Jon Gruden sees Eagles' system as a familiar film played fast-forward

Jon Gruden sees Eagles' system as a familiar film played fast-forward
Philadelphia Eagles Coach Chip Kelly, left, smiles as bumps fists with quarterback Michael Vick during last week's game against the Washington Redskins. NFL analyst Jon Gruden has worked extensively with Kelly over the years. (Rob Carr / Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Eagles have an even higher gear, and Coach Chip Kelly is determined to find it.

Yes, the team that tore off 53 plays in the first half of Monday's 33-27 victory at Washington — more than the 49 plays the Carolina Panthers ran all game in their opener — is capable of going even faster.

"I felt like it was slow, to be honest with you," Kelly said this week. "I'm not joking. We've got to do a better job. We left the ball on the ground too much. We didn't get the ball to the officials. We could have sped things up between plays. That's something we need to continue to work on."

The Eagles make their home debut against San Diego on Sunday, while the rest of the league tries to process what it just saw. For a half, at least, these were the Oregon Ducks in Eagles attire. After building a 26-7 halftime lead, the Eagles took their foot off the gas and finished with 77 plays, third behind New England (89) and Baltimore (87).

But ESPN's Jon Gruden wasn't any less impressed. The "Monday Night Football" analyst and Kelly have worked together extensively in recent years, not in a formal capacity, but sharing ideas and hashing out offensive concepts in Gruden's cramped, no-frills office behind a nondescript strip mall in Tampa, Fla.

"He would be on a recruiting trip [when Kelly was coaching at Oregon] and he'd say, 'Hey, I'm going to be in Tampa from 10 in the morning to 8 at night,'" Gruden said by phone this week. "And so from 10 to 8 we would be watching films. It's like we're just telling stories. We're in a tempo, two-minute drill, trying to get as much done as we can in the time we have together."

Gruden, who won a Super Bowl as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, doesn't claim to have devised Kelly's offense, but he has been a sounding board over the years, and said the Eagles coach is running a hodgepodge of lots of familiar NFL systems.

"He's not really running plays that have never been run before," Gruden said. "He'll admit this to you: He's a great thief. He studies. He's a little bit like [the late Oakland Raiders owner] Al Davis from the standpoint that he doesn't do much else but study football.

"There's elements of the West Coast offense. I can call out some of the route combinations that we ran when I was with the Eagles in 1995 — 'Hank,' 'Dagger,' I could recognize a lot of these plays. 'Halfback Choice.' 'Y-Stick Lookie.' And then you can turn it on and watch carefully and you can see some run-and-shoot principles in their route running. Then you see the speed option, you see the read option, you see gap blocking, zone blocking, sweep blocking.

"He has it all, but he does it at a frenetic, no-huddle pace out of the shotgun."

This isn't a surprise. The notion that Kelly was going to run a high-speed offense was well known even before the Eagles hired him to replace Andy Reid. But that doesn't mean teams will be entirely prepared for it. The Redskins didn't seem to be.

"They were having a hard time lining up," Eagles running back LeSean McCoy said of Washington defenders. "You can definitely know when a defense is tired, as they're going down, you're hiking the ball. The tempo really worked. I don't think anyone has seen it that fast."

It's not as if the Eagles were immune to fatigue. They felt it too.

"I've never been a part of anything like that," said quarterback Michael Vick, who took 30 snaps in the first 15 minutes. "When the first quarter was over, I thought we was about to go into halftime. It was unreal. The only thing I could tell myself was, 'It's going to be a long season.'"

And there's the real challenge. These are not 90-player rosters as in college. There are 45 players on an NFL game-day roster — 46 counting the "emergency" third quarterback — and that roughly breaks down as 21 players on offense, 21 on defense, and a punter, kicker and long snapper. So Kelly's fast pace, along with the punishment a quarterback absorbs in running the ball, is sure to take its toll over the course of a 16-game season.

"There's no question," Gruden said. "I don't think people realize all of, not only the physical demands that it's going to make on a quarterback, but the mental demands. It's exhausting when you're a quarterback and you're up to the line of scrimmage, running plays that fast with all those different options.


"He can hand it off, he can keep it, there's that built-in quick screen over there, built-in bubble screen. He can audible out of the play, or Chip Kelly can make a signal and change it at the last second. It's a feverish pace. It's left lane.

"Michael Vick is in for a long season, a physical and mental grind."

Tight end Brent Celek, who scored on a 28-yard touchdown reception against the Redskins, said being an offensive player in Kelly's system means knowing the assignment of every teammate on the field.

"To put him perfectly, he answers 'the why,'" Celek said by phone. "You can ask him the question, 'Why are we doing this or that?' And he has an answer for all of it. … That's why guys respect him. He's on another level, man. He's taking football to a place where it has not been. People will take notice."

Kelly refuses to be in lockstep with other NFL coaches and traditions. For instance, he's having his players practice on Tuesdays, whereas everywhere else in the league that's a day off and traditionally has been. Philadelphia players get Mondays completely off; with other teams, Monday is reserved for treatment and meetings.

"He's on the cutting edge of practice schedules," Gruden said. "He's a big believer in the human body, and getting it ready for peak performance on Sunday. He could care less what we did, or what you did, or what anybody did. He's going to do what he has studied and what he has researched, and what he determines is best for his football team. He's not afraid or reluctant to change."

Mark Artega, who worked as Gruden's right-hand man in Oakland and Tampa Bay and still works as his assistant, said it's entertaining to listen to Gruden and Kelly playfully bicker in their marathon film sessions.

"Jon will say, 'That ain't gonna work! You're crazy! You're out of your mind!,'" Artega said.

"And Chip will say, 'I'm telling you, Jon, I bet you it will. If I ever get in the NFL, just watch.'"

If you can keep up.

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer