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Friday, October 25, 2013
In defense (sorta) of Phil Simms

By Phil Sheridan

Phil Simms had a point.

The former quarterback, now an NFL analyst for CBS and Showtime’s "Inside the NFL" show, might not have made it quite as crisply as he should have. But when Simms ranked the Philadelphia Eagles' offense in the bottom five units, offense or defense, in the league, he wasn’t talking about statistics or points per game.

Simms was talking about the expectation that Chip Kelly was going to do to the NFL what Steve Jobs did to the Walkman. Although the Eagles have the No. 1 rushing offense and No. 3 overall offense in the NFL, they don’t look like they have been beamed down from some more highly evolved planet.

Chip Kelly and Michael Vick
Chip Kelly's offense, though productive, has not been the innovative juggernaut many predicted.
Even close observers of the team have wondered what happened to some of that innovation we expected. Kelly flashed a four-tight end set in the preseason. He barely uses two tight ends at the same time now, and they haven’t been nearly the weapons they were supposed to be. James Casey is MIA, while Brent Celek and Zach Ertz have combined for 25 catches -- fewer than 12 individual tight ends.

For the most part, the Eagles line up with three wideouts, one tight end and one running back. Opponents have decided that playing man-to-man coverage eliminates aspects of Kelly’s offense -- such as those bubble screens that looked so good in the preseason -- and Kelly has basically shrugged and discarded those aspects. His response has been to run the ball more and to throw deep more often. He has had mixed success with the latter.

That nifty little unbalanced line look, in which left tackle Jason Peters lines up as a tight end outside right tackle Lane Johnson while Celek plays left tackle, was kind of cool at first. But when you get past the veneer of novelty, how is that really more effective than having Peters at left tackle and Celek at tight end?

Kelly’s answer: It forces the defense to adjust to an unfamiliar look and provides some matchups the Eagles can exploit. Except the Cowboys noticed that the Eagles always run the ball from that look, and were able to shut it down.

The Cowboys did something else that Kelly assured us wasn’t going to happen. They simulated the Eagles’ up-tempo offense in practice all week, and their defense was thoroughly underwhelmed by it on Sunday. Perhaps he underestimated the conditioning of NFL players, but Kelly said before the season that there was no way for opponents to prepare in one week for the kind of tempo the Eagles have acclimated themselves to since April.

So the Eagles haven’t stormed onto the field and steamrolled opponents since that one half against Washington on opening night. They have looked more like a conventional NFL offense than expected. But they have still been very effective for the most part, which is probably to be expected from a team with an above-average offensive line, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Michael Vick.

It is possible Kelly simply doesn’t feel he has the players, especially the quarterback, to do what he ultimately wants to do.

It is possible the NFL game has brought Kelly back to the pack a bit in terms of innovation, but that the coach will evolve as he gets experience and time to respond.

It is possible the NFL game has overwhelmed him and Kelly just isn’t cut out for it.

The answers will come in due time. The Eagles' offense is miles from the league’s worst, but if Simms’ real point is that he isn’t seeing the Chip Kelly offense he expected, that’s legitimate. It’s likely just as true of Chip Kelly.