Eagles All-22: Why Jason Kelce Has Struggled
As Jason Kelce’s disappointing play permeated throughout the season last year, questions circulated about why the former Pro Bowl center was struggling. Was it the poor guard play next to him? Was it Chip Kelly’s increasingly inept offense?
Despite the upgrade next to Kelce in Brandon Brooks and Doug Pederson’s effective play-calling, Kelce has still struggled in the first two games this season. While everyone else on the Eagles’ offensive line has gotten off to a strong start, Kelce’s sub-par showing has prompted one simple question: Is he just not that good?
“You know when you play well and you know when you played bad,” Kelce, who declined some media requests yesterday, told the Inquirer’s Jeff McLane. “And I haven’t played up to the level that I’m capable of this year yet.”
Doug Pederson said his confidence in Kelce is “still high,” but others disagree about the center’s outlook for the season. Former Eagles offensive lineman Barrett Brooks, who played 118 games in his nine-year NFL career and won a Super Bowl with the Steelers, thinks Kelce shouldn’t even be starting.
“[Stefen] Wisniewski would probably be better at this point than Kelce because Kelce isn’t playing well,” Brooks said. “But he’s going to have to stay at center if Wisniewski has to play left guard with Allen Barbre moving over [if Lane Johnson’s suspension is upheld]. Kelce isn’t going anywhere, but he should be.”
‘HE’S JUST TOO LITTLE’
In the Eagles’ final drive of the first half against the Browns in Week 1, they picked up 60 yards and set up an easy 38-yard field goal for Caleb Sturgis. But in that 11-play series, Kelce had two bad snaps that stood out on film.
On the opening play of the drive, Darren Sproles picked up three yards around the right edge. To get there, he had to run around Kelce, who was pushed five yards behind the line of scrimmage by the time Sproles got the handoff. Kelce didn’t give up a tackle on the play, but he almost tripped his running back while also making Sproles get a bit deeper in the backfield.
“He’s just too little,” Brooks said. “Kelce tried to jump hook him. When you jump hook somebody, you try to get outside, but the guy caught him in the air and pushed him back. You’re not as strong going sideways as opposed to going straight up, but Kelce isn’t strong period. That’s the problem.”
Two plays later, Browns nose tackle Danny Shelton again got the better of Kelce. Shelton didn’t make the tackle, but Kelce was immediately beat off of the ball, which contributed to Ryan Mathews having to cut back for a one-yard gain.
“Shelton just out-reached him. But it doesn’t matter, that defensive lineman was going that way and Kelce couldn’t stop him from going that way. Period,” Brooks said. “He’s not big enough, and he doesn’t use leverage. He’s a small guy and he doesn’t use leverage! He doesn’t use a lot of knee bend. It’s almost like wrestling or karate, you can move somebody bigger than you if you get up under them and have leverage, but he doesn’t use a lot of angles.”
‘HE JUST GOT HIS ASS KICKED’
In the Eagles’ 29-14 win over the Bears in Week 2, Kelce again had a rough second quarter. He had back-to-back penalties that stalled the drive, although only his holding call was accepted after the Bears declined the face mask penalty.
When he committed the hold, Kelce was beat immediately off of the ball, and his penalty negated Carson Wentz’s 19-yard completion to Brent Celek.
“He just got his ass kicked,” Brooks said. “The dude swiped his hands and turned him because he was playing straight-legged. He wasn’t playing with a base, so he slapped his hands down and went around him. He beat him so quick he had to hold him.”
On the Eagles’ next drive, Kelce was again blown off of the ball. One writer joked about the center needing new cleats, but Brooks pointed to the play as another example of Kelce’s weaknesses.
“That was him being too small and the guy being too powerful for him. He’s standing straight-legged,” Brooks said. “He doesn’t play with leverage. When you play against bigger people, you have to play lower than that so you can move them around. He doesn’t play with knee bend or leverage, and he’s not strong.”
‘I’VE GOT TO STEP IT UP’
While Kelce has had a poor showing to start this season, there are a couple of important caveats to note. Part of the reason for his struggles is he’s worse against bigger defenders who line up directly over top of him, which he’ll now face for the first three weeks of the season as the Eagles play another 3-4 defense on Sunday. He has also played better in space, whether it be pulling or getting to the second level to block linebackers.
“In Chip Kelly’s system, they wanted to pull him a lot like he was a guard,” Brooks said. “He pulls very well, he runs very well and he blocks well in space. In this offense, that’s not happening. He’s blocking a man on top of him, so he has to have a little more ass to press a guy off, and he doesn’t have it.”
Kelce has also played a big role in helping Wentz set pass protections, which Frank Reich recently raved about.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a benefit it is to Carson to have a guy like Jason Kelce as a center. I mean, the guy is brilliant,” Reich said. “He’s absolutely brilliant in pass protection, calls and scheme and he just has this air of confidence about him that I think sets the tone for what we do in the protection world. And then Carson has that himself, he’s just a little bit younger than Kelce. I think those two are on the same page. I think Carson is extremely confident that Kelce is going to get the right things communicated up front.”
Despite the praise and the rookie’s confidence in relying on him, even Kelce said his blocking has been “poor.”
“I’ve got to step it up,” Kelce told the Inquirer. “I’ve got to get back to the fundamentals and techniques that have brought me to this point in my career.”