Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – “Next man up” is a popular rallying cry
in coaching circles, an almost necessary nod to the war of attrition that is
an NFL season.
For most mentors, however, that battle cry is nothing more than lip service as
evidenced by the scaled back game plans you will see around the league when a
key component is lost to injury.
Not for Chip Kelly, though.
The Philadelphia Eagles coach practices what he preaches and while his parts
may not be interchangeable, that doesn’t stop Kelly from implementing what he
wants, whether it’s during the week in game preparation or when the bullets
are flying on Sunday.
Take Week 3 for example when the Eagles were in a shootout with the Washington
Redskins and All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters was tossed from the game for
By that point Kelly was already without Peters’ bookend on the right side,
Lane Johnson, who was serving a suspension, as well as Pro Bowl-level
interior lineman Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis, who were injured.
Despite missing 80 percent of the perceived strength of his team Kelly didn’t
leave two tight ends in to block on every play, he just plugged in the flotsam
he had on hand and went eight plays and 76 yards, ending with a Nick Foles’
27-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin.
The Eagles eventually outlasted the ‘Skins 37-34 and it was truly “next man
up,” just like in 2013.
Many thought the Eagles’ season was headed for disaster a year ago when
injuries and ineffectiveness befell Michael Vick. But, that just opened the
door for Foles and 27 touchdowns and two interceptions later, Philadelphia was
atop the NFC East and headed toward the postseason.
The football gods can be fickle, however, and they’ve now granted Mark Sanchez
a second chance at the expense of an injured Foles, who broke his clavicle at
the end of the first quarter in Houston last weekend.
Normally when a backup signal caller enters in-game, offenses get more
conservative than a Jerry Falwell sermon but Kelly let Sanchez go over the top
on his first regular-season throw since 2012 and the Southern Cal product
found Maclin for a 52-yard gain.
“He’s already ready, he’s always focused and always prepared to make plays and
that’s part of his makeup,” Kelly said of Sanchez. “That’s what we really
liked about him.”
Sanchez never stopped chucking it from there and finished the contest 15-of-22
with a pair of touchdowns and two interceptions as the Eagles bested J.J. Watt
and Co. 31-21.
“Mark came in a backup role, and we didn’t call the game any differently
than if Nick was in there,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “Now,
there are certain things that maybe Mark likes a little bit better than Nick,
and so those are things we’ll tailor, and it may not be obvious to the casual
Sanchez will now get an extended look under center for the first-place Eagles
starting Monday night when the struggling Carolina Panthers visit the City of
And there are more than a few observers in Philadelphia who believe that
Sanchez will be an upgrade over Foles, who has been a turnover machine in
2014, a stark contrast from his play a year ago.
That might be a stretch, though, because Sanchez will be making his first NFL
start since Dec. 30, 2012, after missing all of his last season with the Jets
with a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
The former top-five pick certainly has a more impressive skill set than Foles,
especially when it comes to athleticism, pure arm strength and even
personality, but he has always struggled with accuracy while amassing a 37-31
career record as a starter.
Things also figure to get much tougher now that opposing defenses will
actually be game planning for Sanchez.
None of that seems to faze Kelly, however.
“I feel really bad for Nick, but I’m confident about Mark,” the coach said on
Monday. “He knows the system. His preparation is outstanding, always ready. We
feel real confident.”
The question is should they be?
Kelly’s whole football philosophy isn’t based on talent, it’s tied to
controlled chaos with the intent of constantly pushing the pace, an ideology
he believes forces his opponents into far more miscues than his own team which
prepares with practices run as quickly as possible in order to improve
conditioning and maximize repetitions.
Sanchez will be taking over that mindset and an offense that is fourth in the
NFL in both points per game (29.3) and total yards (409.3) despite subpar play
from Foles. But more than that he’s taking over a team with expectations,
perhaps unrealistic ones.
“It’s not about Mark, it’s about the Eagles,” Kelly said.
And the Eagles are Kelly, a coach who believes he will be able to get things
out of Sanchez that the Jets never could because his offense is far more
quarterback friendly than any other.
Whether that’s hubris or reality will play out over the final two months of
“I just think we try to make it a friendly system for the QB, the running
back, the O-line, the wide receivers,” Kelly said. “I think that’s your job as
a coach. If you make it too complicated where your players don’t understand
it, therefore they’re thinking (too much) and they can’t go out and execute,
then shame on you as a coach. I would say any system that’s not quarterback
friendly, then it’s probably a bad system.”