The playoff picture
How would your team's prospects look if the season ended today? See where each team stands in the playoff picture midway through the season. More ...
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.
"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:
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