Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Evaluating the Chip Kelly experience two years in

It was a disappointing end to what looked like a promising 2014 season for the Philadelphia Eagles.   Just over a month ago, the Eagles were fresh off of a 33-10 beat down of the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving and were sitting atop the NFC East at 9-3 and a first round bye in the playoffs looked like a real possibility.   However, the Eagles followed by losing three in a row and while 10-6 was good enough to win the division in Chip Kelly’s first year on the sideline, this year the same record left the Eagles out of the playoffs.

Having seen two years of Chip Kelly as an NFL head coach it’s obvious he can coach in the NFL, which many doubted upon his arrival to Philadelphia in January 2013.    However, there is clear room for improvement.   With the exception of a loss in 2013 to Minnesota and a loss this season to Washington, Chip Kelly’s Eagles beat the teams they’re better than.   However, against contending teams, the Eagles have been exposed which leaves them as a good team but not elite two years into the Chip Kelly era.

The secondary has been the biggest problem these last two seasons.  Go back to September 2013 when the Broncos destroyed the Eagles 52-20 in Denver.  Peyton Manning shredded the Eagles defense for 327 yards and four touchdowns.   Aaron Rodgers didn’t play against the Eagles last season but this year at Lambeau Field Rodgers threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns in a 53-20 Packers win.   For whatever the reason may be, the Eagles left Bradley Fletcher on Dez Bryant with no safety help in a huge week 15 home game against Dallas and Bryant went off for 114 yards and three touchdowns.  The following week in Washington, Fletcher was left on DeSean Jackson who had 126 receiving yards against his former team.   In a meaningless week 17 game against the Giants, Odell Beckham Jr. totaled 185 yards and a touchdown while Ruben Randle added six catches for 158 yards.  While it’s easy to point the finger at Fletcher, Nate Allen and Cary Williams haven’t exactly lit the world on fire either.  Adding Malcolm Jenkins in free agency was a good move but there’s a lot more work to do to fix this secondary and it couldn’t be more apparent.
                                                                   Matt Rourke/AP
Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman have some work to do this offseason
to get the Eagles into the conversation as one of the NFL's elite teams.

The Eagles were exposed in a different way in their 24-14 loss to the defending champion Seattle Seahawks.  Against the NFL’s best defense, the Eagles high-powered offense stalled and the Eagles allowed Seattle to posses the ball for close to 42 minutes and gave up 440 yards of offense while only mustering up 139 yards of their own.  The Eagles defense did about all you could ask for in this game considering the time of possession.  While Seattle isn’t an elite passing team, the Eagles held Marshawn Lynch to 86 yards on 23 carries and kept him out of the end zone.  This game was about an elite defense belittling a good offense.

The Eagles struggled on offense against another good defense in San Francisco earlier this season as they failed to score an offensive touchdown in the 26-21 loss.  Chip Kelly is hailed as an offensive genius but will have to find ways to score points against some of the NFL’s better defenses in order for the Eagles to get to the next level.  While the Eagles won’t admit it, the offense isn’t the same without DeSean Jackson who was the wide receiver that could stretch the field and be a big play threat.  Jeremy Maclin had a very good 2014 and rookie Jordan Matthews showed signs of a bright future.  However, Riley Cooper was very disappointing this year after the best year of his career in 2013.   Third round pick Josh Huff was mostly a nonfactor in his rookie season.  The Eagles don’t have much depth at wide receiver and desperately need a big play, stretch the field type of playmaker.

Perhaps ending 2014 like this will be a blessing in disguise for the Eagles.  A necessary wakeup call for Chip Kelly and General Manager Howie Roseman.  While Malcolm Jenkins and Darren Sproles were good additions, the Eagles had a draft that yielded one productive player this season and let DeSean Jackson go for nothing.  Moves like that cannot be explained.  Had the Eagles won the division and won a home playoff game this coming weekend maybe that would have masked some of the issues that need to be addressed.  In the big picture, it’s hard to complain with Chip Kelly through two years.  He’s won 20 games.  He’s proved he can coach in the NFL.  But now it’s time to take the next step.  No more inexplicable offseason decisions.  The Eagles were exposed on offense against Seattle and San Francisco and the holes in the secondary are quite glaring.   Time to fill them.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

When will a non-quarterback win the Heisman?

Tonight there are three worthy candidates hoping to flash the pose in New York and win the Heisman trophy.   But there’s no drama leading up to the announcement because yet again everyone seems to know who it’s going to be.

Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon both had phenomenal seasons for their respective schools yet the consensus belief is that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is going to run away with the award. 

                                        Andy Manis/Associated Press
Gordon's best game of the season was his 408-yard effort
on November 15 against Nebraska in which he did not play
in the fourth quarter.
It would be nice to have some suspense building up to the decision but there’s a quarterback bias that seems to win out every year, which ruins the fun deciding who’s going to be college football’s most outstanding player.  Since 1956, Barry Sanders, Kevin Smith and Marcus Allen are the only three running backs to run for more yards in a single season than Gordon’s 2,336 this season. 

I know it’s hard to argue with the season Mariota had throwing 38 touchdowns and two interceptions but it would be nice if voters valued each position equally and didn’t favor the quarterback. 

                                                        Bob Rosato/Sports Illustrated
Darren McFadden had two outstanding seasons at Arkansas
but fell just short of the Heisman in both 2006 and 2007.
Darren McFadden was a two-time Heisman runner up at Arkansas falling just short in 2006 and 2007 to Troy Smith and Tim Tebow respectively.  Mcfadden set the Arkansas single season rushing record in 2006 with 1,647 yards on the ground only to break that record in 2007 with 1,830 rushing yards.  The Razorbacks became trendsetters in McFadden’s time there as they started running the wildcat offense with McFadden as the centerpiece and the wildcat soon made its way into the NFL.  Yet,
McFadden never made his way up to the podium to give a Heisman speech.

Adrian Peterson totaled 1,925 rushing yards his freshman year at Oklahoma but fell short to Matt Leinart in the 2004 Heisman race.  In 2003, Larry Fitzgerald had 1,672 receiving yards for Pittsburgh and a jaw-dropping 22 touchdowns but it was Oklahoma quarterback Jason White that won the Heisman trophy.  Larry Johnson eclipsed 2,000 yards on the ground for Penn State in 2003, averaged 7.7 yards per carry, and scored 20 touchdowns and all that got him was a third place finish behind Iowa quarterback Brad Banks and Southern California’s Carson Palmer. 

                   Matt Slocum/Associated Press
Adrian Peterson burst onto the scene as a
freshman running for close to 2,000 yards at
Oklahoma but had no Heisman to show for it.
Since 2000, the Heisman has favored quarterbacks and it’s not fair.  Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams, Charles Woodson, Eddie Geroge, Rashaan Salaam, and Desmond Howard all won the award as non-quarterbacks in the 90s and there have been many more legendary running backs that have won the award, so what’s caused the change?

I’m not trying to argue against Mariota because that’s really hard to do but more than anything else it baffles my mind how Gordon can rush for the fourth most yards in a single season in college football history and not even be considered.  Let’s not forget Cooper and 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.  If it weren’t for him who knows how many losses Alabama would have in a loaded SEC West.

Entering this season 12 of the last 14 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks and that’s if you count Reggie Bush as one of the two non-quarterbacks who ended up vacating his Heisman.   With all signs indicating Mariota will make that 13 of the last 15 who knows when the next time a Heisman winner will not be a quarterback.   Your guess is as good as mine.