Revolving door at quarterback has Chip Kelly's Eagles in a tailspin

Monday October 28th, 2013

Filling in for an injured Michael Vick, Matt Barkley (top) went 17-of-26 for 158 yards and an interception.
Rich Schult/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA -- Some day, the Philadelphia Eagles might win another home game. But maybe not this season.

Chip Kelly hiring or no Chip Kelly hiring, the 2013 Eagles are learning what the rest of the league knows all too well: If you don't have a quarterback, you don't have a chance. No matter how high-tech your offense might be in theory.

Right now, the Eagles are a mess at quarterback, and have no idea what they're going to get at the game's most pivotal position. Not from the injury prone Michael Vick, he of the re-injured hamstring. Not from the recently concussed Nick Foles. And not from rookie Matt Barkley, who for two consecutive weeks has been thrown into the fire, without much to show for himself but a string of damaging turnovers.

It's two weeks without an offensive touchdown and counting in Philadelphia, and things officially reached crisis stage Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, thanks to a 15-7 Eagles loss to a last-place New York Giants team that had been mostly abysmal on defense this season. Kelly might have brought a whiz-bang offensive system to the NFL from the college ranks, but there's never been a system that could overcome what the Eagles (3-5) are currently facing with their revolving door at quarterback.

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Starting for the first time in three weeks, Vick got nothing accomplished, then reinjured the hamstring that first knocked him out of the lineup midway through a Week 5 win at the Giants. He left the game late in the second quarter, giving way to Barkley, who proceeded to fumble away the best Eagles drive of the day deep in New York territory. (Vick is scheduled to have an MRI on the injured hamstring on Monday.) With Foles still recovering from a concussion suffered in last week's 17-3 loss to Dallas, Philadelphia's quarterback depth chart is a train wreck that grows worse every week. By default, Barkley may become the team's third different No. 1 quarterback of the season next week at Oakland, making his NFL starting debut.

What a dizzying two months in Philadelphia it has been. The Eagles offense has gone from revolutionary to repugnant in the span of a half season, and I'm guessing this was definitively the moment when Kelly, Philly's rookie head coach, knew he wasn't in Oregon any more.

"I think we've had some instability at the quarterback position,'' said Kelly, opting for understatement in the wake of Philadelphia's team-record 10th consecutive loss at home. "When you're unsettled at that position in this league, it's really difficult. Right now we're unstable at the quarterback spot and we're not playing well at the quarterback spot, and we lost our last two games because of it.''

Remember that fast-break football that the Eagles debuted in Week 1 at Washington? The one that ever-so-briefly took the NFL by storm, and was designed to dictate the pace of the game to the opposing defense, forcing it to endure a stress test in the matchup game on almost every snap? There's no sign of that attack in Philly these days, and nothing about the Eagles offense makes it stand out as October concludes, other than its ineptitude. Philadelphia's offense barely threatened the Giants, after beating New York 36-21 just three weeks ago in the Meadowlands.

Philadelphia's offense has scored three points in its past eight quarters, and after gaining at least 425 yards in the season's first six games, the Eagles have been limited to a total of 479 in home losses to division rivals Dallas and the Giants. The ugly numbers on Sunday against the Giants (2-6) were these: The Eagles offense committed three turnovers, amassed just 201 yards, ran a mere 58 plays, held the ball for only 21:55, gave up four sacks and went 3-of-14 on third and fourth down.

"That's terrible,'' Eagles tight end Brent Celek said of his team's offensive showing. "Obviously it's something that's got to be fixed. Especially when we're down at the two-yard-line [late in the first half, and fumble]. We can't do things like that. We need to fix it. We need to fix it fast.''

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Meanwhile, the world has pretty much been turned upside down in Philadelphia these past two weeks, because the Eagles much maligned defense is playing solid football and not getting rewarded for it. Philadelphia's defense didn't give up a touchdown, saw linebacker/special teamer Najee Goode score on a four-yard fumble recovery on a botched New York punt snap and held the Giants to five Josh Brown field goals -- and still lost by eight points. Philadelphia's defense has allowed just two touchdowns in two weeks, but the Eagles offensive deficiencies are overwhelming everything else.

"The disappointing thing is I think our defense played a really, really good football game again today,'' Kelly said. "They've really come along. But offensively we haven't done what we need to do to win two football games.''

Vick said he felt good going into the game, and after missing the past 2 1/2 games thought he was sufficiently recovered from his hamstring pull. The injury, Kelly said, was originally diagnosed as needing 10-14 days of recovery time, but Vick wound up going 21 days between game action. Not that any of that meant anything when he reinjured the hamstring on the second or third Eagles drive, eventually giving way to Barkley with 2:24 left in the first half and New York leading 12-0 on the first four Brown field goals.

"I really can't say if I should have or shouldn't have played,'' Vick said. "I took it upon myself to try to get ready this week to go out there and help this football team win. [But] I felt the same feeling that I felt the first time. I don't think it's as bad, but it did pop again. I've never had a hamstring injury this bad.''

The Eagles look to be at a loss at quarterback at the moment. Vick (6-of-9 for 31 yards, one interception) is at his best only when he can run and threaten a defense with his arm and his feet, but his hamstring issue will likely cost him at least another couple of weeks. Foles played well two weeks ago in a win at Tampa Bay, but could do little against Dallas, and his concussion issues mean Philadelphia can't rush him back on the field. And then there's Barkley, who took over for Foles in the fourth quarter last week, throwing three interceptions on his three drives. He added that killer fumble on his first possession on Sunday, getting chased down from behind by Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas on a 1st-and-goal from the two, giving him four turnovers on his first four drives in the NFL.

Barkley finished 17-of-26 for 158 yards, but took three sacks and threw an interception, never driving the Eagles into the red zone in the second half. But as Kelly acknowledged, it could be his job next week against the Raiders, meaning the Eagles will have to force feed him this week in practice. Last week, Barkley said he "didn't get many'' snaps in practice, because the Eagles were trying to get Vick back up to speed.

That's the quandary Philly has with Vick atop its depth chart. This is what you bargain for with No. 7. He's never going to stay healthy and productive for all 16 games in a season, and that reality means he had better be worth the trouble he causes when he's hurt and can't go. At this point in his career, that pattern is not going to change, and that's why Kelly's decision to bring him back in 2013 was viewed as a curious move to some degree.

"No matter who we've got at quarterback next week, they've got to go out and play efficiently,'' Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "We're not the first team to be playing with a non-starter. If it's Matt, if he's going to be the guy, he'll need a good week of practice. It's not too much for him, and it's definitely not too soon. He's a pro player and we drafted him for a reason. We like what he brings to the table, and if he's the guy in there playing, we expect him to perform well.''

Shurmur's confidence aside, questions abound in Philadelphia. About the state of the team's shaky quarterbacking. About Kelly's ability to fix the glaring offensive problems that have sprung up. About another Eagles season that seems to be trending the same direction as last year's dismal 4-12 effort in Andy Reid's final season on the sideline. Those Eagles were 3-5 at midseason, too, but then the bottom really fell out. Reid is in Kansas City now, with his 8-0 Chiefs riding high as the toast of the NFL. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Kelly and his frustrated Eagles are still chasing that elusive first home win.

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