It's only May, but already something is very different about the Eagles' offense. It's moving a lot slower these days — and that might actually be a good thing.
Gone from practice is the frenetic, breakneck pace that focused on quantity of repetitions and play calls over quality, what became the hallmark of a Chip Kelly team. Under Doug Pederson, the offense huddles and makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage, uses snap counts instead of sheer speed to keep the defense off-balanced, and the head coach will even briefly halt the action if he feels the need to bark out instructions.
The two philosophies couldn't be more opposite, although there's probably a reason why Pederson and 30 other coaches in the league don't do everything as fast as possible, 100 percent of the time. One of those is to keep players fresh for the grueling football season that lies ahead.
"We have a lot more time to preserve our bodies," right tackle Lane Johnson said of Pederson's offense. "We're still going hard, but we're still going to have a lot in the tank come December or January, whenever we need our bodies to perform for us."
While it was often noted how Kelly's uptempo attack put pressure on his own defense, rarely was any mention made of the added strain it put on offensive personnel, as well. After all, they were running a higher number of plays than average too, which Johnson admits may have had an adverse effect on his performance and that of his offensive line mates.
"I can speak for myself, I can speak for a lot of the guys on the O-line, we don't have any rotation, it's us the whole year," Johnson said. "You go so fast for so long, there's only so much your body can do before ultimately it's going to fail you. I don't care who you are.
"But I think we're taking a better approach this year. We're getting our work in, but it's a better approach."
Reducing fatigue is only one potential benefit to Pederson's more traditional tactics. Players are also noticing they have more time to observe and react to what the defense is doing, rather than simply carrying out the calls that come in from the sideline as quickly as humanly possible.
The mental dynamic — at least on an individual level — had long been absent from the Eagles' offense. Players were given minimal time to prepare for what was coming on the next play, and if a call put somebody in poor position, there was precious little ability to adjust. Now all of a sudden, the quarterback has more freedom to change the play, while everybody has the opportunity to read the defense pre-snap.
"The biggest thing, obviously, is coming in out of the huddle," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. "More time to assess situations, different checks, audibles, things like that that didn't come with a fast, hurry-up offense."
"You just have a lot more time to assess everything that's going on with the defense," Johnson said. "Instead of getting up to the line and snap the ball quick, you have more time to glance around, see where the blitz is coming from. You have more time to operate."
Another benefit to Pederson's traditional approach was on full display at Tuesday's practice (see 10 observations), during which the defense was caught jumping offsides numerous times. The Eagles have been reintroduced to snap counts, a seemingly minor wrinkle that's proven to be a very welcome return for the offense.
Snap counts are a simple device that keeps defenses honest, forcing linemen and blitzers to go off the sight of the ball moving alone rather than the sound of the quarterback's call. And if the defense crosses the line of scrimmage before the snap, it's a penalty that results in five yards and, sometimes, a free play.
It's not quite the same as getting lined up and snapping the ball in under 15 seconds, but it does give the offense a slight head start, even when it doesn't draw a flag.
"They're taught to get off the ball, but we're taught to have different snap counts," Johnson said. "That's the beauty of it. If they want to jump offsides, we'll take five yards every time.
"It just helps the offensive line. Guys want to jet up the field and rush and try to get off the ball quick, and if they do that and the ball's not snapped, then it's gonna be five yards for us. We try to incorporate that. It's different for us because we haven't had that the past few years with Chip. We just got up there and snapped the ball, tempo operation, so I think it's definitely going to be to our advantage."
Who would've thought something as basic as a snap count, which is employed by nearly every team at every level of football, might be something the Eagles would want to try?
If it sounds at all like any of this is throwing shade at Kelly, well, maybe it is, if only a little. While describing the differences between offenses, Matthews sort of implied tempo is used in part to hide flaws, rather than to attack the opponents' vulnerabilities.
"Last year, we just did stuff pretty much always in two-minute mode," Matthews said. "So it was a regular NFL offense, it was just two-minute drill the whole game, whereas now it's slowed down with longer play calls.
"Usually in that kind offense, the speed and the scheme is what people feel like are going to take care of most of the problems. When you come out slow and are dissecting what the defense is doing, they're not gassed, they're ready for every single play and we have to run plays more so off of what they give us, so it's a little different in that aspect."
Time will tell whether Pederson's style is more effective, but players certainly seem pleased by the changes thus far. Even something as simple as the head coach talking to the offense between plays or asking the players to run something back — not remotely unusual on most practice fields — had become unfamiliar to the Eagles.
"Sometimes in between plays we'll have a little time to discuss it," Johnson said. "We're going back to the huddle so the coach has time to discuss what went wrong on that play, what we can do to fix it the next time.
"It's just more input. We have a lot more time to communicate and get things communicated that way to help fix problems."
Imagine that. By slowing things down, Johnson just made the case Pederson is actually getting more done. Maybe you don't always have to go 100 miles per hour to maximize the offense.