Eagles fans who feared new head coach Chip Kelly was planning to use the run-n-shoot, wishbone or single wing schemes on offense beginning next season had to be cheered by the news that Kelly has hired a real NFL grown-up, former Browns head coach Pat Shurmur, as his offensive coordinator. Shurmur is a West Coast offense devotee, just like a certain deposed emperor, and it’s likely he’ll teach Kelly a few things about professional passing attacks.
That’s good news, but if Kelly wants real success, he would be wise—and at a reported $6.5 million per, he had better be pretty damn smart—to review what happened Sunday in the conference championship games to see that the key ingredient in winning football remains defense. The 49ers and Ravens will be playing in New Orleans thanks to their abilities to shut down potent attacks in the second halves of their games. Neither team allowed a second-half point en route to their triumphs, further evidence that despite the fun and games of an exciting offensive attack, teams that win big must be able to build, sustain and protect stout defenses.
Though it’s becoming obvious Kelly is not going to operate a college offense in the big leagues, it’s not particularly clear whether he understands that the NFL is not about outscoring people—at least on the highest levels. Teams must be potent offensively; that cannot be argued. Baltimore and San Francisco scored four touchdowns each in their wins. More impressive, and ultimately more responsible for their success, were the second-half shutouts. The Ravens shackled the NFL’s number-one offense, which had built its regular-season success partly on Kelly’s giddy-up principles. SF, meanwhile, took care of the eighth-rated attack, forcing two turnovers to key the biggest comeback in NFC title game history.
Although neither defense was infallible, each came alive when it mattered most. That’s what Kelly must understand. And while it will be important to see whom he taps to direct that side of the ball and what personnel he and Howie Roseman can acquire to implement the scheme, the overall offensive philosophy will ultimately dictate how well the Eagles defend.
It sure is fun to watch a high-powered, no-huddle attack steam up and down the field. When it’s really crackling, yards and points fly off in all directions. The scoreboard spins and big plays are the norm. Nine-play, 77-yard drives last 1:47, and rival defenses struggle to keep up. The mascot ends up looking like Ed Hochuli from all the pushups he does after touchdowns, and league statistical categories are packed with members of the home team.
It’s all big fun.
But when it can’t get moving, and the three-and-outs start piling up, the defense begins to contemplate suing for lack of support. If a scoring drive lasts under two minutes, how long does a fruitless possession take? No sooner does a defensive tackle grab some bench to rest up after banging heads with another Leviathan than he has to haul his large self back into the fray. A quarter or two of that, and fatigue sets in. Stumble about for more than a half, and the defense puts up as stout a fight as the French did in 1940.
Kelly’s Oregon team scored 49.5 ppg last year, second-best in the country. But the Ducks also surrendered 21.6 ppg, 25th best in America, and 374.2 ypg, which ranked 44th. It’s one thing to give up three TDs a week when you are scoring seven and quite another to face a strong defense and an attack that is built to support it.
The Ducks were unstoppable throughout much of the 2012 season, and boasted a 10-0 record when Stanford came to Eugene in November. The Cardinal stifled the UO attack and then piled up 125 yards of offense—and scored the game-tying TD—in the fourth quarter en route to a 17-14 overtime victory. Oregon, meanwhile, managed a total of 20 yards in the fourth, as Stanford solved the go-go attack and methodically took control of the game.
That won’t necessarily happen in October against the Lions, but it will most definitely occur when the weather turns cold, and better defenses take aim at Kelly’s attack. He can stay true to his high-energy roots, but he had better understand that trying to operate an attack that doesn’t care about protecting the defense—and worse, doesn’t provide it with a physical practice foe—will not produce the desired results in the NFL.
And let’s be clear about something here. No matter how much fun it might be to watch whatever offense Kelly concocts, the object of football in this town isn’t a good time. It’s a Super Bowl. Andy Reid couldn’t deliver one, and he was removed. If Kelly can’t do it, he deserves every bit of the same vitriol Reid absorbed. Getting close doesn’t count. Getting to the Big Game does. San Francisco and Baltimore did it with stingy second-half defensive performances and crunching ground games. Kelly had better realize that and act accordingly.
• It’s only a 48-game season, but it’s a little early to worry about the Flyers’ 0-2 start. With a limited training camp and no pre-season games, it’s tough to begin quickly. Now, if we’re sitting here a week from today without a point, then there might just be some cause for concern. For now, relax everybody.
• As expected, Lance Armstrong’s performance on Oprah Winfrey’s network came up short. Let’s hope the thirsts of those who blindly followed him during his cycling career were not slaked by his lukewarm admissions of guilt. There are still dozens of people out there whom he wronged, and his weak attempts at redemption have done nothing to reverse the damage he wrought. He will keep trying, but he deserves no satisfaction until he comes completely clean—as if that will happen.
• Lay off Manti Te’o. No matter what the circumstances surrounding last week’s remarkable story may be, it’s sad all around. Either he’s a rube, a serial manipulator or a glory hound. Whatever the case, it’s not at all good for the young man. If you’re looking to question anything, look at the way the media lapped up the thing without vetting it completely. Its craving for drama and race to control the story has made it sloppy and unprofessional. When Deadspin is the leading investigative arm of the press, there’s trouble.