PHILADELPHIA -- It has been an ongoing theme in Chip Kelly’s first season as head coach of the Eagles: He represents a new era here, but he’s still coming into the middle of a long-standing conversation started by Andy Reid.
We saw another example of that this week, as Kelly channeled Reid in his offensive play calling at Minnesota. LeSean McCoy got only eight carries in a 48-30 Eagles loss. Kelly’s explanation – the Eagles thought they could exploit the Vikings in the pass game, then fell behind – was like a Reid recording played at fast-forward speed.
What becomes interesting, then, is what happens next. It is one thing for a coach to explain and defend a strategy. It is another for him to cling to it out of some stubborn insistence that he will be proven right. For years, that’s what it felt like Reid was doing.
But Kelly has a very different personality. He seems genuinely willing to take chances and then adjust his thinking based on the results.
“He learns, too,” quarterback Nick Foles said. “He’s going to learn through these things, too, just like I learn from making mistakes or doing good things. I’m going to go with my coach. I’m going to be right there with him. That’s how this is going to work. I have his back and he has my back.”
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur took the position that the postgame stat sheet doesn’t paint the whole picture.
“We do what we have to do to win the game,” Shurmur said. “Sometimes you run it more than you throw it. Sometimes you throw it more than you run it. What happens is, everybody, after the game is over, looks at the numbers and says, ‘That's why you didn't win.’ We do what we have to do to win the game.”
The trouble with that is that plenty of people were questioning the lack of McCoy runs in real time. Thanks to social media and ESPN.com’s in-game chat sessions, there is a record of that. It wasn’t a matter of second guessing after the stat sheet appeared. Media and fans alike were wondering in real time why Kelly wasn’t using McCoy.
“We were behind, as you know,” Shurmur said. “We felt like we had favorable matchups throwing the football as well. They were down to their fourth and fifth corner. I think that plays into it. Then there were a couple times when we certainly might have handed him the ball where Nick pulled it. A couple times runs were called where we threw bubble [screens]. When you just kind of look at it after the game on one piece of paper, there's also the rest of the story.”
There is nothing wrong with a strategy designed to exploit as glaring a weakness as the Vikings’ backup cornerbacks. But with Foles off to a shaky start and the Eagles defense spending way too much time on the field, Kelly needed to adjust a bit. Not scrap the plan, just work in a little more McCoy in order to take up some time and slow down the Vikings pass rush.
Minnesota’s game plan was obviously similar, calling for Matt Cassel to attack the Eagles secondary. But the Vikings also ran the ball 35 times. That includes 17 first-half runs, when they were building rather than protecting their lead.
“We don’t have to feed me the ball 30 times to win the game,” McCoy said.
It is worth noting that the Eagles did not win the game. So it will be interesting to see how Kelly approaches this week’s game against the Bears, an opponent that has had trouble stopping the run all season.
“It’s a big game,” McCoy said. “I feel like the matchup is there.”