TAMPA, Fla. — Jason Kelce did not get yelled at. He didn’t have to go to his room or write I will not let the nose guard get past me a hundred times on the chalkboard after practice.
Instead, he just went to work and listened closely as Chip Kelly and the coaching staff devised a plan to eliminate the issues that plagued the Eagles’ ground game a week ago against the Giants.
Kelly has built part of his reputation on coming up with creative and effective ways to run the football. So when the concepts he installs in the game-plan don’t work, he takes offense. But this time around, that feeling led to a solution, as LeSean McCoy piled up 116 yards on 25 carries against a stout Bucs defense.
“Chip’s always the same,” Kelce said. “He’s always very matter-of-fact. As long as you’re giving great effort, he’s not gonna get into you. A lot of coaches, especially offensive line coaches, if I play that way [against the Giants], and the nose [guard] does that many plays on you, you’re in for a chew-out session the next Monday. Whereas with them, it was much more of a, ‘Hey, we’ve gotta do a better job of adjusting, helping you out.’
“And I think he takes everything personal. He takes everything like there’s a way that he should outsmart people. And that’s obviously something you want in a coach.”
Going up against a Tampa unit that had been limiting opponents to 3.7 YPC, Kelly, the offensive line and McCoy righted the ship.
With 8:03 left in the game, the Eagles took over on their own 45-yard-line. Kelly called 11 straight run plays and chewed up 5 minutes, 29 seconds off the clock before kicking a field goal and making it a two-possession game.
“What was really encouraging for us is the thing that we’ve struggled at is slowing down and being able to move the ball,” Kelce said. “We struggled with it in Washington. …For some reason, when we try to go slow, it hasn’t worked out and we did a great job of it this week.”
Added McCoy: “We knew they were going to try and take the run away. They did a lot of stunts. They’re a very fast and aggressive defense. But I think the linemen up front just made the right calls, got into their blocks, and Coach Kelly, give a lot of credit to him, he made a lot of good calls. It worked out.”
The Eagles used a lot of unbalanced lines, something we’ve seen all season, where Jason Peters and Lane Johnson line up next to each other. The change-up messes with defenses and can create matchup problems. Kelly also mixed in power runs with the zone calls and tried to keep the Bucs’ defense on its heels.
Asked what the difference was from this week to last week, Peters said simply, “It worked.”
But then he went back to the head coach.
“Coach and them, they put in a great game-plan, and we just trusted them, and they trusted us to keep calling it,” Peters added. “Sometimes when it don’t work, coaches tend to shy away from it and throw the ball more. But it started working, they kept believing, and we just kept running it and running it and running it.”
Added left guard Evan Mathis: “You learn early on to trust Chip as a play-caller. He knows what he’s doing. He always has a very good plan. There’s always a rhyme and a reason for every call that he goes with. And we have full confidence in whatever he calls to go out and execute it.”
The other factor, of course, is McCoy. He had issues with the mile-high air in Denver a couple weeks ago. And against the Giants, he couldn’t get going. Like Kelly, instead of blaming the offensive line, he placed the run-game issues on his own shoulders.
“Shady takes any game that he doesn’t have 100 yards or more, he takes it personal,” Kelce said. “So the bottom line is Shady is telling me all week how bad he played last game, and I’m like, ‘Bro, if we do a better job of handling the nose guard, you probably still have a hundred yards. You’re still running.’ So he’s very hard on himself, and that’s why he’s one of the best in the game. Each week, he runs hard, he plays hard. He takes it personal when he’s not being productive, whether it’s his fault or not.”
Much of the talk this week will focus on the quarterback situation. But regardless of who’s taking the snaps, the Eagles will need to continue to lean on McCoy and the run game in the weeks ahead.