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By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — The hazmat squad was at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday double checking how solvent the stadium was before the New York Giants game. They should have checked the rising toxic level that’s suddenly seeped into the Eagles’ offense while they were at it.
Maybe they could have provided an answer. No one else has.
The Eagles and Giants didn’t so much play football as much as a game of chicken: Two offensively inept teams collided into each other to produce no offensive touchdowns, a pile of field goals—and it was the Eagles that rolled off the road of mediocrity.
Last week’s offensive woes bled into this week against the Giants, resulting in an Eagles’ 15-7 loss in a crossroads game for both teams.
The Eagles’ fall has been precipitous. A week ago, they were playing for first place in the NFC East. Seven days later they’re one game better than the Giants, once winless three weeks ago and flagging.
If not for a flubbed snap on a Giants’ punt with 4:11 left to play, which led to a Najee Goode 2-yard fumble return for a touchdown, the Eagles would have been shutout.
Now losers of 10-straight home games dating back to a 19-17 victory over the same Giants on September 30, 2012, the Eagles’ offense has gone eight-straight quarters without scoring a touchdown and dropped to 3-5 at the midway point, while the Giants improved to 2-6.
More disconcerting, the Eagles arrive at this juncture limping with a doiled offense. Over these last two weeks, tarnish has been accumulating around the edges of wunderkind Chip Kelly. The Eagles’ coach has made some dubious calls, like the 60-yard field goal attempt at the end of the half against Dallas last week.
Against New York, he tried an on-side kick with over four minutes left to play after the Eagles pulled within 15-7. Earlier, with 9:20 left in the third quarter, Kelly opted to go for it on fourth-and-10 at the Giants’ 39, passing on what would have been a 47-yard field goal attempt in a game where points came at a premium.
Kelly had no problem letting Alex Henery try a 60 yarder in the Dallas game, yet it was bewildering that he wouldn’t let his kicker try a 47-yarder on Sunday down 12-0.
“There was a pretty good wind there,” Kelly said as to why he didn’t allow Henery to kick. “That was a tough wind, that’s why we went for it on fourth down, down there. Whenever we get close, [special teams coach Dave] Fipp is right near me, and I’ll ask him. He said we needed to get a little closer in that situation.”
The Eagles rarely got close. They were three-and-out on four of their 11 possessions, bookending their day with interceptions on their first and last drives. They gained a season-low 201 yards of total offense, dipping below the previous season-low 278 yards they gained against Dallas.
Whether it means the NFL has caught up to Kelly’s innovative ways or the Eagles simply don’t have the personnel to carry out Kelly’s schemes is conjecture.
What’s fact is the Eagles have regressed. Over their first five games, the Eagles averaged 449.8 yards of total offense a game. In the last two, a scant 239.5 yards, more than a 200 yard drop.
“I think we’ve had some instability at the quarterback position,” Kelly tried explaining as to why his offense has bogged down. “I think we’ve also got to step up. And it starts with me. I’m the play caller. I’m the guy calling the plays. In the last two weeks, I haven’t done a very good job of it. Until we can get that straightened out, the disappointing thing is I think our defense played a really, really good football game today. They’ve really come along. But offensively, we haven’t done what we need to do to win two football games and we need to get that fixed.”
Michael Vick started in the hopes that he could jumpstart the Eagles’ offense. No go. When the hobbled Vick couldn’t get going, he was pulled with 2:24 left in the first half in favor of Matt Barkley and the Eagles trailing, 12-0. Vick departed after completing 6 of 9 passes for 31 yards and an interception.
Under Vick, the Eagles were outgained by the Giants, 203 to 27 yards in total offense, had two first downs to New York’s 10, and were averaging a mere 1.6 yards a play to the Giants’ 5.6.
But it was clear Vick was hurting. He couldn’t get any zip on his passes without his legs underneath him and his mobility, his strength, was greatly hampered. He reinjured his left hamstring, which he originally pulled in the second quarter of the Eagles’ 36-21 victory against the Giants on Oct. 6.
Replacing Vick, Barkley promptly led the Eagles up the field on the final drive of the first half. The fourth-round rookie draft pick completed six of his first seven passes for 55 yards, getting the Eagles to the Giants’ two—and in a position to climb back into the game.
But in another questionable Kelly decision, Barkley rolled out to pass on first-and-goal, was stripped of the ball from behind by the Giants’ Terrell Thomas and Jacquian Williams was there to pounce on the Barkley fumble at the Giants’ 12.
That was the closest the Eagles came in the last eight quarters to scoring an offensive touchdown.
“We called timeout and I just wanted to get Matt settled,” Kelly said. “We went and talked about it. It’s a play we run. We’ve practiced it continuously here six or seven weeks since the beginning of the season in the red zone. It was just a naked one route with DeSean [Jackson] out wide and then a tight end on a drag on the back side. If we didn’t have it, throw it away.”
As to why LeSean McCoy wasn’t used there, “That was the play I called,” Kelly emphasized. “You can go back. It didn’t work. So obviously it didn’t work. But we know in that situation we’re first-and-goal, and we talked about it. If we don’t have it, let’s throw it away and we’ll go again the next time.”
There obviously was no next time.
Barkley finished 17 for 26 for 158 yards and one interception.
With 10:13 left to play, a mass exodus began for the Lincoln Financial Field exits. No doubt many were wondering as they left what had happened to the rapid-fire offense that was the talk of the NFL.
Now it looks as if the Eagles are down to rookie fourth-round draft pick Barkley at quarterback as they travel to Oakland next week, followed by games in Green Bay and hosting division rival Washington on Nov. 17 before their bye-week.
It’s beginning to look like the Eagles may have to tear a page out of the Sixers’ rebuilding book and think about tank time.
“It’s frustrating, the last two weeks have been embarrassing from an offensive standpoint,” said Eagles’ center Jason Kelce, the team’s bearded conscience. “Whatever it is that’s going on, we have to get it corrected. It’s just very frustrating.”
Kelce admitted the Giants did a few things differently than they had the last time the teams met. New York played more zone and scraped their linebackers more on the backside to prevent McCoy from making cut back runs, as opposed to congesting the middle of the field.
“We moved the ball at times—just not that consistently,” Kelce said. “It’s frustrating. That’s all I can say.”
Then he stomped off.
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