The Eagles went 10-6. They won the NFC East. This is a heck of an accomplishment in Year One for Chip Kelly. It also says a lot about the players.
Remember that last year the Eagles went 4-12. There were some talent issues, but sloppy play was as big a culprit as anything. Think about Mike Vick’s awful showing in the loss at Arizona. Brent Celek had a key drop and key penalty in the loss to the Lions. STs gave up a PR touchdown that broke open the first Dallas game. Bryce Brown had crucial fumbles in a couple of games. Nick Foles made his share of bonehead plays in multiple games. The entire defense was a disaster after the firing of Juan Castillo. That was a combination of tackling and coverage.
The Eagles made good personnel moves in the offseason, but just as importantly, Chip Kelly eliminated a lot of the mistakes. The Eagles went from leading the league in turnovers to having the 4th fewest. That is huge. Brent Celek was money in the Red Zone. He had 6 TD catches, the 2nd most of his career. The receivers became good, if not very good, run blockers. Tackling improved dramatically. There were still some coverage issues, but this was a completely rebuilt secondary and they were learning a new scheme.
For the first time in a while, the Eagles were a smart team. Celek went down instead of scoring against the Lions. That sealed the game. Just last night Brandon Boykin went down after picking off Kyle Orton. Boykin could have run around and tried to make a play, but there was no need for that. Be smart, be safe. Nick Foles took sacks rather than throwing the ball up for grabs. In the Red Zone, he threw the ball out of the back of the end zone rather than taking sacks. Always try to put yourself in a favorable position.
The players could have fought Kelly and his “interesting” ideas. That didn’t happen. The players embraced Kelly and ate up everything he was selling. There were some bumps in the road early on, but nothing too big. These guys wanted to win. They were willing to adjust the way they trained, practiced and played.
Just look at some key veterans. Trent Cole became a pretty good OLB. Brent Celek caught his fewest passes as a starter, but had the best blocking season of his career. Jason Avant had his fewest catches since 2008, but did a great job as a blocker. Todd Herremans moved to a new position. It took time for him to adjust to RG, but he played better down the stretch. Michael Vick lost his starting job. He never complained once. He never made an odd comment that the press could try and read into. This is a group of high character players that helped the team on and off the field.
So often we think of leaders as rah-rah guys. That’s somewhat of a media myth. Leaders can be fiery in your face guys, but just as important are guys that talk to and teach other guys in more basic ways. DeMeco Ryans might be the best leader on the Eagles. The other 52 players respect him. They listen to him. Ryans isn’t getting in someone’s face all the time. He’s just a veteran player who has a gift for knowing what needs to be said and when to say it.
Let’s also give credit to the young guys. Nick Foles handled the QB situation well. He could have complained to the media when Vick got the job immediately, but Foles said all the right things. He could have expressed frustration when he wasn’t named the starter after beating the Bucs and Giants, but again said the right things. Vinny Curry could have been tough to deal with after being inactive for the first 2 weeks, but he stayed pretty quiet and worked his way into the lineup.
Almost across the board, players chose to buy in to Kelly’s ideas. This was a huge part of the team’s success in 2013. It also gives you a lot of hope moving forward.
The Eagles are a work in progress. This should be just one step on the way to the top. Time will tell how close the Eagles get to the ultimate goal. The good news is that Chip Kelly didn’t sell out for this season’s success. This isn’t the 1995 Eagles, loaded with veteran cast-offs and one-year signings. The 2013 Eagles have plenty of young talent.
I don’t think winning the division will distract the team from loftier expectations. The Eagles have won plenty of division titles in the last 15 years. This isn’t going to be like the 2012 Skins, where winning the division was a landmark event. That city and organization acted as if they’d just won a decade’s worth of Super Bowls. Kelly will keep his players hungry. The leaders on the team will keep the players focused.
It feels great to get back to the playoffs, especially to be hosting a game. No matter what happens on Saturday night, the 2013 season has been a success. That said, I’m greedy. Let’s go beat the Saints and keep this ball rolling.