Darren Sproles is an electric, game-changing player with the football in his hands. In open space, in closed space, he can make people miss with the best of them.
His spark-plug size and fire-hydrant size make him, at once, difficult to see and difficult to bring down.
But, umm, can we cool it on how dominated Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium.
No doubt, the 32-year-old vet made the play of the game, a career-long 89-yard punt return for a TD that gave the Birds a xx-0 lead. He also ran for another score.
All good. Heck, all great.
He has his flaws, though, and they even showed in this game … and they’re as relevant as his big-play ability is. Which is the “we want more Sproles” chants concern me.
The guy, really, is not an effective ballcarrier. Yes, he may rip off a 12-yarder or even a 52-yarder once in a while. But he has no business getting the ball on handoffs 11 times in a game, and the 17 yards he totaled off that many carries against the Jets is his norm in that regard, not the exception.
Sproles also ain’t Johnnie McSurehands. He ain’t the worst with catching passes. Not by a long shot. But he shouldn’t be a primary option, and he probably shouldn’t be an option at all on a wheel route – as Sunday’s drop on that perhaps cost the Eagles a TD.
Just a suggestion … why not get Kenyon Barner in there for that? Heck, why not get the youngster in there for rushing attempts, too?
I’m all for Sproles getting touches, certainly as a return man. But his value diminishes the more he has.
The fear here: Chip Kelly overuses the guy now, giving him carries that would better serve the Eagles longterm if they went to Ryan Matthews, DeMarco Murray, and, yeah, Barner, too, and then finds the tank empty when he really needs Sproles to change a game later on.
Gotta say, I’m impressed, if not flat-out surprised.
Chip Kelly can adapt. Maybe not in all-out, go-crazy, go-nuts, bail-on-previous-beliefs fashion, but the fact he can step back, admit his mistakes – at least to himself – and adjust his plan of attack and actually gameplan with his focus on the opposition instead of the bull-headed “they have to change for us” that has long been his ally, if not his undoing at times, was … well, frankly, monumental to me.
Scrapping so much of the read-option offense, forgoing the constant pulling of offensive linemen, utilizing not just the quarterback under center, but the running back in an “I” formation, all because it made sense with the Jets’ defense his Eagles were facing on Sunday, this was big stuff to me. Huge, really.
I didn’t know he had that in him.
If anything had defined Kelly since he arrived on the national scene as an offensive coordinator at the University of Oregon almost a decade ago, it was his arrogance, an unwavering arrogance that he knew better than you, better than me, better than anyone, including his fellow coaches and players … well, everything when it came to the game of football.
Play-calling, conditioning, teaching, training, preparing for an opponent, he felt, or came across that he felt, he knew it all best.
What an enlightening experience Sunday’s 24-17 win was for those of us who believed that.
Almost from the jump, this game, and Kelly’s gameplan, was different. On the third play from scrimmage for the Eagles’ offense, Ryan Matthews lined up in the “I,” a couple steps behind quarterback Sam Bradford, who happened to be crouched down behind center Jason Kelce.
Truth be told, I don’t really have the issue with the Birds running out of the shotgun on every down. The QB, be it Bradford or anyone else, gets the ball quicker that way, with several yards between him and the closest defender – which is not quite the case when taking the snap old-school style.
Regardless, most people did have issue with that, at least the team’s absolute reliance on it, and they voiced that opinion. Now whether Kelly heard those complaints, or heeded them, is immaterial. The reality is, he looked at the failings of his offense at running the ball in the season’s first two weeks and determined that, hey, you know what, let’s get a different look. Let’s line up under center and run, if not power, then something close to it.
The end result: Matthews ripped off a 27-yard play that showcased his ability to read blocks, to explode through a hole, to run through tackles and to burst into the secondary.
The dude has game. Always has. Been a big fan since his days at Fresno State. Thought he was a better player than DeMarco Murray coming into the season, and a much better pickup when you consider price tags.
But I digress …
The big news, really, with that display, not to mention the entire contest, was Kelly’s adaptability. He made this game about the most important thing to a team that entered it 0-2: winning.
It wasn’t about displaying his genius, about how his style, his offense, his whole regime was going to revolutionize the NFL. It was about coming out alive and on top, regardless of how things looked.
Oh, and they looked ugly. A lot. The entire second half seemed to be a case of the Jets imploding every time they had the ball, with the Eagles pumping the breaks all along as their gas needle eked ever so close to empty.
It was a novel concept for Kelly. He doesn’t typically win games that fall far away from the “pretty” spectrum. Even at Oregon, if it a game was close and not particularly overflowing with fancy stuff, his Ducks were not likely to prevail. Of course, that didn’t happen very often.
At this level, it will … and the fact Kelly proved he could manage his team to victory in not-so-aesthetically-pleasing ways, even – gasp – trying to run out the clock for the entire fourth quarter, was, well, a revelation.
Kudos to him.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org