It was a dazzling debut, even better than the most ardent Eagles fan could have hoped for. New coach Chip Kelly’s offense was everything promised and more and even the defense stood tall for much of the game and did something it rarely did last season, come up with turnovers.
But that doesn’t mean those fans should start preparing for the Super Bowl or even the playoffs. It was just one game out of 16 and even though the Eagles were impressive in their 33-27 victory over the Washington Redskins on Monday night, even though they put on a great show for a national television audience, there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered.
So talk to me after Week 10, not Week 1. Let’s see if the Eagles offense, which stunned the Redskins, and their defense, which surprised them, can keep it up week after week and month after month. Let’s see if the rest of the NFL catches up to what Kelly and crew are doing.
There was more anticipation for this opener than any other in recent memory, with the possible exception of wide receiver Terrell Owen’s first game with the Eagles in 2004. And it’s not because people expect the Eagles to compete for a championship as much as their eagerness to finally see Kelly’s offense in full flower. We never really saw that in the preseason, but the Eagles pulled out all the stops on Monday night and the Redskins were powerless to stop them.
Kelly promised something new and exciting and he delivered. But now the cat’s out of the bag, so to speak. We’re sure Kelly has some more tricks up his sleeve, but now opposing teams have a little film to study and as the weeks pass they’ll have even more. The Eagles may still catch teams off guard, but they won’t completely befuddle them like they did the Redskins.
Enemy defenses will watch and learn and adjust. And that’s why we can’t read too much into the impressive showing on Monday night. Other teams will figure out ways to not only stop Kelly’s offense, but to also attack it and exploit its weaknesses – and every system has weaknesses that can be exploited.
The Eagles were even more impressive on defense, coming up with three turnovers after coming up with just 13 in all of 2012. But that, too, comes with a caveat. It was obvious that Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was rusty after missing all of the preseason as he recovered from off-season knee surgery. And it took a while for Pro Bowl running back Alfred Morris to shift into high gear. But Griffin picked apart the Eagles defense in the second half, and even though the Eagles were playing softer coverage to prevent a big pass downfield, they still need to do a better job covering receivers.
The secondary was the biggest question mark on the team before the season started and now, one game into that season, it’s still the biggest question mark. And with talented passers like San Diego’s Phillip Rivers, Kansas City’s Alex Smith, Denver’s Peyton Manning and the New York Giants’ Eli Manning coming up in the next month, the onus will be on the pass defenders more than it was on Monday night.
There was another positive from Monday night that could prove to be a negative later on. For years, Eagles fans implored former coach Andy Reid to run the ball more, but Big Red never saw a pass play he didn’t like and prefer. Well, Kelly doesn’t have that problem, but he could end up with another one. Running back LeSean McCoy carried the ball 31 times, the most of his career, and rushed for 184 yards, just one yard shy of his career best against Dallas in 2011.
McCoy was the best player in the field on Monday night, but if he keeps getting the ball that many times he might not be on the field for long. Multiply 31 carries by 16 games and it equals 496 carries and that would smash the Eagles’ single-season record of 353 carries set by Ricky Watters in 1996. In fact, it would easily eclipse the NFL single-season record of 416 carries set by Kansas City’s Larry Johnson in 2006.
Both Watters and Johnson were big, rugged runners and McCoy is not, so it’s obvious he can’t keep up the pace he set on Monday night — that’s too much of a load, even for somebody as talented as McCoy.
Quarterback Michael Vick also took too many shots and he was limping around some in the second half against the Redskins. So, Kelly has to find a way to use his two best offensive players and, at the same time, protect them.
So, there are still a lot of challenges out there for the Eagles, although being entertaining doesn’t appear to be one of them.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.