Chip Kelly watches from the sidelines during the Eagles' 31-22 preseason loss to the Patriots on Friday night. (AP)
It wasn’t exactly a free pass, but Chip Kelly sort of absolved his first-team defense for its no-show against the run Friday night against the Patriots.
You may recall the Pats marching 80 yards to paydirt on merely six plays without having their future Hall of Fame quarterback even lift his right shoulder above his midsection, a drive fueled by Stevan Ridley’s 62-yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage .
Kelly coughed up the breakdowns to poor fundamentals in the trenches, guys not being where they’re supposed to be at the point of contact.
“First play, we just weren’t gap sound,” Kelly said after Sunday's practice, which coincidentally took place with players wearing shorts and shells. “We didn’t get gapped out the right away and the ball split all the way to the third level without anybody getting a hand on him. First guy to the ball -- [Bradley Fletcher] made the tackle, but it was 60 some-odd-yards downfield.
“There’s a couple times where we just missed fitting gaps and we just need to clean some of that stuff up. Team defense is everybody being where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be there.”
Kelly also admitted that the defensive line scheme change, from the old regime’s preference of four spread linemen launching an assault on the quarterback to a conventional 3-4 front, can’t be expected to reap its intended results right away.
“The whole system is new, so it was their first live action in a game,” he added. “We haven’t had live football since we’ve been here, so it was our first time.”
Ridley’s 62-yard burst on the first play seemed hauntingly familiar to the team’s 2011 switch to the wide-nine scheme, presided over by position coach Jim Washburn, who would be jobless 27 games later.
In the ’11 opener, Rams halfback Steven Jackson rocketed through scrimmage untouched en route to a 47-yard touchdown. Much like that play, Ridley breezed through wide spaces in the defensive line only to find another acre of green ahead as he advanced inside the Eagles’ 20.
In total, the Patriots ran for 248 yards on 31 carries, averaging eight yards per carry. Ridley and LeGarrette Blount, who likewise ran circles around the front seven on a 51-yard touchdown run, combined for 193 yards on 19 carries.
“It’s a game, stuff happens,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who was pancaked on the Ridley run by left tackle Nate Solder, had said after the game. “They had a few big runs that led to a lot of yardage. Those big runs just killed us. We just got to go in and see what happened on those plays and figure out how to correct it.”
Kelly agreed with Cox, saying after Sunday’s practice that he expects to see corrections made by Thursday night in the second preseason game, again at the Linc.
There were no major front-seven switcheroos in response to the opener. The first-team line still featured Cedric Thornton and Cox at the ends, with Isaac Sopoaga in the middle. Later, rookie Bennie Logan picked up some first-team reps at nose guard in place of Sopoaga, which wasn’t anything new. DeMeco Ryans Mychal Kendricks maintained their strongholds on the two inside linebacker spots.
Still, Kelly emphasized that the cobwebs should be dusted off by the time Carolina takes the field Thursday night.
“There was a lot of wide-eyed young guys out there, and you hope when you get to Game 2 now that there is a big gap for us in terms of, it’s not our first time,” he said. “It’s not the first time going out on that field in front of a good-sized crowd with officials and it’s live and the whole nine yards. Hopefully, we make a big improvement this week.”