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Chip Kelly Got Lucky
Yes, I said it. Chip Kelly got lucky.
Now I'm not going to say that Chip Kelly hasn't done an incredible job of coaching the Eagles in his rookie season in the NFL, but I think all those anointing him a genius are going a bit too far. Kelly guiding the Eagles to a 10-6 record with the garbage he inherited from Andy Reid is nothing short of a miracle. Winning the division and hosting a playoff game is something only the blindest loyalists predicted, but those are the same people who continued to back Reid and insist that his teams were Super Bowl caliber until the very bitter, 4-12 end.
There was an incredible amount of luck that led Kelly to this spot.
Let's start with the fact that the Eagles are probably the healthiest team in the entire NFL. Besides the preseason injury that knocked receiver Jeremy Maclin out for the season, the Eagles haven't suffered a significant season-ending injury. Heck, the same guys have started along the offensive line all 16 games. That kind of continuity might have had a little something to do with the team leading the NFL in rushing and LeSean McCoy being the league rushing leader. Yes, the injury to safety Earl Wolff hurts, but that's only because free agent signing Patrick Chung is so horrible. And who would have expected a rookie drafted in the 5th round to be such an integral part of the team? Anyway, the Eagles only have five players on the IR. They are Maclin, Arrelious Benn, Philip Hunt, Joe Kruger and Jason Philips. Kudos if you even know what position all of those guys play. Maclin is the only one who would have played significant snaps.
What about Michael Vick, you say? He got hurt and missed games, you say? Well that might just be the biggest reason of all why I say Chip Kelly got lucky.
Re-signing Vick and making him the starting quarterback was the worst move Kelly made all season. The gameplan for the Minnesota game defies explanation, but the Vick decision was simply stupid. Kelly wanted Vick to win the starting job all along. He made it a competition in the preseason, but Vick and Foles played nearly even during the preseason. And anyone with a brain knows that defenses play vanilla in the preseason, so they don't put anything on tape for the regular season. Of course Vick did well against that. Vick's problems are that he can't read defenses or find secondary receivers. He didn't have to do much of that during the preseason.
So Vick started the first five games and the Eagles went 1-3 before Foles came into the fifth game against the Giants and led a comeback victory in the second half. We all know what happened once Foles took over for Vick. He ended the season as the NFL leader in Passer Rating, tied an NFL record with 7 touchdown passes against the Raiders and threw 27 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions for the year. He was 8-2 as a starter (plus that win against the Giants) and led the Eagles to the division title and a home playoff game. Not bad for a slow-footed guy who most people said wasn't a fit in Kelly's offense.
But Kelly shouldn't get all the credit for Foles. First of all, he didn't draft Foles. Second of all, it was obvious he wanted a more mobile quarterback to run his offense or he would never have re-signed Vick, who was a free agent. Foles never would have gotten his shot if Vick hadn't gotten hurt. Oh sure, maybe Foles would have gotten a few starts once the Eagles were eliminated from the playoff picture, but this would have been a wasted season, watching Vick turn the ball over constantly. And that's the thing that really gets me. Kelly said that he wants a quarterback who can make quick decisions and not turn the ball over. That is the exact opposite of Michael Vick.
As a matter of fact, the only players to turn the ball over more than Michael Vick in the NFL since 2009 are Jets QB Mark Sanchez and Giants QB Eli Manning. Manning has thrown an incredible 97 INTs since the start of the 2009 season and lost 20 fumbles. Sanchez has thrown 69 INTs and lost 20 fumbles in his career that started in 2009, but he hasn't played this season. Meanwhile, Vick has 33 INTs and 14 lost fumbles. And when you consider that Vick hardly played in 2009 and has missed a number of games the last few seasons, it makes it even harder to believe that Kelly could be so stupid as to choose Vick.
It's a good thing Vick is injury-prone or else the Eagles season would have been a waste. There would have been no division title, no home playoff game and most likely, no winning record. And we wouldn't have known whether or not Foles is a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL. By the way, he is.
I will pause here for a moment to praise Kelly for adapting his offense to Foles' skill-set. That's what he said he would do when he first got here and he was a man of his word. It's just that he obviously didn't want to have to adapt to Foles' skill-set if he didn't absolutely have to do so. Luckily he had to adapt.
Do you think Chip Kelly got lucky?
Keeping with the injury theme, Kelly and the Eagles had an incredible run of good luck with regard to injuries to their opponents. RG3 was obviously hobbled in the opener and still almost brought the Redskins back in the second half of a Week 1 Eagles' win. Tampa Bay was starting an inexperienced quarterback in Mike Glennon in a Week 6 Eagles' win. Aaron Rodgers got hurt right before the Eagles beat the Packers in Week 10 and Seneca Wallace got hurt in the first quarter, so inexperienced third-stringer, Scot Tolzien played most of the game. Arizona running back Andre Ellington missed the Eagles' Week 13 win. A blizzard throughout the game rendered the high-powered Detroit passing game useless in Week 14. Reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson missed the Week 15 matchup, but the Eagles somehow lost that one anyway. And Tony Romo had season-ending back surgery before the Week 17 game where the Eagles won the NFC East. Granted, backup quarterback Kyle Orton pulled a "Romo" by throwing a killer interception in the fourth quarter, so maybe that injury was more of a push. Anyway, the Eagles got lucky with the injuries to their opponents all year long.
The final reason I say that Kelly got lucky this season is the turnovers. Yes, his focus on protecting the ball is one of the reasons the Eagles had only 19 giveaways, which was the 4th fewest in the NFL, but if Vick stayed healthy that number would have been doubled. The stats back up my assertion that Vick is a turnover machine and no matter how much Kelly preached ball security, Vick would have turned it over all year. Then there were the turnovers forced by the defense. The Eagles defense was 29th in the NFL, giving up 394.2 yards per game and dead last in the NFL in pass defense, giving up 289.8 yards per game through the air. It almost defies explanation that such a horrible defense could have the 3rd most takeaways in the NFL, with 31. None of those turnovers were more important than the last one. Brandon Boykin's interception of Orton in Week 17 saved the season. After the Eagles offense was shut down in the second half against the Cowboys and they were forced to punt from deep within their own territory at the 2-minute warning, Dallas only needed to gain about 30 yards to get into field goal range. With the way Orton was shredding the Eagles defense; most people figured the season was over. But Kelly got lucky that Orton learned how to throw killer fourth quarter picks from Tony Romo and that Boykin was tied for second in the NFL with 6 INTs.
All of this isn't to disparage Chip Kelly. I'm merely pointing out that the rookie coach made his fair share of mistakes this season which cost his team games (possibly San Diego and definitely Minnesota), but he still had a great year. That doesn't make him a genius though. Just as being lucky doesn't mean that his success and the success of the team was a fluke. On the contrary. I believe that Kelly has learned a lot this season and will be a better coach because of it.
Any winning team needs a little luck in order to win. Just ask the New York Giants and that fraud, Eli Manning. They needed David Tyree to catch a ball with his helmet to win a Super Bowl, but sometimes even good teams need to be lucky. Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles are a good team and they certainly got lucky this season.
Now let's just hope somebody uses their head this postseason and maybe there will be a surprising parade down Broad Street. Now that would be lucky.