PHILADELPHIA – Fittingly, Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles learned to run before they learned to walk.
That was the sense Wednesday as the team turned its attention toward Sunday’s home opener against the San Diego Chargers. The Eagles dazzled the football-watching nation with their go-go offense Monday night. It was in the second half against the Washington Redskins, when they tried to slow things down and protect that big lead, that things went a bit sideways.
“I think we actually do better in the no-huddle,” rookie right tackle Lane Johnson said. “When we get in the huddle, it kind of feels weird. We’re not used to it.”
After spending all summer instilling his warp-speed approach, Kelly suddenly has to remind his players how to slow things down, huddle up, and maintain their focus. It’s a little like a power pitcher working on his changeup. When your mindset is to overpower everyone, it’s an adjustment to relax the pace.
It is not the worst problem to have, protecting a commanding lead. And if Kelly is going to succeed, he is going to overpower opponents early, then throw some changeups in the later innings.
“We’ve got to practice it a little bit more,” Kelly said. “We do a lot of things at such a rapid tempo, I think our guys understand tempo and do that pretty good. We also have to learn how to practice playing it the other way.”
The second half was, in its way, as strange as the first. The Eagles ran 30 offensive plays in the first quarter, a total of 53 in the first half. They had a 33-7 lead early in the third quarter, after LeSean McCoy's 34-yard touchdown run (which was set up by Cary Williams' interception).
From then on, it was like everybody was trying to will the clock to tick as fast as the Eagles offense ran in the first half.
“Regardless of the lead,” wide receiver DeSean Jackson said, “just don’t take your foot off the pedal. If it’s 30-7, you’ve got to keep pounding, keep pounding. I think we just got content a little bit as far as slowing our tempo down. I think Chip probably learned something from that first game.”
Kelly said he would rotate offensive players in a bit more, to avoid the fatigue that contributed to the Eagles’ second-half doldrums. And he will change the way he called plays. Michael Vick threw four passes in the second half, completing two for 13 yards. But he ran the ball five times. McCoy ran the ball 11 times. Kelly can easily improve that balance.
“It’s a work in progress,” Kelly said.
Coming off a 4-12 season, progress should not be taken for granted.