At least Chip Kelly admitted that he was out-coached Sunday.
The Eagles scored two first half touchdowns, fueled by Josh Huff (39 yard catch-and-run, 39 yard kickoff return) and DeMarco Murray (three 10+ yard runs). Then they went away from these players and the offense fizzled. Huff ended the game with only 17 offensive snaps (of the team’s 71) and not a single target after his touchdown. Murray had 30 snaps (42%), but only 13 carries (for 64 yards, 4.9 YPC).
The lack of runs was puzzling. [Editor’s note: Mark is new here and clearly wasn’t around for the Andy Reid Era. Welcome to Philadelphia, Mark.] Chip’s system does best with a rough balance between run and pass, something like 45% – 55%, and they averaged 4.9 yards per carry on Sunday (including 11 on a beautiful read-option keeper by Sanchez). Yet they ran on only 28 plays and passed 41 times, completing just 26 with three sacks and three back-breaking interceptions.
In Murray’s case, he fumbled twice, which may be one reason he didn’t get more touches. (The Birds kept the ball both times, as the first was re-fumbled by the Bucs and the second ruled down by contact.) That doesn’t explain why Kenjon Barner, who played well, only got one snap before garbage time and Sproles saw little action even after scoring a touchdown. Sanchez couldn’t deliver even screens to Sproles through the air. So run it.
Of course conventional wisdom says to pass more when you fall behind. But that’s not the way Chip’s system works. It’s built on big runs at tempo speed, especially as you wear down your opponent. Oregon scored (and still scores) at record levels running, by breaking 10, 20 and 40 yards plays. And those runs open up the passing game.
The passes Sunday were short, too– only a yard and a half longer than the runs (at 6.4 YPC). If your goal is to come back quickly, that’s not the kind of passes that will do it. And Sanchez was pretty wild with his throws. He overthrew Celek and Ertz on consecutive plays to kill one first quarter drive, and missed at least half a dozen screens or simple throws to the flat.
Even assuming the need to pass, it makes no sense that the team went away from Huff on a day they sorely needed play makers. He was clearly in a rhythm. On his touchdown, he caught a simple slant six yards past the line of scrimmage and made six defenders miss as he cut all the way across the field, running with vision and decisiveness. But that was his only target of the game.
At his press conference yesterday, Chip Kelly seemed a bit puzzled himself:
Q. Huff only got 17 snaps, though, and WR Miles Austin —
CHIP KELLY: I thought he had more than that. I’ll look at the numbers.
Q. Huff had 17 —
CHIP KELLY: But he was rotating with [WR] Nelson [Agholor] on the other side. Again, a lot of it is coverage dictated. So if you watch the tape, we didn’t get much man free after that snap. Specifically, it was a lot more Cover 2 with two high safeties and guys rolled up on the outside receivers.
Strange response. Huff’s game is blocking when he’s not targeted… and yards after catch, based on his physicality and elusiveness, when he is. He’s not a burner who kills you on go routes, and playing two high doesn’t take his game away. Besides, as Jimmy Kempski tweeted, why is Chip announcing that he lets the defense dictate what plays he runs?
Besides which, there was no rotation with Huff. He didn’t return until the fourth quarter, while Agholor had only four targets, catching three for 11 yards total.
Other receivers came and went, mostly Agholor and Miles Austin. All of them are inferior blockers to Huff, and none of them were productive. Austin had 31 snaps and one target (incomplete late in the game). Cooper had 31 snaps, catching two. Kelly moved Jordan Matthews outside a bit, and even lined up Kenjon Barner as a wide receiver with 6:34 left in the first.
So what did Chip have to lose by calling Huff’s number after his one TD catch? It makes no sense.
As I write this on Monday, we don’t have the coaches’ tape yet to see what opportunities Sanchez saw, but one example was clear:
"I've just always thought.. Why throw a touchdown when you can throw an interception?" – Mark Sanchez pic.twitter.com/wpctUnG5P4
— Thad Hundley (@PJbleedsgreen) November 22, 2015
It was a terrible decision, and Chip admitted as much in his press conference Monday. Asked what Sanchez should have done differently on the play, he said:
“Not thrown it to Tampa Bay.”
Funny line, Chip, but you’re the one who kept calling for Sanchez to pass. You know he throws interceptions. We know he throws interceptions. So why?
The bottom line: Chip Kelly’s play calling was bad. It would have been great to get more runs (either Murray if you trust him not to fumble, or Barner and Sproles if you don’t), to see Sanchez keep a couple more handoffs to keep the defense honest, and to unleash the Huff.