PHILADELPHIA -- In the wake of former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Cary Williams' assertion that Chip Kelly got outcoached in crucial games last season, it seemed appropriate to see whether there is any substance to Williams’ claims.
There are two areas of contention here. First, Williams’ belief that Kelly’s high-tempo practices wore the Eagles out for games seems consistent with the team’s December fade. The Eagles lost three consecutive games, dropping from 9-3 and first place in the NFC East to 9-5 and out of the playoffs. Could that have been a result of working too hard in practice all season?
Maybe, but doubtful. Kelly adjusts his practices constantly, accounting for player feedback, time of year and other factors. In 2013, the Eagles went 7-1 in the second half of the season, rising from 3-5 to 10-6 and the division title. Their biggest game of the 2013 season, the finale against the Dallas Cowboys, was a resounding victory.
In 2014, the Eagles’ slide seemed to have more to do with the schedule than with fatigue. The Eagles won their Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas, then had to play Seattle, Dallas again and Washington over the next three weeks.
They lost to Seattle, which was similar to previous losses to Arizona, Green Bay and San Francisco. The suspicion is the Eagles lost to contending teams because they just weren’t as good as those teams. Maybe Kelly could have come up with some new offensive strategy to surprise those opponents, but overall, the Eagles lost to better teams.
Seattle was better. With a healthy Tony Romo, Dallas was better. That pattern broke when the Eagles played at Washington in their next-to-last game. That was a game the Eagles should have won.
If there was a coaching element during this stretch, it was in Williams’ own area. Kelly gives defensive coordinator Bill Davis a lot of control of his unit. Davis believed cornerback Bradley Fletcher’s confidence was shaken but that Fletcher could play his way out of it. He couldn’t, allowing Romo to throw three touchdown passes to Dez Bryant in that loss to the Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field.
Fletcher was back on the field against Washington the next week. He got burned for a couple big plays by DeSean Jackson. Quarterback Mark Sanchez, starting his seventh game of the season, also threw a killer interception that ended the Eagles’ last chance to take control of the game.
The lineup decisions in the secondary were questionable, but the real problem was in personnel. If Nolan Carroll is good enough to compete for a starting cornerback job this season, it’s hard to understand why he wasn’t good enough to play instead of Fletcher down the stretch last season. And the coaches may prefer Brandon Boykin as a nickel corner, but refusing to use him while the season burns to the ground seems a little misguided.
Again, Kelly could have stepped in and made those calls. If he delegated to Davis, that’s fine, but it doesn’t absolve him of all responsibility. Being the head coach means being accountable.
Kelly has cleared the roster of Fletcher, Williams and Nate Allen. He has replaced defensive backs coach John Lovett with Cory Undlin. Clearly, Kelly saw there were problems in that area.
To say the Eagles lost those three games because Kelly was outcoached seems like a reach. Kelly would probably like a do-over in those games. Any coach would. But his options were limited by his personnel, which explains why he has changed his personnel so dramatically this offseason.