Exactly four months ago was the last time I wrote an article for BGN and, boy, was it a spectacularly wrong doozy. The combination of work obligations and general apathy towards the Eagles in a season that was so thoroughly unenjoyable from the start (save for that OT win over the Tony Romo-less Cowboys) made writing pretty much the last thing I wanted to do or felt like doing. So I didn't. I watched the wreckage on TV and read/listened from afar as the guys who keep this site alive and awesome did their thing.
Is (Chip) a brilliant and perceptive football savant, or a rogue and irresponsible megalomaniac? Because I don't think there's an in between. I believe in Chip, but I also feel the undeniable strain of cognitive dissonance. Six months later and on the cusp of the season, I still have those sentiments of doubt, but I am also super excited after what I saw transpire in the preseason. Could this all blow up and be a total disaster? Of course, we're talking about the Philadelphia Eagles, after all. That's their thing. However, there seems to be a special vibe about this team. The talent, culture, personalities and goals all mesh. This feels, for the first time, like Chip's squad; this is a roster made in his image.
Oh man, I love this paragraph. It's perfect. I'm such a stooge, such a lemming. I spent almost six months doubting the logic of Chip's personnel moves as
GM, czar, supreme overlord whatever-he-considered-himself and then betrayed myself because Chip hadn't fooled me yet. I'd staunchly believed in him for two years and pledged:
Hell, I'm doubling down. I've never been on the bandwagon more than I am now. With no risk, there's no reward.
Good risk, Dan, just like when you bought Twitter stock at $35 per share and refused to sell at $55 because you thought the ceiling was higher. I wrote off the 2011 Dream Team prior to that season as one that didn't deserve my faith because I was exhausted with Andy Reid's song and dance. I suppose instead of getting four years wiser, I got four years dumber.
The fact of the matter is, we were fooled by a false prophet, hoodwinked by the promise of a revolution. Chip Kelly swashbuckled into town with an earned reputation for being aggressive and ballsy, for pushing the limits and demanding a breakneck, exciting brand of football. As an NFL neophyte in 2013, he delivered. There were the abysmal hiccups against the Cowboys, Giants and Vikings along the way, but the good far outweighed bad. It was downright amazing. IT WORKED. The offense hummed, setting a league record with 99 plays of 20 yards or more, and Chip's tempo fetish flourished. He deployed exotic formations, unleashed unprecedented "packaged" plays, went for it on fourth down with aplomb. The man was Big Balls Chip. He even went for a two-point conversion against the Chiefs in Week 3 that was designed brilliantly but not executed due to a missed block. Unfortunately, that would be the only time Chip ever called for a two-point conversion at an unconventional time. You would've thought the Eagles might go for two ONCE in 2015, when the new rules made it much more of a worthwhile option. But no. Chip lost his edge in 2015 -- he had no marbles -- and devolved into a conservative, milquetoast, run-of-the-mill head coach who hesitated to go for it on fourth down and far too often settled for field goal attempts. There was nothing imaginative about the offense. It was lazy, predictable, elementary and championed the two-yard swing pass a necessary staple of every drive. Chip didn't call what could be considered a "trick" play in 15 games. NOT ONE. Opposing defenses smiled and chuckled in between blowing up plays that they called out based on formations and tendencies.
Maybe Chip realized early on how badly he miscalculated his personnel decisions and had no confidence in the players he hand-picked. Maybe his behavior changed when he started playing with his money instead of house money. I don't know. Whatever it was, Chip Kelly was a BAD coach in 2015. Like, worse than he was a GM. Somehow. Of all the coaching brain farts to pick, and there were plenty, the lasting impression I have is Chip challenging the obvious Riley Cooper drop against the Redskins in what was his final game before being unceremoniously guillotined. It was the perfect summation of how far he had fallen, how out of his depth he was on the sideline. Speaking of being out of his depth, I mean, come on, the guy got owned by Dan Campbell, Lovie Smith and Jim Caldwell in succession.
Throughout everything, Chip never even tried to adjust, never even tried to change, never even tried to so much as tweak his philosophies. This was a guy who was supposed to have a system that maximized the talents of his players, that conformed to their skill sets and exhibited flexibility. Instead, Kelly cloaked his rigidity and tyrannical nature in a Jim Jonesian devotion to "culture" that proved to be nothing more than empty lip service -- a heaping pile of bullshit for a variety of reasons (see: Riley Cooper), perhaps none as galling as eschewing directly communicating with his players, much less trying to relate to them as humans. And while I didn't mind jettisoning DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, not matching Kansas City's offer to Jeremy Maclin and then spending that money on DeMarco Murray was hypocritical and unforgivable. You don't retain the homegrown talent you stood by during his injury and then chose over his contemporary, but you spend premium dough on the free-agent mercenary (double agent??) coming off a dangerously taxing season and entering the back nine of his career? Don't even get me started on Chip having no idea how to intelligently manage the cap and then making the deposed Howie Roseman try to shoehorn new players and their contract demands into its structure.
Bottom line: Chip Kelly's teams got worse in each of his three seasons as coach, and Chip himself got worse as well. There was no tangible improvement anywhere, highlighted by an egomaniacal power play to rule over the front office. The arrow was pointing down, in NFL jargon, and the track record for coaches who don't win a playoff game in their first three seasons is not kind. The rest of the league caught up to Chip in a hurry, resulting in a subsequent regression that was undeniable, stark and ugly. The 2014 team was a 9-3 mirage propped up by fluky, unsustainable non-offensive touchdowns and saw its luck run out in December. The 2015 team was an immediate dumpster fire that never clicked and couldn't get untracked. Almost every major personnel move failed, some to the worst possible degree. The whole thing was DOA.
Sam Bradford missed just two games due to injury but was the uninspiring, relentlessly average quarterback he's been for the majority of his career, second half of the season be damned. Drops and their effect on the offense are perfectly valid, but even so, Bradford missed or was late pulling the trigger on plenty of throws. I firmly believe drops and missed throws/mental errors generally even each other out over the course of a season and that Bradford's 2015 isn't an exception. Now, is he terrible? No. But he falls into the not good enough JAG category for me. Bradford's not going to lead your team where you want to go unless every other facet is damn near perfect. I know, I know: TRENT DILFER! BRAD JOHNSON! JOE FLACCO! Keep fucking that exception-to-the-rule-with-an-all-time-great-defense chicken. That said, I'm fine franchising Bradford and treading water for 2016, so long as the heir apparent is drafted. A long-term extension will be crippling and should not even be considered. I'd rather fail and hit rock bottom with a journeyman veteran or rookie QB than try to be the equivalent of a 6-8 seed in the NBA playoffs with Sam Bradford.
DeMarco Murray -- surprise! -- didn't buck the trend for ability and production declines that affect running backs coming off his kind of workload and was by far the worst of the trio that included Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. He ended up losing his job, but by that point the situation was too far gone to matter. What's more, in addition to being trash, Murray was a cancerous asshole. Of course, Chip Kelly's system didn't help Murray like it was purported to, and it sure seemed like the the coach was terrified to call inside zone runs after a disastrous first month of the season. Then again, the failure of the Eagles to run between the tackles was a symptom of Chip's brazen disregard for the guard position and betting on Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin to be legit starters. Wait, hold on, I have something for this:
But at the same time, it's foolish to assert that the relationship between offensive line and running back is not symbiotic. They feed off each other. One play the offensive line -- and our offensive line is going to be damn good -- will do all the work to open a hole and enable a nice gain, the next play there will be a blown blocking assignment but the running back will make a guy miss in the backfield and then pick up yards on his own.
DAMN GOOD! Whoops. Blind faith is a bitch. Between Barbre and Tobin sucking and Jason Kelce sucking (probably in no small part as a result of the guard play) and Jason Peters battling injuries and football mortality, the offensive line was a train wreck. About the last sentence of the quoted paragraph, now I'm trying to remember if an Eagles running back made a guy miss in the backfield all season and I'm 99.9% sure the answer is no.
The wide receivers were among the worst in the NFL. Each one of the forgot how to catch the ball. Jordan Matthews struggled and didn't make the jump the team needed to mitigate the loss of Maclin. Nelson Agholor had about as bad a rookie season as possible. Josh Huff made, like, two plays all season and then was benched after both for reasons unknown. Miles Austin and Riley Cooper sucked more than anything has ever sucked before and caused Pat Shurmur to utter an all-time absurd comment about them being seen as one entity or some brainless drivel that couldn't make sense regardless of spin. For the second straight season, Zach Ertz went from popular breakout candidate to invisible until the last four games. Brent Celek cannot be killed. #FreeTreyBurton
Byron Maxwell proved he's not worth the contract, which everyone knew, and had his Nnamdi moments that were magnified because of his standing. However, he also had stretches where he played quite well and wasn't noticed for that exact reason. The defense as a whole was tremendous for the first half the season, the team's backbone while the offense sputtered. Fletcher Cox emerged as one of the best players in the league, period, and became a cornerstone All Pro. But between the injuries to Jordan Hicks, one of the few bright spots and a foundational piece, and Bennie Logan and the accumulation of wear and tear from all the snaps played, the unit predictably plummeted to paper-mâché status, just as it did down the stretch in 2014. Instead of fatiguing and grinding opposing defenses into the ground with tempo, Chip did it to his own defense because his offense was a disjointed, plodding mess that didn't stay on the field AND didn't score points.
So, yeah, from March through July, when anyone asked me what I thought of the Eagles in 2015, I threw out 8-8 as their ceiling, simply because maybe Chip Kelly had flown off the handle and I didn't believe in all the pieces coming together, especially at the most important position. I've changed my tune in the ensuing six weeks. Obviously Bradford needs to remain healthy, but that's a vital condition for every team in the league banking on its starting quarterback. I'm not ready to buy the Super Bowl champion predictions, but I do think this Eagles team should win the NFC East and has a chance to make real noise -- at the very least record the franchise's first playoff win in eight (8!!!) seasons. More than anything, I feel like if I've invested and believed this much in Chip over the last two years, I can't bail now.
I knew the answer was A, my heart said so, but my brain was like, BUT WHAT IF IT'S D?! YOU KNOW YOU WANT IT TO BE D. I went with my head even though I should've gone with my heart, thus making the 2015 Eagles season like every multiple choice test I've ever taken.
Let's party and enjoy the start of something special together.
It was a party, alright, the kind where you're so amped up that you drink too much within the first half hour and then spend the rest of the night puking all over yourself. It was definitely something special -- a Philly sports special. My cognitive dissonance with Chip Kelly shouldn't have been fleeting. It should have been a sign to trust my instincts and cut bait, just like Jeffrey Lurie did. After the 2013 season, I was certain that Chip Kelly would lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl title. Couldn't tell me otherwise, and I was wrong. Anyway, on to 2016! Kelly will be in San Francisco, trading one delusional, dysfunctional organization for another, even more delusional, dysfunctional one. Doug Pederson will be back here in Philly, geewillickersing his way through what I figure will be a rudderless 6-10 season as the team tries to figure out how to rebuild from the rubble.
So, in the end, what did I learn from Chip, aside from the reinforcement of substance over style? Uh, I guess that it's OK to be an unfeeling, socially maladjusted drone who treats people -- players and organization employees alike -- like shit as long as you're winning. Although once you start losing, it all goes to hell fast and there's no leash.