The contrast literally took Zach Ertz’s breath away.
Ertz played tight end in Stanford’s deliberate, plodding, run-heavy offense for four years before the Philadelphia Eagles and their head coach, Chip Kelly, selected him in the second round last season. He said his introduction to Kelly’s constant-motion, no-huddle offense was jarring.
“Coming from a college offense where we did huddle after every play, it was a bit of a surprise at first,” Ertz said. “Our first rookie minicamp, I didn’t know how long I would last, to be honest.”
Putting the brakes on Kelly’s fast and furious offense promises to be the 49ers’ biggest challenge today.
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Philadelphia is 3-0 and has the No. 2 passing and scoring offense in the NFL. The Eagles go up and down the field without a huddle and get to the line of scrimmage faster than any other squad.
They also practice in that frenetic fashion, which means they are well-conditioned for the third and fourth quarters of games. That explains why the Eagles have outscored opponents 74-24 in the second half so far this season.
“Our practice is pretty much full speed,” Ertz said. “There’s no wasted time huddling. There’s no wasted time talking things out. We go all out the entire time.”
The 49ers, by contrast, have been outscored 52-3 in the second half. Still, they at least have experience dealing with Kelly’s attack.
Kelly and Jim Harbaugh faced each other twice when Kelly coached at Oregon and Harbaugh at Stanford. They split the meetings, but with 176 points in the two games, both were played at Kelly’s preferred pace.
Since then, Stanford has won by taking the speed out of Oregon’s offenses by being as slow, measured and controlled as possible.
In 2012, for example, Kelly and the Ducks entered the game against Stanford with a No. 2 ranking and the highest-scoring offense in the country. Stanford held Oregon to just 14 points and won the game with a field goal in overtime.
“It all depends on whether you allow them to get in their real hurry-up offense,” said former Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas, now on the 49ers’ practice squad. “We did a good job of stopping them on first and second downs the last couple of years I was there. It slowed down the game. They took their time on third down. It slows down everything when you can stop them on first and second down.”
The 49ers have prepared this week by having their scout team run three plays in quick succession and by sending in plays to the defense as late as possible to simulate how rapidly they must process and adjust before the Eagles snap the ball.
Safety Eric Reid said the approach was similar to the way it was in 2011 when his LSU team beat Oregon 40-27. Reid said the trick was striking a balance between practicing fast and not wearing yourself out in the run-up to the game.
“It could be (an issue), depending on what a team’s conditioning is,” Reid said. “Us? I think we’re in pretty good shape. Hopefully that won’t be an issue for us and we can get some turnovers in critical parts of the game.”
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio also has told his players they can’t fall back on their usual post-play routines.
After the official sets the ball, the Eagles can line up and snap it in as few as five seconds. That doesn’t leave time for celebrating a great play, or complaining to officials about a bad call or conferring with teammates about an alignment.
“That’s the first thing I said to them during the week – your normal routine between plays is altered in this game,” Fangio said. “From talking to the guy next to you about what just happened in that play, everything that players talk to each other about between plays has to be limited in this type of game.”