Eagles offense learning to take it slow late in the game
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur says unit must do better job of 'chewing the clock' when leading in fourth quarter.
CHIP KELLY knew just one speed at Oregon and that was NASCAR fast.
Didn't matter if he was playing Stanford or Portland State. Didn't matter if he was up by 10 or 40.
Didn't matter if his first-stringers or fifth-stringers were in the game. He kept the pedal to the metal and ran his up-tempo offense.
There was no need to milk the clock in Eugene because the team on the other sideline usually wasn't talented enough to make up a 10- or 14- or 17-point difference against his Ducks, and also because, unlike the NFL, all NCAA wins aren't created equal. A 35-10 win looks a lot better on your BCS résumé than a 21-10 win. Huddle? Huddle? They didn't need no stinkin' huddle.
But things are a little different in the on-any-given-Sunday NFL. You don't treat a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against the Washington Redskins the same way you do one against Washington State.
You slow down and milk the clock. You run the ball and then run some more. But as the Eagles are finding out, when you slow down a hurry-up offense, it can disrupt your rhythm.
In Sunday's 24-21 win over the Cardinals, the Eagles put up 272 yards and 24 points in the first three quarters, then managed to gain just 35 yards and score no points on five fourth-quarter possessions. But for a pair of fortuitous penalties against the Cardinals late in the game, the Eagles might be 6-6 today rather than 7-5.
Sunday wasn't an isolated case. The Eagles, who are third in the league in total offense and eighth in scoring, have taken a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter in five of their seven wins, and have been outscored 46-0 in the final quarter of those five games.
"In a couple of games, we were trying to melt the clock," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "There have been times where we've done a better job of chewing the clock and moving the ball, and there's been a couple of games that we didn't."
More than a couple. The only time the offense really has been effective running at anything other than warp speed was on the final possession of the Eagles' 27-13 win over the Packers 3 weeks ago when they ran the final 9:32 off the clock with an impressive 15-play, 70-yard drive. Other than that, slow has not been the way to go for the Eagles.
They are averaging 6.1 yards per play this season, which is the third best mark in the league. But in the fourth quarter of those five games against the Cardinals, Redskins (twice), Packers and Raiders, when they've tried to play at a slower tempo, they are averaging just 2.8.
They have averaged just 2:22 per possession in those five fourth quarters, just 4.5 plays per possession.
"It's definitely different, for sure," center Jason Kelce said of the adjustment to a slower pace. "It makes you a little more inconsistent. More mistakes happen because you're not used to being in that situation. It's just a little bit uncomfortable, I guess.
"Luckily, we've done it enough in the last four games that hopefully, we'll start to feel more comfortable doing it."
Kelly is having the Eagles practice a little more at a slower tempo so that they'll be more comfortable when they do it in a game.
"I think [the switch] throws you a little off your rhythm," said rookie right tackle Lane Johnson, who played in an up-tempo offense at Oklahoma. "That's something we're working on. We're so used to going fast, getting the signal fast and playing fast. You get in a rhythm like that, that's really the only way you know how to play.
"When we slow it down and try to milk the clock, we need to execute better. It's something we need to work on."
Said right guard Todd Herremans: "If you look at the Green Bay game, we ran the clock out at the end there. So we can do it. On Sunday, there was a little bit of shift in momentum. Trying to get the momentum back when you're trying to run the clock out is a little tough sometimes."
Quite obviously, the Eagles aren't a ball-control offense. They're last in the league in time of possession (25:37), which is just fine with Kelly, who has made it clear that he feels time of possession is the most overrated statistic in the history of mankind.
And it's hard to argue with him. The Eagles are 7-5 despite winning just one time-of-possession battle the entire season (the Redskins in Week 1).
The Eagles play fast and score fast. Seventeen of their 34 touchdown drives have been four plays or less. Eleven have been two minutes or less. Just 16 of their 145 possessions this season have been 3:30 or longer. Just 46 of those 145 have been seven or more plays.
The trouble is, when you play at such a breakneck pace, it's not easy to put on the brakes and play at 25 mph.
"Looking at it," said left guard Evan Mathis, it could be the reason for some of the [fourth-quarter] problems we're having. If that is the case, it's probably because we're just so used to doing things a certain way. One speed, full speed. Just go.
"But you also have to take into account that in those situations, they start stacking the line of scrimmage because they know we're going to run the ball. That changes things a little bit."
Nick Foles attempted 34 passes against the Cardinals, but only four in the fourth quarter, and just one on the Eagles' final three possessions.
"When they load the box, it does make it tough to run when you're outnumbered," Foles said. "But that's something we'll continue to work on and we'll, in situations like that, try to take advantage of them loading the box and maybe get the ball on the perimeter or get a pass play in that will cancel that out if they want to do that.
"Chip always has a plan and the coaches always have a plan, and I'm all in with them and I'm excited to see what they come up with."
Full speed ahead.