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Saturday, September 14, 2013
Eagles' rapid-fire offense will work

By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com

This very well could work.

It was one game, one game against a quarterback who was coming off major reconstructive knee surgery and was obviously rusty and apprehensive after not getting any snaps in the preseason. But against Washington on Monday night, the Philadelphia Eagles showed that Chip Kelly's Oregon offense could work in the National Football League. It did work. It will work.

Kelly's plan is as simple as it is brilliant. Speed kills. Training matters. In a league built on competitive balance, Kelly has found a way to gain an advantage. Force the tempo using athletes specifically conditioned to withstand the mental and physical demands of playing at an atypically brisk pace.

To their credit, the Eagles' players have bought in. Many were skeptical about a college coach with zero NFL experience until the results proved Kelly right. Now, the players are all in. Now, they are raring to go. And go. And go. And go.

After beating Washington with a rapid-fire first half that included 53 plays -- one every 23 seconds of possession, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- the Eagles became a legitimate postseason threat. In the wake of their 33-27 win over Washington, the Eagles' Super Bowl odds dropped dramatically. Philadelphia enters its home opener on Sunday against San Diego favored to win by a touchdown. A flawed 4-12 team a season ago is now the talk of the league.

After the Eagles beat the reigning NFC East champions on the road, a division title seems attainable. Now, a city that hasn't celebrated a playoff victory since 2008 has hope that the rebuilding job Kelly inherited when he replaced Andy Reid as head coach might not take that long.

One game. Speed kills. Imagine that.

Kelly's offense will work and succeed as long as two things happen. First, Kelly can't burn out his players. He can't have quarterback Michael Vick take a hard hit to the ribs. He can't have tackle Jason Peters pull a hamstring. He can't have running back LeSean McCoy or wide receiver DeSean Jackson beat up. He can't have center Jason Kelce drop too much weight because the tempo is so fast.

Kelly needs his guys healthy. He needs his playmakers on the field. It's a lot to ask of Vick, who hasn't made it through a full season since he played in Atlanta a lifetime ago. Vick has a history of injuries. He looked hobbled in the second half against Washington, although he practiced this week and was not listed on the injury report.

In Kelly's offense, Vick is going to get hit, but he must avoid unnecessary hits. He must not throw a block. He must play smart. He must go down in the open field before a defender reaches him.

LeSean McCoy
Philly's high-flying offense racked up 443 yards Monday night, and RB LeSean McCoy accounted for 189 of them.

Against Washington, the Eagles ran 41 zone-read plays, the most by a team since the Denver Broncos ran 23 against the Chargers in 2011. The zone read is Kelly's thing. San Francisco and Seattle ran it last season to help make their first-time starting quarterbacks comfortable. But it is not the staple for either 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman or Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

It is, however, Kelly's staple. And until an opponent can force the Eagles into third-and-long situations, Kelly is going to continue to ram it down defenses' throats. First down. Second down. Read option. Up tempo. He will do it as long as the Eagles' playmakers are healthy.

The other reason Kelly's offense will work and succeed is, at this point, it is too late for Philadelphia's opponents to match the Eagles' conditioning. Every team trains hard. Seattle and Atlanta are as cutting-edge as Philadelphia. But Kelly has specifically tailored his conditioning program, which is run by a man who formerly trained Navy SEALs, to prepare his players for the quick pace. It is about giving maximum effort for a play, and then recovering in half the time teams normally do, and then giving maximum effort again.

The pace is dizzying, and if not prepared for it, defensive players won't be able to stay mentally engaged, communicate or keep up.

At this point, it is too late for teams to try to match the Eagles' conditioning. It doesn't happen in a week. It happens over the course of time. Kelly said as much earlier this week.

"It would be very presumptuous of me to talk about the shape of other teams because I've never watched them train," Kelly said. "I know our team is in shape. I know how we train. We're very specific in how we do that. We can keep up what we're doing right now because we've been doing this since April.

"If you're going to wait 'til the week before we play to say we need to get some extra sprinting in, it's probably too late. It's an ongoing process. It's not just what we do on game day."

What the Eagles did against Washington was significant. It is early, but the Eagles served notice that Kelly's brand of offense can work in the NFL. Play fast. Stay healthy. Be better conditioned than the opponent. It worked against Washington, and the entire league has noticed.