By David F. Cohen
The 2014 Eagles looked like the 2013 Eagles on Friday.
From an offensive perspective, that’s great as Philly had its way (an opening-drive fumble aside) with the New England defense while QB Nick Foles shook off last week’s shaky showing.
However, a Philly defense that’s supposed to be better with S Malcolm Jenkins, first-round OLB Marcus Smith and a full year in Billy Davis’ 3-4 scheme looked as overmatched as it was last year.
The Patriots had little difficulty shredding it for nearly 500 yards, and if not for New England’s special teams miscues and Williams’ gift TD, the Eagles probably would have been blown out of Gillette Stadium.
And after the game Birds coach Chip Kelly (photo above) went ballistic in the locker room about the number of penalties the Birds ran up.
Of course, that is bound to happen when a team collects a whopping 10 penalties for 85 yards.
“You could tell that he was frustrated,” cornerback Cary Williams said of Kelly’s message to the players. “You could tell that he was upset about it. He wasn’t very happy about the way we played.”
There were plenty of reasons for Kelly to be upset, as the team turned the ball over, allowed 43 points, and failed to get the ball moving on offense in the first half.
More than anything, however, it sounds like his players inability to adjust to the new rules was what got under the coach’s skin.
“If you can’t play within the rules, you can’t play in the NFL,” said Kelly. “That’s just the bottom line. You’re just handing people first downs. We better figure it out.”
Last season, the Eagles won games and made the playoffs by not making mistakes or silly penalties. The Eagles were 14th in the league last season in penalties called, being flagged 99 times in 16 games.
So far, in two preseason games, the Eagles have collected 19 penalties. If that pace keeps up in the regular season, the team will collect 152 penalties — which would have been the most in the league last season.
“I said earlier, whichever team ends up being the most disciplined team from a penalty standpoint is gonna be at a big advantage in this league,” Kelly said. “And so it’s a challenge to everybody. We’ve all gotta figure it out.”
One player who has a tougher time adjusting than others is slot cornerback Brandon Boykin. Playing on the inside, where the play is more physical, makes it tougher for Boykin to adjust to the new emphasis on defensive players making contact with the receivers.
“There is no leeway,” Boykin said. “It isn’t 5-and-a-half yards, it isn’t six yards — it’s five yard. If you touch them after five yards, they are going to call it.”
Which is why, if the Eagles are going to compete for a playoff spot this season, they need to clean it up no matter how hard it will be — something their head coach made very, very clear.
“He said he’s frustrated about penalties,” Williams said. “He said that he wanted us to be better. We don’t practice like that. We shouldn’t play like that. We’ve gotta get our butts in gear and do something about it.”