Eagles-Jets, The Day After

Chip Kelly makes some tweaks to help ground game.

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Photo courtesy of USA Today

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Calls for Chip Kelly to shake things up were coming from both outside and within.

After a pair of brutal rushing performances against Atlanta and Dallas in which the Eagles mustered a combined 70 yards on the ground (2.1 average), further attention was given to the theory that Kelly’s offense had become too predictable. Some players did not exactly go out of their way to shoot that notion down.

“Yeah, I think so,” said Lane Johnson following the Dallas loss, when asked if he believed the Cowboys had a feel for their tendencies. “I think moving forward we have to mix it up a little bit, create some more variety of plays and try to get some confusion for the defense.”

While far from dominant, the run game found some success against a formidable Jets defense Sunday at MetLife Stadium — particularly in the first half. Ryan Mathews went for over 100 yards and the Eagles finished with 123 rush yards overall, nearly doubling their output from the first two weeks. Kelly said afterwards that they “went back to basics” this week to get things going, but that’s not the whole story. There weren’t any wholesale changes, but Kelly got more creative with his looks and made some tweaks that helped breathe a little life into the ground game.

“To me, there are a lot of similar plays and what-not but formation-wise we changed it up quite a bit more,” Jason Kelce acknowledged, “and that presents a different look to a defense and changes up some of their roles and responsibilities.”

What changed?

— There were more run plays that started with Sam Bradford under center, for starters. This seemed to have two notable benefits. One, it added to Mathews’ comfort level. (“I like running the ball from shotgun, but I think I can see the field a lot more when the quarterback is not in shotgun formation,” he said.) And two, it helped disguise what run play was coming — and to which direction.

“Tried to create some confusion,” said Johnson. “Most of the time they are going to blitz to the back (when in shotgun), or if they know where the back is, they know where the play is going. Under center is a little bit more difficult for them to identify that.”

— Kelly called for an unbalanced line on several occasions, deploying Jason Peters on the right side next to Johnson. The head coach has used this look in the past but had not been pulled out this season (we don’t think) until Sunday.

“That helps. That changes it up, maybe causes a little confusion every once in a while if they’re not quite prepared for it,” said Allen Barbre.

— The Eagles also ran outside zone a good bit more this week. Coming in, they were leaning primarily on inside zone and sweep but went in a different direction — mainly because of the type of defense they were facing.

“They were playing a lot of what we call a ‘Cub’ defense which is three defensive tackles inside the tackles,” Kelce explained. “They’re got a head-up nose and two three techniques covering the guards so it’s hard to run in the middle of that defense no matter who you are so you’ve gotta try to get the ball outside, more off-tackle. That’s what we did.”

“We changed it up a little bit. I think that helped open it up a little bit, getting some outside zone, some inside zone, I think that was good for us,” added Barbre.

Kelly has maintained that the problems on offense revolve mainly around execution, and that rings largely true. When a run goes wrong, the players agree, it’s because of a missed assignment here or a breakdown there. However, the degree of difficulty — and the need to execute flawlessly — increases if the defense has a good feel for where and how to attack.

This scheme is largely straightforward by design and is not overly-dependent on deception. But keeping a defense off-balance is key. It appears Kelly’s game plan offered enough variation against a quality Jets defense to help the ground game get off the mat.

TURNING POINT

Following his 30-yard field goal to open the scoring, Cody Parkey‘s kickoff rolled out of bounds, giving New York possession at the 40 and flipping field position in favor of the Jets. The Eagles started the next two drives deep in their own territory and looked to be pinned once again early in the second before Darren Sproles worked his magic.

Sproles punt return

“We’ve talked about getting Darren started back there and I thought we had great holdup and gave him an opportunity to catch it clean, and then once he gets a head of steam, he’s very difficult to block,” said Kelly. “I thought that’s what we expect out of our punt return team because we have such a dynamic returner back there. If we can kind of get him started, we’re hoping good things can happen.”

“It was a line drive,” added Sproles. “The punt return team did a great job to get me in the open. To tell the truth I don’t know what I did (to make the defenders miss).”

Quite a bit, is the answer.

Safe to say the 32-year-old has been well worth the fifth-rounder they surrendered to New Orleans in 2014. (In case you’re interested, the Saints drafted outside linebacker Ronald Powell with the pick. Powell, who was credited with two tackles last year, is currently on injured reserve.) He now has three punt return touchdowns in an Eagles uniform, which is second in franchise history behind only DeSean Jackson (4).

Sproles was arguably the team’s MVP over the first half of the season last year, and had a knack for providing a spark precisely when a spark was needed. He did it again Sunday, setting off a string of three second-quarter touchdowns that built the Eagles lead to 24-0.

“Obviously, his punt return today was a big momentum swing in the game,” said Sam Bradford. “There are just so many things that he does really well. We can utilize him in so many different ways. I don’t think there are a lot of guys in the league who can do that.”

SOCIAL SKILLS

True story. Updated receiver stat line: Jordan Matthews: 22 receptions, 231 yards, TD Rest of receivers combined: 13 receptions, 122 yards, 0 TDs

It was the land of misfit jerseys at MetLife Stadium. Tebows, Gholstons, Harvins, you name it. One misguided soul even patched over his No. 14 jersey (a big Neil O’Donnell fan, we’re guessing) and wrote “Amish Rifle” in for Ryan Fitzpatrick. Sigh. Jerseys are going for what, $150 these days? Might I recommend a nice No. 12 Namath or 80 Chrebet over that 87 Decker, sir? Or my favorite from the Sunday bunch: an old-school Al Toon No. 88. The classics never go out of style.

How far it’s fallen since 10-for-10 in Green Bay.

Included these stats in observations, but worth repeating: In two games, Jordan Hicks has 17 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception. What an amazing start.

NOTABLE QUOTES

“That was probably the worst play in NFL history.”

Brandon Marshall on his failed lateral that resulted in a Jets turnover.

“Good and bad. Obviously the turnovers are something we talked about a lot this week. This defense had 10 takeaways in the first two weeks. For us to have one giveaway today, that’s big. Obviously the passing game has to be a little more efficient.”

— Sam Bradford, asked how he’d feel if he had heard his stat line before the game.

“They beat us at our own game.”

— Jets head coach Todd Bowles on the Eagles’ four takeaways.

“Whenever you’re down, there’s always going to be people talking. We know that this offense can be a very good, dynamic offense. It’s only a matter of time before it picks up and takes off, so you just try to keep putting your head down moving forward to try and clean up things you’ve done wrong, and that’s about it.”

Jason Kelce on the criticism of the offense over the last two weeks.

“I’m a big guy, too. I gotta do what I gotta do. At the end of the day, I’ve gotta give it my shot. I can live with myself if I give it my shot but if I don’t give my best, I can’t live with it if I didn’t even try it.”

Byron Maxwell, on playing an aggressive, physical style of press coverage on Marshall.

“We’ve got a division opponent next week, the Redskins. We can’t take them lightly. Last year I think we did that and they got us.”

— Lane Johnson on the upcoming showdown in Washington.

SNAP COUNTS

Offense

Offense snaps Jets

Andrew Gardner left with a foot injury (he’s expected to get an MRI today) and was replaced by Matt Tobin at right guard. Tobin flipped out to tackle and Dennis Kelly came in at guard when Jason Peters left the game late. Peters said he’s OK after getting “rolled up on” but it should be noted that he’s left each of the first three games with injury…Nelson Agholor and Miles Austin were targeted a combined eight times and had zero catches…Brent Celek bested Zach Ertz in snaps for the first time this season.

Defense

defense snaps jets

E.J. Biggers ended up having a significant role. He came in on dime packages originally, then was flipped to nickel corner when Chris Maragos left with a knee contusion…The Maragos injury bumped Eric Rowe into the rotation. The rookie had an interception and a pass defensed in his first taste of action…Marcus Smith was active but did not see the field. Billy Davis leaned heavy on subpackages, particularly dime, which limited the stress on the outside linebackers.