How the Eagles plan to defend Philip Rivers
Including the four preseason games and the opener against Washington, the Eagles' defense has faced an average of 72 plays per game. (AP)
A hurry-up offense means a hurry-up everything. Because without a defense that’s prepared to play a ton of snaps in a short period of time, you can’t have an offense play a ton of snaps in a short period of time.
You can’t have one without the other.
One of the byproducts of the Chip Kelly offense is a tremendous amount of pressure on the Eagles’ defense. Because the faster the offense is operating, the quicker the defense has to be ready to go out on the field.
And a three-and-out for the offense means a very short break for the defense.
“When we first got together, the very first meeting defensively, we talked about being a no‑huddle team, not a no‑huddle offense,” defensive coordinator Billy Davis said.
“And the mentality that we take out there is that we expect that it could be three‑and‑out or three‑and‑in very quickly, and if you go into it with the right attitude and you prepare yourself and practice and be in the kind of condition -- extra conditioning through the practice and what we do extra -- I think is how you prepare to be a no‑huddle team, not just offense. And that's why defense has got to be in great shape, also.”
It’s pretty simple. The faster the Eagles’ offense runs, the faster they’re off the field, either by scoring, punting or turning the ball over.
That means the defense could be on the field just 90 seconds after leaving it.
Even if the other team is running a conventional offense, huddling every play, running the clock down to 0:01 every snap, the Eagles’ defense is still going to be out there a lot.
Last year, the Eagles’ defense faced an average of 62 plays per game. So far this year, including the four preseason games and the opener in Washington, they’ve faced an average of 72 plays per game.
That’s a 14 percent increase over last year.
Based solely on the Washington game, the Eagles’ defense is on pace to allow 1,120 snaps this year. That would be the second-most snaps any NFL defense has faced since 2000, behind only the 2010 Titans (1,139).
And when the offense sputters, that number can increase exponentially. The Redskins ran 49 second-half plays Monday night, and the strain on the Eagles’ defense was obvious. They allowed three late touchdowns before hanging on for a 33-27 win.
“I think we can be in better shape,” linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. “I think we’re in really good shape, but we can always be in better shape. I think it’s something we need to keep working on throughout the season.”
That emphasis comes in the form of things like smart nutrition, lots of in-season aerobic training, Kelly’s famous post-practice fruit smoothies and extra sleep, but more than anything, it comes at practice.
“We’re practicing against our offense every day, so it’s not really so much that it’s emphasized, it’s just expected, because that’s exactly what we’re going against -- no huddle and tempo,” Kendricks said. “So it just kind of comes with the territory.”
The Eagles, 1-0 after their Monday night win in Washington, face the Chargers at 1 p.m. Sunday in their home opener.
Here’s a number to keep in mind: 1,159.
That’s the most plays any NFL defense has ever faced. That figure is in jeopardy.
Davis substitutes generously up front but some of the linebackers and all the defensive backs are generally going to play every snap.
Patrick Chung last week played all 75 snaps on defense and 11 on special teams, for 86 total snaps.
At that rate, he’ll play 200 more snaps this year than anybody on last year’s team did.
“You’ve got to play the plays,” Chung said. “You can’t go into a game thinking you’re only playing 60 plays and playing the other 10 half-speed. You don’t count plays, you don’t think about it. You just kind of play. And then you figure out how many plays you played afterwards.
“You can’t think about that. Once you think about that, you’re going to make a mistake somewhere. If you’re playing defense, you play defense. If they have you on special teams, you play special teams. You gotta just play. You worry about how many snaps you got or how tired you are after the game. After a win, it’s all worth it.”
Second-year cornerback Brandon Boykin is expected to play virtually every snap on defense against the Chargers Sunday along with a generous helping of special teams plays.
“It’s possible I’ll play the most on the entire team this weekend,” Boykin said. “Knowing that, you’ve got to stay hydrated, got to do everything necessary to stay in the game as long as possible.
“I don’t think conditioning is problem with us. Chip does a great job keeping us in shape, running us in practice at a fast pace so when the game comes it’s slower, but just mentally making sure my technique is sound even when I get tired, that’s what I’ve got to focus on.”
Because of the fast pace and the constant need for substitutions, there are very few benchwarmers on this defense. All 20 of the defensive players who dressed out Monday night got at least 18 combined snaps on defense and special teams.
“Everybody that was active for us played, and that's part of it,” Davis said. “If you're up and got your pads on, in this system you're going to play.”