As the Philadelphia Eagles continue preparations for their Wildcard Saturday showdown against the New Orleans Saints, Head Coach Chip Kelly is undoubtedly scheming for any kind of edge. That’s what good coaches go, and that’s what good teams do. Sure, there are the blowout games in the NFL (see the 54-11 victory over the Chicago Bears), but many games come down to just a handful of points. This suggests that each team’s preparation, from practices, to time studying the opposing team, to the design and implementation of the gameplan all contribute to success on the field.
Kelly made his name as a innovative coach from the college ranks, taking Oregon’s program to a 46-7 overall record from 2009-2012, and a 2-2 bowl record. He doesn’t have a BCS National Title on his resume, but enough other accolades to suggest he knows what he’s doing, and his system works. Fast forward to January 16, 2013, when Kelly officially signed as the Head Coach of the Eagles. After 14 seasons of “almosts” under Andy Reid, it is Kelly’s turn to try to reach the top of the mountain in the NFL, something his predecessor couldn’t quite accomplish.
The 2013 Birds enter Saturday’s game with a 10-6 record, and a strong finish to the season. Aside from the loss at the Vikings as the most recent example, the players and coaches have come together and performed as a cohesive unit, more than you could ask for this early in a new coach’s tenure. Can Eagles fans finally exhale as the team plows through the playoff field en route to MetLife Stadium in February? Not so fast. Much like any other team, the Iggles have their weaknesses. From the team composition, to inexperience (players and coaches), to something attempting to be cute or overly aggressive. These are all areas that Kelly and his players must carefully manage. In position to score a go-ahead touchdown? Keep Brad Smith off the field, and stick with the offense that got you there.
There is one area that Chip might want to consider unleashing during the playoffs. He has at his disposal two starting caliber quarterbacks, one of which still has the speed and conditioning to stretch a field. Call it the Wildcat, or any of the other terms floating around, but get Mike Vick back into the game. Towards the end of the 3rd Quarter in the Week 17 Dallas game, with the Eagles in position to score, Kelly brought in Brad Smith. Smith rolled to his right and was supposed to pass back to Quarterback Nick Foles, but due to the defensive coverage, ended up firing an incomplete pass to Zach Ertz. It was a gimmick play, a trick designed to throw off the opposing defense. Why not just stick with the scheme that got you to that point, and avoid anything fancy. But in the playoffs, where the game speed gets even faster, with a loser-goes-home mentality every week, the time may be ripe to unleash some creativity… at the right time.
Chip Kelly has a golden opportunity to leave his mark on a franchise and a fan base starving for that elusive championship. He may never get there. He may get there this year. A playoff win in this rookie year would be a stamp on an already successful season. The challenge (or trap if you want to call it that) is to know the right times to bring out the super-creative ideas, and the right times to stick to the tried and true. This is the time, however, to use all of the weapons at this disposal. We will all see how that turns out in a little over 30 hours in Philadelphia.