Monday, December 9, 2013
A non-football lesson learned about Eagles
By Phil Sheridan
PHILADELPHIA -- For Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, every game is a "one-week season," with all focus on preparing to beat the next opponent on the schedule.
For those of us on the outside, every game of Kelly's first NFL season has been like a chapter in a book. We learn a little more about Kelly, his offense, his characteristics as a coach, his play calling. There were several chapters devoted to his quarterbacks, Michael Vick and then Nick Foles.
Sunday's 34-20 game against the Detroit Lions was different. The snow and its impact on the game made it impossible to learn anything about Kelly's approach to a tough defense, about Foles' ability to rise to the occasion in a big game, about anything to do with X's and O's.
"Everything went out the window," linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. "We played a completely different game than what we practiced for."
There was an important lesson about this team in this chapter. The Eagles took control over the game from the Lions largely because they took a better, smarter approach to the situation. Faced with heavy snow and treacherous footing, they embraced the novelty of the day and made the most of it.
"We were saying this is a game we're always going to remember," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "It's going to be a lot better to remember if we win."
Wide receiver Riley Cooper looked miserable in the early going. The native of Clearwater, Fla., looked like he'd been dropped on some hostile planet and forced to adapt. By the second half, Cooper was making spectacular catches -- including a 44-yard gain that injected life into the offense and a vital two-point conversion -- and rolling around in the snow like a polar bear cub.
The Eagles offensive line figured out how to keep their balance, slow their movements and get good push against the Lions' celebrated defensive line. That was the difference in the game.
The Eagles defense switched from its two-gap based approach to simpler, more direct gap control. That move allowed the Eagles to shut down the Lions running game even as LeSean McCoy was being freed on the other side of the ball.
Both teams were faced with unique circumstances that made their week of preparation basically useless to them. We may never know if the Eagles could have covered Calvin Johnson in better conditions or if the Lions defensive front would have smothered McCoy and pressured Foles into more errors.
The game wasn't a true test of the merit of the two football teams. But the Eagles turned it into an important win and the Lions allowed it to become a painful loss.
So the rest of us learned something about the Eagles from this chapter of the book. After two years of watching a team that accepted losing, this team keeps pushing until it finds a way to win.
As for Kelly himself?
"I didn't learn anything," Kelly said. "I knew exactly what those guys were going to be like. I think maybe some other people did, but I didn't have any question in my mind what was going to go on in that football game because I've been around these guys every single day."