The Eagles, who have done very well in the second halves of games this season, face the 49ers, who haven’t, on Sunday. But Philly coach Chip Kelly claims coaches don’t view games that way.
“I guess the best way for me to say it is, we don’t look at what quarter or what half or whatever,” Kelly told reporters on Thursday. “We look at red zone, we look at third down. Part of some of the things that happened to them – and [49ers head coach] Jim [Harbaugh] will say the same thing ‑‑ are more self‑inflicted wounds. They’ve got eight or nine first downs that people have converted against them in critical situations because of penalties. You know, it’s been kind of just tough. They’ve got them off the field and got them in a situation, but all of a sudden, they get a stop on third down, but then there’s a flag. There was an illegal contact once in the Dallas game that was hard to see, where you could even see where it was on film, but that extends the drive, and it’s another first down, so they’re on the field. So I think some of the things are self-inflicted in terms of what they’re doing from a penalty standpoint. That is the one thing that kind of stands out when you look at it. But we don’t say, ‘Hey, let’s just look at what’s going on in the third and fourth quarter with those guys,; because we’re still [asking], ‘What’s going on in the red zone, what’s going on on third down, what are they doing in short-yardage situations, what are they doing on the goal line?; That is kind of how we approach our game, not change our game plan [with] one game plan for the first half and a different game plan for the second half.”
As to his own team’s first-half struggles, Kelly said each game has unfolded differently.
“I don’t see a common thread,” Kelly said of his team’s games. “Indianapolis did a really good job of running the ball against us, the Washington Redskins did a good job of throwing the ball and controlling the clock against us and [they were] two entirely different approaches. You come out of the Indianapolis game, I thought we did a good job of defending Andrew Luck, but they ran the ball on us. From a defensive perspective, you come out of the Redskins game and say, ‘We did a really good job against Alfred Morris and the run game, but we didn’t do a very good job in the passing game.’ There is a difference right there. In Jacksonville, we put them on a short field in terms of turning the ball over offensively. So they didn’t have to go very far to get up and get in the lead. We really weren’t successful offensively in the Jacksonville game early. [In the second half] we were better. I thought we moved the ball. In the Colts game we stalled in the red zone offensively. In the Redskins game we just didn’t have the ball very much. They scored, and then we returned a kickoff for a touchdown, so we’re still sitting on the sidelines. I think we had the ball for only seven minutes in the first half, but you’re up 21‑20. So, every game is kind of different. Every game takes on a life of its own.”
While that explanation makes sense at a certain level, it doesn’t account for the possibility that, as the game wears on, one team is performing better than the other. Whether it’s because one team is in better shape or has better mental focus when the game is on the line, it’s likely not an accident that some teams do better in the third and fourth quarters, and that some don’t.
It’s also likely not an accident that Kelly wouldn’t acknowledge that he has figured out how to make his team perform better in the second half. That’s a trend that any coach would want to embrace, and it possibly reflects one of the benefits of Kelly’s unconventional methods.
Basically, whatever he’s doing seems to be working as the game wears on. It makes plenty of sense for him to tiptoe around addressing the possibility that he has figured out how to harness one of the most elusive variables in the sport — the ability to get the most out of his players when the stakes are the highest.