It wasn’t even two years ago that the Eagles fired Chip Kelly, an alleged offensive guru who had saddled them with a bunch of overpaid and underperforming offensive players. It’s remarkable how quickly they’ve cleaned up his mess.
Philadelphia, which put up 51 points on a very good Denver defense on Sunday, is now 8-1 and the best team in the NFL. That’s mostly due to its stellar offense, and what’s remarkable about that offense is how completely it has been rebuilt since the departure of Kelly, who spent three years as the Eagles’ coach and also had final say over personnel in his final year. Bad personnel moves can put a team in a salary cap hole that takes a long time to dig out of, but Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman and coach Doug Pederson have done it quickly.
The big move, of course, was at quarterback. Not everyone was sold on Carson Wentz coming out of North Dakota State last year, but the Eagles were. They traded two of Kelly’s favorite defensive players, Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell, to move up in the first round of the draft, then traded that first-round pick, another first-round pick, a second-round pick and a third-round pick to Cleveland to get the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. That’s the pick they used to get Wentz.
That was a lot to give up, and if it hadn’t worked out it would have crippled the franchise. But, oh, my, has it worked out. Wentz threw four touchdown passes yesterday and has an NFL-high 23 touchdowns on the season, and he’s now the league’s leading MVP candidate.
Drafting Wentz angered Sam Bradford, Kelly’s hand-picked quarterback whom the current regime re-signed a month before they drafted Wentz. But the Eagles knew what they were doing: They were patient with Bradford and committed to him publicly until the opportunity to trade him arose, at which point they unloaded him on the Vikings for a first-round pick and a fourth-round pick. Getting those picks for Bradford was a key part of the Eagles’ ability to replenish their roster despite giving up so much for Wentz.
But there’s much more to the Eagles’ rebuilt offense than just drafting Wentz. The top wide receiver on Kelly’s 2015 Eagles was Jordan Matthews, whom the Eagles traded to Buffalo this year. The Eagles could make that move because they added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith this year. Kelly also had Josh Huff, Riley Cooper and Miles Austin at wide receiver, all of whom are long gone.
At running back Kelly poured big money into DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews. They’re gone now, replaced by LeGarrette Blount, Wendall Smallwood, Corey Clement and the newly arrived Jay Ajayi, who ran for a 46-yard touchdown in his first game as an Eagle yesterday.
Basically, this offense looks nothing like the offense Chip Kelly left behind — and the rebuilt offense looks ready to take Philadelphia to a Super Bowl. A team can rebuild in a hurry. As long as it finds the right quarterback.
Here are my other Week Nine thoughts:
Let Cam Newton do what he does best. Newton had a season-high 86 rushing yards as the Panthers beat the Falcons on Sunday, and I think that’s the kind of game the Panthers need from him every week. Over the last couple of years the Panthers’ offense often seemed to take away what makes Newton special, which is his great athletic ability. Newton finished last season with career lows in carries (90), rushing yards (359) and yards per carry (4.0). This year Newton is on pace to improve on all three of those stats and get back up over 600 rushing yards, where he was in his 2015 MVP season. The Panthers need to make opposing defenses fear Newton beating them with both his arm and his legs.
The Rams have turned into a juggernaut. It’s hard to believe this is the same Los Angeles team that had one of the most putrid offenses in the league last year. This year’s Rams, who beat the Giants 51-17 yesterday, are a touchdown-scoring machine. Jared Goff threw four touchdown passes yesterday, while Todd Gurley ran for two touchdowns. The Rams have already scored 40 or more points three times in eight games this season. Over the last 10 years before this season, the Rams scored 40 or more points only twice in 160 games.
It’s time for NFL referees to get smart about ejecting players. Refs are sometimes too hesitant to throw a player out of a game — as was the case yesterday with Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, who certainly should have been kicked out for his cheap shot at Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. But refs are also sometimes too quick to eject a player just for being involved in an altercation that he didn’t start, as was the case yesterday with Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey yesterday. Ramsey shoved Bengals receiver A.J. Green after a play, but that kind of stuff goes on all the time. What Green did — taking Ramsey to the ground, punching him and choking him — is far, far outside the bounds of what’s acceptable. By ejecting both Ramsey and Green, the officials were suggesting that they were equally at fault. In reality, Green was far more at fault. The officials need to get more consistent about who they eject and when and why, and if necessary the replay assistant should tell them if they missed something. NFL refs are currently missing too much.
The drop-off from Deshaun Watson to Tom Savage is incredible. The Texans were the highest-scoring team in the league with Watson at quarterback. Then Watson got hurt and Savage started on Sunday, and the Texans lost to the Colts while scoring just 14 points — seven of which came from the defense returning an interception for a touchdown. Here’s all you need to know about Watson and Savage: Watson has thrown 204 passes in his career, and he has 19 touchdowns. Savage has thrown 149 passes in his career, and he has one touchdown.
John Elway can’t identify a quarterback. The Broncos went back to Brock Osweiler yesterday, and it was a mess. And Elway deserves a big part of the blame for that mess. Elway is the one who drafted Osweiler in the second round in 2012 — when the next quarterback off the board was Russell Wilson. Elway is also the one who used a first-round pick on Paxton Lynch last year. Elway deserves credit for bringing a lot of defensive talent to Denver, but the offense has turned into a disaster because Elway hasn’t been able to acquire a quarterback. Now the 2017 season looks just about lost, and the question is whether Elway will be able to find a quarterback in 2018.