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Chip Kelly's 'college offense' has Philadelphia Eagles soaring

As he celebrated his team's fourth consecutive victory Sunday night, a 24-21 triumph over the Arizona Cardinals that ranked as the Philadelphia Eagles' most impressive result of the 2013 season, veteran tight end Brent Celek wanted to talk about his coach, Chip Kelly.

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First, however, Celek had some choice words for another coach: The Cardinals' Bruce Arians, who a few days earlier had provoked his ire by characterizing the read-option scheme as "a great college offense." To Celek, this was a dismissive indictment of the fast-paced attack Kelly imported from the University of Oregon, one which has helped propel the Eagles (7-5) into a first-place tie with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East.

Never mind that the slow-footed quarterback directing Kelly's scheme, Nick Foles, fits the read-option stereotype about as snugly as Nick Saban playing shopping-mall Santa. In Celek's eyes, Arians is one of many NFL traditionalists who's lashing out while lagging behind the times.

"It makes me mad that the coach for the other team talked trash and said, 'That's a college offense,' " said Celek, whose 1-yard touchdown catch 15 seconds before halftime gave the Eagles a 17-7 lead. "It bothers me that other coaches think of this offense as stupid.

"Calling it a 'college offense?' That doesn't even make sense," Celek said. "We're running the same plays that a bunch of different NFL teams are running. We just do it quickly, and with different, more streamlined terminology. How is that a 'college offense?' Come on, man. People are just afraid of change."

Though it's a tad premature to conclude that NFL teams fear the Eagles, who until Sunday hadn't beaten an opponent that currently owns a winning record, there's no question that the franchise has been energized by Kelly's jump to the pros.

While longtime Philly coach Andy Reid, who was fired after a 4-12 flameout in 2012, has received deserved praise for guiding the Kansas City Chiefs to a 9-3 record, Kelly has won over the Eagles' locker room with purposeful, player-friendly leadership. And after some choppy moments -- including the summertime drama surrounding wideout Riley Cooper's videotaped use of a racial slur and a three-game losing streak in September that included decisive defeats to the Chiefs and Denver Broncos -- the Eagles are finding their groove.

"It's all coming together," veteran linebacker DeMeco Ryans said after Sunday's victory. "(The Cooper scandal) was a make-or-break point for our team -- we were trying to come together with a new coaching staff -- and of course it was tough at first. It lingered for a while, but we put it behind us.

"Chip's a true player's coach, and I like the fact that we have great chemistry. It's really like a true brotherhood. We're playing team ball and having fun, and we'll see where it takes us."

The Eagles' journey already has taken one unexpected and unfathomably productive turn: Foles, a third-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, has emerged as one of the NFL's most surprising success stories of 2013. Beaten out by the much more mobile and accomplished Michael Vick in a training-camp competition, Foles got a chance to play after Vick strained his hamstring during a pair of October games against the Giants three weeks apart -- and he quickly has established himself as the team's quarterback of the present and future.

On Sunday, Foles, who four weeks ago tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a 49-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders, retained his hot hand, completing 21 of 34 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns. Among his trusted targets: rookie tight end Zach Ertz (five catches, 68 yards, two touchdowns) and Cooper (three catches, 48 yards), whose leaping, one-handed grab of a high screen set up Celek's second-quarter score.

Now 5-1 as a starter, Foles has tossed 19 TD passes and no interceptions -- one shy of Peyton Manning's record for the most scoring strikes to start a season without being picked off -- and owns a ridiculous 125.2 passer rating.

On Sunday, he also usurped Vick's team record, set in 2010, of 224 consecutive passes without an interception, finishing the day with 233 -- though it took some striped-shirted intervention to stay spotless. Late in the fourth quarter, Foles sailed an off-balance throw across the middle that was intercepted by the Cardinals' Patrick Peterson at the Philly 43, but a defensive-holding penalty against Arizona's Tyrann Mathieu negated the play.

"When you see that happen," Ryans said, "you know it's Nick's show. He's running it, and we're all playing along."

Give credit to Ryans and his fellow defenders, including converted outside linebackers Trent Cole and Brandon Graham (who had two sacks apiece on Sunday), for shaking off a rocky start to the season. After giving up an average of 34.5 points to Philly's first four opponents, the Eagles have held each of their last eight foes to 21 points or fewer. On Sunday, they forced three turnovers and had 11 passes defensed against Carson Palmer, overcoming an ascending Arizona team (7-5) that came into the game with a four-game winning streak of its own.

"The way our offense moved the ball that first game (a 33-27 victory over the Washington Redskins), we knew we had something special," Ryans said. "Defensively, we just had to pick it up, get some stops and settle down. As we caught up defensively, we started to see the results."

To Celek, the recent victories are merely a validation of what he and many of his fellow offensive players have believed since shortly after Kelly's arrival: The coach's cutting-edge scheme, which in its most extreme implementation enables him to call three successive plays with a single word, has propelled them ahead of their peers.

"Chip's a beast," Celek said. "Our tempo on offense is crazy. It's such a great scheme. And it scares people who don't want to change, but they don't see what we're doing.

"Talk to any coach on our staff, and they'll be doing this system for the rest of their lives -- because it makes sense. It's genius. Someone took the time to sit down and figure out a better way to do this. Why have nine or 10 words for a play? We have one, or two or three.

"We're in a world where everything around us is (driven by) constant innovation, in every industry. Yet in football, for my first six years, it was the same stuff. To have somebody come along and run some of the same concepts, but with different terminology that makes it easier to understand, it's tremendous. And we're just scratching the surface."

It remains to be seen whether this will be Philly's high-water mark during Kelly's first season. The Eagles face a trio of NFC North opponents, beginning with Sunday's home game against the 7-5 Detroit Lions, before finishing the regular season with a road clash against the Cowboys (who defeated them 17-3 in Philly on Oct. 20) that could well decide the NFC East.

For now, they're ascending the ladder of inquiry-infused NFL relevance, with the teams occupying our top two rungs conveniently scheduled to collide at CenturyLink Field on Monday night:

1) Seattle Seahawks: Can we applaud Golden Tate for his candor -- and acknowledge how far he has come since his infamous 3 a.m. doughnut binge?

2) New Orleans Saints: How important is Monday night's showdown for NFC supremacy, given that the two teams in question tend to enjoy a more pronounced home-field advantage than any of the other 30?

3) Carolina Panthers: When Ted Ginn Jr. burns Darrelle Revis for a touchdown, is it fair to say your team is on a roll?

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4) New England Patriots: After former Pats running back Kevin Faulk told fumble-prone Stevan Ridley to "take care of that funk," was Bill Belichick tempted to add: "And you can do that by showering -- during the game?"

5) Denver Broncos: Now that the Broncos are in control of the AFC West, will "The Tsunami" make a splashy return to the sideline?

6) Kansas City Chiefs: With zero sacks in two games against Peyton Manning, is it any wonder the Chiefs have fallen out of first place?

7) Cincinnati Bengals: Will Andrew Hawkins' return to health provide the boost the Bengals' passing game needs -- and is there a more underrated slot receiver in football?

8) Indianapolis Colts: In the wake of Trent Richardson's demotion, should offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton consider himself put on blast?

9) San Francisco 49ers: If Colin Kaepernick has "armadillo skin," should his tattoo artist charge extra -- and would this woefully misguided columnist approve?

10) Detroit Lions: Can anyone rightfully dispute DeAndre Levy's logic regarding Matt Flynn's bustling bankroll -- and after his Thanksgiving Day debacle at Ford Field, shouldn't the Packers' backup quarterback have at least left a tip in the home locker room?

11) Philadelphia Eagles: As DeSean Jackson celebrated his 27th birthday Sunday by reaching a milestone, didn't it seem like a long time ago that Kelly made him practice with the second- and third-stringers?


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12) Dallas Cowboys: Was Tony Romo channeling his inner Tom Brady on Thanksgiving Day -- and is it safe to say he went easy on the stuffing that night?

13) Arizona Cardinals: After allowing this 3-yard touchdown reception, did the unidentified Eagles player who blew his assignment receive a pair of Beat By Dray headphones as a consolation prize?

14) Chicago Bears: When Marc Trestman sent Robbie Gould onto the field to attempt a 66-yard field goal at the end of regulation Sunday, how many Alabama fans were sick to their stomachs?

15) Baltimore Ravens: Yo, Joe Flacco -- how do you really feel about the Wildcat?

16) Green Bay Packers: If Mike McCarthy tries to shut down Aaron Rodgers for the season, will the star quarterback send his coach the type of holiday cheer that teammate Josh Sitton might extend to Lions coach Jim Schwartz?

17) St. Louis Rams: Is this T.J. McDonald's favorite Christmas ballet?

18) Miami Dolphins: Is it just me, or does Sunday's report that Joe Philbin wanted to cut Richie Incognito in 2012 seem like a convenient case of coach-generated revisionist history?

19) Pittsburgh Steelers: How brutal was Mike Tomlin's sideline gaffe on Thanksgiving -- and could any other coach possibly look so cool in the midst of such an awkward situation?

20) San Diego Chargers: When U-T San Diego columnist Nick Canepa refers to rookie coach Mike McCoy as "Marty Schottenheimer without portfolio," can we assume he's not a fan?

21) New York Giants: Who's buried more brutally in Jersey -- Hakeem Nicks or Jimmy Hoffa?

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22) Tennessee Titans: How impressive is third-year defensive tackle Jurrell Casey -- and which current Colts scout possibly could have seen that coming?

23) New York Jets: While witnessing his team's atrocious quarterback play on Sunday, did Rex Ryan get at least a tad nostalgic for this iconic incident?

24) Oakland Raiders: Huh?

25) Buffalo Bills: If Fred Jackson had handed the ball to the infamous Argonauts fan wearing his jersey after one of the running back's touchdowns against the Falcons on Sunday, how loud would the roar in Rogers Centre have been?

26) Minnesota Vikings: After Chris Cook pushed an official in Sunday's game, how badly did embattled coach Leslie Frazier wish he could race onto the field and give the ejected cornerback a hard shove toward the locker room?

27) Atlanta Falcons: Can someone please explain why this team had a good day in the Great White North after having had so many bad ones in the Dirty South (and everywhere else on U.S. soil) this season?

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28) Jacksonville Jaguars: After his game-winning catch against the Browns, will Cecil Shorts III insist upon referring to himself as CSIII?

29) Cleveland Browns: Has any football player gained as many yards that meant as little as Josh Gordon has the past two weeks?

30) Washington Redskins: What hurt more -- the literal kick in the groin Robert Griffin III received last Monday night, or the figurative one he and his teammates got from the officials at the end of Sunday's defeat to the Giants?

31) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Was Mike Glennon paying homage to another Florida-based passer on Sunday -- and how depressing is it that Glennon was born nearly 17 years after Super Bowl VII?

32) Houston Texans: Is it safe to say Antonio Smith is a fan of one of my favorite "South Park" episodes?

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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