Philadelphia Eagles: Andy Reid

It is tempting to cite that early-season stretch -- Indianapolis, Washington, San Francisco, all without suspended right tackle Lane Johnson -- as the key to the Eagles' season. But the NFL has backloaded the schedule with divisional opponents. That last five weeks will tell the tale. The Philadelphia Eagles have two games against the Cowboys, one against the defending champion Seahawks, and one each against Washington and the Giants. The Eagles could use a good start during that early stretch, but they absolutely must finish strong in order to repeat as NFC East champions.

Complete Eagles season preview.

Lurie touches on Vick, Byrd

March, 25, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said the team learned its lesson in free agency after their mishap a couple years ago. And that was a big reason for their approach in 2014 – and perhaps why they did not pursue safety Jairus Byrd.

Lurie also learned over the last few seasons their now-departed quarterback, Michael Vick, could be counted on as a leader.

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Vick
Byrd
“He’s underrated in terms of his influence with both young people and teammates,” Lurie said of Vick, now with the Jets.

Lurie spoke with Eagles beat reporters at the NFL owners’ meetings Tuesday, touching on several topics -- but not touching the biggest one right now. When asked after his six-plus minute interview about DeSean Jackson, Lurie said he had “nothing to say.”

But he did have something to say on:
  • Not signing Byrd. He reminded reporters that Eagles coach Chip Kelly coached him at Oregon. “Nobody knows the Saints safety better than our coach. Very big confidence in that. And if he thought we should allocate our resources to have that player be our safety for the next several years at that level, then that’s what we would have done. You have to be very astute in how you want to allocate your resources to win big. We learned a lesson a few years ago. Sure, we were the team that signed Nnamdi [Asomugha] and some other guys. It just doesn’t work that way. You have to be disciplined. In this case it was great because our coach knew some of the top free agent safeties and they played for him and we could operate on a level based on his projection of reality.”
  • Vick’s legacy in Philadelphia. “The fact that he owned up to his mistakes and did something about it, not only served his time, but when he came out he was on a mission to prove it wasn’t just words that he wanted to do good things and reverse a lot of the bad things he did. He took action to do that. “He had some great moments on the field, some frustrating moments. Would get hurt at times. But at all times he was a good teammate for Nick [Foles]. Nick will tell you Michael was always supportive. When they were competing he was supportive. When Michael beat him out he was still supportive and when Nick played at a Pro Bowl level Mike was incredibly supportive.”
  • To illustrate Vick’s leadership more, Lurie pointed to the Riley Cooper situation last summer. “The people that stepped forward and were the most valuable in the locker room and who were the most influential were Michael and Jason Avant. A lot of respect for those two in terms of what they brought.”
  • As was stated earlier, Lurie did not want to address the Jackson situation. But he perhaps indirectly opened a window into what’s going on or what Kelly wants from his players. “It’s a very focused plan based on what the character needs to be and what the performance level needs to be. It’s a very focused target system where you know the kind of people you want to surround our current players with and who to go after and what the function of this offense is because it’s different than it was with Andy [Reid], the defense is completely different...It worked out well the first year with Chip and the personnel department and Howie [Roseman] figuring out what would be best.”
  • Free agency and their ideal philosophy. “The ideal system is to maximize your salary cap with the terrific players you have on your roster. You hope to be one of the teams that drafts so well that you’re spending one of the least in free agency. We’ve always been aggressive. That’s just our nature. We’ll always maximize our cap and what we spend. We would prefer to spend it on our terrific young players. That’s the best way to win.”
Ten years later, the similarities and the differences are equally striking for the Philadelphia Eagles.

In 2004, they had about $24 million in salary-cap space, same as today. They were coming off a strong season that ended with a home playoff loss, same as today. They had a clear and oft-stated policy of re-signing their own young players and avoiding big splashes in free agency, same as today.

But the Eagles’ playoff loss that winter was a third straight disappointment in the NFC Championship Game. There was a sense they were banging their heads against a wall, not the sense they were in the early stages of something special. That is more the prevailing feeling in 2014, after Chip Kelly’s rookie season.

Ten years later, the Eagles’ daring March moves can be seen as equally successful and disastrous. They struck quickly and stealthily, obtaining defensive end Jevon Kearse and wide receiver Terrell Owens, the top defensive and offensive players available that year.

The Eagles landed Kearse in free agency, with a deal that made "The Freak" the highest paid defensive lineman in the league. They worked out a contract extension for Owens, only to have San Francisco trade him to Baltimore. It took an arbitrator to award Owens’ rights to the Eagles after the NFL Players Association filed a grievance on his behalf.

Successful? The Eagles went 13-3 in 2004, and the last two losses were asterisked by coach Andy Reid’s decision to rest his starters in the final two weeks. It took only 14 weeks to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Disastrous? As brilliant as Owens was on the field in 2004, he was many times as disruptive and difficult in 2005. His scorched earth campaign for a new contract ended with his dismissal from the team and a bitter end to the best sustained era of football in Eagles history.

Kearse was never a problem, but he never reached Owens' on-field level of success with the Eagles, either. He had 7.5 sacks in 2004 and matched that total in 2005. Injuries and age led to a total of seven sacks in the next two seasons combined and he was ultimately released.

Neither move worked out as the Eagles and the players hoped. Kearse said he wanted to be the one player that pushed the Eagles over the top, and to earn the Super Bowl ring that had eluded him in Tennessee. Owens was going to be the game-breaking wide receiver Donovan McNabb never had -- and he was, right up until he nearly broke McNabb by attacking the quarterback repeatedly in interviews.

But that uncharacteristically bold offseason got the Eagles to the second Super Bowl appearance in team history, and first since the 1980 season. The 2004 season was the high-water mark of Reid’s tenure and McNabb’s career. Coming off the spirit-crushing NFC title game loss to Carolina, at home, the additions of Kearse and Owens created unprecedented excitement and buzz around the team.

That party atmosphere lasted throughout 2004, through Super Bowl week in Jacksonville.

And then it was over. Was it worth it? Ten years later, the only answer for Eagles' fans is yes.
Chip KellyTommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports
PHILADELPHIA -- The best news from the NFL combine, at least as far as the Philadelphia Eagles are concerned, might have come from the mouth of Jerry Jones.

The owner/general manager of the Dallas Cowboys told reporters that NFL realities make it impossible for his franchise to make a major change in direction.

“You can't do what I did in 1989 because of the contracts and cap," Jones said Monday, according to ESPN.com’s Todd Archer. "The system automatically creates about a third turnover, but it also creates contractually for clubs a situation where you cannot just strip it. You couldn't even field a team with the hits against your cap by canceling the contracts."

If the chief decision-maker of their chief division rival feels constrained by the NFL system, that is very good news for the Eagles. Good because it means the Cowboys are more likely to remain trapped in a cycle of 8-8 finishes. News because the Eagles themselves just demonstrated that it is not only possible to tear things up and start over, but it is easier in the NFL than in any other major American sports league.

The Eagles went 4-12 in 2012 with Andy Reid as their head coach. It was Reid's 14th season, making the Eagles one of the most stable franchises in sports. While it was admittedly difficult for owner Jeffrey Lurie to pull the plug on Reid's tenure after working so closely together for so long, Lurie did just that.

Lurie hired Chip Kelly out of the University of Oregon. The Eagles went 10-6 in 2013, defeating the Cowboys in Week 17 to win the NFC East title.

If that isn't a quick turnaround, what is?

Across the parking lot from Lincoln Financial Field sits the Wells Fargo Center, where the Philadelphia 76ers are trying to turn their franchise around. The NBA's system -- fully guaranteed contracts and intricate trade rules that make salary dumping impossible -- all but forces teams to tank in order to have a shot at a superstar-caliber player.

The 76ers traded away most of the recognizable names from their already threadbare roster at the deadline. They were rewarded with a 20-point loss Monday night to the Milwaukee Bucks, the team with the worst record in the NBA.

A long 3-point basket away from the arena is Citizens Bank Park, where the Philadelphia Phillies reside. The 2008 World Series champions have spent massive amounts of payroll money to try to win another title while their core of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley remains intact. But age, injuries and (again) those fully guaranteed contracts have the Phillies trapped in a cycle of ever diminishing returns.

Baseball and basketball present enormous challenges for a team trying to turn itself around quickly. The NFL? Sorry, Jerry, that excuse just doesn't fly.

It may have been easier when Jones bought the franchise 25 years ago, hired Jimmy Johnson and started amassing the talent that won three Super Bowls in four seasons. Things did change with the introduction of free agency and a salary cap, but that was 22 years ago. There has been time to adjust.

Since the Cowboys' last title in 1996, the Green Bay Packers have built two separate Super Bowl-winning programs -- one with Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre, one with Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. So have the Baltimore Ravens, who won it all in 2000 with Brian Billick and Trent Dilfer and in 2012 with John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco.

The New York Giants won a Super Bowl in 2007. When they won another four years later, there were only 14 players left from the 2007 team. New England, the team the Giants beat both times, had only seven players on the roster for both games.

Seattle just won the Super Bowl with a team that had exactly four players who were on the roster before 2010.

You get the point. It is very possible in the NFL to change cultures, turn over rosters and flip a losing franchise into a winner in a short period of time. It takes two things: the ability to recognize change is needed and smart decisions when making it.

The New Orleans Saints established themselves as one of the league’s elite teams and won a Super Bowl. The key was hiring Sean Payton, a coach who had spent the three previous seasons working as an assistant for Jones.

The Eagles have had three major reboots with Lurie as their owner. They hired Ray Rhodes in 1995 and cut their losses after a 3-13 season in 1998. Lurie hired the virtually unknown Reid in 1999. While Reid did not produce a championship, he was coach and eventually chief personnel man for a six-year stretch in which the Eagles were the class of the NFC East.

Lurie stuck with Reid a year or three too long, out of some combination of loyalty and finger-crossed hope things would improve. When he finally did make a change, Lurie admitted it was the toughest decision of his tenure as owner. Clearly, there was no guarantee he was going to find as good a coach as the one he fired.

For Jones, such a wrenching decision is even harder because the man whose work he's judging is one Jerry Jones. A clear-eyed owner wouldn't accept a GM's rationale that the team is stuck in mediocrity because of bad cap management, ill-advised contracts and misplaced loyalty.

It was hard for Lurie to reach that point with his friend Reid. Evidently, it's even harder to get there when the guy making excuses is yourself.

NFLN survey/popular coach: Eagles

January, 28, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- When asked what NFL coach besides Chip Kelly they would most like to play for, it’s probably not surprising that four of the 10 Philadelphia Eagles surveyed named the only other NFL head coach they have played for.

It’s a bit more surprising that Andy Reid (6.9 percent) was right there with John Fox (7.8), Rex Ryan (7.2) and Bill Belichick (6.9) in the league-wide NFL Confidential survey conducted by ESPN.com.

Seattle’s boisterous Pete Carroll, named by 22.5 percent of players, was at the top of the poll. Pittsburgh’s consistently successful Mike Tomlin (13.8 percent) was second. Denver’s Fox was third.

Kelly, the Eagles’ first-year head coach, was named by two of the 320 players surveyed. That tied him with Miami’s Joe Philbin, among others. That probably says more about Kelly’s brief NFL tenure, so far, than anything else.

Among Eagles, Belichick was the only coach other than Reid to receive multiple votes. Two players named the three-time Super Bowl winner.
PHILADELPHIA -- With the Eagles' personnel and coaching staffs working side by side in Mobile, Ala., for this week's Senior Bowl, the eternal question of final say is worth contemplating.

[+] EnlargeAndy Reid
AP Photo/Julio CortezRegardless of who has final say on Eagles personnel decisions, playing time has ultimately been up to coaches such as Andy Reid and Chip Kelly.
The Eagles have long chosen to present their personnel decisions as "Eagles" decisions -- without delineating who, exactly, makes the final call on draft picks and free-agent signings. That has led to some serious issues: the claim that Andy Reid demanded final say two years ago (a decade after he was granted final say), or owner Jeff Lurie's declaration that general manager Howie Roseman was blameless for all drafts before 2012 (while Roseman, to his credit, accepted his share of responsibility for the Danny Watkins pick, among others).

Roseman talked to some of the reporters covering the Senior Bowl practices this week. He described the process a little bit. His personnel staff works full time to evaluate college players all fall. By the time the offseason arrives, the personnel staff has whittled down the number of potential prospects for the coaching staff to consider.

"Our first job as a personnel department is to try and narrow it down," Roseman said, according to philadelphiaeagles.com. "We spend a lot of time on 600 guys, making it down to 400, making it down to 200, making it down to a manageable number for our coaches."

Head coach Chip Kelly said last year that he doesn't consider himself a personnel guy. He's a coach. But Kelly does know what he wants in the players who will run his offensive and defensive schemes, and it's vital for Roseman and the personnel people to be on the same page with Kelly and his staff.

"He's always going to be a part of the process and that's the partnership that you have with your head coach," Roseman said. "You want to make sure that you're putting in front of him players that fit what he's looking for and that he can evaluate them as well."

As for final say, I think it's seldom as big a deal as it appears on the outside. After months of evaluations and discussion, the draft board really is a collaboration between the personnel staff and the coaches. It has to be. Roseman has no incentive to force a player he likes on a coach who doesn't want him. Ultimately, the coaches decide who is on the 53-man roster, who is active on Sundays and who is on the field and on the sideline.

Here's an example: I was told years ago that Reid preferred offensive lineman John Welbourn in the 1999 draft while personnel man Tom Modrak really liked Doug Brzezinski. The point being made to me was that Welbourn had a longer career, therefore Reid made a better evaluation.

But Reid was the coach. He decided which player was on the field more. He determined whether a mistake was proof a guy was overmatched or merely part of the developmental process. That's not an indictment of Reid, either. This is what goes on with every coach and every player on every team.

The point is, winning organizations develop a cohesive way for the personnel side and the coaching staff to collaborate. Assigning blame and pointing fingers result when things go wrong.

Rapid Reaction: Chiefs 26, Eagles 16

September, 19, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 26-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

What it means: Chip Kelly’s offense can be stopped, and Michael Vick is still prone to the kind of mistakes and injuries that helped create a job opening for Kelly in the first place. Vick threw two interceptions, including one returned 38 yards for a touchdown by Chiefs safety Eric Berry. Vick was also sacked five times as Kansas City’s defense disrupted Kelly’s read-option offense. On his last play of the game, Vick fumbled the ball away after being sacked by Justin Houston, then limped off the field with an apparent ankle injury. The Eagles are 1-2 and, with a road game in Denver next on their schedule, staring 1-3 right in the face.

Stock watch: Falling: Chip Kelly. With so much attention on the return of Andy Reid, Kelly’s predecessor, the first-year coach could have made a bold statement about the Eagles’ new world order. Instead, Kelly has lost his first two home games and seen his offense solved by an NFL defensive coordinator. Four days after admitting he didn’t manage the clock properly in the final minutes of a 33-30 loss to San Diego, Kelly has even more profound questions about the long-term effectiveness of his scheme.

Reid and react: The big topic of conversation in Philadelphia all week was how fans would, and should, respond to Reid in his first game here as a visiting head coach. There was similar debate about Donovan McNabb, the franchise quarterback of the 2000s, whose No. 5 was retired in a halftime ceremony. Both men were cheered enthusiastically. The Eagles flashed a thank you message to Reid as he walked onto the field, triggering a standing ovation, and McNabb was cheered as fireworks exploded over the stadium.

Shady, scary: LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, grabbed his lower leg and howled in pain after being tackled late in the first half. McCoy left the field to chants of his nickname, "Shady, Shady," and received X-rays. He returned with the team after halftime, but backup Bryce Brown began the third quarter in the backfield. McCoy returned with a vengeance, however. He broke a 30-yard run on his first touch after missing a series. In the fourth quarter, his 41-yard touchdown run got the Eagles within striking distance of the Chiefs at 23-16. McCoy finished with 158 yards on 20 carries.

What’s next: After playing three games in 11 days, the Eagles get 10 days to recover, regroup and prepare for their next game. There is much to do. The pass defense was better Thursday than it was against San Diego on Sunday, but still looks like a smorgasbord for Peyton Manning. And Kelly has to find a way to tune up his offense and get Vick back to where he was in his first two, relatively mistake-free starts.

Double Coverage: Chiefs at Eagles

September, 19, 2013
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Andy Reid, Chip KellyAP Photo Can Andy Reid slow Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense and nab a win in his much-anticipated return to Philadelphia?
You may have heard about a certain head coach returning to the city where he spent 14 seasons, revived a franchise, helped build a stadium and went to a Super Bowl.

Yes, Chiefs coach Andy Reid would love to beat his former team Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field. And yes, Eagles coach Chip Kelly would like to make a statement by defeating his predecessor using the offensive stars Reid assembled in the first place.

Ultimately, though, the coaches will be sidebars on the sidelines once the ball is in the air. The players will determine whether the Kansas City Chiefs get off to a 3-0 start or the Philadelphia Eagles can get back into the plus column at 2-1.

Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan discuss this week's matchup:

Adam Teicher: Once Michael Vick either passes the ball or hands it off, is there anybody for the Chiefs to fear besides DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy?

Phil Sheridan: Those are clearly the most dangerous men on the Eagles offense, and among the most dangerous in the NFL. Washington played a lot of nickel coverage in Week 1, and McCoy went for 184 rushing yards. San Diego stacked the box and Jackson caught nine balls for 193 yards. But Kelly has some other options: rookie tight end Zach Ertz, as well as veteran Brent Celek, could be the next to break out with a big game. Meanwhile, when McCoy is winded, backup Bryce Brown is a very real threat to break a big play.

He may not open up about it until afterward, but how emotional do you think Reid is about coming back to Philadelphia -- especially with a chance to go 3-0?

Teicher: You’re right in that he didn’t open up even the smallest of cracks about this publicly, but absolutely this is a big deal for him. He can’t be human and not feel something after 14 seasons in Philadelphia. The other part is that with the Chiefs at 2-0, he’s going back if not yet as a conquering hero than as much of a success as someone can be at this point of the season. He’s good at compartmentalizing things. The death of his son last year is evidence of that. So I’d be surprised if this issue interrupted his preparation for the game Thursday night. I’ll bet it hits him after the game and hits him with a ton of force. In that case, it’s probably good the Chiefs don’t play again after the Philadelphia game for almost a week and a half. But it is amazing how he can talk about the Eagles this week like how he talked about the Cowboys last week or the Jaguars the week before that. It’s just as though they’re another team.

Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, is off to a rough start. How is Lane Johnson, the tackle picked three spots behind him, doing for Philadelphia?

Sheridan: The highs have been pretty high, the lows fairly low. Johnson had a tough time with Dwight Freeney on Sunday, which doesn’t make him unique. And he was called for two illegal formation penalties -- he was off the line too far because he was concerned about Freeney -- and one of them negated a touchdown. But everything is relative. The Eagles have had plenty of first-round offensive linemen, from Danny Watkins back to Antone Davis, who have been disasters from day one. The Eagles liked Fisher a lot, but they are happy with Johnson’s upside. He adjusts well, he’s still adding strength and the coaches think he could eventually play left tackle, too.

Reid was infamous in Philadelphia for underutilizing his running backs (at least in the running game). How is he using Jamaal Charles this year?

Teicher: Charles has touched the ball a total of 43 times this season (32 carries, 11 receptions) and on average that’s probably close to what he can handle on a weekly basis. He’s only about 200 pounds, so the Chiefs have to be careful about his workload. He also has had some injury problems this summer (foot, quad), though he looks fine physically. The problem is that the Chiefs don’t appear comfortable with either of their backup running backs in all situations. Cyrus Gray comes in on a lot of passing downs. He’s a better pass-blocker and the equal to Charles as a pass-receiver, but he’s certainly not as good as a runner or as much of a big-play threat. Charles might have been given the ball more than he was last week against the Cowboys but he had only 8 yards on his first eight carries and Reid at that point decided to try to move the ball a different way.

The Eagles’ defense is rated 30th overall and 31st against the pass. Is this a true measure of where Philadelphia is defensively or more a function of the fast-paced games the Eagles have played?

Sheridan: Oh, it’s a true measure. The Eagles were brutally bad last year against the pass (33 TDs allowed, just five interceptions). They made huge changes in their secondary, but are also switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base. The combination of new scheme, new players and suspect talent would create problems anywhere. Throw in Kelly’s fast-paced offense and you get enough extra exposure to strain the defense even more. If you watch even the highlights from Sunday’s 33-30 loss, you can see Philip Rivers had wide-open receivers on nearly every play. I’m surprised Alex Smith didn’t fly to Philadelphia first thing Monday.

The Chiefs seemed to shut down the Cowboys offense. How are they equipped to handle Kelly’s pace and unusual approach?

Teicher: The Chiefs did a nice job against the Cowboys, with the exception of Dez Bryant. They were dominant the week before, albeit against the anemic Jaguars. Overall, they are third in the league in total defense and second against the run, so they look like they’re for real. They have a lot of guys playing extremely well on defense. But the Eagles present a different kind of challenge, one that is compounded by having a short practice week. When the Eagles are in their hurry-up mode, the Chiefs may have to go to some default defenses based on personnel and formation. New defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has done a nice job of playing to the strengths of his players, so it will be interesting to see what he has cooked up for Philadelphia.

Thoughts provoked by Eagles reunion

September, 19, 2013
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The road to the Philadelphia Eagles' future under Chip Kelly detours through the franchise’s past Thursday night. Here are a few thoughts provoked by Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb being together at Lincoln Financial Field for the 77th time (including preseason, playoffs and games in which McNabb was present but didn’t play because of injury).
    Reid
    Reid
  • There was a time Reid’s Eagles teams were exceptionally successful on the road. His explanation was always the same: Good teams win wherever they happen to be.The reverse is true. Bad teams lose wherever they play. Reid and Chip Kelly now have more than an office in the NovaCare Complex in common. They have coached a total of seven consecutive losses at the Linc. Reid’s 2012 team lost its last six games there. Kelly lost his debut there Sunday.

    It is the longest current home losing streak in the NFL, and the Eagles’ longest such streak since they lost seven in a row at Veterans Stadium in 1983. Overall, the Eagles are 9-13 at the Linc and 14-8 on the road since the end of the 2009 season.

    If Kelly is going to restore the team to the levels Reid reached in the early- to mid-2000s, restoring home-field advantage would be a great place to start. But then, as we’ve learned, really good teams have the advantage wherever they happen to play.
  • For years, Reid’s Eagles teams had a tougher time against odd-man defensive fronts than traditional 4-3 defenses. So it became one of those annual offseason questions for the coach: Why not switch the Eagles to a 3-4? In the years when coordinator Jim Johnson’s 4-3 defenses were functioning at a high level, it was just a talking point. After Johnson died in 2009, Reid could have gone in any direction with his defense. He certainly went outside the box when he replaced Sean McDermott as coordinator with Juan Castillo, his longtime offensive line coach. But the Eagles always stuck with a 4-3, eventually implementing a disastrous wide-9 version in 2011.

    Now that he’s in Kansas City? Reid’s defense is a 3-4.

    “I thought change would be good,” Reid said. “You go back and you evaluate everything and you look at things, where the game is today and where it’s going. There are certain things you hold strong to and there are other things that you go with that might be a little bit better, that you learn from.”
  • There will be an unusual alignment of quarterbacks with unique ties to Reid at the stadium. There is McNabb, the man he took with his very first draft pick in 1999, coached for 11 years and went to a Super Bowl with. There is Michael Vick, the man he welcomed back into the NFL after a federal prison sentence and whom he restored to prominence. And there is Alex Smith, the guy he acquired in a trade and re-designed his offense around in Kansas City.His future with Smith is bright, at least based on two wins in two weeks. But it is only fair to note, on the night McNabb’s No .5 is retired by the Eagles, that Reid hasn’t won a playoff game since trading McNabb to Washington after the 2009 season. The Eagles won 11 games in 2009 with McNabb as their starter. They won 10 in 2010 with Vick taking the No. 1 job from Kevin Kolb. They won eight in 2011 and just four in 2012.
PHILADELPHIA -- There are good ideas and bad ideas, and then there are ideas that are a little of both.

In my previous gig, I wrote a column after coach Chip Kelly's hiring suggesting the Philadelphia Eagles pursue San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and part ways with Michael Vick.

Vick
Vick
The Smith thing was a pretty good idea, and it had a background story. When Smith was playing at Utah, he led his team to a victory over Oregon. Ducks head coach Mike Bellotti was inspired to implement some of this spread offense with option elements, so he hired a new offensive coordinator

You may have heard of him: Chip Kelly.

So Smith was successful in the offense Kelly brought to Oregon before Kelly brought it to Oregon. Surely he could help adapt Kelly's scheme to the NFL.

Well, it was Andy Reid who traded for Smith. Lo and behold, as my colleague Adam Teicher in Kansas City just wrote, Smith is running some option elements. He was the Chiefs’ leading rusher in their victory over Dallas Sunday. He might have been very good under Kelly.

“He’s a heck of a quarterback,” Eagles safety Nate Allen said. “He’s an athlete. A lot of people don’t give him enough credit. He can get out of the pocket well. He’s making good decisions and he’s moving the ball for them.”

So: good idea. Except it was attached to a bad idea: cutting ties with Vick.

It is early, but Vick seems like a perfect fit for Kelly’s offense. His mobility was always going to be an asset, but he’s also making quick decisions, accurate throws and avoiding turnovers.

“I think Mike's done a really nice job,” Kelly said. “He's protected the football for us, gotten the ball out on time. He's done a really good job of distributing the ball. I think we're at a pretty high completion percentage right now. I'm sure he'd want a couple throws back. There were a few times we could have been more accurate. But I think overall in two games, I'm happy where Mike is.”

Vick has a passer rating of 119.0, third best in the NFL behind Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. He has completed 62.3 percent of his passes. He has thrown four touchdowns. Maybe the most significant of his numbers is zero: Zero interceptions. After throwing 24 picks in his previous 23 games, that’s vital to Vick’s success.

We have seen Vick put together a couple of great games and then start firing the ball to the wrong team. We’ve seen him get hurt. It’s an encouraging start, but it’s just that -- a start.

Still, at the moment, Vick is probably a better idea for the Eagles than Smith.
Andy Reid AP Photo/Matt RourkeAndy Reid, who coached the Eagles for 14 years, returns to Philadelphia on Thursday.
PHILADELPHIA -- To comprehend the complex relationship between Eagles fans and Andy Reid, you have to appreciate the sheer length of his tenure in this city with zero Super Bowl titles.

Reid was coach of the Eagles for 14 years. For exactly 5,104 days if you count the four leap years that leaped by. He was coach of the Eagles longer than Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. By the time he was relieved of command on New Year’s Eve 2012, there were college-age kids who couldn’t remember anyone else wearing a headset on the Eagles’ sideline.

That is a lot of familiarity, and we all know the connection between familiarity and contempt. Even level-headed Eagles fans who respect Reid and appreciate the years of quality football he delivered grew weary of his phlegmatic demeanor.

Every news conference began with Reid clearing his throat, listing injured players and then intoning, “Time’s yours.”

Every question about personnel issues? “We’ll be fine there.”

Every question about subpar performances? “I have to do a better job there.”

When a player screwed up? “I have to put them in better position to make plays.”

This was a persona the personable Reid deliberately presented to the public. When he was reeling off NFC East titles and establishing Lincoln Financial Field as a regular host for divisional playoffs and conference championship games, those little quirks were overlooked.

But when things went sideways, and they went very bad at the end, Reid had virtually no reservoir of goodwill from which to draw. He had drained it through terrible personnel moves and mind-searing decisions such as naming offensive line coach Juan Castillo his defensive coordinator.

So the hiring of Chip Kelly was universally welcomed simply because it was a change in the stale old narrative. Eagles fans immediately packed the Reid era into a box and stored it in their mental attic. They moved on as if Reid had been any four-years-and-gone coaching transient: Rich Kotite or Ray Rhodes or what’s-his-name, the guy after Dick Vermeil.

In that sense, Reid had come full circle. When he was hired in 1999, he had never even been a coordinator in the NFL. Fan reaction was summed up by two words: Andy Who? Now, in fans' rush to embrace change, Reid had become Andy Who? all over again.

Until Thursday night. "Big Red" is coming back, and in his Kansas City Chiefs garb, he looks even Bigger and certainly Redder. Just to spice things up, his team is 2-0. The only time Reid ever started a season 3-0 here was 2004, the year the Eagles went to the Super Bowl.

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia coach Chip Kelly
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/USA TODAY SportsEagles fans were quick to embrace Chip Kelly and the new ideas he brought to Philadelphia.
And Kelly? He was a combination of Elvis, the Beatles and the guy who invented sliced bread after the Eagles’ stunning season-opening, Monday-night win at Washington. He didn’t just win a football game, he was the anti-Andy -- Mr. Sports Science who invented his own offense instead of cribbing Mike Holmgren’s.

Reid wouldn’t run the ball unless both of his quarterbacks' arms were broken. Kelly ran the ball 49 times against Washington.

Reid wouldn’t adjust his game plan until both of his quarterbacks' arms were broken. Kelly’s scheme forces Michael Vick to make quick decisions and get rid of the ball.

Reid forever struggled against 3-4 defenses but insisted on running a 4-3 base. By 2012, his team was giving up 33 touchdown passes in 16 games. Kelly immediately implemented a 3-4, which confused and disrupted Washington’s offense.

Everything was better. The beer was colder. The high-def picture was clearer. Jon Gruden sounded like a good analyst instead of a constant reminder of that devastating loss in the 2002 NFC Championship Game.

Life was good. And then Kelly had to coach a second game.

Against San Diego on Sunday, the Eagles just kept winging deep passes to DeSean Jackson until he caught one. The run game disappeared. The defense might as well have had the offensive line coach running it. Kelly got into the red zone with a chance to win the game, failed to involve LeSean McCoy, mismanaged the clock and didn’t know he could use a timeout to keep Vick in the game for a crucial play after an injury stoppage.

If Reid had been standing on the sideline for all that, the caller boards at 97.5 The Fanatic would have burst into flame Monday morning.

And here are some exact quotes from Kelly after the 33-30 loss:

“We have to do a better job generating the pass rush.”

“We’ve got to coach them better and put them in positions to make plays.”

“That’s on me.”

“We left points out there offensively, too. We've got to do a better job of that.”

All that was missing was a “Time’s yours” and a joke about barbecue sauce on the play chart.

The lesson is not that Kelly is like Andy Reid, because he isn’t. The lesson isn’t that Eagles fans are doomed to relive the same seasons over and over, like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” because they aren’t.

The lesson is that many of those things that annoyed fans about Andy Reid are simply universal football coach things. He just happened to be the football coach in one city for a generation.

And it should be noted here, for the record, that he was one terrific football coach for most of that era. From 2000 through 2004, the only better place to be an NFL fan than Philadelphia was Foxborough, Mass. Andy Reid made that happen, and he deserves the respect and affection of Eagles fans for that.

If he’d won a Super Bowl -- and heaven knows he should have won one by accident, given the team’s consistent excellence -- that wouldn’t be an issue. It would have taken a big chunk of marble, but there would be an Andy Reid statue outside the Linc.

Instead, well, it is complicated. There was a chance Eagles fans would boo Reid on Thursday night because they’re so enamored with Kelly and his new approach. Now there’s a chance they’ll boo Reid because he’s 2-0 and doing just fine in his new gig.

Either way, there is respect at the heart of it. A boo under these unique circumstances is a Philadelphia salute. And the cheers -- which, rest assured, will drown out the boos -- speak for themselves.

Eagles made fourth-and-1 look routine

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
7:15
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PHILADELPHIA -- Over at Grantland, Bill Barnwell delved into something that struck me during that blur of a first quarter Monday night: the way the Eagles almost nonchalantly converted a fourth-and-1 on their opening drive.

You can and should read Barnwell’s take in his Thank You For Not Coaching column. He gets more into the probabilities of Chip Kelly’s going for it on fourth-and-short. But here’s the part that really echoed my thoughts:
When the Eagles faced that fourth-and-1, there was no confusion. Michael Vick didn't stare at Kelly for 15 seconds waiting for a play call. They didn't waste a timeout debating the percentages or trying to find the perfect play. The Eagles simply lined up immediately after their third-down snap and handed the ball to LeSean McCoy, who burst up the middle for four yards and a first down.

Barnwell is too nice to mention Andy Reid by name, but after 14 years, these comparisons are inevitable in Philadelphia. That is exactly how it would have looked with Reid on the sideline. That is, assuming Reid didn’t just do what many coaches would do: take the very makeable field goal and consider that a good opening drive.

That shouldn’t be read as a criticism of Big Red, either. Reid has won 224 more NFL games than Kelly has. He is just deliberate, let’s say, in situations like that. If Kelly is the latest microprocessor, Reid is a big old 1970s mainframe. He might make the same calculation, it just takes a bit longer.

“There’s two ways you can approach it,” center Jason Kelce said. “You can slow it down, try to get into a perfect play. You can speed up and try to catch them off guard. Most teams will run a quarterback sneak really quick, or they’ll call a timeout. It was a situational call. We knew the point of the call was to line up and get going. It was well done.”

Kelce said he actually made the wrong line call, pointing out the wrong linebacker, but the play was run so quickly and with such authority, it went for 4 yards and a first down.

Kelly faced a different fourth down situation late in the first quarter. The Eagles had a fourth-and-7 at the Washington 40. Kelly punted, and the ball went into the end zone for a touchback. Washington had 2 minutes left, but chose to kill time and get to the locker room.

Just a guess, but Kelly will look at that and strongly consider going for it next time he’s in a similar spot.
PHILADELPHIA – The mystery of Chip Kelly’s offense -- what it will look like and how he will adapt it for the NFL -- is the dominant storyline for the Philadelphia Eagles.

There is an equally mysterious aspect of the Eagles’ makeover. So mysterious, in fact, that even the man behind the curtain has no idea what it will look like.

If the world is wondering how Kelly’s offense will look when the Eagles debut at Washington on Monday night, Bill Davis is wondering how his own defense will look.

“Yeah, I'm very anxious for the Redskins to show us who we are and where we are,” Philadelphia's defensive coordinator said. “I don't know what's coming. The truth will be, at the end of that game, we will know defensively how far along we are. … No matter what I wish for or what I want -- doesn't matter. The game will show us who we are.”

At some level, Davis is probably trying to keep the expectations of a very demanding fan base low. But there is some real candor there, too. The Eagles' defense was terrible last season. Davis was Kelly’s choice to rebuild it. He is moving from a 4-3, “wide-9” base defense to a 3-4 hybrid with personnel who don't fit well in either scheme.

[+] EnlargeBill Davis
AP Photo/Matt RourkeBill Davis, in charge of making over the Eagles' defense, remains uncertain where that process stands.
So what do those mischief-makers at the league office give him? Robert Griffin III, arguably the most dynamic young quarterback in the game, and the league’s No. 1 rushing offense from last season, led by Alfred Morris. All on "Monday Night Football," with the whole world watching.

So yes, Davis will get a merciless assessment of his squad’s progress.

“They are very talented across the board,” Davis said of Washington's offense. “They played all 16 games together last year -- which is a huge advantage, to play in a system -- and we have to face that, and we have got to face it using an overhauled defense with new techniques that we have taught.”

Davis can take some consolation in the fact that there is nowhere for this defense to go but up. Griffin and Morris destroyed the Eagles last season, sweeping the season series and helping grease the skids for Andy Reid’s exit.

Connor Barwin was with the Houston Texans when Wade Phillips was brought in as defensive coordinator and installed a 3-4 scheme. Barwin, an outside linebacker who signed with the Eagles as a free agent, said it took until about Week 6 for the defense to run smoothly.

“It’s not unsettling at all,” Barwin said. “This is just the position we’re in. At one point, the Patriots were in this position. At one point, the Bengals, the Niners, the Texans were all in this position. You have to go through it to get where you want to be.”

Barwin said it was reasonable to believe the Eagles could be a “top-10 defense” this season. That might be a little ambitious, but there’s no harm in aiming high.

For Davis, the man charged with building this thing, it’s all about the process. And the first real game is a major stepping-stone.

“Wherever we start against Washington, good or bad or somewhere in the middle, it has to continue to get better by the 16th game,” Davis said. “This season has got to be about this defense getting to where everybody wants it to be. The Washington game is our starting point. I don't know where along the scale we are, but wherever that is, that's the ground level, and we have got to take it a lot higher than it is.”

Planning for unknown in Washington

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
12:52
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Michael Vick, Chip KellyDrew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesComing up with a game plan to stop Chip Kelly's Michael Vick-led offense won't be easy.
It is the NFL coaches' day to plan. They are preparing for their season opener, of course, but Chip Kelly and his brethren have had months to contemplate how to attack their first opponent -- and vice versa.

There are some unique aspects about the way the Eagles will prepare for Washington. It is Kelly’s first real NFL game after a preseason spent deciding exactly what he did and didn’t want to reveal about his offense. It is the first real outing for Bill Davis’ revamped defense. And although Washington is an all-too-familiar NFC East rival, there is some mystery about the health and effectiveness of quarterback Robert Griffin III in his return from ACL surgery.

Let’s start with the matchup that makes this game worthy of the season’s first Monday night slot: Kelly’s offense against coordinator Jim Haslett’s defense.

How will Haslett prepare for an offense he hasn’t seen? Can he even trust what he has seen, or has Kelly thrown some red herrings in the red zone? Haslett will no doubt study what Gus Bradley’s Jacksonville defense did early in that preseason game to confound the Eagles’ offensive linemen. When told that Haslett has said he studied Oregon’s offense for clues, Kelly saw the logic in that.

“We are different,” Kelly said, “but I would do the same thing. It's either watch Oregon tape or watch nothing. It's going to be a combination of [Oregon tape and] our preseason games. It's no different than when we have to prepare for the Chargers. You have to kind of look at what the history is. … That's commonplace, I think.”

My guess: With less certainty about scheme, Haslett will focus on what he does know best -- the players. If blitzing Michael Vick has worked in the past, then you blitz Vick until the Eagles show they can stop it. If being physical at the line with DeSean Jackson has taken him out of games, that’s what you do.

There can be a kind of self-fulfilling element to that. By attacking the areas he knows, Haslett could disrupt Kelly’s scheme enough to derail it for the night. It will be up to Kelly to anticipate Haslett’s approach and counter it.

The other side of the ball is nearly as perplexing. Unlike former coach Andy Reid, who hired defensive coordinator Jim Johnson because of the trouble Johnson gave Green Bay’s coaches, Kelly doesn’t run a common NFL offense. He never coached against Davis or any other coordinator on this level.

“I don't really look at it that way because I think what we do offensively is a little bit more unique,” Kelly said. “I think we want a defense that gives the majority of the teams we play problems, you know what I mean, so it's more of that aspect.”

As it turns out, practicing against Kelly’s offense all summer won’t be a total waste in Davis’ first game as Eagles coordinator. Griffin won’t be running the same system, of course, but there are at least some familiar elements.

The Eagles' defense is very much a work in progress, with Davis trying to figure out just how to deploy the players he has available. This defense isn’t ready yet to impose its will on another team. With three games in 11 days -- along with Philip Rivers, Alex Smith and Peyton Manning in the first month -- Davis will have to customize his schemes for each opponent.

Just as Haslett will attack Vick's known vulnerabilities, Davis surely will try to get Griffin on the move to test his quickness and willingness to be physical in his first live action since the knee surgery.

The true personality of this Eagles defense will have to emerge during the course of the season. There is no better foundation than early success.
The release of Danny Watkins says nearly as much about the Philadelphia Eagles as it does Watkins himself.

With the hiring of Chip Kelly, there is no more need to rationalize the mistakes of the Andy Reid era. Watkins, fairly or otherwise, became symbolic of that era’s final unraveling.

His release wasn’t even surprising. The only eyebrows raised Saturday were at the departures of wide receiver Russell Shepard and tight end/receiver Clay Harbor. They both had better preseasons than Watkins. The Eagles also released safety David Sims and offensive tackle Michael Bamiro.

The Eagles were a playoff team in 2010. Going into the 2011 draft, they were looking to fill a few key needs in order to remain a perennial contender. With the 23rd pick, they took Watkins, a guard from Baylor with an unusual backstory: A Canadian, Watkins didn’t start playing football until he was 22 years old. He was a 26-year-old rookie.

The Eagles went 8-8 in 2011. They went 4-12 last year. Reid was fired. Kelly was hired.

Of the 11 players taken in that draft, just 30 months ago, only center Jason Kelce and kicker Alex Henery are in the starting lineup. Fifth-round pick Julian Vandervelde, who was released last year and re-signed, is the backup center.

Second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett is long gone. He started at safety for the Jets Thursday night. Third-round cornerback Curtis Marsh and fourth-round linebacker Casey Matthews are on the bubble and could be gone by opening day.

Watkins started 12 games as an overmatched rookie. He started six games last season. He never clicked with Howard Mudd, the coach Reid brought in to revamp the offensive line’s approach. With Kelly and new line coach Jeff Stoutland, Watkins was pretty much a non-entity all summer.

Now he’s gone and, with him, so is another reminder of what went wrong under Reid.

As for other known cuts:

Harbor became endangered in May, when Kelly asked him to work out at linebacker during OTAs. He moved back to tight end, then started taking reps at wide receiver early in camp.

Shepard got a really close look this summer. He seemed like a good bet to make the 53-man roster.

The 6-foot-8, 340-pound Bamiro was not eligible for the draft. The Eagles signed him in July. With his size and natural ability, he will almost certainly be on the practice squad if he clears waivers.

Sims started one game at safety last season. He never really became a factor in what turned out to be a lackluster competition for a starting job.

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