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John DeShazier: Saints have to get up-to-speed on Eagles up-tempo offense

Posted Dec 31, 2013

Eagles try to push the pace on offense

Among the real changes the New Orleans Saints figure to implement for their NFC wild-card game against the Eagles on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, or the adjustments that players have vowed to try with comedic undertones, don’t figure on the use of sprinters’ spikes by the defense being among them.

The way the Eagle offense operates only makes it seem as if an opposing defense might take that option.

The fast pace that Eagles Coach Chip Kelly used in college at Oregon is what he brought to the NFL, and it has worked to the point where Philadelphia (10-6) was able to win the NFC East and average 417 yards (second in the NFL) and 27.6 points (fourth) this season.

“They’re running a play and they’re back on the line within the next 16 seconds or something like that,” Saints linebacker David Hawthorne said. “He’s really introduced that style of play into the NFL and it’s working for them.

“You definitely have to prepare in practice at that tempo. You don’t want to be surprised by it when you get to game time.”

The Eagles appear to be so wedded to creating and maintaining tempo that they’re willing to sacrifice time of possession – usually considered a key element to success in the NFL. Opponents possess the football more than seven more minutes per game (33:35 to 26:25) than the Eagles.

But the offensive payoff for Philadelphia has been significant.

Running back LeSean McCoy led the NFL with 1,607 rushing yards, quarterback Nick Foles (2,891 passing yard with 27 touchdowns and two interceptions) led the NFL with a passer rating of 119.2 and receiver DeSean Jackson caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards, ninth-most in the league.

“There’s a lot of variety,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said. “You have to defend the whole field. They can attack you down the field, they’ve got outstanding weapons at receiver, they’ve got a fantastic running back (McCoy), the tight end (Brett Celek) is exceptional and you see the quarterback (Foles) operating with great poise. They do a great job with misdirection and a great job with creating those running lanes and really keeping you off balance defensively.

“It’s hard to prepare for, it’s hard to simulate in practice with the scout team. The pace is extremely fast, extremely fast. So we’ll have our work cut out for us this week with just trying to replicate or give the same look from our scout team offense.

“You have to be prepared to stay in the personnel you have with them staying in the same personnel.”

Conversely, though, the Eagles' defense hasn’t been as efficient. Philadelphia gave up the fourth-most yards (394.2) in the league and opponents scored 23.9 points per game against the Eagles.

“I saw the type of defense they were playing against Dallas, they were playing a lot of man coverage,” Saints running back Pierre Thomas said. “Who knows if they’re going to do the same thing against our offense? We’re going to be prepared for whatever they throw at us.

“We’re going to watch film and really study these guys and get ready for a tough, physical game because we already know that when it comes to playoff time, all games are going to be tough, all games are going to be physical. So we know we’re going to have our hands full with these guys coming after us, and we’re definitely going to come after them.”

The Eagles, in fact, finished the regular season by winning seven of their last eight games.

“They’re obviously an explosive team offensively,” Payton said. “Defensively they came up with a number of big stops in (Sunday) night’s game. I think clearly, the last half of the season, they’re playing outstanding football.”

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