Colts prepare for Philadelphia Eagles' fast-strike offense
5:02 PM, Sep 11, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS - Two snippets of video are all Chuck Pagano needs to show in the defensive meeting room as the Indianapolis Colts prepare for the irresistible offensive force they’ll encounter Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Each is from the second half of the Eagles’ season-opening victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Each represents the perils of suffering a temporary lapse when facing coach Chip Kelly’s up-tempo, pedal-to-the-metal approach.
“It’s really difficult to defend,’’ Pagano said. “Sideline to sideline, it’s grass basketball.’’
Cue up a fourth-and-1 near midfield with 11:46 to play in the third quarter. Down 17-0, the Eagles decided against punting and quarterback Nick Foles hurriedly lined up the offense. When the Jaguars were slow to respond and late getting set, running back Darren Sproles gashed them with a 49-yard touchdown. He barely was touched.
Chalk up one for exploiting defensive indecision.
Cue up a first-and-10 with 7 minutes remains in the fourth quarter. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin lined up in the right slot and drew initial coverage from safety Winston Guy. Expecting deep help, Guy allowed Maclin to run past him. When no one provided deep support, Foles hit a wide-open Maclin for a 68-yard touchdown and a 24-17 lead.
Chalk up one for exploiting a defensive breakdown.
Colts backup safety Colt Anderson spent the past four seasons with the Eagles, and faced Kelly’s frenetic offense last year in practice.
“It’s something you see on TV or hear about,’’ he said, “but until you actually see it and play against it, that’s when you see how fast they actually are.
“Even practicing against it all last year, you can never really get used to the tempo. You’ve got to see it in person. They want you to start second-guessing yourself. When they’re running the up-tempo stuff, they hope one guy isn’t in sync with the other guys and that guy is going to get exposed.’’
The Jaguars led 17-0 at the half, but were overwhelming. Philadelphia’s seven second-half possessions generated three touchdowns and two field goals. After being limited to 129 yards in the first half, the Eagles erupted for 291 in the final two quarters.
And everything happened at warp speed. That’s Kelly’s blueprint for success.
“I think they snapped the ball last week against Jacksonville (with) an average of between 25-26 seconds left on the play clock,’’ Pagano said. “They’re on ya.’’
The Colts dealt with an up-tempo offense in Sunday night’s 31-24 loss to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
“The tempo is going to be like 10 times (more) than what we saw last week,’’ he said, adding the Eagles “will give you absolutely no time (to substitute personnel).’’
That’s one of the objectives of Kelly’s scheme. He forces a defensive coordinator to pick an approach – base or nickel with an extra defensive back – then exploits it with his versatile personnel.
The Eagles feature dynamic running backs with LeSean McCoy, who led the NFL in rushing yards (1,607) and total yards from scrimmage (2,146) and Sproles, wideouts Maclin and Riley Cooper, and tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz.
If a defense sticks with his base formation, the Eagles are likely to counter by spreading it out and forcing it to cover Celek and Ertz as receivers. If a defense goes with an extra defensive back, the Eagles are able to accentuate their running game.
Their combustible reputation aside, the Eagles led the NFL in rushing last season, averaging 160.4 yards per game. McCoy and Sproles combined for 145 yards on 32 attempts against Jacksonville.
Kelly brought his breakneck system to the NFL from Oregon, and the rest of the league was slow to catch on. The Eagles offense led the league in yards per play and rushing. They were No. 2 in total yards (417.3) and No. 4 in points (27.6 per game).
The anomaly? Philadelphia ranked last in the league in time of possession (26:24). Clearly, they didn’t require much time to do their damage.
Pagano was asked if perhaps the best defense against a Philadelphia offense was a good offensive performance by his Andrew Luck-led unit.
“That would be nice,’’ he said. “Play keepaway.’’
Teams generally reward game balls to players for stellar play during a victory. Pagano said he dishes out “green balls’’ to coaches who go above and beyond in contributing to a win.
“It’s cash,’’ he said with a smile. “If you have 40 minutes of time of possession, it could be worth a green ball.’’