The last time Chip Kelly coached against Pete Carroll was on Halloween in 2009, when Kelly was a first-year coach at Oregon and Carroll's Southern California program was a juggernaut. Kelly's offensive mind had already made him a college football phenomenon, and the Ducks scored 47 points while amassing 613 yards in an upset of the Trojans.
By that point, it had already been established that Kelly's offense could thrive in college. That notion was reinforced while Kelly won 46 of 53 games as head coach. Any remaining skeptics wondered only whether Kelly could succeed in the NFL.
Those doubts have been answered, too. Kelly became the Eagles' head coach in 2013, and only the Denver Broncos have accumulated more yards since then. He has won games with three starting quarterbacks, and his team is the first in NFL history to have a rusher and receiver eclipse 1,000 yards through 12 games in consecutive seasons. When rumors linked him to a college job this past week, Kelly offered a one-liner that played off the old skepticism.
"I don't think our pro offense would work at the college level," Kelly said.
Kelly's Eagles offense, however, has not faced a test like the one it will get Sunday against Carroll's Seattle Seahawks. The reigning Super Bowl champions have the top-ranked defense in the league and held Arizona and San Francisco to a single field goal each the last two weeks.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez, who played for Carroll at USC, had one of the worst statistical games of his career against the Seahawks in 2012 with the New York Jets. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who has his first 1,000-yard season and is among the leading receivers in the NFL, will need to get open against mouthy, seldom-defeated cornerback Richard Sherman. Running back LeSean McCoy will try to break the franchise's all-time rushing record against a unit that limited the Cardinals and 49ers to 64 rushing yards each.
From the background of the head coaches to the salary distribution of the players, the Eagles are built around offense, and the Seahawks are built around defense.
"They know what they're good at, and not only are they good in their scheme and know their scheme well, but they have good players on top of it," Sanchez said. "Similar to the case here. We think we know what we're good at, we have pretty good players in positions and just need to get them in a spot to make plays."
Maclin vs. Sherman
Maclin has been asked about the one-on-one matchup against an accomplished cornerback before every game this season. His answers have a few variations but always the same message: Maclin is confident that he can get open in man-to-man coverage.
He has often been right.
Maclin has topped 100 receiving yards in four games this season. He has 71 catches for 1,088 yards and nine touchdowns, and if he maintains this pace, he'll finish with the best season of any wide receiver in Eagles history. But he will not face a cornerback tougher than Sherman.
"I like my chances against anybody," Maclin said.
Maclin offered the requisite respect for Sherman, but he did not bow. Any talk of Sherman must also include safety Earl Thomas, who is one of the top players in the NFL. And that's not even getting into the effect that strong safety Kam Chancellor has on the game.
"It will be the best secondary that we play," Kelly said. "Obviously, probably the top corner in the league in Richard Sherman. . . . I think they've got probably the top safety in the game in Earl Thomas. Then they have a bunch of other guys that are fast and they're athletic. . . . There's a reason they won the Super Bowl last year, and there's a reason they held the last two teams they played to three points."
Sherman, 26, has 23 interceptions since 2011. That's eight more than any other player in the NFL. At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Sherman is a converted wide receiver who has size and ball skills that are rare for a cornerback. Kelly considers him the prototype for the position, and the Eagles have been on a quest to mimic the Seahawks cornerbacks, who thrive in man-to-man coverage.
Some teams have avoided throwing to Sherman's side of the field. Sherman has been targeted 51 times this season, according to Pro Football Focus. That is the lowest number out of 30 cornerbacks who have been on the field for at least 700 plays. Only 45.1 percent of the passes thrown in his direction have been caught, the fourth-best rate in the NFL.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said he has only once coached an offense that avoided a cornerback. That was against Deion Sanders.
Sanchez said a quarterback cannot worry too much about one player because of the other talented players on the roster. Kelly constructed the Eagles so there is a wealth of options, and this could be a week when Darren Sproles and Zach Ertz take on bigger roles. But the Eagles are best when Maclin is involved, and Maclin is confident he can win the matchup - even against Sherman, who is known to add a narrative to each play.
"We'll be going too fast to have time to talk," Maclin said.
High scoring vs. low scoring
Leading up to the Oregon-Auburn national championship game in January 2011, Kelly fielded questions about how the game would be a shootout between two of college football's best offenses. It turned into a 22-19 "defensive battle," as Kelly called it. He has cited that contest as a way of explaining that there's no telling how a game will turn out.
"Who would have thought that in the Super Bowl last year the Denver Broncos were going to score eight points?" Kelly said. "I've just been in too many games that have gone the other way, where it's supposed to be a low-scoring game and it's a shootout, or it's supposed to be a shootout and it's a low-scoring game. I think as a coach you're wasting time thinking of it that way. We always look at it compartmentalized by, what situation are you dealing with?"
Neither coach viewed Sunday as a chance to outsmart the other, and both said each week in the NFL is a chess match compared to college. Carroll said that's the "cool part of being in this league," and Kelly pointed out that there are no 30-point favorites in the NFL and most games come down to the fourth quarter.
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said the defense knows it cannot expect the offense to score 35 points against the Seahawks. He expected the game to be a defensive struggle, although what the Eagles might consider a defense-oriented game could differ from how the Seahawks view one. Seattle has not allowed more than 30 points this season and has not allowed 35 points since December 2010.
It would seem that a high-scoring game would benefit the Eagles more than the Seahawks. Since Kelly came to Philadelphia, the Eagles have scored at least 24 points in every win. In that same span, the Seahawks have won seven regular-season games scoring fewer than 24 points. Whether the game is played in the 20s or the teens could determine which team has the advantage.
"I hope we score 24, then," Kelly said.