By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – As a first-year NFL head coach, Chip Kelly currently has the fast-paced Philadelphia Eagles on a four-game win streak. Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham studied up on what Kelly has been doing in his brief time so far with the Eagles. Then he dug deeper.
Cunningham, with the benefit of a longer span between games since the Lions played on Thursday, also reviewed film from Kelly’s high-scoring Oregon teams. Under Kelly as head coach, the Ducks went 10-3 in 2009, 12-1 in 2010, 12-2 in 2011 and 12-1 in 2012. They went 2-2 in the subsequent bowl games with wins in the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl.
“I did watch Oregon,” Cunningham said Thursday. “They ran some stuff a couple years ago that I was shocked that he could get away with. He’s not doing as much right now, and I know he’s trying to get the feel of the league and how he can run the different things, but it was helpful to know all that.”
Cunningham seemed comfortable that looking at film of the Ducks as well as the Eagles enhanced his understanding what all plays are in Kelly’s wheelhouse. He gave an example.
“What they do, they’ll take a tackle and split him out as a wide receiver, and you come up, the defense turns around, and the left tackle or right tackle is missing,” Cunningham began. “Well he’s out there as a wide receiver, and they still run the ball with him out there, but the primary thing is fake the run and throw what we call a bubble screen to No. 10, who’s sitting right behind the offensive tackle. So he’s doing a lot of things like that.
“What I see as an issue for the defensive coaches is the work, the preparation, the work for the game,” Cunningham added, “and to let your players know, ‘Stay patient, let’s do what we do, and let’s get the ball back for the offense.’ That’s the approach I think teams need to take.”
Entering the Nov. 17 game at Pittsburgh, the Lions did not expect the Steelers to run a no-huddle offense for the majority of the game. Heading to Philadelphia, Detroit knows the no-huddle will be utilized in full force and that the Eagles have the personnel to run it well.
“There’s really no weak point on their offense,” Detroit safety Louis Delmas said. “They’re good from receiver to the running back to the quarterback to the offensive line. That’s very rare that you find the whole complete package on one side of the ball. That’s something they do have.
“They run four plays every minute, so that’s a high-powered offense, and that’s a fast offense,” Delmas added. “That’s something we’ve just got to adjust to, and we’ve got to catch on quick.”
Players say Pittsburgh is the only team they have faced so far that operated similarly to the Eagles. Detroit linebacker Ashlee Palmer said they prepared for some use of the no-huddle by the Steelers but were somewhat surprised to see it used so extensively. Delmas said lessons learned in that game carry over to the upcoming one against Philadelphia.
“To not panic and to communicate as much as possible because the minute you slack and the minute you don’t communicate, and the team is going fastball, you’re just going to be like a defense out there with their heads cut off,” Delmas said, “and that’s what we don’t want to be.”
If defenses get confused or cannot keep up with the pace of the offense, Philadelphia can take advantage quickly.
“The way they operate is as soon as the ball is ready to be put down by the official, the center’s on it, they’re ready to go,” Cunningham said. “Those big plays are coming off of actions usually on the defense not being set, not being ready for the set, and they’re on them and they’re making plays off of that.”
Accordingly, the Lions have practiced against the no-huddle all week to avoid such breakdowns.
“Our coaches, Coach [Jim] Schwartz especially, does a great job of being a pain in the defense’s butt by holding the call, holding the call, holding the call, and then once the offense breaks the huddle and snaps the ball he’ll give us the call,” Delmas said. “I’m pretty sure we’ll be prepared for their fast pace.”
The arsenal of the Eagles includes quarterback Nick Foles, who has 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions this season; running back LeSean McCoy, who is statistically the second-best rusher in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson; and DeSean Jackson, one of the league’s most effective receivers with the sixth-most receiving yards in the nation.
McCoy in particular has everyone’s attention, even in the presence of Foles’ gaudy bottom-line numbers.
“He’s able to – we call it jump cut, comes to a dead stop, then full-speed comes out of that break,” Cunningham said. “He spins a lot. He gives ground, which is unusual for a back. He’ll give ground to pop to the outside. I see a lot of the big plays in the run game come off those. There’s a design shot where he has a read, but he is improvising a lot, and that’s how he’s getting a lot of his yards.”
Lions players said communication will be key to keep the Eagles in check. Sharing insights has to happen on the field and between series so the necessary adjustments can be made by each member of the defense.
“Everybody has to talk to each other,” Palmer said. “I have to talk to the safety, the safety has to talk to his other safety, everybody, the whole defense has to talk. I’m going to tell him what I see. He’s going to tell me what he sees, and within our scheme, we have calls to make.
“You just can’t get frustrated about them moving it real fast,” Palmer said. “You just have to continue to run your defense and execute it.”