Looking in the Mirror

Posted: January 3rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 61 Comments »

Sean Payton and Drew Brees are the best coach-QB combo in the NFC. If not for the freaky Brady-Belichick duo, they’d be the best in all of football. Payton is the dynamic playcaller and gifted offensive mind. Brees is the brilliant, incredibly accurate QB that makes the offense come to life. That is a special duo. The Eagles would love for Chip Kelly and Nick Foles to become a similar combination to those two.

There is a bond that exists between a coach and a QB. This goes beyond getting along. The coach and the QB bring out the best in each other. The coach creates the right situations. The QB makes the right plays and does/says the right things off the field. It really is a unique relationship. Sometimes it is a fleeting thing. The QB happens to be the right guy at the right time (see Trent Dilfer and Brian Billick). Or it can last for a decade if you have special people. Joe Montana and Bill Walsh.

This doesn’t always have to be an offensive guy and a QB. Jimmy Johnson and Troy Aikman were perfect for each other. Jimmy wanted to run the ball and play defense. The passing game was there for big plays, but not to carry the team. Aikman as a franchise QB could have quibbled with this. He didn’t. Aikman never had more than 23 TD passes in a season. He never threw for more than 3,500 yards. But he ran the team exactly as Jimmy wanted it. And Jimmy knew that Aikman could make plays when called upon. He just happened to prefer feeding the ball to Emmitt Smith. Aikman was a very competitive, intense, disciplined player. He loved Jimmy’s hard-nosed style of coaching. Aikman wasn’t so fond of the successors who came in and were more player-friendly.

Chip Kelly and Nick Foles are off to a great start. They appear to be made for each other. More than anything else, Kelly wants a smart QB. He can work around mobility and arm strength. The one thing he must have is someone that plays smart.

Here are a couple of great articles on Foles and his sharp mind. Mike Sielski from the Inquirer spoke to a former NFL personnel executive and got a good story.

A former NFL player personnel director said in a phone interview this week that he has reviewed a psychological profile that Foles completed before the 2012 NFL draft. According to this person, Foles’ “quickness of learning was at the top of the scale.” That is, the profile suggested that Foles has a natural gift for understanding and mastering unfamiliar and/or complex concepts and systems.

“Let’s say you and I had the same Wonderlic score,” the former executive said, referring to the famous cognitive-abilities test that NFL teams use to size up college players. “Then we go into separate rooms and put the same math problem up. You get the problem solved in 38 seconds, and it takes me a minute and 25 seconds. That doesn’t mean you’re smarter than I am, but you’ve got the ability to process things faster.”

That sounds exactly like the kind of QB Kelly wants. 

Jenny Vrentas of MMQB wrote a good piece on Foles.

“You try to think, but not overthink,” Foles says. “I like feeling the game. I like reacting. There’s not, like, math problems going through my head when I’m dropping back. I’m recognizing the coverage; I’m seeing the defenders; I’m reading body language; I’m reading through the area.

“It’s like you’re looking at something, but you are not staring down anything,” he continues. “You are seeing the whole screen at once, and you are trying to react to leverage, depth, where the defenders are that can stop the play. You’re trying to make a read in one to four seconds.”

That’s a great description of playing QB. You’re glancing at chaos and trying to make a decision without truly focusing on one specific player or area. You don’t have time to stare at one guy. You have to anticipate. You have to feel things, with your eyes. This isn’t about gut instinct. It is about the ability to trust flashes that your eyes are processing in half-second intervals.

You know how radio stations will play one-second clips from a song to see who can guess it? This is the optical version of that.

Jason Avant is certainly impressed.

And while Vick steered Kelly’s new offense through its first five NFL games, Foles logged each of Vick’s live reps into what he likes to refer to as his mental “database.”

“That’s what makes him smart, is that a lot of people need experience to grow, but the best growth comes through instruction,” receiver Jason Avant says of Foles. “You can see someone else’s mistakes, and not repeat those. He just learned from Mike, and has taken Mike’s good, and discarded some bad.”

Growth comes through instruction? That sounds like Chip Kelly talking.

The Wall Street Journal had a terrific piece on Chip Kelly. I found this to be interesting.

To screen candidates for the head coach job, Lurie said he prepared a list of 100 questions. The questions ranged from “How would you deal with your offensive line after a poor performance?” to “What would you say to your team if you were overmatched because they didn’t expect certain plays to happen?” Most candidates offered earnest, predictable answers.

Kelly, however, answered almost all the questions with questions of his own: Why worry about a perfect run-pass balance? Why try possessing the ball for long periods of time when the goal is to score more points? Why should the kicking of an extra point be automatic? Why punt automatically? Why align the tackles in a balanced way? Why practice Wednesday, Thursday, Friday? Where’s the science behind that?

“There was obviously a philosophy of being inquisitive,” said Lurie, calling Kelly “someone who challenged the obvious.”

In the interview process, Roseman and Lurie said Kelly argued that strategy ought to be shaped to fit personnel, not to fit a coach’s philosophical beliefs or mirror his previously successful schemes.

So you’ve got a coach who is open to trying just about anything. You’ve got a QB who played in a pass-happy spread offense in college, the WCO as a rookie and and now a run-heavy zone read scheme in Year 2. That makes for an interesting combination. Kelly has run multiple systems over the years. Foles has played in multiple systems. Between them, they might to be able to create something special in Philadelphia.

So far, so good.


61 Comments on “Looking in the Mirror”

  1. 1 Rambler said at 4:04 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    I definitely had a wait and see attitude with the hiring of Kelly. No matter what happens in the playoffs, my opinion now is that the Eagles organization made the best possible decision with hiring of him as head coach. It is clearly obvious that the entire culture of this team is vastly improved, and they are headed in the right direction. This year is a resounding success. Sure, Chip has made some mistakes, but I know that he will work to improve on the details, and the future is bright for this team under him. He seems to have the perfect balance of football smarts and accepting that he does not know everything. When your head coach himself never stops seeking to learn and improve… as a player, how could you not do the same? It seems there is a such an huge amount of respect between coach and players, and that to me is so completely necessary for success.

  2. 2 Johnny_P said at 4:27 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Great article. I enjoy watching Chip coach and the mindset he brings to the organization. He just has a natural way of dealing with pro players that is unmatched by his counter-parts (I’m looking at you Greg Schiano). Chip is 100% football all the time, and he has that fire in his gut. He seems to be a perfectionist but also very honest with himself. I think he instantly won over any credibility with the fan base and the team with the job he’s done this year. The great part is, that it’s not over. The time is now. Making it to the NFL playoffs is not an easy feat, which is why you have to make the most of the opportunities. I can see the Eagles throwing the kitchen sink at each opponent along the way. It’s been a very fun ride….

  3. 3 Corry said at 4:31 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Pierre Thomas is out for the Saints (John Clayton reporting).

  4. 4 theycallmerob said at 4:40 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    It’s official on their injury report as well.
    The 3rd safety, Bush (who was used a bit earlier in the year and will have to aid Harper) is probable, but playing on a gimpy ankle.

  5. 5 SteveH said at 5:11 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    We are a team of destiny, every time the Eagles prepare to play someone, god strikes down one of their players.

  6. 6 ACViking said at 5:18 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Until this week, it’d been All Pro-types like Aaron Rodgers and APeterson.

    Now if Drew Brees should slip on the ice and hurt his back, then I’ll believe the Eagles are a team of destiny.

    And all they’ll have to do is throw their helmets on the field, because destiny — per Kelly — already fixed.

  7. 7 BlindChow said at 5:23 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Tony Romo, Andre Ellington and Reggie Bush were conveniently out when they played us as well.

    Safety Vaccaro is also out for the Saints.

  8. 8 ACViking said at 5:25 PM on January 3rd, 2014:


    Thanks. Yes. It’s been a good run of luck in that regard this season.

    I’ve my doubts whether this team wins the NFC east if they played GB with Rodgers — or even Matt Flynn. Then Dallas with Romo.

    Same with the Cards. That’s a playoff-constructed football team. Ellington proved his bona fides in Week 17 against the 49ers.


  9. 9 Corry said at 5:55 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Chip Kelly’s voodoo dolls are amazingly effective, but I would have gone after Brees.

  10. 10 Insomniac said at 10:12 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Chip is more afraid of their backup QB..Cassel and Orton looked like All Pros while Brees looked average outside of the dome.

  11. 11 RobNE said at 6:42 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    The first 3-4 games pats played the opposing qb maybe 1 pro start.

  12. 12 Michael Winter Cho said at 8:43 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Luck is necessary to win a championship. Health, opposition non-health, riding a trend up instead of down, even peaking to some extent, are all important facets of fortune. We are highly ranked by both Football Outsiders and Advanced NFL Stats (9th and 5th respectively), but we’ve had a lot of breaks fall our way–and here’s to hoping it continues.
    My NBA team, the Spurs, got to the finals last year through a combination of good play and three or four key injuries to the other teams. They were up 5 points with 28 seconds to go to win the championship and managed to lose, largely due to some very unlucky bounces going to the Heat.
    I say this Eagles team has about as much chance to win out as the recent Giants or Steelers did.

  13. 13 sprawl said at 11:41 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    FB outsiders DVOA-based playoff predictions basically has us as a coin-flip each week all the way through winning the big game. It’s a long-shot but I’m pretty happy with those odds

  14. 14 RobNE said at 7:31 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Sorry, who is that? Starter?

  15. 15 Corry said at 8:42 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    He’s one of their jack of all trades running backs. He pretty much does everything well. Good in the screen game, decent running the ball, pass protection, etc. It hurts them.

  16. 16 SteveH said at 4:40 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Fascinating stuff, I love how Kelly has no problem challenging conventional thinking.

  17. 17 ACViking said at 4:43 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Re: Instructional Growth


    What Avant said regarding Foles’ learning process — i.e., “growth through instruction” — sounds like a research method called “Quantitative Domain Mapping.”

    QDM’s been applied by a pair of college professors named Wiley and Welch to an an empirical study of student growth in introductory music theory. Wiley’s expertise is in instructional psychology and technology. Welch teaches the performing and visual arts.

    They explained QDM this way — and it’s worth a couple of reads:

    “Wiley (2000) describes the Quantitative Domain Mapping methodology as a synthesis of four existing instructional design theories: Reigeluth’s (1983, 1999) Elaboration Theory, Gibbons and associates’ (1995) Work Model Synthesis procedure, van Merriëboer’s (1997) Four-Component Instructional Design model, and Bunderson and associates’ Domain Theory (2001).

    “The goal of the methodology is to begin to provide a clearly delineated ‘understand[ing of] the construct-relevant sources of task difficulty’ with in the domain being studied (Messick, 1995).

    “A more precise understanding of the difficulties of and relationships between tasks within the content domain give an instructor or instructional designer additional data with which to make design decisions, such as those involving content scope and sequencing.

    “The methodology itself is comprised of two major components: Theory building and theory improving, viewing theory improvement as an on-going commitment on the part of the researcher. The following simplified description is adapted from Wiley (2000).

    *Theory Building*

    “Identify major constructs. What does expert performance in the domain look like? What tasks do experts perform when engaged in domain performance? Construct identification is an iterative analysis and synthesis process.

    “First the researcher uses task analysis (Merrill, 1976), skill decomposition (van Merriënboer, 1997), or another job analysis technique to break the content domain down into meaningfully distinguishable constructs.

    “Then she employs work model synthesis techniques to recombine these tiny, decontextualized objectives into meaningful, real-world performances. The analysis results in a set of specifications for integrated performances of clearly identified constructs within the content domain.”

    There’s more to the conversation. But the excerpt I’ve quoted is QDM’s heartland.

    Now, I haven’t a clue whether Chip Kelly’s ever studied QDM. Or spoken to a psychology prof at UOregon about it.

    But he seems so curious about players’ physiological performance, I’d like to think he’s invested some serious time in exploring the maximization of players’ psychological performances in his multi-decisional offense.

    Especially at QB.

    And if Kelly hasn’t explored QDM, he seems to be employing the methodology for evaluating how to teach his players. At least by press accounts of his and the players’ description of what’s going on at NovaCare — and what Nick Foles’ job is.

  18. 18 SteveH said at 5:10 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    No additional insight into QDM, but I will mention that I feel like psychology is an area that sports teams have yet to fully tap into and leverage its benefits. In particular mindful meditation I think would be useful to help players perform at their best in stressful situations (critical moments in the game).

  19. 19 ACViking said at 5:31 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    How ’bout buy-in?

  20. 20 bsuperfi said at 5:41 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    I bet there are a ton of psychological factors we could identify at both individual and organizational levels that would be useful. Eg self efficacy – the belief that one can do something – could be critical. Collective efficacy – the parallel belief about a group and held among a group – could be critical too.

  21. 21 bsuperfi said at 5:19 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    I don’t have a background in QDM per se, but I do have some knowledge base about psychometrics (particularly in the basic theory of construct validity per the Messick cite).

    I have no idea what Kelly’s precise methods are or how grounded they are in this kind of research, but one could imagine some serious thought going into how to teach the QB position in a particular system. The whole work is based in the concept of “constructs” – basically a bundle of knowledge and skills that can be “validated.” The validation part is key – there needs to be some serious testing from multiple angles with different assessments to validate a construct (basically to form a believable argument that it exists and works as theorized).

    In this case, one would need to precisely articulate the bundles of mental skills and knowledge that form the constructs. In other words, one would need to precisely unpack and articulate what skills and knowledge are essential for “strong Kelly QBing” or something like that. And then one would need to test this out (in this case, there obviously wouldn’t be formal construct validation – just chalkboard talk and play on the field/practice). I guess I could see Kelly doing this, at least in his head if not in some secret Kelly document.

    The matter of expertise is related, but there’s a pretty big body of literature about what constitutes an expert (vs., say, a novice) in different domains. E.g. there’s literature about what makes for an expert doctor, lawyer, firefighter, etc. Pretty interesting stuff. The major commonality underlying these domains is that one can move from concrete and individual cases to underlying principles pretty fluidly. A real expert can move outside of formal rule structures for dealing with particular situations because he/she deeply understands the principles underlying the rules in the first place. I’d think one could make a pretty good argument about how someone like Manning, Brady, or Brees is a football expert (though processing speed doesn’t necessarily fit into the broad definition of expert for what it’s worth).

  22. 22 ACViking said at 5:24 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    This is great, great material.

    Thanks. Really helps amplify the topic.

  23. 23 bsuperfi said at 5:36 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    No problem. Least I can do after all I’ve learned re football from tommy and all the comments.

  24. 24 Dragon_Eagle said at 10:29 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Awesome discussion and material. Thank you. It was for posts like this that I got into the EMB blog years ago. Kudos to bsuperfi as well. Glad to see discussion at this level here.

  25. 25 Mac said at 5:00 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Sidles up to the bar… “I’ll have what he’s having.”

  26. 26 Tumtum said at 5:10 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    If you folks usually just read Tommy’s commentary on the articles he links from national writers, I suggest taking the time for both of these. They were very good.

  27. 27 Dominik said at 7:10 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Yeah, classic T-Law: good takes on good articles he found.

  28. 28 Tumtum said at 8:57 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Yep. Usually I wont read the national ones, just the clip and Tommys take. These were well worth the read.

  29. 29 mksp said at 5:13 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Saints are either super loose, are not taking Eagles seriously. I’m leaning towards the former, hoping for latter.

    Lots of jokes about the weather, sweatpants, etc. Eating Popeye’s after practice today before their flight. Kind of hoping Saints get the ball first, I want to see us just get after them from the start.

  30. 30 ACViking said at 5:15 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Payton’s feeding those guys the whole “We don’t get any respect ’cause we’re a dome team”-line.

    They’re coming to Philadelphia with something to prove.

  31. 31 SteveH said at 5:23 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Gotta hate playing a team with a chip on their shoulder.

  32. 32 ACViking said at 5:28 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Exactly. There’s coming here very, very motivated.

    Tampa — same in 2002. I think Gruden was a better motivator for that particular iteration of the Bucs than Dungy would have been.

    New Orleans may start very fast as a result.

  33. 33 RobNE said at 10:13 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    ACV: I think all teams should be super motivated at this point. Honestly, I sometimes think Reid is/was very good at his job, better than most. But in the playoffs up against other good teams/coaches, he struggled. The Bucs had a historically good D that year. And in the Carolina game, the DB’s were manhandling our receivers (perhaps blame Reid for never focusing on WR’s except for Owens). I just don’t think it was ever “we didn’t want it”.

    If the Saints jump on us tomorrow, it’s likely because Chung sucks.

    I hope we can overcome your fears that we don’t belong in the playoffs over the next few weeks!

  34. 34 ACViking said at 10:56 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    I don’t think I ever said this doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs. I only believe they had a more easy road than other teams.

  35. 35 RobNE said at 11:11 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Right fair enough. Well any combination of the next 3 wins from here on out, even if they get GB or SF at home, should be enough to earn the right to represent the NFC.

  36. 36 ACViking said at 11:33 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    I’d love see that. I’m not a believer in the “house money” theory. Win now. Because you just don’t know what’ll happen next year

  37. 37 OregonDucker said at 12:32 AM on January 4th, 2014:

    Like injuries!

  38. 38 Rambler said at 5:34 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Chip on the shoulder = fast start and early lead for the Saints. Chip on the sideline = superior game plan and stamina, and ultimately an Eagles win.

  39. 39 P_P_K said at 8:54 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Good one.

  40. 40 Ark87 said at 5:17 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    I couldn’t really tell by the transcripts, but were they mocking some of our sports sciencey quirks?

  41. 41 jshort said at 7:52 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Easy to feel loose and joke about the weather, especially in a warm atmosphere. Wait till each individual walks out the airport. and feel this biting cold. Popeye’s, mac&cheese, green gatorade aint guna help. Don’t know if anyone gets used to the cold. Just think we acclimate better from living here.

  42. 42 Insomniac said at 10:09 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    I would have LOVED to see the looks of their faces if they saw the amount of snow that fell into the stadium. Also…snow sucks if you’re over 18.

  43. 43 Joe Minx said at 6:24 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    This picture is hilarious.

  44. 44 Dominik said at 7:12 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Like a child. 😀

    Altough I like that paragraph slightly more:

    “Kelly, however, answered almost all the questions with questions of his
    own: Why worry about a perfect run-pass balance? Why try possessing the ball for long periods of time when the goal is to score more points? Why should the kicking of an extra point be automatic? Why punt automatically? Why align the tackles in a balanced way? Why practice Wednesday, Thursday, Friday? Where’s the science behind that?”

    I don’t know him personally, but that sounds like a CLASSIC Kelly.

  45. 45 Joseph Dubyk said at 8:30 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    im still baffled that Vick got the nod to start the season…..

  46. 46 jshort said at 8:41 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Think Les Bowen wrote an article about the QB’s, Doesn’t matter who starts the season but who finishes. Back when Vick was named the starter.

  47. 47 suthrneagle said at 8:46 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Maybe he felt Foles wasn`t quite ready?
    He`s the coach, right?
    Seems to know his players` abilities.

  48. 48 A_T_G said at 12:04 AM on January 4th, 2014:

    I wondered this too. Is it giving Chip too much credit to believe that he saw the potential in Foles but knew that if he put him out there to start the season, there would be a learning curve and that having Vick on the sidelines, with everyone imagining what he could do in Chip’s system, would put Foles in a unwinnable situation?

    The best situation for Foles confidence is having seen the other QBs on the field and knowing he is doing better than they did. Was that just lucky in how things played out, or did Chip realize that the what-ifs would be too much for a young QB when he named Vick the starter?

  49. 49 suthrneagle said at 10:30 PM on January 10th, 2014:

    think it`s a combination of both; wouldn`t call Vick`s injury `lucky`,certainly not for him,cause I wonder if these types of injuries linger and recur,leading to
    his near future demise…however with respect to Foles
    and Kelly–can`t wait to see how well they do against a supposedly(probable) tougher schedule, especially after a full offseason,etc…

  50. 50 CTAZPA said at 8:48 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    One of the Oregon guys who posts here said that it takes some time for everyone to get on the same page with Chip’s offense. He warned of bad quarters, halves or even games (Dallas 1?). I believe that Foles’ success wasn’t easily seen until everyone else knew the system.

    I was always rooting for Foles to win the job, but at the time, I sure admitted that Vick was superior in the preseason.

  51. 51 Maggie said at 9:10 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Because of pecking order, contracts, and Vick was proven QB, praised by many teammates. Foles was still a mystery and not yet the leader he has since become.

  52. 52 TheRogerPodacter said at 11:29 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    i agree with what the others have mentioned, but want to add one thing.
    CK has been pushing competition all offseason. Foles had a pretty good offseason, and that seemed to push Vick to play even better. Remember him in the preseason? he was playing great, great football. Foles was far from awful too, but Vick put up better numbers with the 1’s against the other teams’ 1’s.
    At that time, I don’t think Foles had done enough to unseat the veteran in Vick.

  53. 53 Alex Karklins said at 9:04 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Rumors have it that Chip Kelly is going all out and has purchased several cases of Hahn Beer from Australia. It has been blended into every player’s smoothie this week:

  54. 54 SteveH said at 9:20 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    More evidence that the Redskins failures are divine retribution for being owned by one of the more grotesque trolls to ever walk this earth:


  55. 55 RobNE said at 10:52 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    I’m guessing Chip doesn’t order Popeye’s for the Eagles. I’m not sure why we would consider that a negative for us, and translate that as the Saints are loose. Not that one meal can lose them the game, but I like the fact that I doubt we ever serve that kind of sh$t to our players. Hey, anything that can give us an edge.

  56. 56 SteveH said at 10:54 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    My biggest takeaway from the Jenny Vrentas article: Emmanuel Acho does jigsaw puzzles with Nick Foles’ mom.

  57. 57 RobNE said at 10:56 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Peter King bothers me so much I have trouble reading anything on his new website.

  58. 58 ACViking said at 11:00 PM on January 3rd, 2014:


    I’m with you. Heck, the whole web site is visually painful.

  59. 59 RobNE said at 11:05 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    Other websites do this too, but I can’t stand a web page with 5 “pages”. Why do I need to click to see page 2? There’s no advertising either, I think, so what’s the point?

    But more than that it’s his tone (that person didn’t make my coffee right!) and uneducated opinions (the Pats will win every year). He also name drops constantly.

  60. 60 ACViking said at 11:30 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    King can be exhausting.

  61. 61 sprawl said at 11:35 PM on January 3rd, 2014:

    The Chip-Foles connection @flyeaglesnation brought up again earlier on twitter