Chip Kelly defends kickoff strategy
The Vikings took advantage of great field position all game as the Eagles refused to kick deep to dangerous returner Cordarrelle Patterson. (USA Today Images)
The Eagles were already having trouble defending Matt Cassel and Greg Jennings.
They didn’t need Alex Henery, via Chip Kelly, to keep rolling out the red carpet for the entire Vikings offense.
Which is exactly what happened Sunday as Henery’s short kicks successfully avoided dangerous returner Cordarrelle Patterson but repeatedly gave the Vikings favorable field position (see 10 observations).
Instead of having Henery attempt to kick the ball out of the end zone, with no weather elements to combat inside the Metrodome, the Eagles kicked short every time.
“We were concerned going into the game with Patterson,” Kelly said. “Obviously, [he is] the best returner in the league. If you look at what he’s done during the season, even if you do kick it deep he takes it out and he’s got a 109-yard kickoff return. We knew how dangerous he was and we were just trying to keep the ball away from him.”
Patterson entered the game averaging 33.3 yards per return, most of anyone with at least 11 returns. He had two touchdown returns, including a record-tying 109-yarder.
But keep-away from Patterson meant give-to for the rest of the Vikings’ offense. Minnesota had four drives start at its own 38 or farther, three of which started at its own 46 or farther. On those four, the Vikings scored three touchdowns and a field goal, a major reason for their 48-30 win over the Eagles (see story).
The decision didn’t seem to bother Patterson.
“Not at all,” he said. "We start with the ball at the 35-yard line, and it helps our offense. If they keep doing that each game, then we will let them continue to do that.”
Kelly and special teams coach Dave Fipp had decided in the week leading up that they wouldn’t let Henery even try to kick the ball out of the end zone.
They were worried about the one mishap that Patterson could bring back, but apparently weren’t equally concerned about the undermanned Vikings, who didn’t have Adrian Peterson, capitalizing on short fields.
“It’s definitely not the thing I want to do,” Henery said. “I want to hit the deep ball, but that’s the scheme we had all week and obviously we were sticking to it. We didn’t want [Patterson] or [punt returner Marcus Sherels] to take over the game in that aspect. We wanted to keep it in control.”
It hurt most when the Eagles tried to kick it really short -- an onside kick -- down 41-30 with 4:33 to play in the fourth. Henery’s low, bouncing attempt didn’t even get to Minnesota’s side of the field before Jerome Simpson scooped it at the Eagles’ 48.
It took just eight plays for the Vikings to get back into the end zone, which helped put the Eagles away for good (see Instant Replay).
Another strategy backfired with 6:26 left in the third, when Kelly made the very curious decision to run a play on 4th-and-1 inside his own 25. LeSean McCoy, who was bottled up all game and couldn’t gain the first down on the previous snap, was smothered again (see story).
At that point, the Eagles trailed 24-9 and Kelly thought his offense needed a spark.
“I thought that we could have made it and I also thought if we don’t make it, we’re in trouble,” Kelly said. “If we can’t get a half of a yard, it tells you what the day’s all about. You have to think in 4th-and-half-a-yard we can get a half a yard.
“They didn’t blitz, it wasn’t like there was an all-out coming at us. We needed to come off the ball and get some movement at the point of attack and dig ourselves out of that hole right there. We hadn’t gotten anything going at that point in time so we were hoping we could jump-start something there.”
But they didn’t, and the Vikings turned the possession into a field goal to go up 27-9. The decision looked even more regretful when the offense woke up after halftime, scoring 21 points after the break.
Jason Kelce said he wasn’t surprised by Kelly’s decision but lamented the 3rd-down play that set up 4th-and-1.
“In all honestly we shouldn’t have been in that situation if we did a better job on third down," he said. "We had a pretty good play call, I thought.”