Grace period over for Chip Kelly, Eagles

Grace period over for Chip Kelly, Eagles

September 23, 2013, 12:45 pm
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Chip Kelly's Eagles are in danger of falling to 1-3 as they prepare for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. (USA Today Images)

It was easy to get carried away. The rushing wave of hype hit hard -- a fast, powerful current that swept up so many of us. And then, just as quickly, you could see the rising excitement and expectations recede.

That first game on Monday night really was something. It was such an eye-popping performance that it made reality harder to see. At the least, it made the second game, the home loss to San Diego, something that could be momentarily excused as an aberration. And then Kansas City came to town. And then everyone’s eyes were open again to the truth: Chip Kelly and the Eagles don’t have everything figured out after all.

After falling to the Chiefs, Michael Vick said, “We’ve got to go back to the drawing board, regroup and figure this out” (see story). Put another way: They’re an imperfect lot and they know it.

That’s OK. It is. The list of flawed NFL teams is long -- a lot longer than the handful of franchises that appear polished and poised to make a real run at the Super Bowl. So the Eagles are what Kelly always insisted they were -- a work in progress. So, too, is the coach.

Reality, then. That’s where we are -- snapped out of that post-Washington fantasy where everyone happily (and prematurely) inflated their theoretical win totals for the Eagles. With that comes another inevitable development: Where Kelly was briefly trumpeted as a kind of infallible genius, his status now is something closer to what it should be -- a first-year head coach who does smart things and less-advisable things, a man who will be assessed with the discerning collective eye usually employed by the locals.

That’s also OK. Blind worship of the new guy, in any sport, never lasts very long around here. The baseline -- a fair and even ground where positives and negatives are noted in equal measure, and without bias -- is better for everyone.

About that: After the first three games, the Eagles are essentially what a lot of people predicted they’d be before the Washington result temporarily fried everyone’s evaluation circuits. They are first in the NFL in total offense. LeSean McCoy leads the league in rushing. DeSean Jackson is second in receiving. And Vick, even after that awful outing against the Chiefs, has the eighth-best passer rating. All good.

Not-so-good: The offensive line, thought to be a strength during the heady and hopeful days of the preseason, has allowed 11 sacks (tied for second-most in the NFL). On the other side of the ball, the Eagles’ defense gives up 438.3 yards per game. Only San Diego and Washington have been worse. And while the Eagles have scored 26.3 points per game (eighth best), they’ve surrendered 28.7 points per game (sixth worst). You don’t have to be very good at math to know that giving up more points than you score is a real drag on your chances.

As for Kelly, he has demonstrated some of the innovation and original thinking that made him so highly-recruited out of college. He has also made mistakes. Kelly admitted he didn’t know the rule that would have allowed him to call a timeout toward the end of the Chargers game in order to reinsert Vick. Against the Chiefs, he made the curious and indefensible decision to go for a two-point conversion early in the first quarter.

Kelly’s offense is averaging 66 plays after three games. That puts the Eagles 15th in the league in terms of pace. A year ago, the Eagles ran 67.4 plays per game -- sixth-most in the league. Make of that what you will. The point, again, is that they have work to do.

“In this game, in this league, winning football games is a difficult task,” Kelly said late last week. “I think everybody understands that. It's about really kind of getting your mind set and getting into a rhythm.

“Every week in a season, whether you won or lost last week, is really irrelevant in terms of moving forward. If you win, you can't be patting yourself on the back too long because the next team coming is hunting for you. If you lose, you can't be licking your wounds too long because the next team coming is hunting for you.”

They have won a game and lost two more. Encouraging signs have been mixed with disquieting performances. They have looked, by turns, scary good and just plain scary. That’s the situation. With the blinders removed, it’s so much easier to see.