Monday, December 28, 2015

It's Your Fault Chip

This past Saturday night was December 26th and I found myself in the company of my Mom for the decisive game of the Eagles season. While my fanhood for the Phillies mostly stems from my Dad, it was my Mom that had nachos ready for the two of us every Sunday right at 1 PM as we watched our Eagles with our hearts on our sleeves. I had texted her earlier in the week that I was excited we’d get to watch the game together as she lives out of market these days and we are rarely together to watch them play. We both knew there was a chance the bad Eagles would show up at the Linc, but we were hoping that would not be the case.

Now, I’ve seen my fair share of awful Philadelphia sports in my day, but the current situation with the Philadelphia Eagles is unique in my 25 year memory of following and rooting for my favorite pro sports teams.

The Sixers in the years between Barkley and Iverson were listless and uninteresting. The current Sixers are an apocryphal laughing stock but at least that’s what they’re trying to be.

Aside from 1993, the Phillies were mediocre at best until the Utley/Rollins/Howard era took over. That came crashing down as we all know.

The Eagles under Rich Kotite and Ray Rhodes were vanilla and pedestrian squads that never had much of a chance to do anything.

Still! Still! I never ever turned my back on any of these teams. Nor did I feel like I actually didn’t like the team, no matter how bad the players were, how inept the men were who coached them, or how questionable the front office tactics may have been. Until now.

I legitimately do not like the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time in my life. And it’s Chip Kelly who made it possible for me to feel so strongly that I publish the fact. I wrote this piece in March of this year when Kelly was concocting his roster with little regard for proven talent. At the time, Chip had shown a modicum of success with back-to-back 10-6 seasons but his resume did not yet include a playoff win and his brash arrogance was starting to rub more people than just me the wrong way. He was setting himself up for a big fall I thought, I just hoped my thinking wasn't correct.

Then came this putrid excuse for a season, a season in which Kelly now had control of every aspect of running this team. The personnel decisions employed by this “genius” were so puzzling at face value that it was hard not to openly question them when they went occurred. The list is staggering.

Cutting Desean Jackson.
Drafting Marcus Smith in the first round of the 2014 draft.
Not re-signing Jeremy Maclin.
Trading Lesean McCoy for Kiko Alonso
Trading Nick Foles and a 2nd round pick for Sam Bradford.
Failing to address issues on the offensive line.
Signing Byron Maxwell for $63 million - $30 million of which is guaranteed.
Signing DeMarco Murray for  $40 million - $26 million of which is guaranteed.
Drafting Nelson Agholor in the first round.

Okay, the cutting of Desean I probably need to get over but there he was again Saturday night for the Redskins helping eliminate his former team from playoff contention for the second straight year in Week 16. I look at cutting Desean as the tipping point in Chip truly believing his scheme is all that matters for winning football games in the NFL. He thought he could eschew talent and by running plays every 20 seconds he could achieve glory. That remains to be seen.

The Marcus Smith pick. My god! The Marcus Smith pick! A classic “what the &^%* were you thinking?!?” pick. First round draft picks in the NFL are the equivalent of gold. There’s 53 guys that make up these rosters, so bringing somebody in that is one of the best 32 players in the world not already on an NFL team should be a sure fire way to improve your football team. I’m not even going to look up the number of plays Smith has participated in because it’s inconsequential but Marcus Smith does not even get on the field for the Eagles. He’s played a handful of downs in his career and was a bust the second Roger Goodell announced him. It was an abhorrent pick. It's  your standard "I’m smarter than everybody else pick so I’m picking this guy that nobody else agrees should be drafted this high" pick. It’s okay to miss in the 3rd and 4th rounds if you don’t miss consistently. You can’t miss in the 1st.

Alright, after cutting Jackson two seasons ago Jeremy Maclin had a career year and was proven talent at the wide receiver position. He may have wanted a bit more money than he was worth on the free agent market but if the Eagles had signed him he’d at least have given Sam Bradford a reliable target outside the numbers and down the field. It’s all well and good if Chip thought Desean didn’t fit the culture of the team, or Maclin had too high a price tag, but it’s not all well and good when Chip neglects to replace the talent he’s jettisoned from the roster. The receivers the Eagles went with this year; Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Riley Cooper, Josh Huff, and Miles Austin didn't exactly pass the muster.

Kiko either getting blocked or chasing somebody way downfield
The trading of all-time franchise leading rusher Lesean McCoy, in his prime, for Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso, coming off a torn ACL, sort of made sense and sort of didn’t as offseason moves continued to unfold. Either way, McCoy has proven to still be the back we watched decimate defenses while leaving jock straps in his wake en route to touchdowns and Alonso has proven that he can do a nifty job of mostly getting blocked or chasing opposing running backs and pass catchers.

It was argued that McCoy’s contract was too expensive and that you always needed to “sell high” on running backs and get rid of them early because you never know when they may break down. Alonso was thought to be a maniac in pursuit of the ball after his outstanding rookie season in Buffalo. Throughout a somewhat injury plagued season Alonso has proven either one of two things. One is that he is just not healthy, or two is that he is just not any good. Either way, the Eagles are clearly the losers 15 games after this blockbuster trade.

You’ve heard the argument as to why the Shady McCoy trade may have made sense, but the subsequent moves authored by the Chipper start to contradict prior theories. After the Bradford deal, Chip went ahead and signed the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year  and rushing champ Demarco Murray. Not only did this move replace McCoy but it took away perhaps the best player from the division rival Dallas Cowboys. But if the financial aspect of keeping Shady McCoy was not appealing to Chip, it did nothing to stop him from spending significant money on Murray. Not only that, even more money was spent on Ryan Mathews who was brought in to be the backup to Demarco.

As a casual fan, it’s not too difficult to see that a ton of money is being spent on running backs while the depth of talent at the wide receiver position certainly appeared lacking heading into the season.

When watching NFL broadcasts it is not uncommon to hear the old adage “football games are won in the trenches” and this boils down to whether or not your offensive and defensive lines can win the battles with the people they are lined up against. Going in to the season the Eagles were solid at center and both tackle positions but Chip once again found it unnecessary to bring back players with proven talent in Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis for the offensive line. Chip did not draft an O-lineman and simply went with the prior season’s backups, Matt Tobin and Allen Barbre, to replace a veteran starter in Herremans and a pro bowler in Mathis. Well, ask Demarco Murray what he thinks about that offensive line if you can get him to comment off the record.

Moving on, we get to the signing of Byron Maxwell and the ungodly amount of money bestowed upon a guy who was the 4th best player in his former team’s secondary (note there are four starters in a secondary). From the very first game of the season it was clear that Maxwell was not worth the money. I’m not saying that Julio Jones (Falcons wide receiver) wouldn’t beat most of all cornerbacks on any given Sunday, but Maxwell was not even putting up a fight. If you’re paying a cornerback like he’s Darrelle Revis then I don’t want to see constant separation from the wide out and chasing done by the cornerback. If the receiver is making plays because the throws are good and the receiver is great then so be it, but that was almost never the case the entire season for Maxwell. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry as I continued to watch him get beat time and time again all season.

Cris Carter thinking to himself he could still do this if lined up against Byron Maxwell

A prime example of Maxwell being nothing but a chump was the hugely embarrassing Thanksgiving Day loss to the Detroit Lions. Perhaps the best wide receiver in the game, and surely an all-time great future hall-of-famer Calvin Johnson plays for the Lions. On this day, the Eagles other starting corner Nolan Carroll broke his ankle early in the game. Somehow, rookie second round pick Eric Rowe wound up with the Johnson assignment and proceeded to get torched for 3 TDs by Megatron. A lot of things went wrong that day and who knows how defensive coordinator Billy Davis is playing his assignments, but why is Byron Maxwell getting paid $62 million by the Eagles to not cover the other team’s best wide receiver? Explain that one to me, Chip.

After whiffing in 2014 on Marcus Smith you’d think the Eagles would really be doing their homework and nailing down a sure fire can’t miss athlete in the 2015 NFL draft. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2015 stats for the Eagles' first round pick out of USC, wide receiver Nelson Agholor.

12 games / 41 targets / 21 catches / 260 yards / 12.4 yards per catch / 21.7 yards per game / 1 TD

That’s mind numbing. The Giants selected wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr with the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 2014 draft and here are his rookie year stats.

12 games / 130 targets / 91 catches / 1305 yards / 14.3 yards per catch / 108.8 yards per game / 12 TDs


I can’t say definitively that this is a fair comparison or that Agholor is officially a bust but these two division rivals each selected a wide receiver in the first round of the last two drafts and that’s the production for those two picks. Ouch. 

That makes next to no value out of back-to-back first round picks. Which makes for a bad football team.

If you’ve been paying attention you can tell I skipped over the Sam Bradford for Nick Foles and a second rounder trade. This may have been the one move Kelly made, that with a season of hindsight, that does actually look favorable for the Eagles. The 2nd round pick and the ton of extra money paid to Bradford not withstanding, it looks like Sam may actually be a legit NFL QB. It does not hurt that Foles fell flat on his face in St. Louis either, though I was not rooting for that fate for Nick. It’s hard to say that Sam could be elite because of the lack of talent and shear dysfunction that the Chipper has surrounded him with but he definitely has some talent himself. As the season progressed, it was clear that Bradford was getting more comfortable in the system and was capable of making almost any throw. The struggles the Eagles have endured this season were certainly not on the arm of Sam Bradford.

Wow, I’ve only gotten through the personnel decisions. Buckle up. It’s time for how the team actually played.

If you’re still reading at this point, it’s a safe bet to assume you watched the de facto division championship debacle between the Redskins and Eagles in Philadelphia Saturday night. It’s hard to watch and not be angry right? I don’t want to watch a sport and be angry, but all season long I just found myself either desolate and depressed, or downright pissed and ready to lose it, when watching this excuse for a cohesive football team.

Everything that happened Saturday night was a microcosm of the Eagles entire season. Score on the opening drive with ease, then look like you don’t know what you’re doing on offense for the rest of the half. Make a few plays on defense, then turn into a sieve and allow back-to-back touchdowns while making Kurt Cousins look like Joe Montana in the first quarter. Gain some momentum on a drive, then fumble the ball away. Find a man open past the sticks on 3rd down? It goes right through his hands. Run a 5 yard crossing route on 3rd and 7, that’s the best. Find Nelson Agholor behind his man in the end zone? Well it hit him in a bad spot, his hands. False start? Procedure penalty? Sure. Try a pretty neat trick play on a punt return that uses Darren Sproles as a decoy? Not only is it not executed well when Kenjon Barner runs backwards for a -3 yard return, but he also did not get on the field in time and was called for a penalty. Is this not a play they’ve practiced a million times!?! And they still get it wrong. Score a gigantic momentum changing TD with much maligned benched running back Demarco Murray bowling through defenders on an impressive 5 yard run. Come out the very next possession and run a variation of the bullshit shotgun run to Murray that is flawed in so many ways – mostly Murray not catching the pitch – and it fails in the worse way imaginable and ends with Dante Hall returning it for a TD to end the Eagles woeful season, mercifully.

This game was like a replay of the entire season. Bad penalties. Bad tackling. Bad turnovers. Bad hands. The worst hands in the NFL. The Eagles  receivers could not catch a cold, it’s probably the most pathetic aspect of a team with a lot of pathetic aspects.

I believe the Demarco Murray situation is the biggest indicator of Chip Kelly’s lack of ability as both the general manager and the head coach of the team. Murray is a double edged sword who is cutting Kelly with both sides. If Kelly the GM thought it would be a good idea to bring in the guy who was the best running back in the NFL the season before he should know right? Because he knows Kelly the coach should be able to make it work with a guy who rushed for 1845 yards a season ago.

When Shady McCoy was traded 9 months ago there was a ton of talk about how he was too shifty of a back for Kelly’s offense. That Kelly needed a one cut and go type of back, the type of back Murray is supposed to be. In his 2014 season with the Cowboys, Murray ran something like 80% of the time with his QB under center and 8 yards deep. He ran between the tackles and busted off tough runs at generally better than 5 yards a clip. This season. Whoa, this season. All he does is run sprints to the sideline with Sam Bradford handing him the ball awkwardly out of the shotgun. He generally has to deal with a defender or two in the backfield because of Turnstile Tobin or Jason Kelce (who had the worst season of his career) not making a block. It does not take a genius to figure out that these plays are not working. It takes a guy who thinks he’s a genius to be so stubborn to run the same ineffective play over and over again with the same results.

A familiar sight for Eagles fans.

So is it the coach’s fault that Murray has become a lightning rod bust or the GM’s fault who brought him in to an offense that he was not well suited for? I believe either way that’s Chip Kelly’s fault. I’ll make a concession that it does look like Murray has lost a step this season, but there’s no way he fell off a cliff like the one Chip Kelly shoved him over.

Every defense the Eagles faced seemed to find the Eagles lack of play calling imagination to their liking this season. It has been constantly talked about that Chip Kelly runs about 8 plays. You've got the shallow cross to Zach Ertz. Shallow cross to Jordan "Butterfingers" Matthews. The screen to Sproles. The shotgun read option sprint in any direction to Murray or Mathews. A shutgun run up the middle. And then maybe a guy will go deep but he doesn't have any speed for the defense to worry about so nothing is open underneath either. This is a simplification of course, but when you watch every game it does feel quite accurate. 

Scheme over talent huh Chip? Just a matter of executing eh Chip? Well, why isn't this team you put together out scheming and out executing their opponents? Shit, 8-8 would have gotten the Eagles into the playoffs this year but it's clear the Redskins were a better football team. Oh well.

Can’t wait for next season. Hopefully Riley Cooper is still starting at wide receiver.