Why the Eagles are failing on offense

Sam Monson writes that there's plenty of blame to go around for Philly's struggles -- starting with Chip Kelly's play-calling.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Why the Eagles are failing on offense

Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers playbook from 1966 essentially had seven basic run plays in it. There were a couple more specialist goal-line things, and passing plays built off each one, but that’s about it. The NFL at that time was about execution — become really, really good at running just a few things and you will punish the opposition over the long-term who won’t execute as well.

Chip Kelly right now seems to be going out of his way to prove that it doesn’t work that way in today’s NFL. Renowned as a creative coach and schematic mastermind, Kelly’s offense is unraveling before our eyes, and there was no better demonstration of that than against the Cowboys on Sunday.

Dallas destroyed the Eagles’ run game – a strength of the team over the past couple of seasons – creating some completely farcical statistics. Sam Bradford was the team’s leading rusher … with nine rushing yards, all of which came on one scramble. DeMarco Murray had 13 carries … for two yards.

At this point, after two games, Murray is on pace for 88 rushing yards on the season, and he would carry the ball 168 times to get them. At the same point a year ago, Murray was on pace for 2,280 rushing yards and 408 carries.

People are mocking his acquisition as a disastrous signing by the Eagles, but when your running back has 11 rushing yards on 21 carries, gaining half a yard per carry, the problems clearly run deeper than that player – unless that player is carrying a small elephant on his back while playing, and I suspect we would have noticed that.


The switch from LeSean McCoy to Murray and Ryan Matthews made headlines, but the Eagles also moved things around on the interior of their offensive line. Longtime starter Todd Herremans was let go and Evan Mathis was eventually cut after some contract wrangling, causing the Eagles to replace two-fifths of their line. It would be easy to look at that and identify it as the problem, and while moving on from an All-Pro-caliber player like Mathis will cause problems, Herremans hasn’t been a top quality player for a while, and the drop-off in the trenches shouldn’t be as large as it looks.

Andrew Gardner, starting at right guard, actually has a positive PFF grade through two weeks. Tackles Lane Johnson and Jason Peters are both grading either well or perfectly acceptable, and even the two players that have negative grades – C Jason Kelce and LG Allen Barbre – do not have horrendous grades, the kind of grades you would expect from a team that can’t seem to gain yardage on a run play.

TE Brent Celek had a really ugly game against the Cowboys, as plays like this show, but Philadelphia didn’t gain seven net rushing yards because Celek had a bad day.


You can point to individuals on a given play and identify where the blocking broke down or a poor job by a particular player led to a bad outcome, but when the struggle is so complete, the bigger picture looks a little different. Personnel may be a small factor in the struggles, but we need to look elsewhere for the real problem.


Reports emerged after the Dallas game that the Cowboys sideline was calling out the Eagles plays before the snap. That’s obviously not good, nor is it some conspiracy or victory for incredibly sophisticated prep work or subterfuge. They were doing that because the Eagles are basically running the same couple of things all game long, and seem surprised when they’re still not working, in a kind of logic General Melchett would be proud of. “Doing precisely what we have done eighteen times before is exactly the last thing they’ll expect us to do this time!”

Take a look at this tweet from Smart Football’s Chris Brown from during the game:

Now, Chris is a smart guy (hence the name), but if Chris can work this out in real time, there’s a pretty good chance that the Cowboys, a team that faces the Eagles twice a season and has plenty of time and resources to work over the tape in the week leading up to the game, could get it down pretty good, too.

In the NFL today, you simply can’t play the way Lombardi’s Packers did back in the 1960s. The Seahawks get lauded for the way they line up on defense with the same scheme — a Cover 3-type shell — and just dare you to beat it, but while that might be true overall, it isn’t applicable play-to-play. You know they will be running their variants of Cover 3, but this season alone they have also run variants of Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 4, Cover 6 and Two-Man, not counting red zone and goal line-specific schemes. On a play-by-play level, the Seahawks still execute some disguise and illusion so that you can’t simply target the holes in exactly what they are running pre-snap.

The Eagles aren’t doing that. They are lining up with a run everybody knows is coming and allowing teams to just shoot specific gaps, blowing the run up in the backfield and giving their running backs nowhere to go.

This game is littered with plays where the Cowboys are just completely prepared for what’s coming, and know exactly how to destroy it, usually by shooting the right gap, or at least overloading the area the Eagles are trying to attack.


Take this play as an example. It is a simple inside zone play that the Eagles run regularly. It is in theory designed to open up a gap on the interior of the formation, but ends up forcing Murray all the way to the backside where he gets stuffed for a loss by an unblocked Sean Lee. Often inside zone plays end up with this type of backside cutback because of how things get blocked inside and the way the blocks can convert to straight pushes depending on the leverage and shades involved, but the point here is that the Eagles are outmanned on the side of the ball they are looking to attack.


What really kills this play before the ball has even been snapped is linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who walks down into the A-gap, suddenly changing the numbers at the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys now have every gap immediately threatened, forcing every blocker to try just to drive his man inside, spilling Murray to the backside where he is cleaned up by Lee.

At the point Hitchens walks down to the line, this play is dead. If the Eagles had simply flipped the direction they were running inside zone, they had a chance – this was only a seven-man box by Dallas – but instead they just ran what was being called, right into the teeth of the beast. This was the story all night long. As Ben Stockwell – PFF’s Lead Analyst – said to me when looking at this tape, “There’s no way Peyton Manning would have run that play. He would have gotten them out of it”.


There were other plays where the Dallas defenders just aggressively attacked what they knew was coming. Here is another play that was designed to open up a gap to the right of the right guard. With the line zoning to the right, the center and guard have two options to deal with the player lined up at nose tackle. They can either chip him with Gardner to allow Kelce to get around that block and continue with the zone play as normal, or they can “pin and pull,” getting Gardner to down block on the nose and have Kelce pull around to take over his responsibility at the second level.


Terrell McClain, the Dallas defensive lineman playing nose on the play, attacks the gap so hard and blows up the play so completely that it’s tough to tell which option they elected to go with. He shoots the gap, forcing Gardner and Kelce to try to sandwich him just to halt his momentum before driving Kelce five yards into the backfield and opening up a hole for Sean Lee to fill and tackle Murray for yet another loss on the play.

If you go through the tape of this game you will find run plays failing in pretty much every way it’s possible for them to fail. The Eagles were blown off the field by the Cowboys on that side of the ball, and at times seemed far more likely to lose yardage than gain any. Defensive linemen in particular are far too good in today’s NFL to block if they know exactly what is coming, and the Eagles aren’t doing nearly enough to disguise what they intend to do.

Kelly’s offense has, if anything, become less sophisticated during his time in the NFL, and at the moment is simply too predictable. He is putting his players in a position to fail, and at the moment they are responding by doing exactly that.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Mike

    Great article Sam. Alot of what I was thinking, and not alot of naked-eye analysis that fans will get just having watched the game. More resides on Kelly than anything else, but the talent has definitely decreased on offense from last year.

    The defense is another story. Billy Davis needs to be shown the door. The defense is just a simple to read as the offense, if not simpler. As you said, this isn’t the 1960s. You need some diversity on both sides of the ball and let your QB audible if need be.

  • crosseyedlemon

    During his life Vince Lombardi forgot more about football than Chip Kelly will ever know. If these two went head to head it would be no contest. I think it’s laughable to call Kelly a schematic mastermind. When I think of schematic masterminds names that come to mind are Paul Brown, Tom Landry and Bill Walsh….not Chip Kelly.

    • Blyake Price

      … Bill Belichick?

      • crosseyedlemon

        I wouldn’t consider Belichick as a schematic mastermind. His strength is much like Lombardi’s….being able to get players to understand the importance of fundamentals and execution and not accepting anything less that a total commitment to the work ethic.

  • Kris Whitehead

    The question I have is whether this really falls onto Broadford’s shoulders. Is he not recognizing the coverage and then not shifting the play the line of scrimmage? Certainly he lines up with more than a single play to call.

    • Jbalzer10

      That’s not the way this up tempo offense works. They get a cue from the sideline and then run that. Obvious beginning to show.

      • Kris Whitehead

        Good point. I just thought that at Oregon there was the option to check out of a play into another or into one called on the sideline if the defense gave an unexpected look.

    • Matt R

      I am not sure if Bradford has the option to audible out of the call.

  • Alexander

    this article like many about the eagles, is awful. You cant say hes running the same play when literally in the article youre using GIFs of a play they ran twice the whole season. Theyre just not playing well. Sounds like Trent Dilfer, “the patriots arent good anymore”

    EDIT: not to mention it took all of 3 run plays watching coaches tape to see Chris Brown isnt even right about what he said but thats cool, dont actually do your own work, be lazy and do “hot-takes”.

    • PFFSamMonson

      A tweet and comment like that is clearly not intended to ever be taken literally. The idea that they ran nothing but two plays all game is clearly hyperbole, so finding one that wasn’t on the third play isn’t some AHA GOTCHA moment. The point is that their tendencies were clear in this game to anybody just watching in passing, let alone a team that had done study on them.

      Execution was not good, but the Cowboys were ready more often than not for the play that was being run, down to adjusting to outnumber them at the point of attack pre-snap and the Eagles just running it anyway.

      • KJ

        It’s pretty clear Chip isn’t yet comfortable opening his playbook and options, whether he’s terrified of Bradford getting hit in ZR, Bradfords not fully comfortable with entire playbook or he was attempting to ease the line in together.

        Bottom line is the execution has been terrible, so it’s impossible to determine whether his scheme is to blame or not. I err on the side of execution and believe this is simply a blip on the radar that will be adjusted to, major overreactions are occurring most likely but will be interesting to see what happens against an excellent defense Sunday.

        • crosseyedlemon

          You can cut rookies some slack in taking time to get use to a playbook but Bradford has been around a few years so that excuse won’t wash. If the execution isn’t there it doesn’t matter how great the schemes are….you still lose.

        • crosseyedlemon

          You can cut rookies some slack in taking time to get use to a playbook but Bradford has been around a few years so that excuse won’t wash. If the execution isn’t there it doesn’t matter how great the schemes are….you still lose.

  • Taylor Christian Vance

    Fascinating. I thought something was off, none of this made any sense to me.

  • joe brown

    Bradford does not have the option to run a audible as stated yesterday. I forget who said it though. Chip Kelly is a college coach and that’s what the Eagles hired. I did not see this working at all day one however like so many others after two 10-6 seasons I drank the kool-aid to. I stopped thinking he couldn’t do the job after that. My mistake! When Chip was interviewed originally and he walked away and didn’t take the job that should have told Laurie he didn’t have what it takes. Then they interviewed Gus Bradley “who i wanted to begin with” and all the sudden Chip was hired. The wrong guy walked away originally and got the job. right guy didn’t get the job. The right guy was right there for them to hire. The proven NFL hard nosed back in the day type Coach. They hired a ginnick instead!

    • KJ

      Jacksonville is looking really good down there too!

      • Jaguars28

        Gus was given an awful roster in Jacksonville though to work with.

  • Shug

    If Kelce and these G’s don’t have horrible grades, then they need to close that school… Look at the play in the highlight above, Kelce is running away from the D Tackle (who is NO world – beater himself)… They are awful and most importantly, #HypeIsOver

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    • Anton Borzov

      Pointing to a single play in order to illustrate a player’s performance through 60+ snaps is rarely a sound move, but both Kelce and Gardner graded out negatively in this game.

  • qdog112

    Quite a good and detailed article, but it avoids the primary issue of personnel. You say Chip’s offense has become a little too predictable? Well, he’s running the same plays that were successful before, he just has different people running them. That is the one thing that has changed. Mr. Kelly has screwed Chip, the coach with terrible personnel moves. Why is everyone afraid to say McCoy and Desean are right?

    • PFFSamMonson

      To an extent, but then if you run the same plays for long enough people figure out how to defend them. There’s no ‘It’s ALL on _____’ answer here. I think the single biggest point is that teams know almost exactly what’s coming from Philadelphia and that’s just putting yourself in a position to fail. The fact that the personnel can’t overcome that is a problem, but it’s not the underlying issue.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I guess the one positive is that the Eagles don’t have someone like Vince Young running around telling anyone who will listen that this is a dream team.

  • Aaron Rogers

    bradford needs ap to carry him again

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