TEMPE, Ariz. — When the Philadelphia Eagles brought in Chip Kelly to be their head coach, the belief was he would install the same fast-paced, up-tempo offense his Oregon Ducks ran.
It took a little while, as the Eagles ranked 12th in the NFL in plays run per game in 2013 at 65.4, but improved to first last season at 70.7 and are second in 2015 at 69.1 per game.
Many wondered if an NFL team could with with that kind of pace, as it can lead to less time of possession and more work for Philadelphia’s defense.
Results are rather mixed, as the Eagles won 10 games in 2013 and 2014, making the playoffs once, and at 6-7 this season are very much alive to win the NFC East.
But whether anyone thinks the up-tempo offense is a viable style of football is mostly irrelevant, because either way, defenses have to prepare for it.
“Obviously with the tempo, communication is going to be important, that’s where it starts, everybody’s got to be on the same page,” Arizona defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “Then it comes down to fundamentals, being lined up, getting your eyes in the right spot, making sure that the guy next to you, you’re on the same when you’re working together in coverage.
“Those will be the things early on in the game that we’ll have to make sure we manage well on the field.”
This will not be the Cardinals’ first look at Philadelphia’s scheme, as the teams faced off each of the last two seasons, so the pace will not come as much of a surprise.
Like Bettcher, safety Tyrann Mathieu said communication and getting lined up is important, with him saying it’s half the battle.
“I think a lot of their big plays, explosive plays come from guys not communicating, out of position,” he said. “So it’s going to be a big challenge for us to get lined up and have two feet in the ground when the ball is snapped.”
It can be challenging getting ready for an offense that, quite frankly, is fairly unique. All defenses have experience facing off against an offense in a hurry-up situation, but the idea that they’ll have to face it for a full 60 minutes is not exactly normal.
But more than their pace, which is certainly faster than most, the thing that may matter most is how little the Eagles huddle and substitute. It’s not so much that they quickly run one play after the next, rather they get to the line of scrimmage quickly and decide what play they are going to run. If the Eagles don’t substitute the Cardinals cannot, which can put a strain on players who may have to fill different roles than they are used to.
Head coach Bruce Arians said the Eagles don’t run a fast break offense all the time, but will run it during the game.
To prepare for that, Bettcher said his defense has faced a scout team running in tempo with how the Eagles’ offense works this week.
“From a first to a second down, second to third down, third back to a first down, we try to script it so as much of that — we don’t huddle on defense right now, so we’re not huddling during the week and we won’t huddle on Sunday,” he said. “Just like they won’t huddle. We don’t practice an offense that looks at cards in the huddle, breaks it and comes to the line. There’s four to five with cards over there showing the look teams what we need, and they’re trying to run it as fast at us as we can.
“The tempo has been great and those guys have done a great job this week.”
It remains to be seen how effective the Cardinals were at mimicking the Eagles. Though they can have a great understanding of what their opponent wants to do, there is no substitute for the experience Philadelphia has in its own offense.
Likewise, there is also no substitute for the kind of experience the Cardinals have against this offense..
“Those guys play pretty fast, but we played Philly two of the last three years, so we have a pretty good familiarity with how fast and how the pace of the game is going to go,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “I believe after the first 15 plays of the game, everything is settled down, they really get into play calling because in the West Coast offense such as Chip’s, they script the first 15 plays so everybody’s on the same page, might be a little bit faster.
“But after that, I think the game will settle down. They probably snap the ball now, average seconds between 12 to 15, so it’s not as fast as everyone thinks. It’s just not getting in the huddle and that’s what makes it look really fast.”
Safety Tony Jefferson offered a similar sentiment, saying the Eagles line up quickly but then take time to read the defense before running a play.
“At the same it’s no huddle, but you still have time,” he said.