There remains a perception by some fans and some in the media that Chip Kelly is somewhat of a gadget coach. His teams win with gimmicks and offensive trickery. They play finesse football.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
At their best, Kelly's teams are very physical. We saw that on Sunday in the Eagles blowout win over the Saints.
The Eagles dominated the line of scrimmage. They won up front on offense and defense. The Eagles put up 39 points, but only had two plays that went for 30 yards or more. They moved the ball by driving up and down the field. You can only do that if you can protect the quarterback and open holes for runners. Sam Bradford dropped back to pass 46 times (he threw 45 passes and ran once). He wasn't sacked in the game. Heck, Bradford wasn't even hit very often. He had a clean pocket for most of the day.
The offensive line was great in pass protection and also did a strong job of run blocking. The Eagles ran for a season-high 186 yards. The line was effective coming off the ball and blocking or pulling and going to the outside. Jason Kelce had an especially strong day. He hasn't had a great year, but played his best game so far on Sunday. That's encouraging for the rest of the season. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson both fought through injuries and played well.
It wasn't only offensive linemen doing the blocking. Brent Celek had a very strong day as a run blocker. Zach Ertz had some good moments. The Eagles used wide receivers in motion quite a bit. Sometimes the receiver would run to the formation and help block the edge. Other times the receiver would cross the formation and then act as a lead blocker. Riley Cooper and Josh Huff stood out. There was one play where I assumed Huff made the block, but it turned out to be rookie Nelson Agholor. You are going to run the ball well when even the skill players are really buying in and blocking their tails off.
While Bradford had time to throw, Drew Brees wasn't as lucky. He was sacked five times and hit on other plays. Fletcher Cox was dominant. He had three sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Cox led the team with six tackles. Half of them were the sacks. The other three tackles came when Cox just grabbed the running back and the line and put him down forcefully. Bennie Logan made his presence felt. He had a sack and a pair of tackles-for-loss. The Saints struggled to block Logan and Cox all game long.
New Orleans struggled to run the ball. They finished with 96 yards, but 21 of them came on the final drive when the Eagles were focused on pass defense. When Cox and Logan weren't making plays, they ate up blocks and allowed other players to make plays. Cedric Thornton returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games. He didn't stand out, but did his part to eat up blocks and contain edge runs.
The Eagles physicality went beyond the line of scrimmage. Skill players refused to go down easily. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews each broke several tackles in the game. Saints defenders would make contact and assume the play was about to end, only to see the Eagles runners fight loose and add additional yards. Josh Huff broke tackles on a couple of his receptions and fought for extra yards. This kind of toughness and effort is infectious.
The back seven on defense did their part as well. DeMeco Ryans unloaded a big hit on a tight end, knocking the ball loose and ending a drive. Ryans did that earlier in the game to another player, but that was ruled an incompletion. Malcolm Jenkins flew upfield and took out players a couple of times, both tackles-for-losses. Byron Maxwell made a clean, but forceful tackle of Marques Colston.
The scoreboard shows the Eagles outscoring the Saints. Put on the tape and you'll see the Eagles out-hit, out-block, out-tackle and out-play the Saints. That was an impressive showing.
Let's jump back to offense for a minute. Bradford played his most complete game as an Eagle. He threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns. Kelly and the offensive staff moved Bradford around a lot, having him throw on the move. The Eagles hadn't done much of this so far this year and it seemed to catch the Saints off-guard. Bradford looked pretty good on the move, although a couple of his throws were off-target. The big issue he had in the game was a pair of red zone interceptions. The first came on a poor throw to Cooper. The second pick was more of a good defensive play than anything else. Still, Bradford must be more careful when the team is already in field goal range. That's just giving away points.
It was impressive to see Bradford and the offense overcome the early troubles. This has been a frustrating season for the Eagles, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Mistakes in other games had proven to be overwhelming. There was no panic on Sunday. After throwing picks on consecutive drives, Bradford led the Eagles on a touchdown drive. The Eagles had complete control of the game from that point on.
Murray played his best game of the year. He is finally getting healthy and that makes a huge difference. Murray ran for 83 yards and a touchdown. He added 37 yards receiving. Murray was very close to breaking loose for a very long run a couple of times. You can see that he is getting more and more comfortable in the new scheme.
One part of the game plan that I loved was getting the tight ends more involved. Ertz had five catches for 60 yards. Celek had three catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. They consistently got open in the middle of the field. The offense just seems to flow better when Celek and Ertz are catching the ball and moving the chains.
Another good aspect of the game was seeing young players do their part. Huff opened the game with a 40-yard return. That didn't result in points, but it helped the Eagles to have good field position. Poor field position has been a problem in other games. Huff got the Eagles on the scoreboard when he caught a pass on a crossing route and turned it into a 41-yard touchdown. That was a key moment in the game. The fans at Lincoln Financial Field could really let loose for the first time all year.
Jordan Hicks played another strong game. He recovered a fumble and almost made a spectacular interception. Hicks has been tremendous this season. Bryan Braman got to play his first defensive snaps of the year and came up with a sack. He used a really good spin move to the inside to beat the right tackle late in the game. Marcus Smith played his best game as an Eagle. His highlight moment also came in the fourth quarter. He got by the left tackle and hit Brees just as he was releasing the ball. That hit affected the throw and Walter Thurmond picked off the pass, then returned it down to the four-yard line.
How many people thought Braman would sack Brees and Smith would come up with a key hit on the future Hall of Fame quarterback?
It was great to see the Eagles dominate. New Orleans scored first and last. In between, the Eagles outscored them 39-3. That is hard to believe. The big win improved the Eagles to 2-3 and kept them right in the middle of the NFC East race. Sunday was a lot of fun. It was great to finally see the Eagles play up to their ability. They need to file that away and start looking ahead. The big win won't mean anything if the Eagles aren't able to build on it.