According to a report, the NFL officiating may want to slow down Chip Kelly's pace. (AP)
Chip Kelly wants to pick up the pace. The NFL wants to slow him down. That’s the narrative that emerged after a recent story in the Wall Street Journal.
Earlier this week, Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, told the paper that teams need to “understand that they don’t control the tempo; our officials do. We're going through our normal ball mechanics. We aren't going to rush (unless) it's in the two-minute drill."
Some people interpreted those comments to mean the league would attempt to decelerate the tempo of Kelly’s go-go-gadget offense. After Wednesday's practice, Kelly said he doesn't anticipate any problems.
"It's not an issue for us, whatsoever," Kelly said. "I never thought it was. We understand the rules and we'll play by them. It's a real simple concept to me. If the speed limit is 65, even if I want to go 85, if there's a cop out there, you're not going 85."
Earlier in the day, general manager Howie Roseman said the team and its coaches have already met with league officials, and he doesn’t anticipate any problems.
“I think the Patriots set a record for plays last year,” Roseman said. “That’s pretty impressive, the amount of plays they got in. It didn’t seem like they were hindered too much by it. We understand the rules. Coach understands the rules. The officials have been great when they came here. I don’t see it as much of an issue at all.”
Roseman has a point. The Patriots didn’t actually set the top mark for most offensive plays last season – but they came close. New England ran 1,191 plays a year ago, eight shy of tying the NFL record.
The Patriots led the league by averaging 74.3 plays. The Lions were second (72.5) and the Colts were third (70.4). Interestingly, the Eagles weren’t far behind. The Birds averaged 67.4 plays, sixth most in the league.
The Patriots also led the NFL in tempo by running a play every 24.9 seconds. Again, the Eagles were close, taking 26.5 seconds between snaps – fourth quickest in the league.
If the offensive team doesn’t substitute between plays, there are no rules on how quickly the next snap can be taken. If the offensive team does switch players, the defense must be given the opportunity to alter its personnel. In that case, if the officials feel the offense hasn’t given the defense enough time to make changes, the referee can ask the umpire to stand over the ball to make sure both sides are afforded an adequate substitution period.
There are other, more routine ways to arrest the speed of a game, including changing balls on an incomplete pass or when a play goes out of bounds. The referee can also take up a position behind the deepest offensive back prior to any snap, which often requires more time.
Mike Pereira – who once held the same title as Blandino before becoming a TV analyst – told NFL.com that he doesn’t think Kelly will have “the juice to persuade [officiating] crews to work faster.” While that might be true, the notion that NFL officials are purposely trying to slow down the Eagles (or Saints or Patriots or other teams) might be exaggerated.
Consider, once more, the precedent established by New England. In addition to the Patriots nearly setting an NFL record for most total plays in a single season a year ago, they ran an eye-popping 89 plays in a Week 5 win over Denver. That was the second most in New England history. The Patriots also set a franchise record in that game with 35 first downs.