year, remind yourself that Hicks was the guy they took instead. He's a perfect argument for the "Best Player Available" strategy of drafting.
Speaking of grit, RB Ryan Mathews was great, often fighting for yards despite contact at or behind the line of scrimmage. He was exactly what Chip Kelly was looking for in a "north/south, one-cut runner" in a way that DeMarco Murray has not been so far this season. If you picture both RBs doing this, with Darren Sproles busting out for quick OZRs and screens, the coach's vision makes a lot of sense.
As fun as the win was -- and let's not forget Sproles' amazing 89-yard punt return -- there were plenty of down notes in the victory too. The team looks better but this one game did not fix all of its problems. Not by a longshot.
1) Sam Bradford
The biggest negative for the game was Bradford's erratic play, which really boils down to one thing: passing accuracy. He still got the ball out pretty quick, and I haven't found any wide open receivers he missed (yet, though I haven't really searched for it.)
I'm not as down on Sam as some writers, because I think he was ordered to avoid interceptions at all costs, which is just smart strategy against a low scoring team with an excellent secondary. In fact, he did not fumble or throw an interception, which is very impressive against a team that was averaging five turnovers per game.
That said, he missed a number of throws -- including at least two likely touchdowns -- and gave up a lot of yards after catch by not leading WRs properly. Drops, including a couple by RBs Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews, hurt too.
Is it fixable? Possibly. Chemistry between a quarterback and his receivers is undervalued. A QB doesn't throw to a defined spot, he throws to a person in motion. Very few quarterbacks were ever great passers with bad receivers, or in their first game in the NFL. (Mariota has been a rare exception to that rule, which is one reason why his ceiling is so high.)
So it might be fixable, but there's no guarantee. Injuries hurt a QB's psyche as well as his muscles and ligaments. Bradford has the tools but needs to get his confidence and grit back.
2) Cody Parkey
The young kicker wasn't able to reach the end zone on his kickoffs and gave the Jets the ball on their 40 by kicking one out of bounds at the two. It's been obvious that he was ailing since last December when he lost the Washington game by missing two field goals, though some people really didn't want to hear that.
Now the Eagles have put him on season-ending IR and signed Caleb Sturgis, a struggling 3rd year kicker. He's just 20-33, or barely 60%, outside of 40 yards. In fact, Sturgis is no sure thing from the new extra point line at the 33 -- he's 17 for 20 between 30 and 39 yards.
The bright side is that this might bring back "Big Balls Chip." The coach's tendency to go for it on fourth down or try two point conversions at Oregon was not so much risk-taking as playing the odds, since he had always had a bad kicker and a strong defense. That same combination is back, on the Eagles.
3) RG Andrew Gardner is injured and out for the season
Who would have guessed that this team would miss Andrew Gardner, after all the criticism he took in the first two games? However, the OL problems have been more about the other new guard -- Allen Barbre -- as well as bad games by veterans Jason Kelce and Jason Peters and poor communication between all of the lineman.
Now Gardner is officially out for the season with a lisfranc injury just when the OL was starting to pull it together. Chip has indicated he doesn't plan to add new linemen, which makes sense since you won't get much value in a mid-season trade, but the team doesn't have many backups left. (They signed Julian Vandervelde again, as they do every week.) Maybe they could trade to Denver, Riley Cooper and Miles Austin for Evan Mathis, who has been bad there?
4) The Four Minute Offense
In the NFL, Chip has had consistent problems slowing the game down to protect a lead, and it happened again Sunday. The Eagles got predictable again running in the second half and weren't able to impose their will, in part because Andrew Gardner was out by then injured.
New York cut the 24-0 lead to one score with 17 unanswered points. Chip might have to get less dognmatic about not passing in his prevent offense, which should be easier against teams without two great cornerbacks.
5) The wide receivers
Jordan Matthews is doing great. He's on pace for 1,232 yards and five touchdowns, nearly as good as the numbers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin put up the last two years.
The rest of the team's WRs have shown little or nothing; Matthews is the only one among the Eagles top five receivers. (The 3 RBs and TE Ertz are the other four.) Rookie Nelson Agholor is a particular disappointment, with only four receptions on 12 targets for a grand total of 36 yards in 3 games.
UPDATE: Mike Clay makes an interesting point on Agholor:
CBs lined up vs. Nelson Agholor by routes: 34 - Desmon Trufant 33 - Brandon Carr 24 - Darrelle Revis. That's 81% of his routes. #Eagles— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) September 29, 2015
Wins are good, and the offensive movement against a very tough defense was even better. Sunday's game at Washington will be an interesting test. The Skins suck but always play the Eagles tough, and DeSean Jackson saves his effort for his two annual grudge matches. You can bet he'll return from his hammy in time for another chance to make Chip look bad.