Eagles' offense still has untapped potential

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
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Chip Kelly gave his Philadelphia Eagles players a four-day weekend to recover from their season-opening, three-games-in-11-days ordeal. The hiatus did not apply to Kelly and his staff, however.

They have plenty of work to do, analyzing what went right and wrong in those games, evaluating their players and coming up with some creative ways to attack the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon.

The defense played considerably better in Thursday’s 26-16 loss to Kansas City than it did five days earlier against San Diego. No matter what Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis come up with, Broncos QB Peyton Manning is likely to put some points on the scoreboard.

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia's LeSean McCoy
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsLeSean McCoy carried the ball 20 times for 158 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs.
So it is Kelly’s offense that will have to bounce back. After scoring 33 at Washington and 30 against the Chargers, the Eagles managed just 16 points against Kansas City. That isn’t going to cut it in Denver.

At the same time, the Eagles amassed 431 yards Thursday night. LeSean McCoy ran for 158 yards, most of them on one leg after spraining an ankle. McCoy, Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson are among the league leaders in individual statistical categories.

So it’s not as if Kelly has to scrap his system and replace it with Andy Reid’s old playbook. He just has to get the Eagles back to where they were against Washington, dictating the tempo and style of play rather than being forced to react.

On Friday, Kelly explained why James Casey has barely seen the field. It all made sense: Brent Celek has clearly established himself as the No. 1 tight end and rookie Zach Ertz is being groomed and developed. Casey is the odd man out, which happens.

But remember all that talk about two-, three-, even four-tight end sets? What happened to that? The answer is that Kelly likes the mismatches created when defenses put their nickel personnel on the field. To get those matchups, he needs to go with three wide receivers, one tight end and one back.

Those mismatches helped account for the numbers the Eagles have put up, individually and on the scoreboard. But Kelly also revealed that the Chiefs’ man-to-man coverages also took away the screen game that looked so promising in the preseason.

“This offense is predicated on who’s making the plays,” Kelly said. “If we put a second tight end in the game, are we taking Jason [Avant] out of the game? If we are putting another tight end in, we would be taking Brent out of the game.”

So now defenses are dictating that Riley Cooper and Jason Avant are on the field for virtually every snap, and also removing some of the plays that make them most effective. That is a trap, and Kelly is too smart to remain stuck in it.

Cooper was targeted seven times against the Chiefs. He caught just two balls for 29 yards.

“Guys, when they had the opportunity [in single coverage], you’ve got to be able to get off coverage and be able to uncover yourself a little bit,” Kelly said.

Celek caught just two passes for 18 yards. McCoy was targeted once in the passing game. Bryce Brown had three touches, all runs. Chris Polk didn’t see the ball. Ertz was targeted once. Casey and Damaris Johnson were not targeted at all.

That is a lot of potential that Kelly isn’t tapping right now. It is natural, when McCoy and Jackson are putting up ridiculous numbers, to lean on them. But over a 16-game season, diversifying his attack is going to be crucial.

That will also help the Eagles get back to dictating to defenses rather than letting defenses dictate personnel and strategy to them.

Phil Sheridan

ESPN Philadelphia Eagles reporter

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