The Eagles came out of Atlanta on Monday night on the wrong end of a 24-26 game that showed there is plenty to be worked on for Chip Kelly and his coaching staff.
Philadelphia has had a strong preseason, but that did not translate into regular season football during a nightmare first half. The offense could find no momentum, and they found themselves 17 points behind at the half.
It was somewhat similar to the awful first half showing the Eagles had last year in week one against the Jaguars. What was also similar to a year ago was the way they roared back into contention in the 2nd half, with three touchdowns, to take the lead in the fourth quarter. The comparisons end there however as the Falcons were able to score a late go-ahead field goal and hold on for the win.
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The Eagles got the football back twice after the final score. One drive ended with a missed 44-yard field goal attempt from Cody Parkey, and the last chance at a comeback going through Jordan Matthews fingers to be intercepted by Ricardo Allen on the second.
All eyes were on the new look Philadelphia roster after an offseason of upheaval. Chip Kelly utilized his newfound power over personnel by revamping the roster drastically. Out went Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy via trades to the Rams and Bills respectively, and Jeremy Maclin was allowed to sign with Kansas City via free agency.
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In came Sam Bradford as part of the Foles trade, DeMarco Murray from Dallas and Ryan Mathews from San Diego in free agency, and Nelson Agholor via the first round of the draft.
The offensive line was broken up as Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis were both shipped out, with the guard jobs being won by Allen Barbre and Andrew Gardner.
On defense, the issues with stopping the pass spelled the end for starting corners Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, as well as safety Nate Allen. The Eagles were aggressive in targeting Byron Maxwell from Seattle and signed him to a massive contract while also adding Walter Thurmond. Linebacker Kiko Alonso also arrived as part of the McCoy trade while long time sack master Trent Cole left as a free agent.
By getting rid of a number of stars and bringing in risk players coming off serious injuries in Alonso and Bradford Kelly was taking a significant risk. This was only exacerbated by the fact that McCoy, among others, made remarks suggesting there was a racism issue that led to black players leaving, and that Murray was the cornerstone of the division rival Cowboys last year. Kelly had put himself well and truly under the spotlight, and he was not short of people willing him to fail.
A good performance was needed for Kelly to avoid scrutiny and there were some positives. Bradford got into an excellent rhythm in the second half, especially with receiver Jordan Matthews.
Darren Sproles looked as dynamic as ever, Kiko Alonso made an incredible one-handed interception in the end zone, safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond played well, and the defense brought decent pressure which forced Matt Ryan to rush throws and use quick screens frequently. The tempo that Kelly famously likes to run also helped wear down the Falcons defense once Bradford was able to find some momentum.
Despite this, a loss is a loss, and the terrible first half showing was not a confidence-inducing way to start the season.
Of some concern was the amount of penalties incurred, often wiping out what little offensive spark was created during the first half. Including those that were declined, Philadelphia had fourteen flags thrown on them. At the same time, the tackling on display was very poor early on, with players like Demeco Ryans unable to make plays when usually so reliable. This sort of sloppiness needs to be dealt with as soon as possible if the Eagles are going to make a run this season.
While Bradford may have struggled early in his new role as the Eagles franchise quarterback he was able to get into a groove in the second half, hitting short crossing routes time after time. His interception in Eagle's territory at the end of the first half was bad however as he has conceded. Having limited the Atlanta to a field goal and stopped the clock with timeouts, the interception instantly dug the Eagles a deeper hole than the one they were already in.
Of more concern will be the lack of running game outside of some Darren Sproles draw plays. Big money has been spent on Demarco Murray and Ryan Mathews on the basis that their north-south running style is more compatible with Kelly's game plan than that of the elusive McCoy. Therefore their combined yardage of eleven carries for thirteen yards, albeit with a touchdown run each, is a huge disappointment.
For a team that is supposedly going to use the downhill running ability of their two new running backs it seems strange, to say the least, that they operate exclusively out of the shotgun and, as Jon Gruden pointed out on ESPN, do not have a fullback on the roster. The one play that Murray was given a chance to work with was the stretch but it will not take long for that to be planned for if there is not much else in the playbook to make the most of the backfield talent.
The offensive line play was patchy and likely had an effect. The lack of running game, the multitude of holding penalties, and the poor first half protection for Bradford signifies another area that will require work before next Sunday. Even the All-Pro Jason Peters was being beaten by rookie Vic Beasley off the edge at times.
Surely the biggest disappointment, and the biggest contributor to the final score, was the cornerback play and specifically that of Byron Maxwell. It will not have impressed Eagles fans in the slightest that a superstar receiver in Julio Jones was able to operate so unchallenged. The likes of Dez Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald have come into games with Philadelphia in recent years as their teams' danger men and the Eagles have been powerless to deal with them.
Maxwell's arrival was supposed to be a big part of combatting oppositions' number one receivers. Instead, he was regularly burnt by both Jones and Roddy White, who put up 225 yards between them with two Jones touchdowns.
On the key drive late in the game where the Falcons had gone behind for the first time Ryan hit Jones behind Maxwell for 44 yards on the first play of the drive to immediately get into range for the winning field goal. In short, his play will have to improve dramatically if he is to fulfill any expectations in Philadelphia, and if the Eagles are going to have a hope of closing games out during the season.
Focus has been put on Cody Parkey for his missed field goal late on which would have re-taken the lead. His preseason struggles coupled with coming back from injury surely are a cause for concern if this continues in subsequent games. However on Monday night the game should never have come down to that kick.
If Julio Jones had been held in check, the penalties had been cut out, or if the 3rd and one that led to the field goal attempt had been converted then, the Eagles could have won comfortably. On that specific play, Chip Kelly also seemed unsure whether to go for it on fourth down or settle for the kick, which led the field goal unit to have to rush the kick.
The jury is very much still out for this revamped Eagles roster after the week one loss. However, the second half comeback suggests that if some of the aforementioned issues can be quickly rectified then this team has the potential to be a player during the 2015 season.
Chip Kelly will be hoping that these were early season jitters than can be ironed out quickly or else he could be paying for it with his job sooner rather than later.
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