The Philadelphia Eagle defense came up small against an elite offense. Again. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
The Eagles most glaring weakness was exposed. When Jason Garrett implements a game plan to gut your defense, you’ve got issues. No one should be surprised. Chip Kelly opted not to address the ineptitude of his secondary all season. Whether through the draft or free agency, Kelly only added Malcom Jenkins to a subpar defensive backfield. After last season we knew Bradley Fletcher, Nate Allen and Cary Williams weren’t capable of containing, or even limiting, competent receivers. Throughout the 2014 season, Kelly has refused to adjust the lineup. On Sunday night, Fletcher was badly beaten on three TD passes to Dez Bryant before the Eagles moved Fletcher off of Bryant.
Kelly deserves a lot of blame for the Eagles defense. Connor Barwin has been the only significant addition to the defense in Kelly’s two years. Malcolm Jenkins has been inconsistent at best. Other than that, Kelly has whiffed on the defensive side of the ball. (Hello, Patrick Chung, Nolan Carroll, Earl Wolff.) In fact, look up and down the Eagles defense. You’ll find Kelly inherited the most consistent and talented players. Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Brandon Boykin were all a product of Andy Reid’s tenure. It’s possible Bill Davis sat in Kelly’s office over the summer and argued his secondary was fine as is, but I highly doubt that. This is on Kelly. His offense could score 40 points a game and the Eagles would still lose to the elite teams in the league.
In fact, look at the Eagles resume in two years under Chip Kelly. Want to know their record against playoff teams? 3-8. One of those wins came against the Packers in 2013 without Aaron Rodgers. Another was the controversial victory over Indianapolis this past September. The 3rd victory came at the expense of an immobile Tony Romo on a short Thanksgiving week. There’s no denying Chip Kelly’s Eagles struggle to beat good teams. If you’re new to sports, beating good teams is a requirement to winning championships.
Why do Kelly’s Eagles struggle to beat good teams? Defense. The Buffalo Bills just faced Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers in back-to-back weeks. Neither MVP quarterback threw a touchdown pass. Their teams scored a combined 37 points. Neither quarterback exceeded 200 yards. Both threw two interceptions. When Manning and Rodgers played Kelly’s Eagles, they each surpassed 300 yards despite sitting most of the final quarter. Both had three or more TD passes and no interceptions. Their teams each scored more than 50 points.
I’m not saying you must have an elite defense to compete. Like the Eagles, the Bills will also likely miss the playoffs. There’s a necessary balance that must be met. While defense is critical, unless you’re a legendarily great defense like the Ravens in 2000, a capable offense is required for success.
Kelly is an offensive wizard. He could construct a capable offense with Bobby Hoying at the helm. A capable offense will never be the problem under Kelly. Ultimately, for Kelly and the Eagles to have the success they seek, they’ll need a defense to take them there. This was Andy Reid’s undoing in Philadelphia. For years his teams competed deep into the playoffs behind elite defenses and semi-capable offenses. Only when Reid started putting together record-breaking offenses did the Eagles become wildly inconsistent from year-to-year. (The death of Jim Johnson was certainly a factor, too.) If you don’t employ an elite level quarterback, you’re spinning your wheels if you’re not building an elite defense. That’s where the Eagles stand now.
In fairness to Kelly, it appears he is at least trying to build a defense. In two drafts the Eagles have picked 10 defensive players. Unfortunately, only Bennie Logan sees the field on a regular basis, and that includes 2014’s top pick Marcus Smith. Obviously, draft classes are best-graded three or four years down the road, but the early results are not good. It’s one thing for young defensive players to get stonewalled on a great defense like Seattle or Buffalo’s. This Eagles defense is nowhere near that level. The fact Kelly’s picks still can’t crack the rotation is discouraging at best.
Looking ahead, the chances of Kelly landing an elite franchise quarterback are slim at best. That guy is definitely not on the roster now. The Eagles are too talented to bottom out. Perhaps Kelly could cherry-pick a good quarterback and elevate him to elite status as the Saints did with Drew Brees. Who knows. What we know for certain is the Eagles can’t compete until the defense, more specifically, the secondary, is able to hang with the more potent offenses in the league. As their 3-8 record against playoff teams proves, they’re nowhere close yet.