Lions send Chip Kelly’s Eagles into tailspin with dominant 45–14 win

A blowout loss to the red-hot Lions on Thanksgiving has the Eagles searching for answers and fans questioning Chip Kelly. Takeaways from the opener to Thursday’s Thanksgiving tripleheader.
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Thanksgiving is a day of traditions, and for NFL fans, there’s no tradition greater than the Lions hosting, and usually losing, one of the holiday slate’s marquee games. But this year, Lions fans were treated to their best performance of the season, taking down the rapidly sinking Eagles, 45–14. For the first time in franchise history, the Eagles have given up 45 points in back-to-back games.

Speaking of tradition, it isn’t Thanksgiving without a touchdown from Calvin Johnson. Coming into this game, the Lions’ star receiver had eight touchdowns in eight Thanksgiving day games, and he added three more to that total today against the Eagles. Matthew Stafford excelled in spreading the ball around on offense, completing 27 of 38 passes for 338 yards and five touchdowns.  

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On paper, this game was billed to be a more even matchup—if not leaning in the Eagles’ favor. Philadelphia needed this win in order to remain relevant in the playoff race, and following an embarrassing 45–17 loss to the Buccaneers last week, this looked like the perfect opportunity for redemption against the Lions, who fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi four weeks ago and parted ways with president Tom Lewand and GM Martin Mayhew three weeks ago. No one expected the Eagles to go completely belly-up—on national TV to boot—for a second week in a row. These two teams walk away with the same 4–7 record, but one team is on the upswing, while the other is a sinking ship.

When the Eagles’ opening drive ended in a field goal attempt bouncing off the upright and the Lions answered with an ugly three-and-out, fans thought they were settling in for a low-scoring, mistake-filled Thanksgiving game. But all that changed quickly.

What you need to know from the blowout that ensued.

The Eagles are a hot mess: Philadelphia has lost four of its last five games, scoring fewer than 20 points in each loss. Today’s game was no different, and fingers are pointing all over the place.

Let’s start with the defense. It spent way too much time on the field against the Lions—37 minutes, to be exact. That’s partially a function of Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense, but which could not get any sort of rhythm going on Thursday afternoon. The defense needs a break, literally and figuratively, and it’s not coming when the offense is spending as few as 40 seconds on the field at a time.

Cornerback Nolan Carroll going down with a broken ankle certainly didn’t help anything. On the play after he left, his replacement, rookie Eric Rowe, was immediately beaten by Lions receiver Golden Tate for a first down. From then on, Stafford continued to throw Rowe’s way, and he gave up several long passes. Rowe started to find his footing near the end of the first half, but let’s be real: There’s only so much a rookie can do against one of the NFL’s best receivers.

The other side of the ball isn’t in much better shape. The Eagles’ offense couldn’t run the ball even if they were being chased by zombies. In his second start in relief of Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez wasn’t horrible (especially compared to his butt fumble that lives on in NFL Thanksgiving lore), finishing 19 of 27 for 199 yards and two touchdowns. But when the Eagles struggle to run the ball, Sanchez cannot carry the offense himself.

Matthew Stafford is excelling in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense: Cooter, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator when Lombardi was shown the door, has proven his mettle. Detroit’s last three games (all victories) have been by and far Stafford’s best games of the season, and some of the best of his career.

The Lions knew that the Eagles were going to do their best to smother Johnson, so Stafford opened the game by involving what felt like every member of the Detroit offense but Megatron. After Carroll went down, they immediately started targeting Johnson in one-on-one coverage, which paid dividends immediately.

On top of that, Stafford looked strong in the pocket, didn’t get flustered by the rush and threw some beautiful passes—five of which went for touchdowns to tie a career high. Just a few weeks ago, many were wondering about Stafford’s future in Detroit; his performance on Thanksgiving certainly put an end to those discussions.

The calls to fire Chip Kelly are growing: Kelly was the architect of an off-season to remember in Philadelphia, engineering a flurry of high-risk roster moves, and he had to realize that if his moves didn’t pan out, he may not have a job come 2016.

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All that has finally blown up in his face. Kelly cut veteran offensive linemen Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans in the off-season without finding replacements, and young receivers Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor haven’t replaced Jeremy Maclin’s production. The 2015 Eagles are proof that great individual parts do not necessarily create a well-oiled machine. And in the wake of two straight horrific losses, Kelly may want to start packing his bags.

Philadelphia fans called for Kelly’s head last week after a blowout loss to the Buccaneers, and that contingent is sure to grow in number after the Eagles were pasted on national television at the hands of the Lions, who were pegged as the worst team in the league earlier this season. There’s no doubt that Kelly’s players are losing motivation—look no further than rookie receiver Nelson Agholor’s penalty for taking off his helmet on the field late in the game—and talk of his future will heat up in the coming days.