None of the Eagles quarterbacks have been particularly impressive in training camp, but one aspect of Chip Kelly’s offense that they have executed well is tempo. At times in training camp, the Eagles have run plays in as little as every 13 seconds, which is a remarkably low chunk of the NFL’s 40 second play clock. It’s no secret that Chip Kelly will run his offense as quickly as possible, and tempo played a big role in Oregon’s offensive success.
High ranking NFL officials recently warned Kelly that referees could prevent him from running plays as quickly as he wants.
“We have to make sure teams understand that they don’t control the tempo, our officials do,” said NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino. “We’re going through our normal ball mechanics, we aren’t going to rush [unless] it’s in the two minute drill.”
It’s unclear how big of an impact referees could have on the Eagles’ pace of play. In college, Kelly lobbied officials to act with more urgency, and NFL rules require officials to change game balls more often and the ball spotter to take his position behind the deepest offensive player before the ball is snapped.
Kelly’s decreased influence in the professional ranks and the NFL’s less no-huddle friendly rules will certainly slow the Eagles down at least a few seconds, but teams like the Patriots and Broncos were able to put plenty of pressure on opposing defenses by going up-tempo, even within the confines of NFL rules. At their fastest, the Patriots ran plays at approximately a 19 second clip, considerably slower than the Eagles are now.
Through their public statements, NFL officials are clearly not ready to embrace the no-huddle offense. On one hand, more plays lengthen games, increase injury opportunities, and put a lot of stress on officials and broadcasters.
On the other, fast-paced games often lead to more scoring and a more enjoyable, stimulating, and exciting fan experience. For those reasons, I’m mildly surprised that the NFL isn’t jumping on board with Chip Kelly’s breakneck style and making an effort to accommodate its use for prolonged stretches.
The referees’ inability or refusal to keep up with the Eagles only plays into opponents’ hands. While the stripes can’t force Kelly to huddle or milk the play clock, every second matters in this offense.
The difference between running plays every 15 seconds and every 20 seconds makes it easier for defenses to make substitutions, catch their breath, and use more complex signals. On several occasions in 2013, Kelly and the Eagles will likely feel that they are up against both their opponents and the officials.