Let me get this out of the way right from the start: There is not a head football coach at any level from high school on up — and most likely pee-wee football, if I’m being honest — alive who knows less about football than me or any other everyday football fan out there. Every single high school, college and NFL coach will forget more about football than I’ll ever know in my lifetime.
But that doesn’t mean coaches are infallible … and it doesn’t mean that having a completely outside third party would be detrimental to a football team. And as the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys showed Sunday, sometimes teams really do need a, as Bill Simmons so famously coined during his ESPN Page 2 days, a VP of common sense.
I know it’s all the rage to take shots at Simmons these days, but I honestly think there are times when a coach quite literally needs to be saved from himself. And there were no two coaches who needed more help this weekend than Chip Kelly and Jason Garrett, the two coaches who seemed to be doing everything in their power to hand the keys of the NFC East lead over to the other.
Let’s start with Kelly, since it was his Philadelphia Eagles who led things off Sunday afternoon by coming out and getting straight up embarrassed by the lowly Minnesota Vikings and their sometimes, almost always maligned fill-in quarterback Matt Cassel.
The Vikings entered the game with a lowly three wins on the season — and they were playing without their lone offensive star, Adrian Peterson; his backup, Toby Gerhart; as well as their two top tight ends, Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson. So naturally, Minnesota torched the Eagles for 48 points in a 48-30 victory for the home team. And while I’d love to lay into Philadelphia defensive coordinator Billy Davis for having his corners play 15 yards off on every play and once again failing to generate a pass rush — particularly with Peterson out — the fact of the matter is a team finally took advantage of a Philadelphia secondary that is less than adequate at best. There was little in the way of common-sense errors outside the big cushions on Davis’ part — he simply cannot help that he’s forced to have Cary Williams on the field at nearly all times and that his safeties consist of a bunch of traffic cones.
But Chip Kelly, boy, does he have some explaining to do. For starters, Kelly decided to implement the tactic of pop-up kickoffs and squib kicks the entire game to keep the ball away from the dangerous Cordarrell Patterson, the NFL leader in kickoff return average. This is all well and good if it works. Yesterday, it did not. Routinely, the Vikings were handed incredible field position, with an average starting position at the 33. That gave the Vikings a short field all day long, and Cassel made the Eagles pay all day long.
Even Patterson was surprised, saying he’s never seen a team literally kick away from him every single kickoff in a game:
“I’ve seen [the strategy] a lot, but that’s the first time I’ve seen it every kick,” Patterson said. “I thought they were going to at least slide one to me, but we made them pay for it.”
Yet that’s exactly what the Eagles did, and it was beyond stupid.
Yes, the Eagles have been pretty lousy in recent weeks on kickoff coverage … but if you can’t trust your coverage team to do its job by Week 15, you should have a new special teams coach. And if you can’t trust your kicker to get a good number of touchbacks in a dome stadium, you need yourself a new kicker. Clearly, Kelly didn’t trust his kicker or his coverage team to do their jobs. If that’s the case at this time of year, it’s on the coach. The Eagles have been relatively healthy all season. The units should be getting better — as the offense and defense have been before yesterday’s game — not worse, forcing the head coach to lose all confidence in an entire unit.
Plus, it simply wasn’t working … yet Chip just kept ordering the short, high kicks or squibs, time and time again. Awful.
Then there is the matter of his complete abandonment of the run. Kelly explained that the game plan was to attack the Minnesota secondary with its two starting cornerbacks out. And that’s fine … except for the fact that it led to Kelly ignoring the best player on his team, LeSean McCoy — a guy who leads the NFL in rushing and just set a franchise record for rushing yards the week before. McCoy had just eight carries on the game. Eight. Every person with common sense watching was calling for Kelly and Nick Foles to hand the damn ball off to Shady, to no avail.
That’s just blindly stupid coaching, particularly since Foles was off for much of the game. Common sense would tell you to kick the ball deep on kickoffs and to hand the ball off to your best player, particularly when the alternatives weren’t working. Kelly never did, and his curious coaching was one of the many reasons the Eagles dropped a game they had no business losing.