By David F. Cohen

It is only January 16, just 19 days since the Eagles’ season ended at 10-6 with a win over the New York Giants.

So as the NFL’s Final Four prepare to battle on Sunday for the NFC and AFC titles, Eagles Nation is left to ruminate and debate who the quarterback will be when the Birds open the 2015 season in September.

Can coach Chip Kelly’s offense succeed at a championship level without an elite quarterback, which also is almost impossible to accomplish these days?

And finally, is the right quarterback on the team now?

Forget the defense and the rebuilding job that will have to be undertaken to literally get the secondary up to speed. Forget about getting that extra elite wide receiver and building better offensive line depth for now.

Without the quarterback, all the other pieces are likely not to function well enough to even make the playoffs again, much less advance. And even with him, questions will persist until they provide evidence to the contrary.

Here’s the biggest cause for concern: Kelly has stated that he doesn’t need a mobile quarterback to win and has actually proved it over the course of his first two seasons. But he also hasn’t been able to adjust his scheme enough to fit what Foles and his backup, Mark Sanchez, can and cannot do.

In 2013, they couldn’t win one playoff game despite the defense playing very well — Bradley Fletcher actually had a key interception in that contest — and having a quarterback in control who helped them get there with what is arguably the greatest prorated season in NFL history.

Nick Foles didn’t take over as the starter until Michael Vick went down with an injury. But once he did, Foles achieved things in 2013 that no other Eagles quarterback ever has. He even set a league record with his 27-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio on his way to team records in passer rating (119.2) and completion percentage (64.0 percent, since surpassed, incredibly, by Mark Sanchez at 64.1).

In the end, though, they were one-and-done in January mostly because the offense came up short at home against a dome team that had never won a playoff game on an opponent’s field.

Foles didn’t play poorly in that game by any stretch, either. He took care of the ball and even led his team to a go-ahead score the last time he had possession. Put it this way: Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre and Drew Brees, just to name a few Super Bowl champs, have all had much worse performances in the postseason than Foles did in that game.

And yet it wasn’t good enough to beat a dome team that was outdoors on the road in January.

This past season, after taking over for the injured Foles, Sanchez certainly had his troubles getting the ball down the field and tossed too many interceptions. But he wasn’t exactly chopped liver either.

The Eagles might have been able to squeeze out one more win had they shortened some games with a slower pace when the running game was stuffed and not requiring him, for example, to throw the ball 50 times in one game (finally getting picked on the 49th in a loss at Washington) or do other things that were outside of his comfort zone.

Yes, the Eagles can continue to win many regular-season games by beating up on the many mediocre teams around a league that has become ridiculously mediocre and occasionally stepping up to knock off a good one, such as Dallas or Indianapolis.

But can they win in January?

Can they win in February?

Could an elite player like Mariota, called “the best athlete I ever coached” by Kelly, be the difference between maybe getting there and definitely winning?

After two seasons of witnessing either the reluctance or inability to add a power running game, limit the shotgun and slow it down at times — which is what they need for their offense to perform best under quarterbacks like Foles and Sanchez and Matt Barkley — the answer is obvious: Getting the right quarterback for this system is the only way Kelly will have a chance to win in the playoffs, regardless of how many games his team might win in the four previous months.

If you’re not willing to adjust the system, you’d better adjust the personnel, lest you become an adjustment yourself.

Mariota obviously is the best suited, and if his value was reduced at all by Monday’s sub-standard performance (and possible shoulder injury), that’s all the better for the Eagles, who need every break they can get leading up to the draft to have a snowball’s chance of landing him in a trade to move up from their current position of No. 20.

For the Eagles to ever make it back to the Super Bowl, something is going to have to give. And the further we get into Kelly’s regime, especially now that he’s been given absolute power, the more it seems they will have to get a quarterback to fit them, not the other way around.

Same goes for the defense, which is a whole other future chapter featuring square pegs trying to insanely be jammed into round holes.

So for better or worse, look for Kelly to make a run at another quarterback.

Or else look for the Eagles to be just another team with double-digit victories, meaningless and deceiving offensive numbers compiled mostly against lesser opponents and the repeated inability to win when it matters most.


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