Eagles-Lions, The Day After
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Jeffrey Lurie meets with Chip Kelly after every game.
That’s where he was headed when cameras caught him leaving his box early against Tampa Bay. It’s what he’s done 44 times now — 24 after a win, 20 in defeat, once in a postseason setting. Presumably, that tradition continued on Thanksgiving afternoon in the bowels of Ford Field following a second sound-the-alarm loss in the span of four days.
Hard to think of many questions that could be asked or answers given following such a set of performances that could drill down to the core. Micro issues like specific moments in the game seem like a luxury of the past at this stage. It’s all big-picture stuff now. Lurie is likely more interested to see how the head coach is carrying himself, and how the men he’s charged with leading are responding to him, now that it’s all gone to hell.
The owner’s assignment from this stage forward is to figure out why the operation collapsed on itself so suddenly, and whether Kelly has the capacity and the clout to halt the free fall and resume what at what point looked like a climb toward relevancy.
How did it get like this?
The answer is complicated and hasn’t fully revealed itself, but there are some truths that can be pieced together that lead us closer to an understanding.
The players have been asked, from the moment Kelly arrived in Philly, to take a leap of faith. There was science to back up some of the methods and a history of success at the college level to validate his practices to a degree, but his approach and demands were nevertheless unorthodox and not universally accepted. With such an emphasis on collecting data in the name of maximizing performance, certain freedoms that come with being a professional player — an adult — were infringed upon.
The practice schedule is demanding. Where many teams have down days Tuesday and go light the day before the game, Kelly has his guys working. It can all feel like a little much and, and as Cary Williams once memorably said after a win, makes some players feel like they aren’t well-rested enough to be at their optimum on game day.
There is the scheme, which is predicated on tempo and is fairly simplistic by NFL standards. Opponents have commented on the fact that its not all that difficult to dissect; players in the Eagles locker room have talked on the record about its predictability.
Following the Bucs game, Lane Johnson acknowledged that a bad loss like that can raise some questions. Asked what questions have been raised, he responded: “How can we change up anything from our scheme offensively, kind of put ourselves in the best positions to get things done.”
“I think so,” said Jason Peters Thursday, when asked if confidence remains in this system. “You’ve just gotta roll with it. It ain’t about if you like it or not. You’ve just gotta keep rolling and block it and do it the best way you know how to do it.”
Then there is the relationship with the head coach, or lack thereof. As we wrote a couple days ago, Kelly’s up-tempo way of life and impersonal approach has left many people in that building without a meaningful bond to the man that they are supposed to be rallying behind. Add skepticism about the approach with a lack of connection to the man who has installed it, and you can have some problems when tough times hit.
Peters was asked: What do you think of Chip Kelly as a head coach?
“I mean, I like the guy as a person,” he responded. “We’ve just gotta fight for him. You know this business, you got head coaches, one day they’re here, one day they’re gone. You just gotta fight for the head man that you have in the present.”
There are certainly guys in that locker room that buy into what Kelly is doing, and are more than willing to pick up the shield for him. I think it’s fair to say, though, that not everybody is. A lot of that is the fault of the individual — a professional giving less than their best over philosophical differences is unacceptable — but that seems to be the reality of the matter.
What makes this development even more disconcerting is that Kelly got rid of the guys that he thought were not going along with the program and hand-selected the players he thought would help support his vision and carry it forward.
Instead, the bottom has fallen out. Players are questioning not just the coach but one another. There is a degree of in-fighting going on, and was has been described to me as a “very strange vibe” emanating from the locker room. The culture that Kelly has been trying to instill hasn’t taken root. What’s more, it feels like it’s being rejected.
“I don’t know. I don’t have that answer,” said Kelly, when asked if he is the source of the problem.
The evidence points, at least in large part, to “yes.” Now Lurie must decide whether the man he empowered is capable of making the necessary changes, righting the wrongs, and developing the relationships necessary to make this team, this organization and this city believers again.
A Mega Mistake
It wasn’t so much that the plays were designed for Calvin Johnson, said Lions coach Jim Caldwell, but rather that the Eagles’ looks dictated that they throw in his direction.
“Most of the time, our packages divide to take the opportunities that are presented to us and [the Eagles] were giving us some opportunities there,” he said. “So Matt [Stafford] was reading it out and getting it to Calvin and he was, obviously, converting first downs and getting us in position to score touchdowns.”
Johnson had eight catches for 93 yards and three touchdowns — all of which came when he was isolated against a single defensive back on the outside. Twice, that DB was rookie Eric Rowe.
Johnson’s first score came from 25 yards out on a 3rd-and-17 with 12 ticks left in the first half.
Walter Thurmond arrived on the scene late from his position in center field.
“That’s the only guy that can give him any help,” said Troy Aikman during the broadcast. “He stays middle of the field. Yeah, he’s cheating that way but [Rowe] is on an island, one-on-one. Press coverage on 3rd-and-17, asking a rookie to cover Calvin Johnson. Hey, you can say what you want, that’s poor coaching there.
“I just don’t understand it. I don’t understand a scheme that is such that you’re unwilling to help a young player. That’s not even hard.”
Rowe, playing in place of the injured Nolan Carroll, found himself locked up with Johnson again midway through the third.
“I feel bad for the young man,” said Aikman.
Johnson’s third TD came with Malcolm Jenkins one-on-one against him.
“I blitzed almost — over half of the calls; I blitzed a lot more than I have in the last couple of weeks,” said Billy Davis. “And we had doubles, we had brackets. We moved in and out of coverages. We had to scramble a little bit when Nolan got hurt. So we just have to adjust.
“Kept trying to help to [Johnson] and mix up blitzes and helping and blitzing and helping and go back and forth with it. It wasn’t good enough.”
Safe to say.
8 TDs allowed in the last 6 quarters. Receivers open on every play. Billy Davis is making Juan Castillo look like Buddy Ryan.
— Kevin Negandhi (@KNegandhiESPN) November 26, 2015
A little strong, but amazing how sharply Davis’ stock has dropped over the last couple weeks.
Maybe it’s because I have kids, but that expression gives me the creeps. Can we all agree to come up with something less bizarre?
Eagles radio legend Merrill Reese: “Among the things we’re thankful for today is that this game will be over in 10 minutes, 42 seconds.”
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) November 26, 2015
One of the great things about Merrill is he shoots it straight.
From a former member of the Eagles front office.
Howie Roseman pic.twitter.com/5CIUEWVGQn
— John Gonzalez (@gonzoCSN) November 26, 2015
QUOTES OF NOTE
“I didn’t think this question was coming, but I was looking forward to playing against Peters and then he got hurt. They moved Lane over there and yeah, I think I took it personal.”
— Ezekiel Ansah, on if the Eagles passing on him in the 2013 Draft motivated him in this game. The Eagles selected Johnson fourth overall. Ansah went fifth. After a 3 1/2 sack night, he’s now tops in the league in takedowns with 11.5.
“Hey, bring it on. We deserve it now and anytime you go out there and give a performance like that it’ll follow.”
— Lane Johnson, on what is sure to be a high level of fan criticism following this loss.
“I think there’s times where we show signs of greatness, show signs of being a good team, then there’s times where there will be four good blocks and one bad block…We’ve gotta eliminate those mistakes and get going.”
—Allen Barbre on the offensive line struggles.
“I don’t put that on [Thurmond]; I put it on me. I got to be better at the line. It was tough to see the ball when I turned my head because the lights were bright and there was a glare in my mask. But I’m not making excuses. I just got to play better.”
— Eric Rowe on Johnson’s first touchdown catch.
— Well-timed joke by Martin Frank of the Wilmington News Journal, after the Lions had extended the beatdown to 31-7 midway through the
Trey Burton caught the first two passes of his career…Miles Austin got 22 snaps, six more than Josh Huff. He had one catch for 12 yards…Jason Peters continues to be in and out of the lineup, and it’s really hurting the. Seyi Ajirotutu got some work late.
A reduced role for DeMeco Ryans, who has not looked right since coming back from a hamstring...Kiko Alonso finished with four tackles in 41 snaps…Vinny Curry logged just 15 snaps, and still managed to register two sacks. Ed Reynolds got his first work as a pro and made a tackle…Marcus Smith was again held off the stat sheet. He has one tackle this year.