SANTA CLARA, Calif. - There is statistical evidence that proves Chip Kelly should consider slowing things down on offense.
Over the last three years with the Eagles, Kelly's defenses finished near the bottom of the NFL in the major scoring and yardage statistics. But the efficiency numbers say those defenses were better than the bulk stats indicate.
Bottom line: It's true. If Kelly's defenses were on the field for fewer plays, they may have performed better and he might have won more games. The Eagles went 10-6, 10-6 and 6-9 in his three seasons and made the playoffs once in 2013, his first season, but lost in the first round to the Saints, 26-24.
New Orleans had nearly a 10-minute advantage in time of possession in that game: 34:53 to 25:07.
|Year||Opp. Yards/Play (NFL Rank)||Opp. Yards/Game|
|2015||5.60 (22)||401.6 (30)|
|2014||5.40 (17)||375.6 (28)|
|2013||5.48 (20)||396.4 (30)|
On a per-play basis, coordinator Bill Davis' defenses were better than per-game numbers prove. In terms of time of possession, Davis' units spent the most time on the field in the NFL in all three of Kelly's seasons in Philadelphia.
To be sure, those defenses were not spectacular. But they were more in the middle of the pack than at the bottom in terms of efficiency than overall production. If those same efficiency numbers were paced out over fewer plays, then they could have been even better if the players were fresher.
The scoring numbers say the same thing:
|Year||Opp. Points/Play||Opp. Points/Game|
|2015||0.375 (19)||26.9 (28)|
|2014||0.359 (18)||25.0 (22)|
|2013||0.335 (10)||24.0 (19)|
There's a delicate balance that Kelly has yet to find during his brief head coaching career in the NFL, and there's been no indication he plans on changing his stripes and slowing things down in 2016 with the 49ers.
When they made three straight runs to the Conference Championship game under former head coach Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco prided itself on ball control and strong defensive play. But only two defensive starters from the Super Bowl team of 2012 remain on the roster: NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks.
"I think we’re receptive to anything that’s going to help us win football games. And I know the difficulty that what we do offensively gives to defenses," Kelly said at his introductory press conference Wednesday.
"We’ll look at anything. There’s always tweaks that you do, and we ran it differently in year two than we did in year one. We ran it differently in year three than we did in year two, and when we get a new staff together here, it’ll be a collaborative effort. I think our offense will look somewhat like we did in Philadelphia, but we’ve got different personnel to plug into places and we have different players, different coaches coming in from different organizations to add to what they can. At the end of the day, it’s how do we do it better than we’ve ever done before and I’m excited about that aspect of continuing to grow on the offensive side of the ball.”
There's no question Kelly's offensive philosophy places a heavy burden on his defenses, which might explain why the 49ers haven't hired a defensive coordinator, despite Kelly officially having the job for more than a week.
Kelly, who was known for being stubborn during his time with the Eagles, seemed defiant when pressed about the issue during his introduction with San Francisco.
"I think everybody wants to just paint whatever it is with one brush," he said. "I think you have to look at really the intricacies of it. We get into the time of possession question and we’ve been in games where it was identical play snaps for us and our opponent. It was identical yardage for us and our opponent. It was identical first downs for us and our opponent. We won the game by seven, but they had the ball for 10 more minutes than we did.
"So, all I learned is that they stand around better than we stand around. It’s still plays run. I’ve also never met a defense player that says, ‘Coach, I want you to possess the ball for the entire game so I don’t have to play.’ I want guys that on the defensive side of the football of the San Francisco 49ers can’t wait to get on the field and embrace the opportunity to get out there and play. And when you have a bunch of guys like that, it doesn’t matter."
San Francisco reportedly lost out on Texans' up-and-coming linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, as first reported by John Middlekauff of 95.7 The Game, and are still considering incumbent defensive coordinator Eric Mangini.
Mangini's defense ranked 18th in points and 29th in yardage last season (the efficiency numbers were congruent with the bulk stats), while being considerably more productive at Levi's Stadium than on the road. They allowed 7.42 yards per play in road games and 6.13 at home.
The defensive coordinator will be Kelly's most important hire. Mangini may be the favorite, if he wants it, just of the sake of continuity.
No matter who gets the job, the numbers from Kelly's Eagles tenure indicates he'd be better off slowing things down.