On and on it went, the pace blazing, and after 2 minutes 15 seconds, Kelly’s first offensive possession became his first NFL touchdown.
“Honestly, it hurts your lungs,” Eagles tackle Lane Johnson said of his team’s tempo, after the New England Patriots’ 31-22 preseason win. “But when you see the defense is coming, and you know that they’re out of breath, you go for the throat.”
At the University of Oregon, this was the way Kelly built and ran offenses. He’s a strikeout pitcher: varying speeds and rhythms, and as soon as the defense relaxes, thinking it knows what’s coming, there is Vick’s deep touchdown pass, a heater high and tight.
“You can see the defensive player a little bit gassed, sucking for air,” center Jason Kelce said, “so you know you got them a little bit on their heels.”
This was a glimpse into why Kelly was so attractive for NFL teams after four seasons and 46 wins at Oregon. His fast-paced offensive scheme led the Ducks to promote him to head coach in 2009, to BCS bowls in each of his seasons in Eugene, and to making him the NFL’s hottest coaching prospect during the 2013 offseason.
“Every week is going to be slightly different,” Kelly said of his first season.
But is different good enough to chase a Super Bowl? More than that, is this the earliest stage of the NFL’s latest craze? In practices and in games, Kelly rarely uses substitutions. His offenses huddle only occasionally. If the play clock dips inside 10 seconds, something has gone wrong. And his teams can strike quickly: big points, fast players, defense more or less optional.
Kelly’s offense highlights an NFL trend — more plays with less time in between — and could, if all goes right, hold the keys to the next offensive fad. The hurry-up offense is nothing new, but 10 years ago, the Patriots led the league with 66.4 offensive snaps per game. On Friday, Kelly’s team ran 86 plays and gained 452 yards — impressive except that New England had 72 snaps, 442 yards and 31 points. This is the threat that Kelly offers — and the system that will define him.
But Kelly has faced obstacles. On Friday and throughout training camp, the Eagles have gotten in their own way. The point is to give Philadelphia more chances at big plays. But it also increases the chance of blunders; the Eagles fumbled three times Friday and occasionally looked confused against the Patriots, who started the speed-spread movement last season, averaging 74.3 plays and reaching the AFC championship game.