Bears defense be warned: Eagles can pull a fast one
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter December 18, 2013 10:01PM
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Updated: December 19, 2013 1:14PM
Kyle Long used to see defeat in defenders’ eyes by the second quarter.
‘‘You’d be amazed at how quickly you can get a defense’s will to break when you’re going 100 mph,’’ said the Bears rookie guard, who played on Oregon’s revolutionary, fast-paced offense last year. ‘‘The tempo is what gets ya.’’
Coach Chip Kelly — and his tempo — left the Ducks for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles this offseason.
For the Bears and their NFL-worst run defense, slowing the Eagles on Sunday will be like trying to stop a ceiling fan with their bare hands.
Kelly’s grand experiment has been working all season.
‘‘Have you seen the stats?’’ Long asked, rhetorically. The Eagles average 152.9 rushing yards per game and 4.98 yards per running play, best in the NFL, yet their time of possession, 25:53, is the shortest in the league.
No team averages more than their 6.3 yards per play or their 6.72 yards on first downs.
With 88 plays of 20 yards or more, the Eagles are nine short of breaking the NFL record set by the 2001 ‘‘Greatest Show on Turf’’ St. Louis Rams.
“It’s certainly proven that it can be very successful after 15 weeks,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. ‘‘I mean, they’ve been exceptional.’’
The beauty of the offense is its simplicity. Long estimated last year’s Ducks ran only 20 different plays, albeit out of 40 different formations. The familiar plays allowed players to line up quickly, without huddling, and react rather than think.
While the NFL version of the ‘‘Blur’’ is more complicated — routes are different and Eagles quarterback Nick Foles sometimes goes under center — the tempo is the same. Even Foles’ ‘‘check-with-me’’ audibles come quickly, from Kelly’s sideline.
‘‘[Kelly] simplifies it so much,’’ running back LeSean McCoy said, ‘‘that you’re able to play fast.’’
Even if Bears linebacker Lance Briggs returns and resumes play-calling duties, Sunday will be a challenge.
‘‘We just have to make sure we’re on the same page,’’ defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. ‘‘We have to get the call in quickly. We have to get aligned very quickly and make sure we communicate. Then, when the ball is snapped, we’ve got to go play.’’
The Bears could face challenges in substituting, too. NFL rules stipulate an offensive team that makes a substitution must wait for the defense to do the same, so the Eagles often keep the same 11 players on the field.
‘‘When you’re tired,’’ defensive end Shea McClellin said, ‘‘get out.’’
Before McCoy became the NFL’s leading rusher, he had to adjust.
‘‘It’s one thing to be in shape,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s another to be in shape for this offense.”
Defenses are not. With one more game of 400 total yards, the Eagles will become just the fourth NFL team to do it 12 times in one season.
‘‘When the big [defensive] guys up front get tired, the holes get a little bigger,’’ said McCoy, who leads the NFL with 1,343 rushing yards despite gaining 38 on only eight tries in Sunday’s 48-30 loss to the Vikings in Minneapolis. ‘‘Those guys are tired, and once they get tired, you can roll and get going. If there’s one step that a guy got you on the first time, he won’t get you the next time — because he’s tired.’’
Bears defensive tackle Stephen Paea said McCoy ‘‘is running everything in their offense right now.’’ Foles can keep the ball, too, on read-option plays; he has 50 carries this season. The Washington Redskins, another read-option team, gashed the Bears for 209 yards on 43 carries Oct. 20.
The Bears have spent the week reviewing who is responsible for the option, the dive, the quarterback and the pitch — at a breakneck pace.
‘‘The concept is still the same [as Oregon], where they’re trying to get as many opportunities as they can for their offense,’’ said Bears safety Chris Conte, who, along with McClellin and Paea, faced Oregon in college.
Kelly claims tempo isn’t the primary focus, ‘‘just a tool in the toolbox,” he said. It’s what sets his teams apart, but they’re not solely dependent on the rush, either.
In Sunday’s loss, the Eagles ran only 13 times and threw 48 passes.
‘‘We had 475 yards of offense and scored 30 points,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘We don’t get any points for having a run-pass balance.
‘‘If you can throw for 400 yards a game, I think every single coach in this league, all 32 of them, would say, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that.’ ’’