By Andrew Garda, Sports on Earth
A good coach tends to have a bit of an ego. A great coach, though, puts that ego aside and changes things when they’re not working.
This past week against the Saints, it appears as though Eagles head coach Chip Kelly understood that. The result was an Eagles blowout win.
Philly was 1-3 heading into the game, fresh off a loss to Washington and mired at the bottom of a division they had been expected to run away with. Kelly, who some had labeled a football genius prior to the season, suddenly looked out of his depth.
Many NFL coaches would continue to approach things the same way, sure that if they just executed a little better, their schemes would work out. Kelly took a different approach, and it paid dividends.
First, Kelly put the kibosh, for the most part, on the up-tempo pace. This isn’t to say he had the offense huddle up on every play — on the contrary, the Eagles still frequently went no-huddle — but rather he didn’t push the offense to go 100 miles an hour.
This allowed quarterback Sam Bradford to take a moment to scan the field and adjust what he was doing with pre-snap reads. And while Bradford still made two big mistakes, which resulted in red zone interceptions (and threw at least two more passes that should have been picked off), he still had one of his better games.
Bradford is a huge question mark, but Kelly put him in a much better position to succeed by removing the pressure of the high-octane, rapid-pace offense that had clearly been overwhelming him.
Doing that was the right move, but not one every coach can bring himself to do (for example, check out the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll and his use of tight end Jimmy Graham).
Another situation in which Kelly changed his methods to considerable success was his use of running back DeMarco Murray.
It’s not overstating it to say that, prior to the game against the Saints, the Murray signing looked like a disaster. Not only did he miss time due to injury (no shock given his 397-carry workload in 2014), but when he did carry the ball he looked terrible, amassing just 47 yards and one touchdown on 29 carries.
Week 5 was a whole different ballgame. Murray looked far more comfortable, as he consistently moved the chains, totaling 89 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
What was different? Well, Kelly did two things that seemed to go against the way he wanted things run just a week earlier.
First, he ran a lot of Murray’s carries with Bradford under center. Previously, Bradford was handing the ball to Murray out of the shotgun, which didn’t seem to allow Murray to get going before contact. Murray is smoother and more comfortable taking the ball from Bradford when the quarterback comes out from under center and was more effective on those runs.
The other aspect of the ground game Kelly changed was the type of plays he called. A lot more were set up to send Murray outside, and the results were very positive.
It helped that the offensive line had one of its better days blocking, but Kelly got away from the inside runs as well, which allowed Murray to react to the line and get outside where he could do more in space.
Of course, Kelly still ran Murray through the interior gaps and, more often than not, those plays failed, because even the weak Saints front line was too much for the interior of the Eagles offensive line. On those plays, Murray was forced to bounce the ball outside, but that’s when linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties were already moving up to contain the play.
Murray isn’t a guy who excels through the “1” or “2” holes — he needs to go off-tackle. He just doesn’t accelerate quickly enough to find the small seams this line creates (when it can create them).
Send Murray outside or give him some help by pulling a guard in a trap play and he’s much better.
Analyst Charles Davis mentioned such changes on the broadcast.
“What are we noticing?” Davis asked. “Chip Kelly is deviating his play-calling. It’s not just a zone read inside, not just a handoff inside on first down, he’s trying to throw the running lanes open.”
In other words, rather than force Murray (and to a lesser extent Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles) to pound the rock early to set up the pass, he used the pass to set up and clear the run. This had some hiccups — Bradford’s two red-zone interceptions being the biggest ones — but, overall, was successful.
When the Saints moved safeties up and added extra bodies to the line, Bradford was able to burn them with a short pass or a screen.
That pulled New Orleans back off the line and made it easy for Murray to find room to run.
One game doesn’t mean all is well with the Eagles, or that these changes will stick for future weeks. But a moment of success could get Kelly to move back to his previous plays and schemes against the Giants Monday night. The ego could get in the way again, as it does with so many coaches.
However, if Kelly is open to the idea that he can make mistakes — then adjusts to those errors — a division title is well within reach for this Eagles team.
Kelly just needs to keep admitting that he might not know everything.