METAIRIE, La. — Talk to most coaches in football and they’ll generally tell you that the team that possesses the ball the longest has a better chance to win.
New Orleans finished the regular season with the second-best time of possession stat in the league, owning the ball for nearly 33 minutes per game on its way to 11 wins.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, was last in the NFL at 26½ minutes and yet, the Eagles finished 10-6 and won the NFC East.
You’d be safe to say the Eagles don’t really care.
Here’s why – in spite of the lack of possession time, Philadelphia still ran the eighth-most plays in the NFL this season.
And that’s the conundrum the Saints will face tonight at 7:10 when the two teams play at Lincoln Financial Field in the Wild Card round of the NFC playoffs.
Philadelphia plays fast. Very fast.
“It’s hard to prepare for,” Saints coach Sean Payton said Monday. “It’s hard to simulate in practice with the scout team so the pace is extremely fast – extremely fast – and so we’ll have our work cut out for us this week just trying to replicate or get the same look from our scout team offense.”
So, just how did the Saints prepare for this problem?
They quickened the pace of practice and finished earlier than scheduled each day. They took few, if any, breaks.
“We tried to exaggerate in simulation of what they do as far as we’d go through a play and hurry up,” defensive end/outside linebacker Junior Galette said. “When we get to the game, hopefully it slows down because that had me a little winded.”
Yet, some think too much may be made of the quick pace. Of course, when it’s the creator of said offense, maybe it shouldn’t be taken so seriously.
“I don’t understand how people say that they’re going to get stuck with the wrong personnel grouping if they’re allowed to match what our personnel is,” Chip Kelly said. “If we keep our personnel in, then he’ll keep his match in.”
Then again, one of Kelly’s old foes, Cameron Jordan, agrees with him about the pace.
At the University of California, Jordan – the Saints’ leading sack artist this year – faced Kelly when the coach was at Oregon. In 2010, Jordan’s final year, the Bears lost, but only 15-13. It was the only time during the regular season Oregon scored fewer than 37 points.
“He definitely runs that fast up-tempo offense and it’s something that you have to get adjusted to,” Jordan said. “But after you adjusted, it’s not that bad. I’m really not thinking that’s the problem. We’ve got a tremendous bunch of core players that are quite talented.”
And for what it’s worth, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan says his charges will be ready for whatever the Eagles throw at it.
“Whatever it is we will be fine,” Ryan said. “We are ready to go. Nobody is practicing at a faster tempo than us in the history of football so I think we will be ready to go. I know they will be faster than I have ever seen, but that is fine.”