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Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Eagles need Kelly to be 12th man on offense

By Phil Sheridan

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly was off by one.

The coach explained the breakdowns in pass protection that have disrupted the Philadelphia Eagles offense the last three weeks.

Michael Vick
Opponents have been exploiting the Eagles' defense underneath, so why isn't Chip Kelly using Michael Vick to do the same?
"Protection is an 11-man deal," Kelly said Wednesday. "It's guys getting open when they're supposed to get open, it's making sure we have a hat on the right guys and making sure the quarterback gets the ball out. It's a combination of all those things."

But protection, like everything else in football, is really a 12-man operation. Kelly is right about all 11 players having a role in executing a play successfully. But it is the coach who has to find ways to solve pressing issues and create better opportunities for those players.

The Eagles' offense looked unstoppable for one half of the season opener against Washington. That was Kelly's singular chance to spring his system on an opponent who had no reliable film to study in preparation.

Against San Diego in Week 2, the Eagles were able to score 30 points by exploiting the Chargers' curious decision to cover DeSean Jackson with one overmatched cornerback. Since then, two defensive teams have focused attention on Jackson, conceded a certain amount of rushing yardage and then clamped down in the red zone.

In a passing-oriented league, Kelly has been content to be a run-oriented offense because that is exactly what defenses prefer.

That was essentially the philosophy of the late Jim Johnson, whose mantra during his tenure with the Eagles was that yards allowed don't matter unless they translate to points. Johnson's goal was to hold opponents to 17 points or less, believing that gave the Eagles offense every chance to win.

The last two weeks, the Eagles scored 16 and (before a garbage-time touchdown against Denver's backups) 13 points. They amassed enormous amounts of yardage, but not points.

When he's explaining the Eagles' defensive issues, Kelly said the focus on preventing the deep ball has made the team vulnerable in the short passing game. Philip Rivers, Alex Smith and especially Peyton Manning were able to get the ball out quickly, before a pass rush could form, to receivers running underneath the Eagles' coverage.

Turn it around. If opposing defenses are taking away Jackson as a deep threat, why isn't Kelly exploiting them underneath? Why isn't Michael Vick making defenses pay the way Rivers, Smith and Manning made the Eagles pay? If the Broncos can scheme ways to get Wes Welker wide open on virtually every play, why can't Kelly and his staff create similar mismatches for Jackson?

"I feel very comfortable in the slot," Jackson said. "We can try to mismatch guys, whether it's a linebacker or a safety. I don't shy away from going over the middle. Whatever it is I have to do, that's what I'll do for my team."

The Eagles ran two screen passes for running backs in Denver. The first, to Bryce Brown, went for 35 yards and might have been a touchdown if Brown hadn't slipped. The second, to LeSean McCoy, picked up 21 yards.

Plays like that, and the 38-yard catch-and-run by tight end Zach Ertz, will force defenses to adjust and create more opportunities for Jackson.

For now, Kelly has endorsed Vick's performance. He has said his other receivers, including tight ends, are capable of getting open. He has been critical of the offensive line's performance on some plays but is quick to point out that blame has to be shared 11 ways.

He is off by one.