PHILADELPHIA -- There’s an old saying that sums up a superior head coach: He can beat your team with his team, and he can take your team and beat you coaching his team.
That comes close to describing what happened to Eagles coach Chip Kelly in his first NFL playoff game Saturday night. Kelly's otherwise impressive debut season ended by getting schooled by Saints head coach Sean Payton and his staff.
The Eagles were the team with the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL. Payton turned the tables, running the ball down the Eagles’ throats. The Eagles' defense prided itself on stopping the run first, but it was the Saints' defense that rendered LeSean McCoy a non-factor for much of the game.
The Saints focused on stopping McCoy and DeSean Jackson, the Eagles’ two most dangerous weapons. Kelly couldn’t find a way to unleash them or to beat the Saints with other players.
“They were running downhill,” Kelly said. “If you told [me] going in we were going to hold Jimmy Graham to three catches, I thought that would be a pretty good deal. But give them credit. They did a really good job of running the football against us, which was a little bit uncharacteristic of us. We’ve done a pretty good job of that all year long.”
Not Saturday. The Saints rushed for 185 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
“That is on me,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “I made the calls so their passing game wouldn’t result in big plays. There was a lot more split safety and pass-oriented calls. Some of the runs leaked out. I could have called more of a run-heavy defensive game and shut that down, but we were trying to keep the points down and the big plays off us.”
The Saints scored 26 points – 20 in the second half – and had four plays of more than 20 yards.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles couldn’t really explain why McCoy was held to 77 yards on 21 carries. That’s 3.7 yards per carry, 1.4 yards below his regular-season average.
“Early on, there was some miscommunication,” center Jason Kelce said. “The first two drives in particular, guys didn’t understand where the point [of attack] was or who they had [to block]. There would be lanes open, but they would close right away.”
That sounds like the trenches-level view of an offense that was confused and surprised by what the defense was doing. And that is coaching.
“I’ll give credit to [Saints defensive coach] Rob Ryan,” Kelly said. “Rob did a nice job. They had a really good game plan.”
Coaching is also about adjusting within the game. In the first half, the Eagles had targeted Jackson only once. The ball was thrown well over his head.
“We tried,” Kelly said. “The first couple of plays at the beginning of the second half were trying to get the ball to him, but we took sacks again and didn’t get the ball out in time.”
The Eagles’ first two possessions after the coaches made halftime adjustments netted minus-9 yards. The Saints’ first two possessions of the second half netted 119 yards and two touchdowns.
The Eagles’ two second-half touchdown drives consisted mostly of two jump balls thrown to Jackson. When Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis got hurt, quarterback Nick Foles attacked his replacement, Corey White. Jackson caught the first one for a 40-yard gain. White committed a 40-yard pass interference penalty on the second.
The penalty set up the Eagles’ go-ahead touchdown with just under five minutes left in the game. They never got the ball back. Just as the Eagles had sustained long time-killing drives in Green Bay and Tampa, when the opponent knew they were running and couldn’t do anything about it, the Saints ran the clock down to zero and won the game.
"That was the story of the game," Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. "This was the wrong time to give up [rushing yards]. It was way too much and it showed on that last drive."
Payton didn’t beat Kelly with his own team, but he came close. He beat Kelly with his own philosophy.