How do you prepare for something you have never seen?
That was the conundrum all summer for the Washington Redskins coaching staff. The Philadelphia Eagles, their first opponent, hired University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly to rejuvenate the franchise after it thudded to earth with a 4-12 record last season.
Kelly’s offense at Oregon was known for its frantic pace and its fearsome playmakers and the notion of running something similar with NFL players is intriguing. The problem for Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett: There’s no film and little hard data to help prepare for what his team will see in the season-opener Monday night at FedEx Field.
“It’s our first time showing anything other than what we showed in the preseason,” Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said. “So it gives us an advantage.”
Haslett and his staff can look at all the preseason film they want. But Kelly, like most NFL coaches, didn’t give much away in his game-planning for those contests. And while there is plenty of tape available of Oregon shredding college defenses, that’s also of questionable value. Kelly has proven NFL coaches on his staff, after all, so it’s unwise to expect an exact replica of his college offense.
But Kelly does have playmakers – from Vick to running back LeSean McCoy to wide receiver DeSean Jackson. All three have given the Redskins fits over the years. With an extreme pace expected, at least in bursts, they could do so again.
“Just being prepared to hurry back up to the line of scrimmage, get down in your stance, communicate properly and execute the defense,” defensive end Kedric Golston said. “I think the more anxious you get about it then the worse you are. You need to control your breath, listen to the call and just go play football.”
Easier said than done, of course. No practice tempo will match exactly what Philadelphia is expected to run Monday night. The Buffalo Bills went to a no-huddle offense in a preseason game in Washington on Aug. 24, but that team doesn’t have the Eagles’ personnel on the offensive side.
“From what I’ve seen from film, in past film, they speed it up when they have to,” Haslett said “They speed up in certain situations and our guys understand that. And we understand that we have to get lined up and we have got the ability, we’ll get the calls in and they’ll be ready to play it.”
A no-huddle pace, of course, means Philadelphia can keep opponents from substituting different personnel into the game. Haslett says he isn’t concerned with that. The Redskins believe their base 3-4 defense is flexible enough to deal with most situations.
But new scheme or not, the Eagles have talent on the offensive end that would work in any offense. Washington held McCoy to just 90 rushing yards in two games last season and no touchdowns. But in 2011 he had 126 rushing yards and a touchdown in his only appearance against the Redskins and in 2010 McCoy had a game with 174 yards of total offense.
“That’s why we have [Jawan] Jamison and some of the other running backs trying to give us a great look in practice, to imitate McCoy with these jump back cuts,” Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “He can go from one side of the field and cut it back all the way to the opposite side, making people miss all over film. And we don’t even have to watch film to know what he’s all about because we play him year in and year out.”
It was only three years ago, of course, that these same playmakers humiliated the Redskins on “Monday Night Football” on Nov. 15, 2010. Vick hit Jackson on an 88-yard touchdown pass just 18 seconds into the game and it was 35-0 one play into the second quarter. Merging that explosive talent with Kelly’s offensive philosophy has the entire NFL curious. The Redskins are the guinea pig, but believe they are ready for the challenge.
“You have to have the ability to adjust to what they’re doing and be flexible in what you’re doing,” Haslett said. “So I can only go on what I’ve seen. I’ve watched 23, 24 Oregon films. I watched what they did in preseason. If they can do anything else, God bless them.”