Is Kelly-Kiffin history relevant for Sunday?

IRVING, Texas – The most attractive thing to Chip Kelly about the Philadelphia Eagles job might have been the chance to face Monte Kiffin’s defense twice a year.

That’s just a joke. Kelly made a point to say he has the “utmost respect” for Kiffin, the Dallas Cowboys’ 73-year-old defensive coordinator, who had a heck of a track record in Tampa before his stint on his son’s staffs at the college level.

But could you blame Kelly for wanting to see as much of Kiffin as possible? Just look at the stats from the three times they faced each other in Oregon-USC games:

  • Oregon averaged 50 points and 601 yards in the three games, capped by a 62-point, 730-yard performance last season. USC did beat Kelly’s Ducks in 2011, managing to hold Oregon to only 35 points and 474 yards.

  • The Ducks averaged 285.6 yards on 68.9 percent passing in the three games. Oregon threw for nine touchdowns against Kiffin’s USC defenses, including four in each of the wins. Then-freshman Marcus Mariota threw for 304 yards on 20-of-23 passing in last season’s Oregon-USC shootout.

  • Oregon averaged 315.3 yards on the ground and ran for 11 touchdowns against Kiffin’s USC defenses, gaining more than 6 yards per carry. Kenjon Barner trampled the Trojans for 321 yards and five scores on 38 carries last season.

Is any of this relevant to Sunday’s Cowboys-Eagles game?

Kiffin said he wasn’t too sure, although he had high praise for Kelly's coaching ability. Kelly downplayed it, diplomatically, pointing out that he never saw anyone like Sean Lee while studying the USC defense the last few years.

“Football is a players’ game,” Kelly said. “I was fortunate when I was at Oregon to have just some outstanding players.”

Of course, the Oregon offenses didn’t feature LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, either. Those Philly playmakers rank first in the NFL in rushing yards and second in receiving yards, respectively, this season.

Kelly added that another reason he doesn’t “draw that much parallel” is that Kiffin’s USC and Dallas defenses have significant schematic differences. The Cowboys don’t play nearly as much traditional Tampa 2 as Kiffin did with the Trojans.

On the other hand, Kiffin sees a scheme that is frighteningly familiar when he watches Kelly’s Philadelphia offense, which ranks third in the NFL with 449.8 yards per game. The Eagles aren't likely to have much of a quarterback run-game element with Nick Foles replacing the injured Michael Vick, but that fell well down Kiffin’s list of problems with the Ducks the last few years.

“He didn’t change a whole lot,” said Kiffin, who quickly shot down a suggestion that the narrower hashmarks in the NFL adversely affects Kelly’s scheme. “He said it the other day in the paper: He’s going to run his offense. He doesn’t care what you’re doing on defense. That’s what he does. That’s why he’s a good coach.”

Asked why Kelly had so much success against him at the college level, Kiffin didn’t delve into any X’s and O’s. He couldn’t have offered a much less complicated explanation.

“They just did a good job,” Kiffin said. “Hopefully, we come out and play better, that’s for sure.”

For better or worse, Kiffin will only have to wait a couple of months for a rematch with Kelly, now that they’re coaching NFC East rivals.