This has been a fascinating opening six weeks for Chip Kelly and his football team. Kelly has proven to be a fine tactician and fast learner, guiding the Eagles back to a 3-3 record after three straight losses to AFC West teams.
The anticipated bumps in the road have been there, right on cue, from a spotty defense to an inconsistent offense in the red zone to the expected mental mistakes from a young team playing a grinding early-season schedule.
Overriding those moments, though, is the universal sense that the Eagles are in a much better place than they were a season ago, and that Kelly has this football team moving in the right direction. More twists and turns are forthcoming, of course, and that's what makes the building of a franchise so very interesting.
There are some undeniable truths here, though, and I'd like to explore some of them with a wonderful test in the Dallas Cowboys coming to town on Sunday. The Cowboys could very well play without running back DeMarco Murray (knee) and future Hall of Fame pass rusher DeMarcus Ware (quad), but the official word on their playing situations will be made in the days ahead. Even without those two, Dallas is a deep and talented team with weapons in every phase of the game.
So this is a great litmus test, a different kind than the David-vs.-Goliath test in Denver, or the what-kind-of-team-is-this opener at Washington. This is a division game against a Dallas team that played outstanding football on Sunday night, and the Eagles have to be truly terrific to win on Sunday afternoon.
That said, let's talk about some of the things we think we know for sure about the Eagles and Kelly to this point, as well as muse out loud as we enter Week 7 ...
- The idea that Kelly is "conservative," as suggested by some a few weeks ago, is simply untrue. Kelly is learning the way of the NFL as well as what he has on this 53-man roster. So there are going to be some times when he plays things smartly, which is not to be confused with "conservatively." When you see some of Kelly's formations -- the way he used tackles
Jason Petersand Lane Johnsonon Sunday in Tampa, running behind them and away from them -- was really effective as the Eagles milked the clock in the fourth quarter. Lining up on fourth down deep in Tampa Bay territory with a "dummy" call -- the Eagles were not going to snap the ball unless Tampa Bay jumped offsides, which happened -- was just brilliant. There is much more in Kelly's toolbox, as the saying goes. This is just the beginning, folks.
- It's only been six games, which is absolutely a small sample size, but it's safe to say that the scheme offensively works. The Eagles have never been more balanced, more explosive, more able to create favorable matchups with their personnel. Think about it. The Eagles are down a starting wide receiver (
Jeremy Maclin) and they've used two quarterbacks, and they still rank fifth in the league in scoring (with no points from the defense or special teams) in the first year of a scheme the players are still learning.
- Sunday is a huge challenge for the defense. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo is on top of his game, and the Eagles aren't exactly where they want to be with the scheme and, potentially, the personnel. Cornerbacks
Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcherand Brandon Boykinwill have their hands full with a great group of wide receivers, and tight end Jason Witten is going to present all kinds of problems. It will be interesting to see what Davis comes up with against an offense that has all the pieces, even if Murray doesn't play. DeSean Jacksonis playing the best football of his career as Kelly cleverly uses No. 10 in a variety of ways. Jackson has moved around the formation, has seen a good number of snaps from the slot and he has been able to get himself free and work the middle of the field as well as the deep stretch routes. Jackson is a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver right now and he is playing with great energy and conviction. I love everything about his game in 2013.
- By the way, while the receiving corps has been challenged without Maclin, one thing that's for sure is that the drops have been few and far between (I'm knocking on wood, don't worry). This is an emerging group at tight end and at wide receiver.
Riley Cooperneeded the kind of game in which he was a target and had some chances to make plays, as he did in Tampa. Jason Avanthas been solid, as usual. Both Jeff Maehland Damaris Johnsoncontributed on Sunday. And the tight ends, all three of them, are just really good players.
- How about a hand for punter
Donnie Jones, who is averaging more than 45 yards per punt, has been great on kicks inside the 20 and with his direction, and would be ranked much higher in net yardage were it not for a couple of punt returns allowed. Jones has been a field position changer.
- The defense is still looking for some consistent pressure, and it will be needed against Romo on Sunday. Davis has tried a variety of blitzes, he has mixed his personnel and he's been patient. A breakout game would be so wonderful from the front seven.