The Chip Kelly era is set to begin tonight when the Philadelphia Eagles kickoff their season against the Washington Redskins, the team that many think will be the NFC East champs in 2013.
Even though there is a new coaching regime and several new players, many of the same old questions remain. Tonight, some of them will start to be answered; good, bad or indifferent.
The answers to these questions will not only determine the outcome of this game, they may also determine the outcome of the season.
1. Can they protect Michael Vick?
How the offensive line plays will go a long way in shaping this season’s success or failure. The logical thinking is that this unit should be a strength with the return to health of the starters and the addition of Lane Johnson.
However, sometimes a perceived strength can be exposed rather quickly. Vick needs to be able to trust his linemen so that he can play within the confines of the offensive scheme Kelly devises.
Kelly’s preference for the run-game should help in this cause as well. A strong running attack is a quarterback’s best friend. However, if they get behind early and have to enter pass-mode, can the line give Vick adequate time? This leads me to my next question…
2. Will Vick be able to play within the offense?
When he doesn’t trust his protection, Vick sometimes tends to leave the pocket too early. This is when bad things start to happen. He either runs on a non-designed play that leads to a killer hit, or it leads to a turnover.
Aka, he could revert to the “old Vick” of the last two seasons.
There is no doubt Kelly will devise an offense for Vick to play within. Stick to the plan and good things could happen. However, old habits die hard and when under pressure, Vick’s play becomes erratic.
3. Can they not turn the ball over?
Since 2011, three things have been certain in life: death, taxes and the Eagles turning the ball over. They have given it up a total of 75 times in the past two seasons. Seventy-five! That’s an average of over two turnovers per game.
This is self explanatory, you simply cannot turn the ball over at the rate the Eagles have and expect to win games. Until proven otherwise, this is still a huge question.
4. Can they generate turnovers on defense?
Unfortunately, while the offense was busy giving the ball away, the defense has had just as much trouble taking it away. Last season they only generated 13 takeaways, which was tied for fewest in the league.
When the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009, their defense was ranked towards the bottom of the league in yards and points. However, that defense generated 39 turnovers and that is how they were able to compete.
We may have to hope for something similar this year for the Eagles.
5. Can the defense stop Alfred Morris and the run-game?
There’s nothing worse than watching your defense get manhandled in the run-game. Unfortunately, that has become relatively routine over the past few seasons.
If this preseason was any indication, we could be in for more of the same in 2013.
6. Can the secondary stop Pierre Garcon and limit the passing game?
Without a doubt, the biggest weakness on this entire Eagles team is the secondary. It was the biggest weakness last year and early indications are that it will be again this year.
There should be better tackling from this group, let’s just hope they’re not always making these tackles after long gains. There isn’t one player in the secondary with proven coverage skills.
At least for tonight, we may need to hope for a rusty RG3 in order to limit big plays.
7. How efficient will the offense be in the red zone?
Last season the Eagles scored a touchdown on 44-percent of their trips inside the red zone, which ranked 28th in the league. A large part of the lack of success were crucial turnovers in this area of the field.
In a season where the defense very well could be the weak link, the offense can ill afford not to make the most of their time in this area of the field. Touchdowns, not field goals…and especially no turnovers.
8. What will the run-pass ratio look like?
We should be able to count on a more balanced attack under Chip Kelly. Hell, during his time at Oregon his run-pass ratio was slanted heavily towards the run (about a 65/35 split on average).
But, this is the pass-happy NFL. Can they keep pace on the scoreboard by running the ball as much as they may want to? Or will we have to see Kelly create an effective passing attack?
The play of the defense may ultimately determine the answer to this question.
9. What will we see more of on offense: up-tempo or read-option?
The answer could be we will see both equally. However, during the preseason QB competition, it seemed that Foles was the guy who primarily ran the up-tempo. We saw Vick run a no-huddle, but there is a difference between “no huddle” and “up-tempo.”
Perhaps the better question is how often we’ll see Vick on designed runs. Or, have the “option” to run and he actually does.
10. Will Riley Cooper step up or crumble?
Cooper had the misfortune of enduring a personally humiliating event when he was caught uttering the “n-word” in public. In a league where the players are predominantly African American, Cooper is now wearing a Scarlett Letter on his uniform.
Instead of an “A” for adulterer, it’s an “R” for racist, though whether it’s true or not is besides the point.
Cooper is now the No. 2 receiver and will be counted on to contribute to the offense this year. After “slur-gate”, I wrote about how Cooper could go one of two ways: he can either use it as motivation to make amends to his teammates by playing hard on the field, or he can let it bother him to the point where he loses focus and confidence.
Which one will it be? For the most part, the signs have pointed towards the former but we’ll see how he handles his on-field confrontations with players from other teams.
The Redskins’ DeAngelo Hall will certainly test Cooper’s mental resolve tonight. Even though Hall has overrated skills as a corner, he’s certainly not overrated as a trash talker.
In any case, just like Bill Davis said recently about the defense, we’ll see where this team is after tonight’s game. How they answer the above questions will determine if Kelly’s debut inspires confidence going forward, or just leads to more questions.