The Philadelphia Eagles offense has been an enigma. Chip Kelly’s once high octane, top-flight attack has been grounded through the first quarter of the season; The engine ignites and hums beautifully at times, but those moments are few and far between. As a result, a previously well oiled machine has squeaked, creaked, and sputtered its way to just 20 first half points in 4 contests, 17 of which came week 3.
While identifying the primary culprit is obfuscated by the myriad of issues, there’s no debating the offense’s inability to function as a cohesive unit; when one unit excels, another stalls. When Sam Bradford is sharp the line is porous and receivers drop passes. When the line gives good protection, Bradford is erratic. And when Chip Kelly calls a good play, miscues and a lack of execution mar an otherwise well designed scheme. Below are some thoughts on a struggling Eagles offense, starting with the czar himself.
When you’re the head coach, the play caller, and the general manager you assume an enormous responsibility. Chip Kelly is the face of the Philadelphia Eagles franchise. As odd as it may be to think of a coach in that regard, it’s the truth; no one individual in the organization is more influential than Kelly, who is both the architect and foreman of the team.
As such, when things go well, Kelly is hailed as a savant, and when things go poorly, Kelly absorbs the brunt of the blame. But when the team underachieves egregiously in proportion to expectations, you better believe Kelly is going to endure a shellacking of epic proportions. To be fair, Kelly is only culpable to a reasonable degree; he’s not missing assignments, dropping passes, or misfiring on passes. He is, however, the maestro conducting the symphony; so if players are consistently out of sync, the blame ultimately falls on Kelly to right the ship, like it or not.
The fact of the matter is, while Kelly isn’t solely to blame for the offenses disfunction, he’s responsible for more than some are willing to acknowledge. He simply hasn’t consistently put players in a position to succeed, a concept that he has preached in the past. The majority of the team’s early season struggles fall squarely on his shoulders. Starting historically slow in 3 of the team’s first 4 games is a preparation issue. Clearly the players aren’t adequately prepared, and poor game-planning has put the Eagles well behind the eight-ball. What’s perhaps even more infuriating, is that the offense has produced so much better in the second half of games. That means that Kelly is making adjustments, just far too late and not at all from week to week.
The Eagles offense has averaged 12.75 points in the second half of games this season, and while that might not sound like a lot, when extrapolated it equates to an average of 25.5 points per game (and that’s with taking the foot off the pedal against the Jets). That figure of 25.5 would tie the Eagles with the Giants for the 8th highest per game average in the league, while their current average of 19.5 has them tied for 22nd with Washington. Yes, Washington. This is an admittedly simplistic way of observing the difference, but it illustrates just how massive the discrepancy in production is from half to half, and how crippling the poor starts have been. I’m still withholding judgement on some things, such as Kelly’s personnel decisions, but the offense has to get off the ground, and it starts with preparation (i.e. more creativity).
Now, there’s still plenty of blame to go around, and at the top of that list may very well be the offensive line. The previous centerpiece and most consistently exceptional unit on the team has now become the organization’s biggest detriment. Getting into the deeper issues of the unit is an entire post in and of itself, however, on there are a multitude of problems at a macro level; injuries, miscommunication, and overall poor execution have proven disastrous. The importance of the offensive line cannot be understated, as I touched on a few weeks ago:
"Lastly, I’d like to circle back to the offensive line issues. As previously mentioned, the lapses on the interior of the Eagles line have led to catastrophe through the first two weeks. The good news is, the lack of communication/assignment sound football on the line is the root of the Eagles’ offensive woes; so, if the offensive line is settled, than the offense should begin to click. Talk of Chip Kelly’s offense being “figured out” is laughably embellished. There’s no doubt that defenses are keying in on what Kelly is doing, however, that has been the case for well over a year now. The true issue is that the offense simply can’t out-execute anyone right now, and the lack of execution is creating a systemic dilemma within the entire Eagles team; because the offensive line is blowing assignments and allowing constant penetration in the run game, the Eagles can’t establish the run.The lack of a run game has made the Eagles largely one dimensional, and that one dimension isn’t very good without the crutch of the running game. This isn’t to say that getting the running game going will be a magical cure-all that elevates the team to contention, however, it’ll go a long way in bringing stability to the team. Effectively running the ball should open up the playbook, and put the Eagles in more favorable down and distances; more favorable down and distance should help to mitigate the amount of 3-and-outs and allow the offense to covert at a better clip. If the offense is able to extend drives and keep the defense off the field (Billy Davis‘ unit played 85 snaps on Sunday), they’ll be rested, and more well suited to hold their ground late in games."
Fast forward a few games and this is still the case. The poor offensive line play is a systemic issue that has mitigated the Eagles ability to move the ball in every conceivable way. Not only that, the ridiculous amount of plays the defense is being subjected to is crippling an otherwise formidable unit. Fixing the offensive line will go a long, long way, however, I’m beginning to fear that the unit might be damaged irreparably.
Jason Peters has been gimpy from the jump, Andrew Gardner was lost for the season, Allen Barbre is banged up, and Lane Johnson will play through a fairly significant pair of sprains. All the while, Peters, Johnson and Barbre are missing valuable practice reps in preparation for this week’s game with New Orleans. With the injuries and weekly communicative/mental lapses, it’s hard to envision this unit rebounding any time soon.
I’ve said this a few times before, but my worry remains that by the time they do come together –if at all– that it will already be too late. Lineman are still being caught out of position at a frustratingly high frequency and it’s ruining plays. The offense is often close to ripping off a big gain, but one missed assignment systematically dismantles an otherwise well executed run play. Chip’s unwillingness to accept the majority of accountability has been annoying, but he’s right in that the plays must be more effectively executed.
On a much more positive note, Sam Bradford made significant strides in Washington. Despite absorbing an unfair amount of vitriol from a frustrated fan base post-game, Bradford played well. He wasn’t excellent, though at times he flashed excellence. Frankly, I can’t remember a better throw made by a post-Donovan era QB than the one Bradford zipped to Zach Ertz at the end of the first half. Yes, the play didn’t count, but the result has little bearing on the quality of the play. The other high-level throw was easily the seam route to Jordan Matthews that went for a big gain, showcasing the arm talent and confidence ever present in the league’s upper-tier passers. What was most impressive for me, however, aside from Bradford’s new found willingness to test the defense, was improved consistency in mechanics. Last week, I identified mechanical flaws in Bradford’s delivery that were inhibiting his ability to deliver crisp passes:
"On Sunday however, Bradford had issues with balance, leading to some errant throws. The play in which Bradford fired low to Nelson Agholor –who had a step inside– is a prime example of this. Bradford steps up into a beautiful pocket and, while gaining ground on his plant, allows his upper body to subtly leak over his plant foot and in front of his arm. A passer’s inability to lead with his arm will undermine his ability to establish his release point and effectively locate passes with any semblance of consistency.The more balanced and controlled a thrower can be in delivering the ball, the easier it is to manipulate release point and avoid misfires. Because Bradford leans froward with his upper half he is forced to compensate and adjust his release; he doesn’t stand tall and dominate/manipulate the ball as he has in the past and the throw skips in to his target."
This past Sunday was much different. Bradford’s footwork was better, nothing spectacular, but much choppier and more under control than in weeks past. Where I was very impressed was with his improved balance, body awareness, and penchant for leading with his hand/arm. Bradford consistently stood tall and let it rip against Washington, exemplifying the concept of “quiet body, loud hands;” simplifying and controlling his body movements while maintaining arm speed.
The results were pretty, as Bradford drilled several drive throws right between the numbers. Bradford’s previous mechanical flaws had led to the quarterback’s inability to throw through targets –and at an appropriate height– as he was constantly either under/overcompensating for a dragging arm. Now, he’s letting his arm do the work and his release is markedly better.
The Eagles are far from out of the woods yet, as Bradford still seems skittish at times, struggling with a muddied pocket compared to in the past, but it’s a step in the right direction. If Bradford can reflect his confidence in delivering the ball deep onto his pocket presence, the potential is there. Bradford is feeling the rush, and is very hesitant to hang in the pocket without dropping his eyes or getting overtly defensive.
The Eagles are broken, plain and simple. But, the clock hasn’t struck midnight just yet.
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