FOXBORO, Mass. — When Eagles players returned to the locker room following their 42-35 loss to the Patriots Friday night, they were greeted by a frustrated and stern Chip Kelly.
“Very strong,” said Cary Williams, when asked about the head coach’s message. “You could tell that he was frustrated. You could tell that he was upset about it. He wasn’t very happy about the way we played.
"He said he’s frustrated about penalties. He said that he wanted us to be better. We don’t practice like that. We shouldn’t play like that. We’ve gotta get our butts in gear and do something about it."
Added Vinny Curry: "He was very frustrated. He should be. He emphasized a lot of the things. He goes up and beyond his way to bring referees in to monitor our practice. ...Coach Kelly has his right to be frustrated with us and the penalties."
On 15 separate occasions, a flag was thrown charging an Eagles player with a penalty. Ten of those (for 86 yards) were accepted by the Patriots, who ended up having issues of their own (11 penalties for 83).
The league's emphasis is clear in a couple of areas: no contact beyond 5 yards of the line of scrimmage and no hands to the face among the linemen.
"If you can't play within the rules, you can't play in this league," said Kelly. "That's just the bottom line. You're just handing people first downs. We better figure it out. And as I said earlier, whichever team ends up being the most disciplined team from a penalty standpoint is gonna be at a big advantage in this league. And so it's a challenge to everybody. We've all gotta figure it out."
Kelly's message was clear. There's no sense complaining with how the game is being called, and the changes are here to stay. Kelly's frustration, then, was directed at his own players, not the officials.
"There is no curve. Those are rules. We gotta play by them," Kelly said. "Whoever ends up being the most disciplined team in this league is gonna win. The rules [aren't] gonna change. That's what I told those guys in the locker room. I think we had 10, they had 11. And it seems like it's like that overall. But I don't think tomorrow or on Sunday, Roger [Goodell's] gonna say, 'Hey we're gonna change it.' We've gotta learn how to not get our hands in people's face. We've gotta understand that after 5 yards, it's illegal contact. And if you can't play by within those rules, you can't play in this league."
Do you need to then teach things differently?
"No, because we don't teach that," Kelly continued. "We don't teach people to grab receivers after 5 yards downfield. And if that becomes your go-to move and that's what you've gotta do, then you can't play. You've gotta figure that out. And we never teach anybody to strike anybody in the face. You're bad in your targets. We've gotta understand that that's gonna be called. And if it's gonna be called, you've gotta fix it. You don't have to agree with the speed limit, but if the cop's out there with a speed gun right there, you better take your foot off the gas or he's gonna pull you over. It's the bottom line. Rules are rules. We've gotta follow them."
Eagles defensive players received the message loud and clear in the locker room, but adjusting might not be so easy.
"I’m surprised it’s even an emphasis up front," said Connor Barwin, speaking specifically about illegal hands to the face. "I didn’t know that was the problem. I get all the concussions and all that stuff and the cuts. I don’t get the problem with hands to the face up front with what we do naturally, why it’s an emphasis. But it is, and they’re calling it. So like I said, we have to adjust, we have to bring our target down and change.
"If they’re gonna call it this much, they’re gonna call it when the regular games start. Like I was saying, I’ve put my hands in offensive linemen’s face my whole career, and they’ve been putting [theirs] in my face, so it’s something that we have to adjust and we have to change."
Added Mychal Kendricks: "I feel like there is a lot of preseason mistakes going on, a lot of young guys in there, along with the new rules that are in place with the hands to the face and contact downfield and the overemphasis on referees having to meet a quota with flags -- I mean, essentially that's what we're talking about.
"We just have to abide by the rules, man. It's going to take some time to make the adjustment because you have guys like Trent Cole or DeMeco [Ryans] or Cary Williams that have played in this league for a number of years that have played a certain type of way. For a guy like me, it might be easier to make that adjustment because I'm not that deep in as far as years, but that's not to say it's going to be easy. That played a big factor in today's game."
With the opener just three weeks away, the Eagles (and every other team in the league) now have to deal with a bit of a curve ball with the new emphasis. There are two schools of thought. One suggests the refs are emphasizing the rules in the preseason, but there's no way they can keep up this pace of penalties when the real season begins.
The other is that the rules will continue to promote offense, and defenders better adjust or they're going to look silly and cost their teams.
"They want points, they want [a] quarterback league," said Barwin. "But we finally got our first rule this year. You can’t come from the side and roll as much. But I haven’t seen that cut called as much so far in the preseason."
Added Brandon Boykin: "Every time I look back, there’s a flag. I think we’ve been playing how we play. That’s just how we practice, that’s just how we play. Both teams were getting flags, so that’s something that everybody in the league is gonna have to adjust to because they’re changing the rules. Either the game’s gonna be really, really long or we’ll adjust.
"As players, we are too [frustrated]. Defensive pass interference sucks. Nobody wants to get one of those as a corner, and we got a lot. Rightfully so, we’re all pissed off about it. But it happens. It’s part of the game now. And we’ve gotta adjust. We’ve gotta work hard in practice to get it right."
Based on Kelly's post-game message, those who have trouble adjusting better get used to standing next to him on the sideline.