Players whose names he will bring up unprompted. Guys he’ll go out of his way to mention as underrated or under-appreciated. And atop that list this year has been tight end Brent Celek.
On the surface, Celek’s numbers are unimpressive: 23 receptions for 319 yards. He’s on pace for his lowest per-game averages since 2008 in both categories. But there are plenty of reasons why Kelly has sung Celek’s praises all year long.
“I think Chip respects guys that give everything they’ve got on every single play when you’re out there,” Celek said. “I respect everything that he’s done. Everything that he does makes sense, and you as a football player, that’s what you want. You want answers to some of your questions, and he answers those. And everything he wants you to do, it all makes sense.”
The strong relationship between Celek and Kelly was no given during the offseason. The seventh-year tight end was an Andy Reid loyalist. Even as things fell apart last season, Celek stood at his locker after every game and defended his head coach.
Meanwhile, after Kelly was hired, he made moves to bolster Celek’s position, signing James Casey in free agency and drafting Zach Ertz in the second round. Those moves could have rubbed Celek the wrong way and put his standing with the team in question, but Kelly made sure that was a non-issue.
“He called me both times right afterwards,” Celek said. “And I think that makes you have a lot of respect for a guy too when he’s telling you where you stand at all times, and I can really appreciate that.”
Added Kelly: “I called everybody. When we drafted Lane [Johnson], I talked to Jason Peters and Todd [Herremans], who our tackles were at the time. When we signed free agents, we called the other guys at those positions on the team. For me, it’s part of the process. They are involved in this team and I think they should understand what direction we are going in and why we are doing things.”
Ertz wasn’t sure what to expect when he stepped foot into the Eagles’ locker room, but he found out quickly that Celek was willing to help him along.
“You hear all these stories that the vets are all into themselves around the league. At least in college that’s what you hear, and Brent was the complete opposite,” he said. “He’s kind of been like a big brother to me. He’s been unbelievable both on and off the field.”
The investment in the tight end position is starting to pay off. Celek is blocking better than he ever has and is a key veteran in building the team’s new culture. Ertz had his best game of the season against Arizona with five catches for 68 yards and a pair of scores. And Casey is trying to make the most of somewhat limited opportunities (12 snaps last week), while contributing on special teams.
Kelly has two coaches in charge of the three players: 34-year-old Justin Peelle and 70-year-old Ted Williams. Peelle played his college ball at Oregon before Kelly got there, but the two got to know each other over the years. He also helps run the scout-team defense.
“I wanted to get a lot of young guys in here that are willing to work, do all the grunt work, the film breakdown, staying here until 1 in the morning, at night, make sure everything’s all set for us,” Kelly said. “I knew he was going to be one of those guys.”
Williams, meanwhile, is in his 19th season with the organization, having served previously on the staffs of Ray Rhodes and Andy Reid.
“The first time I met him, sat down and had an interview with him, there’s a lot of intelligent people in the world, but there’s not a lot of wise people in the world. I think Ted has wisdom,” Kelly said. “A guy that has been around this organization for as long as Ted has, a great teacher, just a guy that, you know, that wily old sage veteran in the room that we can really bounce a lot of ideas off. It was really important to have Ted be a part of the staff also.”
The two assistants divide up responsibilities. Peelle spent 10 seasons in the league, having bounced around to four different teams. He was with the 49ers as recently as 2011.
“Justin’s played the position so there are a lot of things that he knows that are current with the game because he’s played it that are very, very helpful,” Williams said. “We kind of compliment each other in terms of making sure that we say the right things, but the delivery is different so it doesn’t get stale.”
Added Casey: “It’s easy for him [Peelle] to relate to players since he knows what it’s like to be in the locker room. He knows what we’re going through, the day-in, day-out process of how much work goes into this position, how much the grind is from week to week.”
Peelle brings the experience as a player, while Williams brings the experience as a coach.
“I’m not an overly vocal person, but I’m gonna behind the scenes encourage you,” Williams said. “Behind the scenes, I’m gonna be very direct in terms of what I know is right. And I’m gonna be consistent in what I believe is right.”
Overall, Celek has played 77 percent of the team’s snaps; Ertz 41 percent; and Casey 8 percent. Celek is the best blocker and the most well-rounded of the group. While his overall numbers are down, Celek is averaging a career-high 13.9 yards per catch.
Ertz continues to grow into the best downfield receiving threat among the team’s tight ends. And Casey could get his number called a bit more as a blocker in the run game.
The group as a whole, and the coaches that lead them, will play a major factor in determining the Eagles’ offensive success down the stretch.
1. Donnie Jones’ NFL career nearly ended right after it started. He bounced around from the practice squad to the active roster with the Seahawks back in 2004, but punted poorly. He bought an apartment in Seattle, figuring he’d be there for awhile, but soon found out that life as a pro would be a little more complicated. In the Seahawks’ 10th game that season, Jones got eight opportunities to do his job and came up small.
“Averaged 32 yards, a 28-yard net, I got booed out of the stadium and people were telling me, ‘You need to be behind a desk, get a day job,” Jones recalled. “So I got on the phone, started calling.
“Just trying to find anything. I got my degree in finance. Trying to find something in that industry. But calling around just talking to some of these people and what they were doing. There was one guy I talked to in New York, and he was telling me he was living in basically a box making nothing. But I’m looking at all options because like I said, I haven’t done anything.”
Jones got a call from his college coach at LSU, Nick Saban, who was with the Miami Dolphins. Veteran Matt Turk tore his groin, and Jones took over. He stuck in Miami for two seasons, spent five years with the Rams, one with the Texans and is now in Philadelphia where Jones has earned back-to-back Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
“There’s a lot of good guys who never make it because there’s 32 positions,” Jones said. “So timing has a lot to do with it.”
2. Cary Williams has dueling on-field personalities. Against some receivers, like Hakeem Nicks, he’ll help up the opponent and demonstrate an on-field respect. Against other receivers, like Dez Bryant, he’ll do whatever he can to get into their heads, even if that means exchanging blows after the whistle.
So what’s the deal?
“I don’t know, man. Sometimes I try not to get too amped up or too emotional in the game,” Williams said. “Sometimes I just want to keep my composure and stay within myself and not hurt the team. So sometimes you may see me go out there and try to be physical and get in guys’ heads. Sometimes you may see me back off. But I’m just making sure I’m getting in the rhythm of the game and trying to do the best job I possibly can.”
Don’t look for Williams to do anything this week but try to compete and survive against Calvin Johnson.
“From a scale of 1 to 10, I think he’s a 10,” Williams said. “I think he’s the best wide receiver in this game. He’s proven it week in and week out, year in and year out. He’s a big, physical guy. A guy that’s 6-6 and 230 pounds running a 4.3 40. That’s impressive.”
3. Both Billy Davis and Kelly revealed this week that they prefer to not be a blitzing team on defense.
“The math alone, when you send more than four, you are weakening your coverage,” Davis said. “When you drop more than you usually drop and you only rush three, well, now all of a sudden you’re weakening your rush. So it’s always… you’re always moving the numbers around, and absolutely, yeah, I’d love a three‑man rush to be honest with you, the three‑man rush to get there, that’s the perfect world.
“But the four‑man, and that’s what a lot of the four‑down teams do… they get the four best rushers and defensive linemen they can get and they only rush four. So absolutely, the answer is yes, so you would rather not have to add the extra rushers. You would rather add the coverage plus get your pressure.”
Kelly pointed out that rushing fewer guys can help create turnovers on the back end.
“When you can cause a pass‑rush with four guys and get to the quarterback a little bit, now we have guys who have eyes back to the quarterback and kind of locate it,” he said.
The problem this year has been that the pass-rush is a work-in-progress. It’s come on strong as of late, but Davis has still felt the need to blitz to get pressure. And that figures to continue down the stretch.
4. Speaking of the pass-rush, Trent Cole is playing his best football of the year. He has five sacks, five hurries and 31 tackles in the last four games. Cole has been criticized in the past for slowing down the stretch, but he is buying into the sports science factor this time around.
“I feel better than I’ve ever felt in my career right now,” Cole said. “I feel like I’m probably still in the first game of the season. I really do. You’re usually feeling sore. But right now, even though it’s a Thursday, I don’t even feel one ounce of soreness or nothing. Your body feels good and this is the way you want to feel going into a game.”
Cole is still being asked to perform a variety of duties. According to Pro Football Focus, he dropped back in coverage a season-high 13 times last week. His production down the stretch is a key storyline for this defense.
5. Earlier this week, we wrote about the Eagles’ run-game wrinkles. One other thing they did last week was run with the QB under center. Through the first 11 games, only 13 of LeSean McCoy’s 213 carries (6.1 percent) came with the QB under center. Against Arizona, four out of 19 (21.1 percent) were under center.
“There’s multiple reasons for doing it, but when you’re under center, you’re not reading,” said guard Evan Mathis. “You take the reads out of it. Changing it up, defenses don’t know exactly what you’re doing if you’re showing different looks at all times.”
THE BIG PICTURE
The Eagles have won four in row and are tied atop the NFC East with the Cowboys at 7-5. They host the Lions before traveling to Minnesota in Week 15. Then it’s a home date with the Bears and the season finale in Dallas. The Cowboys take on Chicago Monday night.
The Lions are coming off a Thanksgiving Day win and are at 7-5 atop the NFC North.
Here is how the Eagles’ offense matches up with Detroit’s D:
Yards Per Play
Points Per Game
DVOA (FB Outsiders)
|Eagles Offense||6.1 (3rd)||25.0 (8th)||18.2% (3rd)|
|Lions Defense||5.6 (22nd)||23.9 (18th)||-1.7% (15th)|
And the Eagles’ defense against the Lions’ offense:
Yards Per Play
Points Per Game
DVOA (FB Outsiders)
|Lions Offense||6.1 (5th)||27.2 (4th)||5.4% (13th)|
|Eagles Defense||5.5 (20th)||23.4 (16th)||7.6% (25th)|
Note: Click here for an explanation of DVOA.
EAGLES RUSHING OFFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Eagles Rushing Offense||4.7 (2nd)||18.4% (1st)|
|Lions Rushing Defense||3.7 (4th)||-27.6% (2nd)|
The Eagles added some wrinkles to the run game last week that better suit Nick Foles’ skill set. Teams were crashing down on McCoy on all zone-read plays, so the Eagles mixed in a sift block with the tight end to account for the unblocked defender.
McCoy carried 19 times for 79 yards against Arizona and is the league’s second leading rusher with 1,088 yards. Detroit uses the Wide-9, but ranks second in the league against the run, per Football Outsiders. It all starts in the middle with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. The Eagles have started the same five offensive linemen every week, but Jason Kelce, Mathis and Todd Herremans will have their hands full.
Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch is the Lions’ leading tackler.
EAGLES PASSING OFFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Nick Foles||63.3% (11th)||9.14 (1st)||*61 (1st)||*26.7% (6th)|
|Lions Passing Defense||60.4% (15th)||7.7 (24th)||40 (15th)||13.8% (22nd)|
* Team stat, not individual stat.
Nick Foles needs two touchdowns to become the only quarterback in NFL history to start a season with 21 TDs and zero interceptions. There’s no doubt that he got some lucky bounces last week. Foles had an INT called back because of a Cardinals holding penalty, and he tried to flip the ball forward on a couple occasions where defenders had him in their grasp.
The numbers speak for themselves. Foles leads the NFL in yards-per-attempt (9.14) and QB rating (125.2). But he’ll need to be especially careful with the ball when the Lions pressure him.
In addition to Suh and Fairley, rookie Ziggy Ansah is coming on strong for Detroit. Rushing off the edge, he leads the Lions with seven sacks overall, including four in the past two games. Lane Johnson has had some growing pains as a rookie and faces a big challenge. Herremans has had issues in pass protection also. Jason Peters has played well.
The Lions like to rely on their front four to get pressure and don’t blitz a lot. Linebacker DeAndre Levy leads the league with six interceptions.
At cornerback, veteran Chris Houston did not play last week because of a foot injury and has been limited in practice. Rookie corner Darius Slay has been limited with a knee injury. The Lions also have veteran Rashean Mathis.
DeSean Jackson had a tough time getting free against Patrick Peterson last week, but should have his opportunities in this one. The Lions rank 28th against opposing No. 1 receivers, per Football Outsiders. Detroit has good veteran safeties in Louis Delmas and Glover Quin.
EAGLES RUSHING DEFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Lions Rushing Offense||4.2 (15th)||-8.9% (24th)|
|Eagles Rushing Defense||4.1 (14th)||-5.6% (14th)|
The Lions feature Reggie Bush and Joique Bell in the backfield. Bush has played well, averaging 4.7 YPC (854 total). Bell has 435 yards and six touchdowns.
The Eagles’ run defense has been solid for much of the year. DeMeco Ryans is sixth in the NFL with 105 tackles. Mychal Kendricks had one of his best games of the year as a run-stopper against Arizona, finishing the game with 14 tackles, according to team stats.
EAGLES PASSING DEFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Matthew Stafford||63.3% (12th)||7.65 (8th)||*52 (3rd)||*20.6% (11th)|
|Eagles Passing Defense||61.0% (19th)||7.2 (16th)||46 (25th)||16.7% (25th)|
In all likelihood, this is the area where the game will be won or lost. When he’s on, Matthew Stafford can look like an elite talent. But he will turn the ball over, as seen by his 14 interceptions (fifth-most).
The Eagles are healthy at cornerback with Williams and Bradley Fletcher. Nate Allen has played well, but Patrick Chung has struggled.
The only plan for Calvin Johnson (72 catches for 1,299 yards and 12 TDs) is to pay a lot of attention to him. Both corners will get matched up against Johnson depending where he’s lined up. Johnson has lined up in the slot 26.2 percent of the time, according to PFF. The Eagles will almost certainly put multiple defenders on him in those situations.
Aside from Johnson, Stafford spreads the ball around. Five other receivers have at least 25 catches. The linebackers will have to handle Bush coming out of the backfield. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew has 38 catches. And tight end Joseph Fauria has six touchdowns, second on the team.
Up front, the Eagles have gotten seven sacks from their outside linebackers (Cole, Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin) in the last two weeks. Detroit has only allowed 15 sacks all season, tied for fewest in the league. A lot of that is because Stafford gets rid of the ball quickly.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. EST on FOX. Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch will have the call with Erin Andrews on the sideline. According to Sports Insights, the Eagles are 3-point favorites. And the money is nearly split right down the middle; 51 percent is on the Birds to cover.