TAMPA — As innovations go, the one Philadelphia Eagles rookie coach Chip Kelly introduced this year has the potential to impact pro football in much the same way sound impacted film, the electric guitar impacted music and the iPhone impacted personal communication.
In other words, it could be a game-changer.
In their season opener against the Redskins at FedEx Field, the Eagles used Kelly's much-ballyhooed fastbreak offense to rack up 322 total yards, 21 first downs and 26 points. And that was only the first half.
By the time the Eagles were done posting a 33-27 victory, they had literally run the Redskins defense ragged, snapping the ball 79 times in 32:39 of possession time, or once every 25.1 seconds.
No one has been able to slow them down since.
Under Kelly, the former University of Oregon coach who will lead the Eagles (2-3) into Raymond James Stadium for a matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4) today, Philadelphia has been running plays at a dizzying rate of one every 22.6 seconds.
Only the Buffalo Bills (22.1 seconds) are getting plays off at a faster clip. But the Bills aren't scoring as often as the Eagles, who have turned their speed into a scoring average of 27 points, eighth-best in the league.
“They're the most up-tempo team there is in our league,” said Bucs coach Greg Schiano, who is tasked with slowing what for years has been considered the most dynamic offensive attack in football.
It is an attack that Kelly, who turned down a chance to become the Bucs' coach before Schiano took the job in 2012, spent years developing at the college level and perfected during his last few seasons at Oregon.
By seldom huddling, spreading his weapons and running plays almost exclusively out of shotgun and pistol formations, Kelly's Ducks ran an average of 78 plays per game his last three years in Eugene, Ore.
The Eagles aren't running quite that many plays. They average 69 per game, but the design of those plays, which are geared to be run before defenses have a chance to recover from the last one, is the same.
That design worked to perfection during the first half of the opener against the Redskins, whose defenders were left gasping for air and later accused by the Eagles of actually faking injuries to force slow downs.
But it's not just the pace of the plays that's quick. The quarterback's job is all about quickness, too, as he's charged primarily with making snap adjustments at the line based on what the defense shows. That's how the Eagles create the type of matchups that have allowed them to average 454.8 yards per game, which is second in the league behind Denver's almost-unheard-of 489.8 yards per game.
“(Kelly) is like an evil genius,'' said Bucs middle linebacker Mason Foster, who faced Kelly's Ducks offenses during his college days at the University of Washington. “It's really a high-powered attack that he has.''
Oddly, most of its power comes from its ground game, which is averaging a league-best 186.6 yards per game as well as a league-high 5.6 yards per carry, which is 1.5 yards better than the league average.
The Eagles' success there is largely a result of their penchant for running the ball out of formations such as the shotgun or pistol that are usually used to launch passing plays. And then, of course, there's the read option.
A hallmark of Kelly's offense, the read option allows the quarterback to keep the ball and run it himself, hand it off to a running back or throw to a variety of pass targets. What the quarterback does on those option plays is based on what he sees from the defense, and his mere presence as a run option forces defenses to account for 11 players instead of 10, which results in even more mismatches.
Those mismatches are what make the Eagles offense so difficult to stop, but the Bucs say it's not impossible. The key, they said, is simply knowing and carrying out your defensive assignments.
“You have to play real precise assignment defense against them,” Schiano said. “Like with their run game, it's not like there are 70 run plays you have to get ready for. It's just that what they do, they do well and do fast.''
That need to carry out individual defensive assignments and not veer from the game plan has clearly been hammered home to the Bucs' defenders this week. One of Schiano's mottos is “do your job,'' and that has been hammered home, too.
“You don't want to do more than your job,'' defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said, “because when you do try to cover this guy up or make a play, that's when they catch you off guard, and that's what allows them to hit those big passes and big runs.''
The Eagles have hit on plenty of those this year. They have completed 30 passes and eight runs of 20 yards or more for a league-leading 38 big plays, which accounts for 11 percent of all their offensive plays.
But according to Schiano, it's not so much Kelly's elaborate scheme or those snap reads by the quarterback that make all those big plays possible. It's the frenzied pace at which the Eagles run their offense.
“When you see the plays, some of those big gashes, they're not (because of) their extravagant schemes,'' Schiano said. “It's because they block people. They'll read one guy and that guy isn't quite in his stance yet. They're in the vicinity, but not quite ready to go.''
That's the idea, of course — catch 'em off guard, catch 'em while they're still trying to catch their breath from the previous play. It's at the core of what Kelly does with his offense.
“I just think tempo is a tool in your tool bag,'' Kelly said. “You can change up how the defense is going to react to you. You force them to play a little bit faster than they're used to.''
Of course, you have to have some talent to make it work. The Eagles obviously have that. Quarterback Michael Vick's vast array of skills makes him a virtual perfect fit for the scheme, as does receiver DeSean Jackson's speed.
“And then there's 'Shady' McCoy,'' Schiano said. “When he has the ball in his hands it's like a video game. Some of the cuts he makes, humans aren't supposed to be able to do, so he's pretty special.''
That may be putting it mildly. Running back LeSean McCoy leads the NFL in total yards from scrimmage with 700, including 514 on 98 carries as a ball carrier and 186 on 13 receptions as a pass catcher.
McCoy has a rare blend of speed, power and explosion that Schiano has seldom seen. But Schiano has seen and defended against offensive schemes such as Kelly's several times during his 11 years as head coach at Rutgers, including twice during his last year there against teams that ran their offenses the same way as Kelly.
“Half the schedule or more ran gun-run (schemes), but it's the tempo that makes (Kelly's offense) different,'' Schiano said. “All those teams were copying them, and now it's taken over college football.''
The NFL might be next.