Kelly’s play calls vs. Giants up for debate

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Kelly’s play calls vs. Giants up for debate

Kelly, McCoy take blame for Eagles' offensive struggles

October 27, 2013, 7:45 pm
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Chip Kelly and the Eagles fell to 3-5 on the season after losing to the Giants, 15-7, on Sunday. (AP)

There was the odd decision to take the ball out of the hands of the NFL’s leading rusher two yards shy of the end zone.

And the bypassing of a 49-yard field goal one week after attempting a 60-yarder.

And the strangely conservative decision to punt on 4th-and-4 in Giants territory, down 15 and with nothing to lose.

And then the overly aggressive onside kick with more than four minutes still left on the clock.

Conservative. Liberal. Passive. Aggressive. Chip Kelly was all of the above Sunday against the Giants in a 15-7 loss at the Linc that dropped his team to 3-5 at the midway mark of his first year as Eagles coach (see Instant Replay).

Not surprisingly, Kelly stood by each decision, although some of his defenses lacked more ground than others.

Start with the most glaring second guess, the decision to have Matt Barkley drop back on 1st-and-goal at the Giants’ 2-yard line in the second quarter instead of handing off to LeSean McCoy.

Executing a naked bootleg to the left side, Barkley got crushed by cornerback Terrell Thomas -- who blitzed into an empty backfield -- and fumbled into the Giants’ hands. Even worse, Kelly had called timeout before the snap instead of pushing the tempo the way he usually does deep in enemy territory.

“That was the play I called,” Kelly said, one of his less convincing arguments. “You can go back. It didn't work. But we know in that situation we're 1st-and-goal and we talked about it. If we don't have it, let's throw it away and we'll go the next time.”

In the end, it’s a play call. When it works, Kelly’s a genius. When it doesn’t, he’s the village idiot. These happen all the time, in every NFL game.

Onto the next one.

On the opening drive of the second half, Barkley drove the offense 43 yards -- one of their better marches, actually -- to the Giants’ 32-yard line and faced 4th-and-10. The Eagles trailed, 12-0, at the time.

A week earlier, Kelly had kicker Alex Henery attempt a 60-yarder against Dallas. This time? He called for another drop back for his rookie quarterback. Barkley briefly fumbled the snap before throwing an incomplete pass to Jason Avant.

“Yeah, there was pretty good wind there,” Kelly said. “That was a tough wind, that's why we went for it on fourth down, down there.”

Fair point, perhaps. Henery has been up and down this year, missing two kicks at the Linc earlier this year on that same end of the field.

Still, if you lack the confidence in your kicker to make a 49-yarder, why is he on the roster?

Moving forward, the Eagles trailed, 15-0, early in the fourth when they faced a 4th-and-4 at the Giants’ 47. They had gained just 18 yards on their two previous possessions and only 10 minutes and 21 seconds remained on the clock.

At that point, do you just go for it? Kelly didn’t, electing to punt the ball away.

“I knew we were going to stop them,” Kelly said. “I have great confidence in our defense. … We felt like we were going to get the ball back with time to score and get an onside kick.”

Flag on the play. Unnecessary ridiculousness.

If he expected his defense to stop the Giants after the punt, couldn’t he have expected the same if a fourth-down play call didn’t work? Surely, the positive -- a fourth-down conversion -- outweighed the negative, which is giving the ball back to the Giants on their end of the field.

The Eagles finally got on the board with 4:19 to go, no thanks to the offense. Reserve linebacker Najee Goode jumped on a bad snap that had sailed over the head of Giants punter Steve Weatherford and rolled into the end zone for a touchdown that cut their deficit to 15-7.

Now, it’s a one-possession game and there’s still more than four minutes to play. Kick deep and let your defense, which hasn’t yielded a touchdown all game, come up with another big stop, right?

Kelly instead called for an onside kick. The Giants recovered and drained the clock down to 36 seconds before punting back to the Eagles.

“I only had one timeout, so it didn't matter if we kicked it deep, it was still the same amount of time on the clock,” Kelly said. “In terms of the time off the clock, [it's] going to be the same exact thing.”

It’s debatable.

It’s true Kelly had just one timeout, so one Giants first down essentially ends the game anyway. But the probability of recovering the onside kick is very low, and although the Giants hadn’t turned the ball over all game, they’ve been turnover-prone all year.

It’s a risky call, regardless, but the Eagles didn’t get the third-down stop they needed after the Giants recovered, so the point is somewhat moot.

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