Eagles offense is lacking in leadership
As dysfunctional messes go, the 2013 Eagles have a long way to travel before they top the 2012 Andy Reid farewell edition. Since Chip Kelly didn't hire an offensive line coach to be a defensive coordinator and the head coach is expected to be back in 2014, it's unlikely that this year's team will come close to matching the firestorm that engulfed the locker room a year ago.
We have, however, reached a critical juncture in Kelly's inaugural season. Any team caught in an avalanche of losses is at risk of falling apart at the seams regardless of how long the coach has been around. Kelly, at least outwardly, isn't helping the situation, either.
Among the many questions about how the coach operated in Sunday's 15-7 loss to the New York Giants was his play call just before halftime. With the Eagles in a first-and-goal situation from the 2-yard line, Kelly called a timeout. He said he wanted to calm the situation down, especially for rookie quarterback Matt Barkley, who had replaced Michael Vick at the start of that drive.
"We went to the first play we were going to run in the low red zone," Kelly said Monday. "Every player on our team knew what we were going to run first down there. We just didn't execute it."
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There's no denying the last sentence. The play - a naked bootleg to the left - resulted in a sack, a Barkley fumble and a turnover that left the Eagles trailing by 12-0 at halftime. Whether Kelly wants to admit it or not, a better first-down play would have been handing the ball to LeSean McCoy, his best player on offense. More disturbing, however, is what Barkley said after practice Tuesday.
"I never got a rep with that play," the quarterback said. "You see it on film and you see other guys doing it, so you go through it in your head, but the timing of getting it out [with] someone coming off the edge like that, you just haven't experienced it yet. So as much as you want to go through your reads and knowing when to get the ball out, it's different until you get out there. The more experience, the more you learn."
Hopefully, that's true about Barkley and Kelly. What's absolutely true right now is that the Eagles' offense is in need of some leadership. Some of that obviously falls on Kelly, who has little margin for error as a play caller because of the revolving quarterback situation.
But some of it also falls on the players, especially McCoy and DeSean Jackson, the two best offensive players on the team. If things do not go well, they cannot feel sorry for themselves.
At the start of this season, this was clearly Vick's offense and team. McCoy and Jackson were stoked when Vick won the quarterback competition in training camp. They had followed his career as younger men and respected his work as a teammate and leader. Now Vick is sidelined by a hamstring injury, and leaders who cannot play lose their luster.
"I think we have a lot of leaders on our offense," center Jason Kelce said. "I think it's kind of an old-school theory that you have to have one leader. I think leadership is something that when you're a really good team, it comes from a lot of guys. We've had a lot of guys on this offense who have been here before and been here a while and they know how to keep the spirits where they need to be and keep people focused and on track."
Spirits should have been lifted in the locker room Tuesday when Nick Foles was cleared to return to practice after missing last week's game because of a concussion. The Eagles' chances of going to Oakland and beating the Raiders will significantly increase with Foles starting ahead of Barkley. And Foles once again has a chance to prove he can be Kelly's quarterback beyond the 2013 season, something that should not be dismissed just because he produced a clunker against the Dallas Cowboys.
Foles' challenge, however, goes beyond hitting receivers in stride and McCoy on screen passes that turn into big gains, two things he did well in consecutive victories over the New York Giants and Tampa Bay before being cussed and concussed against the Cowboys.
"I think being a quarterback and the quarterback of the team, you have to show them that you are a leader," Foles said. "But that comes with time and that comes with your work ethic and what you do on the field. . . . I know I respect everyone on this team and I know they respect me."
Foles agreed that leaders show up more in the turbulent times, and the Eagles are navigating some shaky air right now.
"I've played this position a long time and I've been a guy in the past who my teammates have looked to on every level I've played," Foles said. "Leadership is when the team is down and it looks like the sky is falling, you have to be the guy during practice who keeps the guys going and making sure everything is up-tempo. No matter what, you can't be down. You have to motivate them. That's what a leader is and in these situations you need them more than ever."