Kelly needs to expand his playbook

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

It's getting difficult to defend Chip Kelly, and we're not talking about his offense.

Since setting an NFL record with more than 425 total yards in each of the Eagles' first six games of the season, Kelly's offense has come to a startling standstill. The unit has managed an average of just 239.5 yards in the last two games and most damagingly has netted a total of three points.

The reason?

"I think we've had some instability at the quarterback position," Kelly said after the Eagles' woeful, 15-7 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.

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  • There is certainly truth in Kelly's statement, but what of his offensive scheme and, most pressingly, his inability to adjust?

    "I think we've also got to step up," Kelly continued. "And it starts with me. I'm the play-caller. I'm the guy calling plays. In the last two weeks, I haven't done a very good job of it."

    Kelly's decision-making on fourth down was dubious and has been addressed elsewhere in The Inquirer, but the biggest issue going forward for the Eagles is his ability to scheme an offense now that everyone across the NFL has seen the majority of his playbook.

    Kelly needs a quarterback, there's no question about that. And he's won with two of differing talents. But an offense with LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and three-fifths of a line that is above average should be able to score more than zero points, even if the quarterback is a rookie.

    This was the 2-6 Giants, after all.

    While the Eagles managed just three points last week against the Cowboys, the troubles had significantly more to do with Nick Foles than Kelly's game plan. Criticize him for not coaching Foles, but receivers were open all game.

    Sunday's game was probably lost, to alter a cliché, before it was even played. Kelly said that he didn't know whether Michael Vick would start until Friday, but most of the players on offense said they prepared as if he was returning from a two-game absence.

    Vick took the majority of first-team repetitions. Matt Barkley said he took "not many." Kelly mentioned the catch-22 of distributing practice time when he didn't know whether his starting quarterback was healthy. Wouldn't that suggest giving Barkley more snaps?

    It was clear from the first series that Vick wasn't anywhere close to 100 percent. He tossed an interception on his first downfield pass and a series later couldn't avoid safety Antrel Rolle and was sacked. A series later, Vick scrambled for a yard, ran out of bounds, and reinjured his hamstring.

    Kelly gave him another series and then hooked the 33-year-old. Barkley was thrust back onto the field and predictably did not deliver a victory. The rookie has been placed in difficult spots the last two weeks but has done little to suggest that he has an NFL-caliber arm. No legs, no arm - why exactly did Kelly expend a fourth-round draft pick on Barkley?

    A week earlier, Foles suffered a concussion. He was nowhere to be seen on the Eagles sideline during the game and his availability for Sunday's game at Oakland seems unlikely. Kelly said Foles has yet to be cleared to practice.

    In the Eagles' last 14 games, Vick has missed seven to injury and Foles has missed two. For a coach who likes to say "durability is the best ability," Kelly can't be thinking too highly of his Nos. 1 and 2 quarterbacks.

    Vick even copped to groin injuries the first two weeks of the season. Players play with injuries all the time, but he was nowhere to be seen on the Eagles' injury report, calling into question what else might have been ailing Foles in his disastrous outing against Dallas last week.

    Still, if both were healthy enough to play, they should have performed better than they did before injuries. And that falls on Kelly and, yes, his offense.

    Kelly's scheme places great emphasis on his quarterback's ability to make quick-twitch decisions at the snap. All three can handle that responsibility, but Foles' and Barkley's lack of arm strength make it difficult when defenses go man-to-man to stop the short passing game. Vick's running ability helps in the zone read, but he isn't accurate enough when defenses go man.

    The running game, meanwhile, has been stagnating for most of the last month.

    LeSean McCoy did gain 1,309 yards on the ground two seasons ago when quarterback play was inconsistent and the zone read was just a college gimmick. There's enough talent for Kelly to build his offense around McCoy - and whatever happened to Bryce Brown?

    But he is running essentially the same plays, and defensive coordinators are catching up.

    "One thing about this league, it's some of the smartest guys in the coaching ranks," Eagles receiver Jason Avant said. "It's going to come a time when they have looked at all the film and evaluated every play that you have done."

    Kelly better come up with some new plays, because his quarterback situation - or instability - isn't improving anytime soon.

    "Right now, we're unstable at the quarterback spot, and we are not playing well at the quarterback spot, and we lost our last two games because of it," Kelly said.

    It's never his offense.

     


    jmclane@phillynews.com

    @Jeff_McLane

     

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