Eagles Wake-Up Call: Conservative Chip?


NFL: Preseason-Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears

Today’s question comes from reader Jason via email:

I’m curious to see your thoughts on Chip Kelly and his aggressiveness in the NFL.  Coming out of college he had a reputation for taking more chances and being unorthodox during games (more 2 point conversions, on-sides kicks, going on 4th down, etc).  We saw a little of this in 2013, but much less in 2014, IMO.  Is this just a perception thing, or do you think he is acting like many college coaches before him and becoming more cautious/conservative in the NFL?  Maybe a little too much.

You’re right: Kelly hasn’t exactly been as advertised in this respect. The reputation that preceded him was one of an aggressive risk-taker who would defy convention and press down on the accelerator where others eased off. That hasn’t been the case.

Kelly’s approach on fourth down speaks to this point. In 2013, he went for it on fourth down 14 times, which was smack in the middle of the pack. (Cleveland was tops in that category with 31.) There were even fewer tries this year. Interestingly, the Eagles had the second best fourth-down conversion rate in the NFL this season (7-of-11, 64 percent), but only six teams had fewer attempts on the year.

A few instances that come to mind where Kelly could have conceivably been more of a gambler:

— With the game knotted at 17-17 late against Arizona, he opted for a field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. He pointed to how well the defense had played to that point in explaining his decision, believing that they could generate one more stop. The defense suffered a letdown just three plays later, though, yielding a 75-yard John Brown touchdown.

— Down 10 in the final minutes against Seattle, Kelly decided to punt on 4th and 11 from the Philadelphia 26.

— In the loss to Washington, you can argue that Kelly should have rolled the dice on 4th-and-1 from the 28 late in the third quarter instead of attempting a 46-yard field goal, especially considering Cody Parkey had just missed from 34 yards out.

(Feel free to add any other examples you can think of below.)

I do think Kelly was a bit more free-wheeling his rookie year, though some of that can be attributed to personnel and circumstance. With Alex Henery as his kicker, for instance, he was more inclined to go for it from around 50-plus. With the stronger-legged Parkey, there’s a better chance that he opts for the field goal.

There’s a fine line between aggressive and reckless, and I think Kelly is doing the right thing by respecting the differences between college and the pros and pulling back some. The swinging gate, for instance, was justifiably shelved after making a brief appearance last year. And some of it is just recognizing the limitations of your players. When you’re dealing with a banged-up offensive line and a backup quarterback, there’s reason to question whether the execution will be there.

That said, I think Kelly needs to be more adventurous when it comes to both his decision-making and play-calling. It was part of his identity in college (as his nickname suggests) and needs to come to the surface a bit more here in the pros.

Your question can be the topic of the morning post. Simply leave one in the comments section, on Twitter (@Tim_McManus and @SheilKapadia), via e-mail (tmcmanus@phillymag.com and skapadia@phillymag.com) or on Facebook. We’ll choose one each day and answer it.

We’ll go through the questions once a month and randomly select a reader for a free Birds 24/7 t-shirt.

WHAT YOU MISSED

“Is he going to drop? I don’t know if he was ever all the way up there to begin with.” Marcus Mariota declares for the draft:

Notes on Kelly’s travels, Todd Bowles and Pat Shurmur.

How much of the secondary needs to be overhauled?

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Who do agents call now if they want to engage in talks with the team? Nobody seems to know for sure, writes Les Bowen.

Another agent said that if he had any pressing business to transact with the Birds, he would still contact Roseman. Yet another said he would call director of football administration Jake Rosenberg, who under the previous setup basically was Roseman’s assistant. Several others said they were under the impression the Eagles aren’t really open for business – including working on deals with their own pending free agents, such as Jeremy Maclin – until the hiring of the new personnel chief, who could carry the GM title.

This isn’t a crisis, in mid-January. Free agency starts at 4 p.m. on March 10. But it has been a topic of discussion among agents that Roseman currently is vacationing in Turks and Caicos, after losing his personnel say; normally, this week and next week, they’d be seeking Roseman out at East-West Shrine and Senior Bowl practices, at least getting the ball rolling for negotiations over the coming weeks.

“I think a ton of groundwork for free agency is done at the Senior Bowl,” an agent said. “Not to mention scouting/personnel hires.”

John Canzano of the Oregonian states his case for why Kelly needs to make the Mariota reunion happen.

Kelly needs Mariota. Without him, the growth curve slows considerably. The fan base is already beginning to wonder if his offense is an entertaining parlor trick that is incapable of resulting in a deep playoff run. Kelly has a couple of seasons to demonstrate otherwise to ownership.

Kelly loves McCoy, but doesn’t need him. He won big at Oregon with a line of running backs (LeGarrette Blount, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, Byron Marshall, etc.) that he could easily duplicate in the NFL. What he absolutely had to have, though, was a quarterback who suited his style.

Not Nick Foles. Not Matt Barkley or Mark Sanchez. Not even Michael Vick. Kelly desperately needs Mariota and should do everything in his power to make it happen.

Mariota needs Kelly, too. Without him, the ex-Ducks quarterback runs the risk of being drafted by a struggling franchise that hands him the keys and asks him to save it. Joey Harrington, basically. David Carr, essentially. Together, these guys win big. Apart, it’s a question. And I don’t think either can afford to bank on the notion that some team might draft Mariota and give up on him in two seasons.

COMING UP

We’ll keep an eye on the personnel exec search as Senior Bowl week approaches.