If we learned nothing else from Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles debut as head coach on Monday, we learned that his hurry-up offense can take an opposing team’s defensive coordinator out of the equation.
Kelly’s offense is lined up and snapping the football in as little as 15 seconds on some plays. That’s hardly enough time to look over the appetizers on a takeout menu, let alone implement schematic adjustments to something as complex as an NFL defense.
Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett looked like a defeated man sitting in the booth during the game—he might as well have been a million miles away. This week it’s John Pagano’s turn to peek inside Chip’s funhouse, as the San Diego Chargers travel to Philly for the home opener at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
Until coaching staffs start catching up to Kelly—which they will eventually to some degree—tempo is the Birds’ primary advantage going into every contest. The greatest challenge in front of the Bolts is how to communicate with and direct 11 moving parts versus an aggressive offense that acts and moves as if it was one synchronized organism.
Once a defense gets that part down, next they can tackle trying to stop the Eagles.
San Diego’s Defense vs. Philadelphia’s Offense
We can safely assume the Chargers are facing a steady dose of LeSean McCoy—presently the NFL’s leading rusher—and the full stable of Eagles running backs. That said, San Diego’s defense was tough against the run last year, finishing sixth in yards per game (96.4) and fifth in yards per carry (3.8).
Without outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (torn ACL), the Bolts’ run D could take a step back this season, but they’re still solid. In Week 1, Pagano’s unit limited Texans ball-carriers Arian Foster and Ben Tate to 112 yards on 27 attempts (4.15 AVG) with a long gain of 14. There certainly weren’t any lanes like this:
No worries. Through the air is where the big plays will be waiting for Philadelphia.
San Diego’s cornerbacks are currently in a state of flux. Even Jacksonville didn’t want Derek Cox, who became the Chargers’ top corner when he signed as a free agent in the offseason. 2011 third-round pick Shareece Wright made his first career start on Monday. And released by the Dolphins in August, Richard Marshall is the nickel corner—if he hasn’t lost his job already.
They also have a major hole at one of their inside linebacker spots if Manti Te’o can’t go (foot). Here’s what John Gennaro of the blog Bolts From The Blue had to say about Bront Bird’s performance in relief of Te’o this week:
Hoooooo boy. Want to know why Bront Bird led the Chargers in tackles last night? It's because [Texans head coach] Gary Kubiak's gigantic playsheet had written "Throw/run at Bront Bird" in every box.
Bird is terrible. He was good last year, he was bad in 2011, he obviously does some things well....but he can not be a starter. Not for another game. Not ever.
At least Matt Schaub had little trouble picking apart the Charger secondary. Outside of an unfortunate interception off a pass batted at the line of scrimmage, Houston’s quarterback was surgical while connecting on 34 of 45 attempts for 346 yards and three touchdowns. Here’s how Schaub's wide receivers and tight ends fared:
Granted DeSean Jackson isn’t Andre Johnson—one of the NFL’s all-time leaders in receptions and yards per game—and the Eagles probably don’t have another receiver with as much raw talent as first-round rookie DeAndre Hopkins. The Birds can match tight ends against almost anybody, though, with Brent Celek and Zach Ertz.
It shouldn’t matter. Jackson has looked like his old self since the beginning of training camp, and a seasoned veteran like Jason Avant should eat up whoever draws his number in the slot. It’s on Michael Vick to deliver the ball to his playmakers, because they should be open.
San Diego’s Offense vs. Philadelphia’s Defense
It sounds so obvious, but pressure Philip Rivers. That objective shouldn’t prove too difficult, either. The 10-year veteran was second only to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers with 49 sacks taken last season, and that was just one year removed from finishing third with 38 in 2010.
The increased pass rush is clearly getting into Rivers’ head as well, as his interceptions have increased with the hits. He finished the ’11 season in third with 20 interceptions and cracked the top 10 again for just the third time in his career with 15 last season.
When the protection breaks down, Rivers tends to make panicked decisions with the football. Case in point: the veteran passer threw a pick-six that allowed Houston to tie the score in the fourth quarter of San Diego’s eventual Week 1 loss. His line failed to pick up the blitz, which resulted in a bad read.
The Chargers’ offensive line is a mess. Eagles fans needn’t look further than San Diego picking up King Dunlap to man the all-important left tackle position—that didn’t work out so well for Philadelphia in the past. Rivers also lacks standout receivers to bail him out, which makes him a sitting duck back there.
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis did a great job of disguising blitzes and bringing pressure from all over the place against Washington. They wound up hitting Robert Griffin III seven times in the victory, and the quarterback never got into a rhythm until late after Philly took their foot off the gas pedal.
If Davis can keep Rivers off balance with a similar game plan on Sunday, this game could become a rout. The Chargers simply appear to have a lot more glaring holes than the Birds at this stage of the season.
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