Maclin perfect example of culture Kelly wants on Eagles

112414-mccoy-maclin-600
Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

If the culture of the locker room translates directly to the playing field, as Chip Kelly likes to say, then it's easy by now to see why Kelly chose to roll the dice on the recovery of Jeremy Maclin rather than live through another season with talented diva DeSean Jackson as his featured wide receiver.

Jackson brings a lot to the table, but he can also knock over glasses and use the wrong silverware once he's there. Kelly said that releasing Jackson after a great season was solely a football decision, and, from his point of view, that's exactly what it was - because the culture controls the football.

It might be a different story right now if Maclin had reinjured his twice-repaired knee, or if the offense ground to a halt, but the decision has been borne out in ways that are obvious and in ways that aren't.

The Eagles are 9-3, in control of the NFC East, and Maclin is having a career year as he plays for a new contract. All of those things are related. He's been able to put up the numbers steadily despite an offensive line that hasn't always been able to provide the time needed for deeper routes, and despite running patterns for a pair of quarterbacks who don't always have the arm strength to get the ball way down there.

Kelly has made it work, though, scheming crossing routes and slant routes and receiver screens and all manner of wrinkles to spring Maclin. On Thursday, Kelly found spacious gaps in a porous Dallas zone defense, and Mark Sanchez played pitch-and-catch to open receivers all afternoon.

Maclin caught eight passes for 108 yards - his fourth 100-yard game of the season - and broke off a 58-yard highlight when one of those routes popped him into the open field with room to maneuver and he slipped several tackles along the way.

Poll

Which running back is more dangerous?

This was a game for the wide receivers and slot receiver Jordan Matthews. Maclin, Riley Cooper, and Matthews combined to catch 16 of the 20 completions. The Cowboys were forced to honor play-action fakes to the running backs in deference to a running game that racked up 256 yards. The tight ends mostly blocked.

In other games, against other defenses, Kelly draws it up differently, but with each big game for Maclin - and each one for LeSean McCoy - figuring out the plan gets more difficult for opposing defenses.

"We have a lot of work to do moving forward," Maclin said. "We got our butts handed to us at [Green Bay's] Lambeau Field, but we have a great team, and I'm excited about moving forward."

For the season, Maclin has already surpassed his career highs in receptions and yardage and is only one touchdown from equaling that career high. He has 71 catches for 1,088 yards with nine touchdowns. In 2010, he had 70 catches for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns.

He has done it with a remarkable calm, considering his decision to take a one-year contract before this season and let his play dictate his future. Maclin's only display of emotion came last week, when Cooper joked that his opportunities were being limited because Maclin was playing for a contract and refused to come off the field. Maclin didn't appreciate another player commenting on his personal business and said so.

The rest of the locker room noticed that one, but stayed out of it. Maclin is as respected a veteran as the Eagles have, and perhaps more so because he did have the courage to take his case to the field. For all those reasons, he is a big part of the culture Kelly wanted to create.

A good instance of that effect has been the arrival of Matthews, a rookie who runs fearlessly over the middle and is a perfect target for Sanchez's mid-range passes. Matthews has gone to school under Maclin and seems to approach his job the same way. Suffice it to say that DeSean Jackson was not regarded as the same sort of mentor for young talent.

"The best part is just the example he gives me. There is some stuff off the field that he helps me with that people don't get to see," Matthews said. "They just see the end result at the game. It's a relationship that will continue to grow. I've got to continue to watch him, work on my craft, and try to get better to help the team."

That is the sort of thing coaches like to hear, and it's also the sort of thing they can't coach. It has to happen from within the locker room.

So, after the Dallas game, Maclin was allowed to do something Kelly never does. He was asked about the 1,000-yard season and the reception record and all the personal milestones that don't seem to impress him. What would get his attention?

"Just holding up that trophy at the end of the season is going to mean a lot," he said.

That's not in keeping with the coach's one-week-at-a-time mantra, but no one cared this time. If Jeremy Maclin said it, it must be OK. He's earned the right to create a little culture of his own.

 


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports