Kelly's Heroes: Has Chip Kelly Amassed All Pieces Needed To Win A Lombardi?
It's 2015. The head coach has had his first off-season, and with moves both onto and off of the team of very productive players, it's certainly set the stage for controversy.
"Chip Kelly Has A Plan And He Knows What He Wants"
"In Chip We Trust"
Comments from fans, NFL players – both present and former, Analysts, and even celebrities have been all over the board. Despite have little information about how it will all turn out, the sheer diversity of the personnel moves have left some scratching their heads, some giving a stand up ovation, and some giving a thumb down until it shows up in the win column.
Still, somewhere down the road, the question must be asked. Even more importantly, the same question needs to be answered:
"Has Chip Kelly amassed all pieces needed to Win a Lombardi?"
Well let's be fair. He has tried. But being in the market to buy does not mean someone has it to sell. Being in the market for a franchise quarterback doesn't necessarily mean that the Eagles had the opportunity for one.
They wanted Marcus Mariota. They have rehabbing Sam Bradford.
Philadelphia wide receivers are young and skillful. They have tremendous upside. Sometimes talent takes time to mature, to be realized. The reason is that the communication between quarterback and receiver is a matter of trust and anticipation. Until they have worked together long enough to know exactly what the other will do, there will incomplete passes – even with a wide open receiver.
Is it a fault of Chip Kelly if that trust, that repertoire, takes several years to grow? Or is it simply a matter of patience – of trust from the media and fan base – that is needed until it does?
I'm not certain if anyone can say this early in the season. But what we can do is discuss what the over talent of special teams, offense, and defense will likely end up this season?
Philadelphia Special Teams
The 2014 version of the Eagles special teams was special. So special, in fact, that despite having a horrendous season in terms of giving the ball away, the team finished with ten wins and was the best "non-playoff" team in the NFL.
Close doesn't cut it. But the team scored in virtually every way possible in special teams (they only needed to block a field goal for a touchdown). In 2015, the special teams players who left the team were replaced by players who were equally adept at making plays happen.
Kelly stresses special teams play, and in 2014, the team showed off why that part of a team sometimes overlooked can play a huge role in the overall outcome of the game. Is the Eagles special team in place to win a Lombardi?
From a team that was balanced in 2013, to a pass-happy team in 2014, the Eagles seemed to do an about face with the way they built their roster in 2015.
Gone is leading rusher, running back LeSean McCoy. Gone is leading receiver for the second year in a row, this time wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Gone is the rising star of quarterback Nick Foles.
On virtually any other NFL team, that type of turnover from one of the most productive offenses in the NFL would cause cardiac arrest from the fans. To the Philadelphia Eagles fans, this is just the cost of building a winner.
In the place of McCoy, the Eagles now have a pair of very good running backs – former San Diego Charger Ryan Matthews and former Dallas Cowboy DeMarco Murray. Either running back has been the workhorse for their respective teams in their version of a playoff run. Adding their talents to the skills of Darren Sproles gives the team a diverse, multidimensional running attack that will test the ability of the toughest NFL defenses.
On the passing side of the street, the team has parted ways two years running with both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin – both of whom had career seasons in their final Eagles season.
In their wake, the Eagles will be lining up a relatively unknown cast of receivers. Second year receiver Jordan Matthews earned the top receiver spot behind Maclin, gaining 872 yards in 105 targets. He will likely draw the most attention from defensive coverage.
But just behind him was tight end Zach Ertz, who gained 702 yards on 86 targets. Look for him to get far more opportunities in 2015.
The Eagles will likely translate passes that had been tossed at Maclin into a committee of second year receiver Josh Huff, veteran Miles Austin, and rookie Nelson Agholor. Many call for Agholor to start immediately, but much like Matthews in 2014, I see Agholor following a similar track, working in as a slot receiver and earning trust of the quarterback while he gains yards against the nickel cornerback.
The offensive line is no longer home to long time Eagles favorite Todd "Toddfather" Herremans, and will likely have a competition between Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin for the start in his place. This is, of course, in the expectation that pro-bowl left guard Evan Mathis remains on the roster this year.
But before the fear of the offensive line turmoil leaves you unsettled, 2014 was a good example that all is almost well. Despite the loss of Johnson to suspension, Mathis to injury, and sixth man Barbre for the season, the off
ensive line sustained. Even Todd Herremans playing one armed did not derail the team.
Jeff Stoutland will have the line ready for the season – whomever that is.
The key will be the quarterback play in 2015. If the newly acquired quarterback Sam Bradford can replicate the success that Nick Foles enjoyed in 2013, this will be a deadly offense. If Bradford is rusty, or cannot return fully from injury, the Eagles will likely place the ball in the hands of quarterback Mark Sanchez. While I think a run-emphasis offense is more aligned with Sanchez's skills, I think he's a nine or ten win season quarterback. That's it. For the Eagles to compete for a Lombardi, Bradford must be behind center, and he must be playing his best football.
Is the Eagles Offense in place to win a Super Bowl?
As the weak link in the past two seasons, the defense has been the "Rodney Dangerfield" of the team. If you check the film, or review the statistics, you will find plenty of reasons to be optimistic for 2015.
The Eagles front seven are good. In fact, they get better each year. Should the trend continue, and in light of the resigning of Brandon Graham,the trade for Kiko Alonso, and drafting Jordan Hicks, the Eagles front seven will likely be the best it has ever been in Chip Kelly's tenure.
The key to the defense will be the secondary.
The team signed the best cornerback available in Byron Maxwell, and then added to the mix by signing his former teammate cornerback Walter Thurmond. With Brandon Boykin and Nolan Carroll already competing for the start opposite Maxwell, the team added cornerback Eric Rowe, JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans.
It could fall to the "same ole… same ole" if the Eagles hadn't acted quickly to sign the former Denver Broncos defensive back coach Cory Undlin. While it's virtually impossible to guarantee the defense will generate instant chemistry, the team has a proven position coach and finally has added lots of talent.
This could work. In fact, the team is in far better shape than ever before.
Is the Eagles Defense in place to win a Super Bowl?
They're close. In fact, they may be much closer than anyone gives them credit for.
It's been one year of general manager Kelly. It's easy in the drive up window service of modern convenience to judge Kelly's plan on the first two or three games. But this year is the introduction of the new Eagles team. Its a new team, with new strengths, weaknesses, and talents.
But most of all, it has a new ceiling. I'm eager to see how high that goes.