BOB FORD, INQUIRER SPORTS COLUMNIST
POSTED: Thursday, November 13, 2014, 1:08 AM


Every week a different NFL defensive coordinator wakes up on Monday morning not just worried about how well his defense will play in the next game, but how fast it will have to play. This week, it is Dom Capers of the Green Bay Packers, and if he is like most coordinators getting ready to play the Eagles, he starts by discarding a large portion of his playbook.

"In general terms, when teams prepare for our offense, they come in very simple on defense because they're nervous about the pace," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "I've talked to people this year from opposing defenses that played us, and they said they were very, very simple. Get in man or zone and stay in it."

Jenkins, who played for New Orleans last season, is the only member of the current Eagles defense with first-hand knowledge of what that week of preparation is really like.

"We didn't want to be too simple [in the Saints' January playoff game against the Eagles], because you never want to make it that easy, but at the same time, you don't bring your whole playbook like you normally do," Jenkins said. "You can't substitute the way you want and you don't want to be making too many checks or having too much communication pre-snap, because there's not a lot of time."

Teams try to get ready for the challenge by practicing at a faster tempo than normal, but the average NFL scout team can't replicate the pace of the Eagles offense. Some teams have had two scout units on the practice field, with one replacing the other as soon as a play ends. Some do extra conditioning work. Some emphasize hydration more than normal. In every case, it's not a normal week.

"It's a mind-set thing. Teams have to play a tempo defense, and it's something they have to do by default," guard Evan Mathis said. "They know they don't have time to do exactly what they want."

Green Bay has a limited no-huddle component to its offense, and head coach Mike McCarthy said the defense sometimes works against it during one live practice period each week. Otherwise, the Packers have the same issues with getting the scout team up to speed during the week and then trying to keep up with the Eagles on the weekend.

The advantage, when it works, is obvious. Eagles coach Chip Kelly is usually able to figure out pretty quickly the game plan of the defense. Without being able to rely on the ability to substitute for down and distance, the opposition can't readily disguise its intentions.

Monday's win over Carolina was a good example. The Panthers played mostly man-to-man defense with one safety in deep center field and one on the line of scrimmage. Coach Ron Rivera wanted to stop the run, protect against the deep ball, and force Mark Sanchez to beat him with something else. Kelly's answer was to call a game featuring underneath pass routes to the slot receivers and tight ends - exactly what Carolina was giving him.

The Packers, who are 30th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game, and who watched LeSean McCoy run for 155 yards against them last season, might be tempted to make the same decision at the line of scrimmage. They get better pass pressure and have a better secondary than Carolina, however, and are more likely to leave the door open slightly for long passes. Whatever the case, Kelly will figure it out. His adjustments might not work, but he will make them based on good information.

"Obviously, they can't run as many coverages," receiver Riley Cooper said. "They have to get the calls in quicker and line up quicker. I'm sure defenses try to work on both tempo and scheme as they prepare, but the week is only so long."

The other advantage for the Eagles is more psychological than physical, but just as real. If opposing players are thinking about the pace, about whether they will get dehydrated, about whether they will be stuck on the field in a situation that usually calls for a substitute, then Kelly's offense - which is pretty basic in its scheme - gets a lot more difficult to stop.

"[The offense] is everything that everybody else is doing right now. It's just that he's doing it at a different tempo," Rivera said before Monday's game.

It is like changing lanes without the benefit of a look in the rearview mirror. Occasionally, not having that little bit of time makes all the difference.

"Most people say it's not about getting tired. It's about literally not having enough time to get in the right alignments, to get the right calls, so every now and then you end up with somebody running wide open because the communication was off or a defender was one or two steps out of position," Jenkins said. "The little things in execution slip away at our tempo. Our offense is a lot simpler than most offenses. Everything we do is simple, and it comes down to whether you can execute better than we can, longer than we can, and the answer is usually, 'No.' "

Playing with pace in the NFL isn't a gimmick or a fad. It is a lifestyle, and the Eagles live it every day. Trying to catch up for just six days a season doesn't usually work.

bford@phillynews.com