Kelly's offense is fine, except for the turnovers
Chip Kelly lost more turnover-differential battles than he did games during his four seasons as Oregon's head coach.
But of the 11 games in which the Ducks had more giveaways than takeaways, never was the margin five, as it was Thursday night when the Eagles coughed up a 26-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Kelly said he would focus on the positives as the 1-2 Birds look to rebound Sunday in Denver against the Broncos. Insignificant as it may seem, a loss by only 10 points despite the 5-0 disparity in turnovers could be viewed as encouraging.
The Eagles didn't lose because the Chiefs had discovered the formula for stopping Kelly's up-tempo offense. They lost because of turnovers and Kansas City's superior execution and individual achievement, especially on defense.
It's going to take more than one difficult NFL loss for Kelly to lose confidence in his system.
"I don't look at it [as though] this worked in college, it doesn't work here," Kelly said Friday. "It's still 11-on-11 football. The game [Thursday] was a prime example of it. The game of football comes down to it, no matter how you want to slice it, one-on-one battles."
Kelly's offense, as fractured as it was by mistakes, still manufactured 431 yards of total offense, 6.8 yards a play and 260 yards on the ground. LeSean McCoy rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries even though he played on a sprained ankle in the second half.
The scheme wasn't exposed as much as the Eagles' lack of a true No. 2 receiver, their rookie right tackle's inexperience, and their quarterback's inconsistencies were laid bare. The Chiefs knew the Eagles' weak spots, and they pressured them.
They played man-to-man defense in the secondary with a single high safety and rushed primarily only four players. With talented cornerback Brandon Flowers on DeSean Jackson, the Chiefs shaded the safety toward the wide receiver who had burned the Redskins and Chargers for 297 receiving yards in the first two games.
"They were leaning heavily towards him," Kelly said, "which I would do, too."
That left receivers Riley Cooper and Jason Avant and tight end Brent Celek singled up, but for the most part all three couldn't get separation. It was the first game it could be said that Jeremy Maclin's season-ending knee injury hindered the Eagles.
Cooper has his strengths. His size makes him a threat in the red zone, and he is an above-average downfield blocker. The latter skill makes it unlikely that reserve Damaris Johnson will steal many of his snaps. The same could be said of tight end Zach Ertz, who is still behind Celek in terms of blocking ability.
But Kelly may have to shake up his personnel if defenses continue to play the Eagles straight up in the secondary. Johnson's speed and elusiveness and Ertz's route running could counter man-to-man defenses.
There are also ways within Kelly's scheme to take advantage of man-to-man defense, but if the offensive line can't contain a four-man rush, it restricts passing opportunities.
The Chiefs didn't need to blitz much - they sent extra rushers on only 6 of 37 drops - because their front four alone was getting to Michael Vick. The Eagles' line spent much of its time doubling nose tackle Dontari Poe, thus singling up its tackles against outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
Left tackle Jason Peters struggled against Hali, and rookie Lane Johnson kept getting beaten by Houston on the other side in pass protection. Johnson is going to have his bad games. The Eagles will have to live with his learning curve, but they can help him out with a tight end or the occasional chip block.
A sizable portion of Kelly's offense involves quick-hitting throws, such as bubble screens or pop passes. But press-man defense can often restrict those throws, as the Chiefs did.
"But it's a catch-22 for people," Kelly said. "If you are going to do that, we have the opportunity like we did with DeSean going over the top."
However, Jackson caught only one pass beyond 20 yards - a 40-yard strike late in the third quarter. And Vick, for the most part, didn't have time in the pocket for slow-developing pass plays.
Kelly's offense is designed to exploit one area if another is taken away. And you saw that when Vick ran 61 yards in the first quarter. The Eagles spread four of their receivers out, and the Chiefs, playing man-to-man, had only six defenders in the box.
The play was in the read-option, and when Vick carried out the fake to the running back, he drew the unblocked defender toward Bryce Brown. The linemen executed their blocks, and the only free defender was the single high safety. Vick was 10 yards downfield before the safety came up, and when the safety took a bad angle, the quarterback was off.
Kelly called about a dozen read-option plays and 24 run plays to 39 pass attempts. The argument could be made that he didn't call enough on the ground, especially when the Eagles had second and third down and 3 at the Chiefs 11 in the third quarter.
But the Eagles trailed throughout, and Kelly's up-tempo offense never got in rhythm because of the early turnovers.
It's fair to question Kelly on multiple fronts - his team's preparedness, his play-calling - but there aren't any offensive schemes that overcome a 5-0 turnover edge.
Contact Jeff McLane at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.