Philadelphia Eagles: Speed Kills


Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles and their Head Coach Chip Kelly became renowned for their fast-paced offense. But could the speed be the main reason that killed Chip Kelly as Head Coach of the team?

Watching the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015, one thing really stood out for me. The offense seemed to flip between super confident and utterly useless. Look at the last game against Washington. On the opening drive, quarterback Sam Bradford marched down the field for an opening drive touchdown, with key receptions for Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews. The next time that the Philadelphia Eagles offense took the field, they struggled, punting the ball away almost immediately, handing momentum back to the Washington Redskins.

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Momentum. That’s a key word in all sports. The speed of the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense was designed to wear opposing defenses down, building momentum and tiring the opposing players. However, it had the reverse effect when it didn’t  work. If the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense goes three and out, the defensive unit is back on the field, often with only a minute or so taken off the clock. In those circumstances, it’s the Eagles defensive players that get worn out, not their opponents.

There may also have been a hidden effect of the high speed offense, that came to the fore as a new quarterback has tried to learn the offense. Players often talk about needing an ability to forget the previous play quickly and to move on, starting each play with a clear mind. That must be easier in offenses where the players huddle, allowing them to separate the plays in their mind and create a clear distinction. The Philadelphia Eagles offense is different. Within twenty seconds of the previous play ending, the ball is usually snapped for the next play. That gives very little time for players to clear their mind and to mentally prepare for the next play.

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When plays are successful, this isn’t a problem. Athletes are naturally confident and the confidence builds throughout a successful drive, as it did on the first drive against Washington. But when things go wrong, it falls apart almost instantaneously. The players are not given time to pick themselves up after a bad play, or to have a word with a teammate. The high speed offense is exciting and it works to confuse and intimidate opponents when it’s working well, but the Philadelphia Eagles and Chip Kelly needed to learn to slow things down on occasions. A two-speed offense, with the ability to switch between the super fast high octane offense, combined with a more sedate, deliberate offense when things aren’t going as well may have worked better.

Ultimately, Chip Kelly proved to be a one trick pony, unable to tinker with the system that he thought would revolutionise the NFL.