By Sean McAlevey
IN THE MONSTAR LOCKER ROOM, Toon Land — Slated as Superbowl contenders following an offseason of bold roster moves, the Philadelphia Eagles are currently 3-3 and in the midst of an identity crisis. The Chip Kelly-led Eagles, who ran the most offensive plays in the league last year, are looking less like the offensive juggernaut everyone expected them to be and more like a hard-nosed defensive unit with a game manager at quarterback. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Sam Bradford, who arrived in Philadelphia this offseason in a one-for-one exchange for counterpart Nick Foles, has been dreadful at quarterback, tossing the second-most interceptions in the NFL this year (nine). Prized offseason acquisition DeMarco Murray hasn’t been utilized properly, taking handoffs primarily flat-footed out of the shotgun, and has a meager 239 rushing yards to show for it through six weeks. Outside of a few well-oiled drives sprinkled throughout, the Eagles offense has been inept in 2015.
The defense, on the other hand, has been a revelation. The stats: 18.3 points allowed per game, 8 interceptions, and 14 sacks. Their run-stopping has been on point, allowing a mere 94.2 yards per game. The front four of Connor Barwin, Fletcher Cox, Vinnie Curry, and Brandon Graham have played as well as any in the league. And although the pass defense has at times been a letdown, particularly when Byron Maxwell has been in man coverage on opponents’ #1 receivers, it has come through in the clutch and limited the deep ball. The coming return of injured star linebackers Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks will only further bolster the unit.
You don’t need a dominant offense to win games when your defense is only allowing 18 points per game. But you do have to limit turnovers and give your defense a chance to catch its breath. The way to do that is to simplify the offense: accentuate the run game and slow down the pace. That means less shotgun and more I-formation to give Murray a chance to gain a head of steam coming downhill between the tackles, a running style that produced the most rushing yards in the league last year (1,845). That also means fewer hurry-up plays and less chicanery. What it really amounts to is less Chip Kelly.
Whether Kelly will learn to step out of the way and allow his brainchild to develop according to its own strengths remains to be seen. Kelly has earned a reputation as a nit-picky micromanager who believes in his system more than his players (see: the 2015 offseason). It is doubtful he will have the wherewithal to strategically limit his offense in order to feature his upstart defense. But whether he likes it or not, it may be the most prudent way to salvage this season.