Let’s start with a confession: I’ve been a Chip Kelly true-believer.
Sure, I had doubts last winter after he wrestled Howie Roseman out of the GM job and dynamited a 10-6 team. But by the end of the pre-season I was smitten with the $55 million in running backs, the former first-pick QB poised for redemption, even the smoothies and the sleep science and the Mr. Wizard stuff that, in the end, doesn’t get you a first down.
You probably felt the same optimism. Enough folks did that the Eagles’ Vegas odds improved more than any NFL team by opening day. The national pundits told us what we wanted to believe – this unconventional, forward-thinking coach was creating something special in Philadelphia.
And then the real games started.
And then came the reality that if your offensive line can’t actually block, you’re not going to win. How’d we miss that?
For all the Fantasy League moves Kelly pulled in the off-season, his neglect of the front five has led to Eagles to 0-2 and on the verge of falling from playoff relevance. I don’t know everything about culture and scheme. But I do recognize that when the starting guards are unable to push their way through a bag of feathers, the offense can’t work.
You know the story. Kelly let Todd Herremans leave for Indianapolis as free agent, and banished Evan Mathis when the Pro Bowler whined one time too many about his contract. I'm not defending Mathis, who was out of line, or disputing that the noble Herremans was on the decline.
But if you’re going to ax two starters, you need a better plan than plugging in Allen Barbre and Andrew Gardner, aka Mr. Softee and Fuzzy Bunny Slippers. Kelly didn’t select an offensive lineman in this year’s draft – same as last year. And he didn’t bring in a viable free agent.
What was Kelly thinking? Was he so overconfident in his scheme that he thought anyone would work?
The problem has been infectious. Steady center Jason Kelce has been horrible the first two games, perhaps because he is so distracted by what is going on to his immediate left and right. Tackle Jason Peters, who finished 2014 looking gassed, seems equally without energy now.
And so DeMarco Murray is averaging 19 inches per carry – about the size of the newspaper or computer screen on which you are reading this story. And Sam Bradford looks skittish and afraid to step into the pocket.
Is the season over? Not yet. Without Dez Bryant and Tony Romo and other key players, the Cowboys can’t win forever – although I’ll grudgingly give them credit for their 2-0 start. The Giants are worse than the Eagles. And Washington, even with a new-found running game, isn’t going anywhere.
A record of 9-7 could win the NFC East. Of course, even that looks out of reach unless Chip can straighten out a dozen problems, starting with his guards. As a one-time true-believer, my confidence teeters.