Jason Kelce

Eagles Film Review: Jason Kelce is doing work

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Eagles Film Review: Jason Kelce is doing work

Eagles center Jason Kelce might be the most unfairly scrutinized athlete in the city. We’re talking about a player who’s earned trips to the Pro Bowl two of the last three years, yet remains a constant source of fan frustration.

Well, until this season anyway. Kelce appears to be off to his best start since 2013. Through five weeks, he grades second among all NFL centers, according to Pro Football Focus. Gone are lazy complaints about the 295-pound lineman getting pushed around in the trenches, or taking too many costly penalties.

Nobody can argue Kelce isn’t getting the job done right now.

There are a lot of factors behind Kelce’s resurgence. For starters, he was never performing as poorly as the criticism might make you think. The offensive line is also improving as a unit, and the seventh-year veteran is benefiting from a developing rapport with the players to his left and right. It’s his second season in Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s system as well.

All of which has Kelce playing with a high level of confidence that was somewhat lacking in years past. There is perhaps no better example of just how much the guy is “feeling it” right now than on Carson Wentz’s 72-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor in the Eagles’ 34-7 win over the Cardinals on Sunday.

“They brought an all-out blitz there,” Wentz said postgame. “If you guys go back and watch it, Jason Kelce made an unbelievable play. He ended up blocking two guys, so I shouldn’t have had the time to get that one off.”

Wentz challenged us to go back and watch the play, so we did – and couldn’t help but come away impressed.

If you recall the situation, the touchdown came on 3rd and 19. More often than not, defenses will set back and keep the play in front of the sticks. But the Cardinals are trailing 24-7 in the third quarter, and want to force the Eagles to make a mistake, so they are sending a zero blitz.

There are so many rushers coming for Wentz, they aren’t even all in the picture.

Kelce is going against unheralded first-year player Olsen Pierre here, and winning. There’s nothing spectacular about this one-on-one block, but Kelce is holding up at the point of attack and steering his assignment to the outside, leaving Wentz plenty of room to step up.

Make note of No. 41 in white, though. The Eagles only have six blockers for seven rushers, leaving safety Antoine Bethea unaccounted for – and a small crease to the quarterback.

Not on Kelce’s watch. At the last moment, he reaches his arm out and essentially clotheslines Bethea. It’s just enough to slow the blitzer.

Then, Kelce finishes the play, driving Pierre into Bethea. Both defenders wind up on the ground.

It’s not a pretty, clean pocket, but Wentz is great at navigating crowded areas, and he gets off a perfect throw. Everybody did their job here to make this play happens, including Agholor with the catch and run.

Kelce went above and beyond.

Obviously, this is only one play. Are there occasions where Kelce is overpowered at the line of scrimmage, whiffs on a block or is called for a bad penalty? Absolutely. Yet, for the past few seasons, fans only seem to take notice of his mistakes. You can pick anybody apart if you’re only looking for the negatives.

Kelce has a reputation for being a “finesse” player, somebody who’s only good when he gets into space. And when it comes to that aspect of the game, Kelce is the best in the league, hands down. He is perfectly capable of making the “ordinary” play as well though – even the ones that aren’t so ordinary.

Maybe it’s about time people stop throwing Kelce’s name into every trade rumor or debating whether he will be a cap casualty. The Eagles have arguably the best offensive line in football right now, and their center is a big reason why.

Improvements have Eagles center Jason Kelce back at Pro Bowl level

Improvements have Eagles center Jason Kelce back at Pro Bowl level

Jason Kelce struggled so badly the first half of last year that he admitted his days in Philadelphia could be numbered.

“I think that I quite frankly need to do a better job,” the veteran center said on Nov. 9. “I love playing in this city, I love playing in this organization, and if I’m going to keep doing that, I have to do a better job.”

Here we are 11 months later and Jason Kelce is still here and definitely doing a better job.

Kelce, who became a popular whipping boy of many fans over the past year, is back to his Pro Bowl level at center. The Eagles stuck with him, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland worked with him, Kelce vowed to improve, and here we are three weeks into the 2017 season and we're all seeing a different guy.

His performance in the win Sunday over the Giants may have been his best in three years.

"I think that this league is very straightforward when you’re not getting your job done," Kelce said at his locker after practice Thursday.

"You have to do your job, that’s just the bottom line. I’ve been on myself hard, Stout’s been on me hard to improve on some of the things that I lacked, especially at the beginning of last season.

"It’s frustrating when you’re not playing well, but then again, it also makes you re-evaluate what’s going on. Why are you struggling? Why is this happening? And we’re back on the right track so far this season."

Kelce turned the corner the last month of last season, when some of the technique changes he made at Stoutland's urging began paying dividends.

But Kelce continued to work throughout the offseason, and he's now playing his best football since 2014, his first Pro Bowl season.

"You go back and you watch tape, and you’re always going to have bad technique on certain plays here and there, but I think when you’re a little bit younger and maybe stronger, a little bit less injuries or whatnot, you get away with stuff a little bit more," he said.

"Whereas [last year], I got exposed a little bit more, and bad technique was definitely the reason for that.”

Specifically? Hands. That's what was getting Kelce in trouble last year.

"We put a big emphasis on having good inside hands, low hands, hands to the body, and that’s going to give you more power overall," he said. "You miss with hands, [opposing] guys are going to have hands in your chest, they’re going to have more power.

"So we’ve been talking about it all offseason, improving that for sure. Just every day when you go out there, you’re always focusing on certain things, setting a certain way, and I’m just focusing on hands inside and staying low, things like that. …

"These are things we worked on toward the end of last year, and I think we saw a payoff toward the end of last year, too. It’s stuff that Stout’s been on me really hard this entire offseason about improving, and I think it’s definitely been a much better start this year than last year, for sure."

The Eagles, 2-1 going into their game Sunday against the Chargers in Los Angeles, have improved over last year in just about every offensive category so far.

Scoring is up from 20.8 to 23.3, yards per game from 337 to 372, third-down efficiency from 38 percent to 48 percent, average gain per play from 5.0 to 5.4, rushing average from 4.1 to 4.5 and yards per completion from 10.0 to 11.3.

There are a lot of factors at work — Carson Wentz's growth, Lane Johnson's presence, upgraded receivers — but Kelce is definitely a big one.

"I think Kelce is playing great," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "He's really playing well in all phases. Just it's a credit to him, credit to his technique and fundamentals. It's a credit to the guys next to him. I'm sure Kelce would tell you the same thing. He's got some good guys playing next to him, and those guys work together."

Kelce, now 29 and in his seventh year with the Eagles, has already had quite a career.

Only four offensive linemen in franchise history have been to more Pro Bowls — Jason Peters (seven) and Hall of Famers Bob Brown and Jim Ringo along with Tra Thomas (three each). And only six players in franchise history taken in the sixth round or later have been to more Pro Bowls — Pete Retzlaff (five), Harold Carmichael (four) and Timmy Brown, Charlie Johnson, Floyd Peters and Ringo (three each).

Kelce heard all the criticisms. He's too old. He's too small. But he said that isn't what bothered him.

“I was more bothered by the fact that I just wasn’t playing well," he said. "You’re on this team, you’ve been here, and you’re used to playing at a certain level, and when you’re not playing at that level, it’s frustrating. Because people are relying on you to be on that level.

"It’s gotten better so far this season and hopefully it will continue to get better. But everything for me at least and I think most of these guys in here is all about how we’re perceived in the building and how we’re perceived within our team. That’s the biggest thing."

Travis Kelce disrespects Eagles with T.O.-style wing flap after touchdown

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Travis Kelce disrespects Eagles with T.O.-style wing flap after touchdown

Ugh.

It looks like Travis is winning the battle of the Kelce brothers.

After getting flagged for a penalty earlier in the game, giving the slight edge to older brother Jason for however briefly, Travis took the lead for good after scoring a wildly athletic touchdown to put the Kansas City Chiefs up for good over the Philadelphia Eagles.

And to throw some feathers on the embarassed Eagles, he did a little mocking Eagles flap taboot.

Ugh.

You can watch video of the impressive TD below if you want or you can just head to the bar right now.

The younger Kelce finished the day with an impressive 8 catches good for 103 yards and the touchdown.

And then this happend after the game. Shoot me.