Saturday, September 7, 2013

The dreaded Saturday Eagles pick

Where have you gone, Andy Reid?

And who is this guy with the visor?

Welcome to your 2013 Philadelphia Eagles football season.

And the dawn of the Chip Kelly Era.

Having surprised everyone with his last-second coup in unlodging the ultra-successful head coach at Oregon, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie – and the frenzied Eagles fanatics – will have to wait an extra day to see what Kelly will unleash on the NFL.

The Birds – regardless of whether they are ready or not – are playing in prime time in the NFL’s first Monday night matchup of the season. And they’re not getting a cake walk. They’ll face another electric performer, Robert Griffin III, the mercurial quarterback of the Redskins.

Here’s what I take away from the Eagles training camp – held in South Philly this year instead of Lehigh, and four exhibition games. Andy Reid doesn’t coach here anymore. If nothing else, Kelly has been a much-needed breath of fresh air.

I have no doubt Kelly’s hurry-up offense, not surprisingly directed by Michael Vick despite Kelly’s faux competition with Nick Foles, is going to light up the league. He’s got some of the best weapons in the NFL. LeSean McCoy should have a monster year.

What I don’t know is if the Eagles will be able to stop anyone. Their defense has been a concern since Day One. It still is. New defensive coordinator Billy Davis is trying to work a 3-4 system into place, with mixed results. The Eagles’ secondary, in particular their safeties, remain decidedly subpar.

Kelly may want to slow down his offense, if only to keep his defense off the field. And should the offense suddenly start producing hurry-up three and outs, the defense could be exposed early and often.

There also remains the notion that Nick Foles should not get too comfortable on the sidelines. Vick has shown a propensity for getting hurt. The read-option Kelly is about to unleash will leave him vulnerable to more hits.

II'm putting the over/under on games played by Vick at nine, and I'm taking the under.

I’m not entirely convinced that Matt Barkley still does not wind up as the quarterback of this outfit before the season is over.

Vick also must do several other things, none of which he has proved adept at in recent years. He must refrain from being a turnover machine, he must make quick decisions, and he must avoid big hits. That’s a lot of new stripes for a 33-year-old cat.

Vick needs to stay on the field first and foremost. If he can do that, this offense should be stoked with a steady succession of read-option handoffs to McCoy and Bryce Brown. This team should run the ball much more than it ever did under the pass-crazed offense of Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg.

But I’m not sure even a healthy Vick – and a budding superstar in McCoy – can make up for a defense that will prove to be this team's Achilles’ heel.

I don’t look for the Birds to win in D.C., and I would think .500 would qualify Kelly as coach of the year material.

Welcome to the Chip Kelly Era.

The Pick: Make it Redskins 34, Eagles 23. Vick and McCoy play well, but not well enough to overcome a defense that will be scorched by budding star RG3, eager to get back his halo after shredding his knee at the tail end of last year.

Last Week: It’s a new slate. The Birds went 2-2 in the preseason. It might be a mirror of the regular season.

Season Record: The Birds finished at 4-12 last year, in the process finally punching Andy Reid’s ticket out of town. Anyone remember that the Birds started 3-1 and beat the Super Bowl champion Ravens in the process? I, on the other hand, had a dynamite year picking them to lose. I will be hard-pressed to repeat that gaudy 11-5 mark.

 

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