FIERRO: Eagles can't contend while playing at Kelly's breakneck speed
LANDOVER, Md. — In a solemn Philadelphia Eagles locker room, nobody would dare stare into the eyes of the lingering 800-pound gorilla, much less attempt to tackle it.
Not offensive tackles Lane Johnson or Jason Peters. Not linebacker Brandon Graham. Not defensive end Fletcher Cox. And certainly not defensive coordinator Billy Davis.
Nobody could bring themselves to admit what everyone who didn't already know before Sunday has to know now: that the Eagles can't continue to operate their offense, no matter how effective and explosive it can be at times, at the kind of pace head coach Chip Kelly demands and expect to contend for a championship.
A vulnerable Washington Redskins squad that committed 10 penalties for more than 100 yards provided the latest and most damning evidence.
In yet another NFL game that was lost by the losers rather than won by the winners, the Eagles fell to a team that begged to be beaten in every which way.
Not helping defense: Because they didn't do enough offensively to help a shorthanded defense avoid being on the field for 79 plays and more than 41 minutes of a 60-minute travesty.
Because their system is one in which the margin of error is too slim for even the most cohesive teams to succeed. And we all know "cohesiveness" and "Eagles" should never be mentioned in the same sentence until some evidence is presented to the contrary.
Because they continue to lengthen games when they should be shortened with egregious clock management and refusal to see what they have become.
Even after battling from behind to take a 20-16 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles remained in such a darned hurry to move the ball in a contest in which their plodding opponents needed 13, 10, 10 and nine plays for each of their previous scoring drives that they played themselves right out of a sure victory.
Twice after getting that lead, the Eagles forced punts and twice they wound up punting it back — the second time after a three-and-out in which they hurried to run the ball for two plays from inside Washington territory before throwing an incomplete pass, stopping the clock at 6:15.
They wound up running just 1:27 off the clock in a game that was decided with 26 seconds remaining.
That's too much strain for a defense that had been overworked already.
No wonder it didn't hold up down the stretch, then.
"I will not look through that lens," Davis said, "because I don't think it's a reality. I think we're in control of it. Had we made some plays, we would have got ourselves off the field and the drives wouldn't have been that long, like we did a number of times."
More than enough times to earn a victory.
"I don't think we control that," Cox said. "I'm not worried about how much time we're on the field and just whatever, man. I mean, they made the plays, [we] lost the game. Obviously we didn't do enough."
Hint of a fussure: Cox did at least provide a hint that there is a fissure forming in the crack of the foundation of total trust.
He was asked if fatigue was a factor at the end.
"We lost the game," he said. "That's the most important part."
Johnson was asked if the team can win consistently with its defense being on the field for 40-plus minutes a week.
"Put the loss on me," he said. "I didn't give [quarterback] Sam [Bradford] any time to throw."
Added Peters: "We've just to keep our defense off the field, help them out, keep drives going for them, just keep them off the field most of all."
But what the Eagles are failing to acknowledge, at least publicly, is that the pace of their offense is running their defense into the ground.
Being on the field for just four plays or less on eight of their 12 possessions on Sunday was complicated exponentially by the speed in which they exited: 1:20, 1:08, 2:13, 1:15, 0:50, 0:21, 1:27 and 0:26.
For their offense to be successful, Kelly keeps telling us, they have to run it this way, presenting a troubling Catch-22 that can only be solved one way: by getting out of it and slowing the hell down.
Their defense is good enough. They've proved that 50 times over already.
Their offense isn't. They've proved that 50 times over already as well.
Division up for grabs: Because the division likely will remain up for grabs all season, Sunday's loss was not the end of the world. They have the talent and the culture to get back in this. Heck, they were 1-3 in 2013, and look how that turned out.
They just have to slow it down, give their ultra-talented defense a chance to help them at the end of games, which might not be that close anyway if they make the right adjustments.
More glass-half-full food for thought: As poorly as their offense has played through the first quarter of the season, the Eagles have had chances to win each of their three losses. They even had fourth-quarter leads in two of them.
Yes, they would have won on Sunday had their kicker not missed two chip shots. They also would have won had half a dozen other breaks went the other way.
Not good enough on which to build. Fact is, their margin for error is way to thin, and always will be if they don't change their approach.
This Eagles defense can win a lot of games, so long as it's not overworked.
Any other way will just lead to more of the same.
And everybody has seen enough of that.