The Eagles punted four times and turned it over once on their first five possessions last week against the Lions.
After each series, when the offensive players ran off the field and towards the sideline, assistant coaches were waiting for them with questions.
They wanted to know what the conditions were like, why certain things weren’t working and what the Lions were doing defensively.
“You don’t even need to wait until halftime,” said guard Todd Herremans. “We get enough breaks during the game where you come off the field. We had a lot of stuff that was based off of the speed of their ends rushing upfield and penetration of their tackles and stuff. We thought we would be able to take advantage of that, use our speed to our advantage. But obviously during the conditions, they just kind of slowed everybody down and it just became more of a power/downhill game.”
The players let the coaches know that they were slipping, that the Lions’ front four wasn’t getting upfield, that it was difficult to change direction and get to runs which required a certain degree of lateral movement.
And so Chip Kelly and his staff decided to implement some changes. Kelly is not a patient man. The adjustments started about midway through the second quarter. The Eagles found that their inside zone running play could be effective. They could push around the Lions’ front seven, and LeSean McCoy could find running room.
“We’re all talking,” said guard Evan Mathis. “There’s a lot of communication amongst the coaches and players on the sidelines and the box. We’re all very open about what we see. We’re open about what we think will work. They take that for what it’s worth and put their minds to it and figure out what’s best for us to do.
“Chip’s very good at figuring out what the defense is doing and how to counter.”
The Eagles ended up rebounding from a 14-0 deficit with a 34-point second-half explosion. While they have had some issues closing out games, the Eagles are sixth in the league in second-half scoring, averaging 13.4 points per game.
While last week’s adjustments came during the second quarter, halftime is when Kelly really gets time to talk to his coaching staff and figure out a plan of attack. He meets with the offensive coaches for four-to-five minutes and then the defensive coaches for the same amount of time.
From there, coordinators Pat Shurmur and Billy Davis address their respective sides of the ball, Kelly offers a brief message, and the position coaches hammer home the finer details before the start of the third quarter.
“He doesn’t really say anything to us until we go back onto the field,” said DeSean Jackson. “The last minute he gives us a little chat. But Pat Shurmur’s the one that’s really going over the adjustments. They go in the room and talk, present it to us, basically tell us what we’d like to do and what we’re gonna continue to do throughout the game. From there, we bring it up, and Chip gives us our little message, and we go out there and just put it together.”
Looking at the entire body of work through 13 games, the adjustments have worked well. The Eagles are averaging 6.8 points per game in the third quarter. That’s tied for second-best in the league behind only the Denver Broncos.
Players stressed that dialogue is encouraged on the sideline in between possessions. Last week, Cary Williams, a defensive player, provided Kelly with a suggestion that worked out. But apparently, there’s nothing unusual about that.
“I think what’s good with him is we’re constantly making adjustments,” said tight end Brent Celek. “Not just at halftime, during the game. If you see something in the game that you think we can take advantage of, you go tell him and he takes it. As players, guys really appreciate that. You can go talk to him, say, ‘Hey this is something that I’m seeing.’ And he’ll look at it, he might do it.”
In their final three games, the Eagles face the Vikings (27th-ranked defense, per Football Outsiders), Bears (19th) and Cowboys (30th). While ultimately it’s up to the players to execute, the guys on the field are confident that their head coach will come up with a plan that works.
“You’ve got to have answers for when they adjust,” said Jason Kelce. “His ability to do that was legendary before he got here and continues to be good. He’ll find a way eventually – plus or minus a couple of games. That’s been huge for us.”