PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly’s vision has not made the transition to reality after a quarter of the Philadelphia Eagles' season.
Kelly signed two free agent running backs -- DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews -- to replace LeSean McCoy. In Kelly’s vision, Murray and Mathews would be more effective than McCoy in his offensive scheme. Their styles -- Kelly described them as "downhill, one-cut" runners -- would work better than McCoy’s tendency to approach the line tentatively, looking for a wider hole to open.
Kelly’s vision relied on the Eagles’ offensive line being as effective as it was in 2013. That year, McCoy led the NFL in rushing. In 2014, injuries affected the line and that in turn affected McCoy. His numbers, while still good, were down.
McCoy averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2013. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry in 2014.
Four games into the 2015 season, Mathews is averaging 4.0 yards per carry. That’s less than McCoy’s average last season, and more than a yard less than his 2013 average. But that’s quibbling compared to Murray’s performance so far.
After playing in three games and missing one with a hamstring injury, Murray is averaging 1.6 yards per carry.
That has created a public discussion about whether Kelly should use Mathews more than Murray, or whether Kelly should fully commit and give Murray 20 to 25 carries per game.
"If you have 22 carries for zero yards, we better call another play," Kelly said. "You know what I mean? So, I mean, I would love to get everybody in a right lather and going, but when we're not having success running the ball at all, then it's tough to say, 'Hey, we're just going to make sure we get him 22 carries and he's lathered up.' I mean, it's the entire group. And it's not just one player that's involved in it; it's the entire group involved in us being successful rushing the football."
Offensive tackle Lane Johnson put it even more directly.
"The line has dug a very deep hole and pretty much put everybody else in it," Johnson said. "So we’ve got to find a way to get everybody else out and find a way out of this mess. A quarter of the way through this season, we’re not where we want to be, but there’s still a lot of games left to be played."
That’s the part of Kelly’s vision that was underrated. He was imagining more direct, more aggressive running backs hitting the holes opened by the offensive line in 2013 and 2014. Along with switching running backs, Kelly also changed the makeup of the line. Two new starting guards were inserted, which changed the chemistry at all five offensive line spots. Before the new starting five could develop its own chemistry, several players were injured.
Johnson and left tackle Jason Peters expect to play Sunday against New Orleans. That will help as the line tries to develop the continuity it needs to be effective. Once that happens, the Eagles can find out how the running backs really look. And everyone can finally get a sense of how Kelly’s vision will work.