When Jim Schwartz was asked this week how he might approach the task of stopping a Kansas City offense that put up 42 points and 537 net yards in annihilating the host New England Patriots Week 1, Schwartz said: “The good news is, we got to go all training camp against them.”
With Chiefs coach and former Eagles coach Andy Reid having mentored Doug Pederson – Reid is the only NFL coach Pederson has ever coached under – is the Eagles’ defense essentially facing the Eagles’ West Coast offense this week?
The answer, from defensive coordinator Schwartz and some of his players, was, yeah, sorta. But maybe with important differences.
“Passing-gamewise, there’s a lot of similarities,” Schwartz said. “There’s a little bit of difference in the run game. They have a little more gadgety runs, a little bit more read-option-type runs, some stuff that they try to distract you with.”
Reid conceded that “most of the stuff is similar to what we do,” but said, given that each offense will face a completely different defensive scheme, the attacks are likely to emphasize different things Sunday.
“Nobody’s spent more time with Doug than I did, and nobody’s spent more time with me than Doug spent with me,” said Reid. Pederson was Reid’s first Eagles quarterback in 1999, then rejoined him as an entry-level coach in 2009, working his way up to quarterbacks coach by Reid’s final Eagles season of 2012. When Reid landed in Kansas City, he made Pederson his offensive coordinator. “We were always working on the offense together.”
Eagles defensive end Chris Long said differences in personnel overshadow the schematic elements the teams share.
“There are skilled players all over the field [for the Chiefs], in the run game, especially, being able to use people in different ways, getting receivers involved in the run game, getting the quarterback [Alex Smith] involved in the run game … a lot of window dressing. That makes it really hard to key in on what your job is,” Long said.
Window dressing is “motion, shifts, stuff like that,” Long said, especially with dynamic tight end Travis Kelce and lightning-fast wideout Tyreek Hill moving around the formation.
“To have the talent they have at skill positions, and then have them on the move like they do, it can create a lot of challenges,” Long said.
Reid, the mentor, has a much deeper bag of tricks than his apprentice – against New England, the Chiefs sprinkled in spread option concepts that seemed lifted directly from the contemporary college game. Kelce took some direct snaps, with Smith in his “backfield.”
“So many of the colleges are doing it now. It’s nice to give these kids something they’re familiar with,” Reid said. “Alex [Smith] actually did it in college [at Utah]; we went back and looked at all the stuff he did and pulled out a few things … stuff that he was comfortable with. All the people around him have come up through that system. To incorporate a little of that in with the West Coast, I think, is a good thing.”
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said the Chiefs try to make you worry too much about the gimmicks, try to keep you guessing.
“The one thing I’ve seen is that they’re a different offense every game.There’s a few concepts they repeat, but not many. Each game they come out with a new wrinkle, a new game plan based on whoever they’re going against, and you’ve got to be ready to face it early in the game. If not, you’ll see it for the rest of the game,” Jenkins said.
“You prepare for what you’ve seen, but you’ve also got to be very, very flexible. You’ve got to go out and execute your defense. They’ll make you prepare for a thousand different things, you’re chasing ghosts, trying to make up plays of what they could do, and it’s just wasting time and distraction. You’ve got to go out and play your defense, settle down early in the game, and hope that you handle it, and be ready to adjust on the sidelines, at halftime, throughout the game.”
Not every Eagles defensive player was in agreement over how similar or different the offenses might be.
“The way they use their players is definitely different than the way we use ours,” corner Jalen Mills said. “They have a million different personnel [groupings]. Sometimes you’ll see, they’ll have three tight ends in, and Tyreek Hill is the starting running back. They may go empty [backfield] and they have nothing but speed on the field.
Mills said the teams do similar things with tight ends Kelce and Zach Ertz, but the Chiefs’ receivers are smaller, speedy types. “I don’t see a real big guy like Alshon [Jeffery, who is 6-3, 218].”
Linebacker Nigel Bradham said he sees many more similarities than contrasts.
“The scheme is a lot similar. I feel like the personnel is a lot similar as well,” Bradham said. “They way they use their tight ends, even their backs, the way [the Eagles move around Darren] Sproles and stuff like that. Ertz and Kelce are pretty much identical.”
Bradham said the offensive lines are very much alike – “zone [blocking] schemes, fast centers and guards.”
Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said he could see important parallels and differences.
“The difference is, they try to give their playmakers the ball in different ways – the jet sweep, with Tyreek Hill,” Hicks said. “They have quite a bit more misdirection than we do.
“At the end of the day, pass concepts and some conceptual runs are pretty similar.”
Speaking of the end of the day, if the sun sets on an Eagles victory, Pederson and his offense will gain a lot of credibility across the NFL.