Will Refs Try To Slow Down Kelly And the Eagles?

In this morning’s Wake-Up Call, T-Mac linked to an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal that focused on how Chip Kelly could face a challenge dealing with referees in the NFL.

“We have to make sure teams understand that they don’t control the tempo, our officials do,” said NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino. “We’re going through our normal ball mechanics, we aren’t going to rush [unless] it’s in the two minute drill.”

The logical comparison here is the New England Patriots, a team that already runs an up-tempo offense at the NFL level. The wonderful Football Outsiders Almanac already keeps track of pace:

Situation-neutral pace represents the seconds of game clock per offensive play, with the following restrictions: no drives are included if they start in the fourth quarter or final five minutes of the first half, and drives are only included if the score is within six points or less.

What they found was the Patriots had the quickest pace in the NFL at 24.5 seconds. TheWall Street Journal, meanwhile, took a sample of Oregon’s pace during one game last year and found that they ran a play every 23.2 seconds.

Jimmy Kempski took the Patriots comparison further in this Philly.com post. He goes through a specific Patriots drive and shows that the refs had no issue accommodating New England’s pace.

In other words, if the officials are willing to move at the same pace they did last year, Kelly and the Eagles shouldn’t have much of an issue.

The question is: Are they going to make an effort to slow things down in 2013? The WSJ article indicates that’s a possibility:

Blandino said the subject of up-tempo offenses and how they’re officiated was a major point of discussion by the NFL’s competition committee in recent months. Last season, after what Blandino said was an all-time record for total plays from scrimmage per game, he said the committee felt compelled to “re-emphasize” that NFL rules differ dramatically from college.

The article explains that officials have met with the Eagles, and Kelly didn’t seem overly concerned.

The other key here is that the Eagles’ offense can get up near the line of scrimmage before the officials give them the go-ahead to snap the ball. One of the main reasons Kelly wants to go fast is so he and the players can assess the look from the defense and call a play that gives them an advantage.

“I’ve heard that whole concept of we have four or five different speeds in how we do things, and that’s not how we do it,” Kelly said earlier this offseason. “There are certain plays we can call where we don’t need a defense to be set. There’s other plays where we need to make sure we get the right look to put us in the right play. So we don’t talk about that from a speed standpoint. We’ve never talked about we want plays snapped in X amount of seconds or any of that stuff. We never got involved in that.

“A lot of times, we need to make sure we see the defense. We’re going to run the right play based on what the defense is in. And I think sometimes you can confuse yourself more than you can confuse them. If they didn’t line up right and they have nine guys standing over there and you have a play called that’s going to run into those nine guys, then maybe playing fast wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Sometimes you need to let things get settled down and get an opportunity to make sure that you’ve got the right look. A lot of things we’re doing, we’re trying to throw it versus the best-located safety. Well, we better make sure we locate the safeties before we snap the football. Do we want to run it at one guy or run away from another guy? You’ve got to make sure some of those things you can see before you start it.”

The Eagles are off today, but will resume practice on Wednesday. We’ll get a chance to ask Kelly about the comments from the referees then.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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