Chip Kelly was asked on Thursday how he would go about defending the Eagles’ offense if he was facing them this week.
“Fortunately,” Kelly replied, “I don’t have to.”
But John Pagano does. The Chargers’ second-year defensive coordinator has the task of trying to contain a cheetah of an offense that burst onto the field Monday, wreaked havoc for 30 minutes, and then disappeared into the night. There is little film to go off, and not much time to get his team prepared for the pace at which the Eagles operate.
“Trying to simulate what they do and their tempo…It’s very hard to probably match that tempo anywhere,” said Pagano. “You’ve heard of people in college trying to run three scout teams at their defense [in practice] to try and create that tempo. The look we’ve been getting out here, the scout team has been doing a great job with it. We’ve added a few new things of how to make it as chaotic for our defense as we can.
“You try to simulate it as best as you can, but it’s never going to be what it’s like on Sunday.”
San Diego has former Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst playing the role of Michael Vick in practice and the Chargers have kicked up the speed in an attempt to mimic the Eagles’ tempo. They are trying to get educated quickly on Chip Kelly‘s brand of ball. Interestingly enough, a lot of that education is coming from the young players on the team, who faced similar styles on the collegiate level.
“Most of the young guys coming out have seen all these things. You see them talking about this,” said Pagano. “[Veteran outside linebackers] Jarret Johnson and Dwight Freeney, those guys haven’t seen stuff like this. You hear the young guys always talking at breakfast or lunch about the different things they did or saw or how they handled things…Those guys, they’ve had to face it. The younger players know the tempo and know the speed. The younger guys have been talking to veterans more about, ‘Hey, this is the speed of the game.'”
The Eagles ran 77 snaps on Monday, which was less than the Patriots (89) and Ravens (87) , and only two more snaps than San Diego’s Week 1 opponent — the Texans — got off. But Kelly’s offense slowed down significantly in the second half. It ran 53 plays in the first half alone, two more than the Chargers’ offense had in the entire game versus Houston. Granted, that high volume of plays in the opening half was partly a result of circumstance, but attention-grabbing nonetheless.
“I saw that and I said, ‘That’s crazy,’” Chargers linebacker Donald Butler said. “But that’s what you have a couple days to prepare for. Try to simulate it out on the field and be ready for Sunday.”
A major question for San Diego and the rest of the teams on the Eagles’ schedule this season is whether a couple days is enough time to prepare for this kind of speed. As Kelly recently noted, “If you’re going to wait till the week before we play to say we need to get some extra sprinting in, it’s probably too late.”
Part of the game plan, according to offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, will be to try and have the San Deigo offense sustain longer drives in order to eat up clock and give the defense a breather.
Meanwhile, Pagano is in the lab trying to solve the NFL’s newest challenge. When will defenses begin to figure this thing out?
“Hopefully it’s this week,” said Pagano. “Hopefully it’s this week.”
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