Will time take its toll on Eagles' defense?

Posted: November 07, 2013

IF EVER A football game supported Chip Kelly's belief that time of possession is as worthless a statistic as Salma Hayek's age, it was the Eagles' 49-20 win over the Raiders Sunday.

Kelly's NASCAR offense only had the ball for 22 minutes and change, but managed to pack 542 up-tempo yards and seven up-tempo touchdown drives into those 22 minutes.

That's the good news. The bad news is the Eagles' defense was on the field for the other 38 minutes of the game, watching the Raiders run 92 plays. That's right. A team that lost by 29 points actually ran 92 plays.

Welcome to the bizarro world of Bill Davis, where your defense can hold five straight opponents to 21 or fewer points, yet lead the league in opponent plays per game (74.6).

His unit has been on the field for an exhausting 672 defensive snaps already, which is a 1,195-snap pace, which would be 201 more than last year's unit and more than any defense in the league in at least the last 11 years.

Davis admitted yesterday that he is more than a little concerned about the toll the high play counts could take on his players in the second half of the season. But it's the price a defense pays for riding Air Chip.

"I do [get concerned], with all of them," he said. "We've got to give everybody relief. Nobody wants to play 90 or 95 snaps. Every game won't be like that. But we knew from the get-go that this offense . . . we talk about three-and-out [punt] and three-and-in [touchdown]. And the other night, they were three-and-in.

"That's part of who we've talked about being from Day 1 any way. And that's why we rotate like we do. And I do have to try to continue to find unique ways, without missing a beat, to roll those guys [in and out]."

Four of the Eagles' seven touchdown drives Sunday were four plays or less. Three of them took less than a minute off the clock.

For the season, 13 of the Eagles' 25 touchdown drives have been four plays or fewer. Eighteen of them lasted less than 140 seconds. That leaves the defensive players with barely enough time to chug a cup of Gatorade before they have to buckle their chin straps and head for the field again.

"We've been on the field a lot this year," said linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who already has played 685 snaps (that number includes plays that were negated by penalties), which is just 270 fewer than he played his entire rookie season.

Kendricks wasn't complaining, merely stating a fact. He said he actually feels better right now than he did at the same point last season.

"I'm holding up pretty well," he said as he rubbed an injured hand. "Last year was a lot more physical in terms of hitting and having to be durable because we were in that wide-nine and we had those big-ass linemen coming at us. We're a little more covered up [protected by defensive linemen] this year."

Davis and defensive-line coach Jerry Azzinaro have been regularly rotating six players up front to keep the line fresh. But that's not as doable at linebacker and in the secondary because of a lack of depth.

"They definitely prepared us [for playing more snaps]," defensive end Cedric Thornton said. "We knew from watching coach Kelly at Oregon that we were going to get a lot of playing time on defense, and we knew there were going to be times when they would go three-and-out.

"We conditioned for it and we prepare for it every Sunday."

Davis has rotated Brandon Graham in at outside linebacker to give Trent Cole and Connor Barwin some breaks. But Barwin still has played 668 snaps already, which is a 1,188-snap pace. That would exceed his career high by 169 snaps.

Kendricks and the Eagles' other inside linebacker, DeMeco Ryans, both have played almost every down and are on pace for 1,200-plus snaps. Kendricks and Ryans have played pivotal roles in the improvement of the defense this season. They combined for 21 tackles in the win at Oakland.

Davis said he needs to find a way to start giving both an occasional breather. But both have been three-down linebackers this season, and the Eagles seldom play a dime package (six defensive backs and one linebacker), mainly because of their lack of depth in the secondary.

"This is something I'm used to doing," Ryans said of being a three-down linebacker. "When I first started in the league, I was always out there every down. It's not out of the norm for me.

"I feel pretty good. Thank the Lord, not any major injuries [this year]. Not banged up too bad. Just the normal soreness from games. I'm blessed to be able to go out there and compete at a high level."

Ryans said the defense could help reduce the number of plays it has been on the field by doing a better job on third down. The Eagles are 20th in the league in third-down defense (35.8 percent), and 27th on third-and-7 or more (29.5).

"It's not anything to do with the fast pace [of our offense]," Ryans said. "I think people got it backwards. Defensively, if we were getting the [third-down] stops like we should, there wouldn't be as many snaps as we are playing.

"There have been some third-down plays where we definitely should have been off [the field]. Those things fall on us. I feel we're playing a lot of extra snaps because of the mistakes that we make, not so much because of the offense being quick-tempo and fast-paced."

The Eagles' defense has been on the field for an average of 74.6 plays per game, which is far and away the most in the league, and the most by any team since at least 2003:

1. Texans 56.5

2. Panthers 59.6

3. Rams 60.6

4. Saints 60.9

5. Chargers 61.4

6. Bears 62.0

7. Lions 62.2

8. Falcons 62.4

9. Packers 62.5

10. Steelers 62.6

11. Bucs 63.2

12. Raiders 63.5

13. Seahawks 63.7

14. Titans 64.0

15. Chiefs 64.1

16. Ravens 64.4

17. Colts 64.5

18. Jets 65.1

19. 49ers 65.1

20. Redskins 65.4

21. Jaguars 65.6

22. Bengals 66.1

23. Broncos 67.8

24. Cardinals 68.4

25. Giants 69.8

26. Bills 69.9

27. Browns 70.0

28. Cowboys 70.0

29. Vikings 71.2

30. Patriots 71.4

31. Dolphins 71.5

32. Eagles 74.6

On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

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