There’s alot of science behind America’s Game as detailed by journalist Allen St. John, and a former engineering professor from Yale, Ainissa Ramirez. But you don’t need a Ph.D. from Stanford as Ainissa holds to figure out that what we saw from the Philadelphia Eagles last night in Chip Kelly’s first NFL playoff game wasn’t Newton’s Football. It was basically the same inability of Chip Kelly to adjust to the strategic moves from his counterpart on the Saints that Eagles fans had become accustomed to from Kelly’s predecessor Andy Reid that doomed the team’s post-season dreams. Earlier in the evening Reid reminded fans why his time had run out in Philly.
The last time the Philadelphia Eagles won a championship game was in 1960 against the Green Bay Packers. The Packers were coached by the legendary Vince Lombardi and dominated the game’s stats sheet but the final score at Franklin Field that day was 17-13, favor of the Eagles. In the locker room after the game Lombardi was quoted as having told his players that they hadn’t been beaten — they just ran out of time. And the Eagles were coached by ___________ ?
That’s the point about coaches. One good season doesn’t make their legacy. Oh, it may have made Chip Kelly’s legacy in Philadelphia because the City is so starved for championship winning sports teams – and particularly in football where the dry spell is the longest. Kelly certainly engineered a significant turnaround from the mess that Andy Reid left in his wake last year, and the team this year exceeded all expectations. As Kelly rallied the Eagles from 3-5 with rumors of new sports science he had infused from his college coaching ways, the City was poised to elevate him as the most famous Kelly since Princess Grace left town.
But alas it was not meant to be. Chip was out-scienced by his coaching counterpart Sean Payton. You have to give Payton begrudging credit, in a way. Here is a guy who allowed his team to set up a bounty system for disabling opposing players in an era when the league was moving toward a science of protecting its players against injury. He will go down in coaching infamy for his one year suspension, a subject about which he is understandably still touchy as seen during his post-game interview. All of the post-game interviews last night were revealing for various reasons, perhaps none more insightful than Billy Davis, the Eagles’ defensive coach.
The Eagles too frequently went with a nickel defense, anticipating that the Saints were going to beat them with the pass. After all, as St. John and Ramirez note in Newton’s Football, Brees is considered to be the NFL’s most accurate passer. The outside game and cold weather did cause Brees to make some errant passes, though the breeze at Lincoln Financial Field wasn’t strong enough to keep the Saints from managing 249 passing yards compared to Nick Foles’ paltry 176 yards. The running game was just as much of a statistical mismatch, with the Saints sans their leading rusher Pierre Thomas still putting up 185 yards on the ground in comparison to the Eagles’ 80 yards from no-show LeSean McCoy.
Analyst Reuben Frank summed up the reasons behind the Eagles’ loss very well, noting that it was a thoroughly disappointing finish to a remarkable season. There is reason for optimism for Chip Kelly and the Eagles’ future. Before Vince Lombardi became a legendary NFL head coach for the Packers he was an offensive coordinator for the New York Giants, complementing a pretty good defensive coordinator by the name of Tom Landry. Before that Lombardi was an assistant coach at West Point, and before that he was a football coach at Saint Cecilia High School in Englewood, New Jersey – where he was better known for teaching physics and chemistry for eight years – a job that he took only after flunking out of Fordham Law School. Lombardi constantly preached about the team concept to his players, and the love aspects of football — all the sound bites and platitudes that one hears from Eagles’ quarterback Nick Foles in a post-game interview, last night being no exception. But above all Lombardi is credited for bringing science and precision to the game through his love of teaching.
Newton’s Football notes that in the locker room after their championship loss to the Eagles in 1960, in which Concrete Chuck Bednarik (60) rested on top of fullback Jim Taylor (31) as the clock expired, Lombardi vowed that the Packers would never lose another championship game. True to his word, The Pack won five titles between 1961 and 1967. Don’t get me wrong — Philly fans were as appreciative of Andy Reid’s coaching record as we were about Donovan McNabb’s quarterback records, yet all those years in the playoffs reinforced a feeling of coming up short in big games – a vow toward leadership left unfulfilled. Something tells me that Chip Kelly is going to follow more in Lombardi’s footsteps than in Andy Reid’s, though my only vow for now is to stop predicting the future.