Packers Must Put Brakes on Fast-Break Eagles

Kelly (Thearon W. Henderson - Getty)

The Eagles run a lot of plays in a limited amount of time, which is a big challenge. Casey Matthews, the brother of Clay Matthews, knows what awaits the Packers' defense on Sunday. "The challenge is, the film that you watch, can you put it to use with their tempo?" cornerback Tramon Williams said.

One look at the stats tells the unusual tale of the Philadelphia Eagles' offense.

They enter this week's game against the Green Bay Packers ranked fourth in offensive plays (599) but 32nd in time of possession (25:07 per game).

That "fast-break mentality" — that's what Packers coach Mike McCarthy called it on Wednesday — is the calling card of Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who used his no-huddle, hurry-up attack to make Oregon a perennial powerhouse.

Not many players understand the challenge of stopping Kelly's attack more than Casey Matthews. Matthews, the brother of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, played for Kelly at Oregon and is a reserve linebacker for the Eagles.

"Really, it's the tempo," Matthews said in a conference call on Wednesday. "Obviously, you're going to get tired. That's just how it is. The thing with Chip's offense is they do a good job of keeping the same guys on the field and finding mismatches so the defense can't sub. That's one thing. It's tough, especially in training camp. It was tough to keep up. It was, how long can you keep up with it?"

Once the Eagles get rolling, it can be like an avalanche. Against the Raiders last week, the Eagles needed just 57 plays to roll up 542 yards and 49 points.

"They try to make you play on your heels," Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "A lot of teams want to do that but they bring that up-tempo pace to where you have to. Sometimes, they'll snap the ball with 20 seconds to go on the play clock. You have to adjust, you have to be ready. We'll do all the same stuff. You just have to be a lot faster."

That up-tempo approach allows Kelly and Co. to take advantage of mismatches, get defenses off-balance, keep the defenses playing in simplistic schemes and force them into mistakes. That's evident in the big-play production: The Eagles lead the league with 44 passing plays of at least 20 yards and are fourth with nine rushing plays of at least 20 yards.

"It's a tool in the toolbox," Kelly said. "It's not something we do all the time. It can put the defense (on its heels) and make them line up quicker and make them have to play at a different speed than they normally practice at or play at. I think it's a weapon, just like a three-tight end offense is a weapon, just like a five-receiver offense is a weapon, just like empty formations are a weapon. It's just something that adds to the scope of your overall offense."

For the Eagles, it's been all or nothing on offense. In nine games, they've scored 30-plus points five times. They've also had games of 16 points against Kansas City and back-to-back games of 3 against the Cowboys and seven against the Giants before last week's onslaught at Oakland.

"You definitely need to shut it down early to have a good chance at stopping them," Hawk said. "You watched them last week against the Raiders — they came out on fire and stayed that way for four quarters."

Those aforementioned games against the Cowboys and Giants led to speculation that defensive coordinators had put the brakes on Kelly's fast-lane approach.

"Yeah, I don't believe that to be true," Kelly said. "I just think we didn't execute well."

For a Packers defense that must rise to the occasion with Aaron Rodgers out indefinitely with a broken collarbone, the task is equal parts mental and physical.

"The challenge is, the film that you watch, can you put it to use with their tempo?" cornerback Tramon Williams said. "They're going to run plays fast. Hopefully, (from the Eagles' perspective) you don't recognize some of the things that they do."

Added Matthews: "Really, you've got to focus on your keys, but when you get tired, you lose your focus. That's what will get you."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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