Petchesky, on Coach Kelly’s assertion that General Manager Kelly didn’t really do that much to restructure this offense (which currently ranks 23rd in DVOA, two spots behind Jacksonville and one spot behind a Cowboys team that’s been 80% Weeden and Cassel) this offseason:
“Four changes” is significantly underselling the overhaul. No position is more important than quarterback, and Bradford has been mediocre even before these injuries that remind you he came with a reputation as fragile. There are two new running backs, who haven’t impressed even as Kelly figures out how to use them. Two additions to the wide receiver corps, Nelson Agholor and Miles Austin, have both been busts. And Kelly’s most discussed offseason moves—replacing both starting guards from last year—have proven as damaging to the line as cynics predicted.
Despite Kelly’s protestations, those are sweeping changes, and they’re all his. Maybe the Eagles will figure things out—at 4-5, they’re just a half-game back in a weak division. If not, it all comes back to Kelly. When you’re picking the players and calling the plays, there aren’t many excuses left.
Obviously, with Bradford injured after 9 games that were below-average by any possible metric (what would have anticipated that except everything about his prior NFL career!), his most massively overpaid running back providing sub-replacement level results, and his patchwork offensive line and receiving corps a complete shambles, I don’t think anyone can defend his big picture moves at this late date. Sam Donnellon argues that his little moves haven’t worked out either:
But here are some names often overlooked, names that might have as much, or even more, to do with why the Eagles have lost three games this season by a total of six points.
James Casey. Chris Polk. Casey Matthews. Brandon Boykin.
Each was a valuable contributor to a special-teams unit that was extremely special last season. Each made considerable contributions as the Eagles built a 7-2 record that included close victories over the Colts (30-27), the Redskins (37-34) and the Rams (34-28). Aside from Boykin at nickel back, each played sparingly elsewhere, allowing them to focus almost entirely on their special-teams responsibilities, allowing them to contribute huge plays at opportune times that were a big reason – perhaps the biggest in retrospect – why the Eagles were in a much better situation at this point last season than they are this year.
I am sure that the Bradford trade and the decision to allocate such a high percentage of the team’s cap space to running backs have not only worked out badly but were irrational at the time. With respect to special teams, I have to be more tentative. Special teams performances tend to be volatile, and sometimes attributing a decline to personnel choices is a just-so story. But, still, Donnellon has a real prima facie case. The Eagles had the best special teams in the league last year per DVOA, and have dropped to 18th this year. There is a major caveat, which is that the Eagles have been the unluckiest team in the league in terms of the factors beyond their control, which surely explains some of the decline. But since the second-unluckiest special teams (Seattle) is still #3 in DVOA, it can’t explain all of the decline. It is, at least, a fair question to ask.
What follows is a list of the circumstances under which an NFL coach should have full control over the team’s personnel in 2015:
1)If you have Bill Belichick under contract.
If there is an exception to this rule, it is enormously unlikely to be someone with 2 years of experience in the NFL. Both of these jobs have become so demanding and specialized it’s hard to do one of them well, let alone both simultaneously. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Kelly has compounded that with errors understandable from someone whose (undeniably exceptional) resume is mostly at the NCAA level: overvaluing running backs, overestimating the ability of good scheming to overcome personnel holes, underestimating the difficulty of turning someone with a good arm into a good quarterback relative to his peers. The Eagles were in a difficult spot — I can understand them not wanting to lose someone who had done a very good job as head coach in his first two years — but Kelly should have known better.