I feel good about the Eagles. This isn't just blind optimism, though. Call it, the Chip Kelly effect.
I understand why some people have doubts about the team. Quarterback is still unsettled. Several offensive linemen are overcoming injuries. We still don't know exactly what the defense will be. Proven players will likely be in new roles, adding uncertainty to areas that were strengths in the past. The secondary has been completely rebuilt. There are plenty of reasons for people to wonder how good the 2013 Eagles will be.
For me, I think you have to start by looking at the 2012 season. The Eagles were major underachievers. Some of us may have overrated the talent on the team a bit, but I still think there was plenty of talent in place. The problem is that the team played sloppy football, making way too many mistakes. Add in all the injuries to the offensive line and then some key skill players. When things got really tough, the team fell apart. Early in the Andy Reid era, teams responded to adversity and overcame challenges. 2012 was just the opposite. Adversity brought out the worst in the Eagles. That's one of the big reasons that change was needed.
If you find the right coach, he can make all the difference in the world. The Baltimore Ravens won a total of 33 games in Brian Billick's final four seasons. John Harbaugh was hired in 2008 and the team has won 10 or more games in four of his five years there. They won the Super Bowl last season. The Saints had five seasons with 10 or more wins in their first 39 years of existence. Since Sean Payton was hired in 2006, they've had a double-digit number in the win column four times. Prior to hiring Mike Smith, the Falcons never had consecutive winning seasons. Never. They have had a winning record in each of his five seasons.
Maybe the best example of the impact a coach can have is what Jim Harbaugh has done with San Francisco. The Niners failed to have a winning record from 2003 to 2010. There were a variety of coaches and quarterbacks in that span. The one thing they all had in common - losing. That changed with the arrival of Jim Harbaugh. The Niners are 24-7-1 in his two years and almost won the Super Bowl last year. Harbaugh turned around the career of quarterback Alex Smith. Harbaugh drafted and developed Colin Kaepernick, who looks like he could be a special quarterback. There really is no way to quantify just how incredible of an impact Harbaugh has had on that organization.
There are no guarantees that Chip Kelly will have the same level of success with the Eagles, but so far I think he's off to a great start. Kelly has brought energy and excitement to the organization.Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman were ecstatic when they were able to hire Kelly. The players have said nothing but good things about Kelly and his ideas. Kelly has even made press conferences interesting. He's engaging and funny. He doesn't tell the media too much, but he does it in a way that is more charming than antagonistic.
The vibe around the team is something I've not felt in a long time. There was excitement in the summer of 2011 when the Eagles landed all the free agents, but there was still frustration with Reid's reluctance to run the ball and the mystery of Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator. The 2010 team was incredibly fun to watch for a couple of months. The 2008 team got on a roll in the playoffs. Still, this is different. Kelly has everyone feeling positive in a way that isn't just about the moment. This isn't a reaction to a big win or a big signing.
Kelly has brought change to the Eagles. He's changed the way the players lift weights. He's changed their dietary habits. He's changed the way they practice. The ideas are new and the players are buying in. Kelly isn't trying to sell a quick-fix idea. He wants to make long-lasting changes. Kelly wants to win in 2013, but just as important is a commitment to the big picture.
Think about free agency. The Eagles were active and signed quite a few players. They didn't sign a bunch of elite stars, though. Kelly wanted players who fit his systems. Raw talent can be overrated in the NFL. You must have players who fit what you want to do. By adding mid-level players, you also get players who have less ego and are more coachable. Those players often have more of an edge to them. Guys who sign mega-contracts can be changed by the money. That's just human nature. The Eagles loaded up on grinders.
I love the fact the Eagles were aggressive, but in a controlled style. They were able to plug roster holes the right way. They added talented veterans who will come in and fight for jobs. The players have the talent to be good starters, but aren't such big names that they'll have a sense of entitlement and expect things to be handed to them.
The free agent moves allowed the team to draft for talent rather than need. Kelly was on board with this and the Eagles just had a good draft. Kelly could have pushed for the Eagles to move up for Dion Jordan, his former player. He could have pushed for the Eagles to get a quarterback early. Instead, Kelly worked with Roseman and the personnel staff so that the Eagles could add the right players for his systems, but the team would focus on talent.
While Kelly has come in and changed the Eagles, he has also made sure to fit in with the team as much as he can. He has worked well with Roseman. There is no fight for control of the team, as some outsiders speculated might happen back when Kelly first talked to the Eagles. Kelly is new to the NFL. He understands that and has been willing to learn. Kelly hired a staff that had NFL and college backgrounds. Kelly is smart enough to know that he doesn't know everything. He's got coaches and team executives to help his adjustment to the NFL.
From the outside, it sure feels like Kelly, the organization and the players are all on the same page. Too often people think of coaching changes and focus on new playbooks. The real value in a new coach is having a new leader who can implement change. Coaches have a saying that football is "more about the Jimmys and Joes than the X's and O's." A good coach motivates and leads his players more than he draws up a fancy play. Steve Spurrier didn't get this and that's part of the reason why he failed in the NFL. Kelly has talked regularly about adapting his ideas to his players. He's putting the team before his playbook. He gets it. This is important to the players. They want to win. They want to work hard. They also need to feel that the new coach isn't looking to get rid of them and will embrace them. Clearly there will be changes, but players have to made to feel that they are wanted.
I would love to tell you the Eagles are going to pull off a miracle and win the Super Bowl this year, but I do think the Eagles are going to surprise some people. The offense could be one of the best units in the NFL. The defense is a work in progress, but does have some potential. If pass rushers
Kelly will be thrilled if that happens, but he's still got one eye on the future. He knows that you don't build a championship team in one offseason. 2013 is the start of the journey, not the conclusion. Kelly and the Eagles did add some very talented players.
I feel really good about the Eagles right now. I like the personnel. The coaching staff feels more cohesive than in recent years. Most importantly, Chip Kelly has sold me that he's the guy who will get the Eagles back to being a top-flight team.