- Phil Sheridan, ESPN Staff Writer
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PHILADELPHIA -- To borrow a phrase, the sins of his predecessor are being visited upon Chip Kelly.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ first-year head coach has his team at 7-5, on a four-game winning streak and in contention for the NFC East title. So why does he have to scold (playfully) a reporter for asking a “negative” question immediately after Sunday’s 24-21 victory over Arizona? Why is he being taken to task for a failed gimmick play in the middle of that win? Why are fans and media so concerned about the team’s new habit of letting big leads dwindle in the fourth quarter?
The answers have as much to do with Andy Reid as with Kelly. It is probably inevitable for a coach to be compared and contrasted with the man he replaced. But those comparisons are magnified when the predecessor was a 14-year institution like Reid.
Let’s take this point by point:
*Reid won a lot of games but never closed the deal with a championship. So Eagles fans and media are accustomed to finding the fatal flaws in generally successful coaches and players.
That exacerbates a civic trait perhaps best expressed by Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who said Philadelphia is a place to “experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day.”
If Sunday’s game had ended when the Eagles were leading 24-7 in the third quarter, that would have set the tone for Kelly’s postgame news conference. But the last 25 minutes of the game were spent watching Kelly’s offense stall while his defense desperately preserved the win.
“I would like, every week, to be in that situation, because that means we’re up,” Kelly said Monday.
*One of Reid’s flaws was getting too cute at the wrong time -- trick plays in the red zone, passes to fullbacks with zero receptions on third-and-short, having Brian Westbrook on the sideline for an entire sequence with the game on the line in Washington because of personnel groupings, and on and on.
So it’s understandable that Kelly’s decision to run a Wildcat play on first-and-goal at the Arizona 6-yard line came under close scrutiny -- even if Kelly insisted it wasn’t a true Wildcat play.
The bottom line is he took the ball out of the hands of the hottest quarterback in the NFL by having Nick Foles line up as a wideout while little-used wide receiver Brad Smith lined up at quarterback.
“We thought we were going to have a successful play,” Kelly said. “He just dropped the snap. We score on that, everybody’s like, 'What a great play.' You don’t score, it’s, 'What a stupid play,' so what a stupid play.”
It was a stupid play. Kelly’s defensiveness about whether it was technically a Wildcat formation is all the proof necessary to reach that conclusion. So is the outcome: Smith’s fumble cost the Eagles 4 yards. LeSean McCoy then ran for 2 yards. Foles was sacked for a 6-yard loss and the Eagles kicked a 32-yard field goal.
The first-down play doesn’t make it impossible for the second and third downs to be more successful. But it cost Foles, who has been excellent in the red zone, one opportunity and it disrupted the rhythm of an offense that had just moved from its own 22 to the Arizona 6 in five plays.
It cost the Eagles four points that would have looked pretty good when Arizona had the ball down three in the final two minutes.
Was the call proof that Kelly is not a good coach? Hardly. But Reid was a good coach, too. He just would have been a better one if he hadn’t outsmarted himself on a regular basis.
*One of the major complaints fans had about Reid was his stubborn refusal to run the ball in the second half with a lead. In Kelly, the Eagles have a coach who might run the darn thing too often.
The evidence is the two comebacks staged by opponents in the past two games. Arizona reduced a 24-7 deficit to 24-21. Washington reduced a 24-0 Eagles lead to 24-16 with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. In both games, the Eagles' offense went into a deep second-half slumber. If Reid was too aggressive, it seemed Kelly wasn’t being aggressive enough.
“Everybody in the stadium knows you’re going to run the ball,” Kelly said. “So it’s zero [safety-deep] coverage. If you do throw it and it’s incomplete, you stop the clock. If you run it, even if you don’t gain a yard, you’re still running 40 seconds off the clock. So there’s a Catch 22 there.”
There are two reasons to exonerate Kelly here.
The first is that his approach worked to universal acclaim when the Eagles killed 5:29 of the fourth quarter by running the ball against Tampa Bay and when they drained the final 9:32 off the clock in Green Bay.
The second is that Kelly wasn’t nearly as conservative as it may have appeared. After the Eagles opened the third quarter with a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to take a 24-7 lead, Arizona countered with a touchdown drive of its own.
On the Eagles’ next possession, Kelly called two pass plays in a three-and-out series. On their next possession, the first two play calls were for throws that went incomplete. On the Eagles’ first fourth-quarter possession, Kelly opened with a deep throw to Zach Ertz and, after Foles’ 9-yard completion to Brent Celek for a first down, came back with another deep pass intended for Riley Cooper.
The deep balls were incomplete, but they certainly weren’t conservative play calls. And after the throw to Cooper, Foles was sacked on consecutive plays.
When the Eagles got the ball back with 10 minutes left, Kelly called for four consecutive runs. At this point, he clearly was looking to repeat what the team had done in Tampa and in Green Bay. Instead, the Eagles punted and Arizona scored again to close to within 24-21.
“We’re capable of doing it and we have executed,” Kelly said. “Two games we were very successful at it, two games we were not very successful at it.”
Can Kelly get better? Of course he can. Is he being closely scrutinized? Hey, it comes with the millions of dollars. Is he being judged based partly on what went on here with Reid? It sure feels that way.