What should we make of the Philadelphia Eagles offense?

chip-kelly-2013-9593abc82eb2c8d8If you didn’t watch the Philadelphia Eagles versus the Washington Offensive Slurs on Monday Night Football, you definitely missed out. ESPN was relentless with its pimping of the return of RGIII, but what stole the show was Chip Kelly and Philadelphia’s supercharged offense. The plays were explosive, the formations were wacky, and I loved every minute of it. At the end of the half, the Eagles were up 26-7. Those seven  points were lucky for the Slurs, as Mike Vick threw a backwards pass inside the 10 that was returned for a touchdown. So really, it could have been 33-0. That point aside, the question begs: is this the offense of the future? Well technically, Bill Belichick already implemented it last year at times for New England, but now that the mastermind Kelly jumped to the NFL, it’s the creator himself putting it to use on the biggest stage. His offense ushers in a new era of how we think of the offense, but I don’t think the Eagles can sustain their success they had in their first game. Here’s why:

Did you notice how I only talked about the first half? Once the Eagles got out to such a comfortable lead, it would be detrimental to their goal (winning) to keep playing at a breakneck speed. Their plan should be to draw out the clock and give as little time as possible for Washington to mount a comeback. Well, the plan looked good on paper, but the Eagles couldn’t execute a simple based offense. The offense looked confused and Vick did what he usually does when he is bad: holds the ball too long and tries to make plays when they are not there. The loss of Jeremy Maclin was glaring in the second half. Philadelphia has very explosive weapons, but Vick needs a reliable receiver to go to on third down when they are in a pinch. DeSean Jackson is no doubt talented, but his talents start and end with speed and the ability to run a straight line downfield. However, the Eagles offense isn’t totally to blame. Their defense was mostly in prevent mode, which basically equates to a bend but don’t break mentality. They’ll give up the easy underneath stuff to make sure they are not burnt deep, but unfortunately they didn’t prevent much in the way of touchdowns either because the Slurs made it a game in the second half.

yahoo_michaelvicktpsThe second reason why this type of success is not sustainable for Philadelphia is Vick himself. Vick as a quarterback puts a lot on the table – but also takes a lot off of it. Kelly chose the Eagles job because his offense needs a mobile quarterback to implement its read option, and he thought he could mold Vick into the terrifying force he has the potential to be. However, his bad decision making (stretching plays, slinging balls into tight coverage and not sliding or going out of bounds and causing fumbles) and his chronic ability to get injured could cripple the offense before it even gets a chance to lift off. Given Vick’s history, this has more than a good chance of happening.

For number three, every offense introduced in this age is a fad. Look what happened to the famed Wildcat. The Patriots were completely dumbfounded(much like Washington on Monday) when the Miami Dolphins unveiled it for the first time in a regular season contest in 2008. Now the Wildcat is merely an afterthought, unless you’re Brian Schottenheimer and bring in Tim Tebow to run an offense everyone already knew how to defend two years ago. However, I’ll admit the Wildcat was more gimmicky than what Kelly is currently running. In the Wildcat, the play was predicated on a running back or wide receiver taking a direct snap or lining up in a quirky position, which is obviously not realistic for an entire game. The offense Philadelphia is running is based on receiver route trees and the read option between the quarterback and the running back, which we already know is an established wrinkle for offenses around the league. If there is a counterpoint to be had, Vick said after the game that the Eagles only ran 60% of their playbook. You can read into that as much or as little as you want.

1378817270000-USATSI-7426119Opinions aside, let’s dive into some numbers to get some objectiveness into this argument. The Eagles’ closest comparison in terms of the speediness of their offense would actually be last year’s New England Patriots. Obviously Philadelphia’s one game is about as small of a sample size as you can get, and in the grand scheme of things the 16 games that New England played last year is also a small sample size. Regardless, let’s compare the two. First off, the Patriots were first in plays per game (74) and yards per game (427.9) in 2012. Those are the only two stats I focused on because that is what everyone was talking about after the game. Against Washington, the Eagles ran 77 plays and gained 443 yards, which are better marks than New England’s average. However, some Patriots observers (admittedly, me) would say they didn’t break out their speed offense against every opponent. Taking this into account, New England ran their most amount of plays against four teams: Denver, Seattle, Miami and San Francisco. In those games, the Patriots ran an average of 85 plays for 416 yards, beating Philadelphia’s play total but not surpassing their yardage. But looking at those teams, we can deduce a couple things. For one, three out of four of those teams were elite teams last year, finishing with a winning percentage of .740 (which roughly equates to a 12-4 record). The Patriots went 1-2 in these contests, albeit losing only by a combined eight points. Also, of those previously mentioned three teams, two have elite defenses (San Francisco and Seattle) and one had an above-average defense (Denver) so obviously the Patriots realized the best way to beat these teams was to keep them on their heels. The logic is there, but the execution wasn’t.
After that onslaught of numbers, let’s recap everything that was brought up. Do I think the Eagles’ offense is sustainable? Not at the level they performed at on Monday Night Football, but I think their offense is more than just a gimmick. I also think Philadelphia can’t be as nitpicky about when to turn up its offense like the Patriots. New England’s defense wasn’t spectacular last year, but it also forced the second-most turnovers which in turn let the offense dictate the pace of play. The Eagles don’t have that luxury because their defense is horrible, so they need to score as much as possible to take the pressure off their defense. I believe in this offense, but not in the health of Vick. If Vick can stay healthy, this team has more than a respectable shot to make the playoffs, given how wide open the NFC East is. All that being said, the Kelly offense is legitimate and here to stay.

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Michael Devarenne
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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