The Philadelphia Eagles have a time of possession problem

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Do you remember the Chip Kelly-era of Philadelphia Eagles football?

Boy, that sure was… something.

Right out the gate, the offense was awe-inspiring. With DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, and Jeremy Maclin spread out wide, Michael Vick in the shotgun, and LeSean McCoy lined up right next to him in the offensive backfield, the Birds put up 443 total yards and 33 points in an absolute shootout against an RGIII-led squad with a retired nickname who didn’t know what hit them.

Surely if you watch that game back, you’d think the Eagles would be on their way to Super Bowl after Super Bowl, and Kelly would still be the Eagles’ head coach to this very day, but instead, he’s stinking it up in very winnable games versus Fresno State at UCLA while the Birds are on their third full-time head coach since 2015.

Why? Because Kelly’s scheme was easily thwarted.

Running a lightning-quick spread offense designed around running modular plays out of different looks, the Eagles often found themselves on the wrong side of the time of possession game, which put undue pressure on their defense and ultimately resulted in unnecessary losses in would-be shootouts.

Granted, Kelly had plenty of other issues that led to his removal too, as he never quite got along with Howie Roseman and was a bit too committed to a “my way or the highway” mentality, but had he simply slowed things down, elevated his offensive game plan with some professional seasoning, and, I don’t know, didn’t run off all of his best players, but ultimately, his misunderstanding of how to manage an NFL game clock is a big reason why he’s ruined my UCLA Bruins over the last half-decade.

Why, you may ask, is this relevant in 2021? Well, because the Philadelphia Eagles are once again among the worst teams in the NFL at average time of possession and should look to address that as they turn their attention to Dallas Week.

Nick Sirianni and the Philadelphia Eagles need to learn clock management.

So why, you may ask, is time of possession important in the NFL?

Theoretically, a team could get the ball off of a touchback and then throw a 75-yard touchdown in what, 10 seconds, before kicking the ball back to their opponent. If you do that a few times in a contest, the average time of possession will surely skew in the wrong direction, even if it results in a win.

Alternatively, a team could string together a 13 play, six-minute drive only to turn the ball over at the goal line for a 100-yard pick-six. If that happens, it’ll be darn hard not to win the time of possession game, even if the actual game game goes down as an L in the standings.

While both of those examples are valid and could conceivably swing the stats one way or another, they are exceptions to the rule and can’t be counted on happening with regularity.

What you can count on with a fair bit of confidence, however, is at least being competitive in contests where you possess the ball for the majority of the game, as said team can very literally dictate the pace of play and hold momentum in the palm of their gloves.

Think, if you will, back to one of those horrible games where an opposing team ran down the clock for eight-plus minutes just for the fun of it. Do you remember how horrible that is to watch? The clock just ticks away, the opposing team takes just a bit too long in the huddle and then is able to pick up four yards in a cloud of dust without batting an eye. It’s horrible to watch and incredibly demoralizing… unless your favorite team is the one manipulating the clock in their favor.

This was Doug Pederson‘s strategy during the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl run in 2017 – get up early with the pass and run down the clock with a pair of power runners – and it worked very well. It was not, by contrast, the team’s strategy in 2020 and surely played into the reason why the author of “Fearless” spent his preseason on a training camp tour of his coaching tree instead of attempting to return to his former glory in a midnight green visor.

So what, you may ask, can the Eagles do to right this ship and get things back on track as they prepare to face off against one of the highest-powered offensive attacks in the NFL? Well, I’m glad you asked.

For one, the Eagles can simply slow things down, period. While Nick Sirianni has found some success running the two-minute/no-huddle offense with Kenneth Gainwell at running back, it’s also led to a number of exciting but woefully short drives dating all the way back to the first game of the 2021 NFL preseason. Slowing things down and using some clock even in the first half can easily take two minutes off the clock, which is valuable recovery time for the defense.

Additionally, the Eagles could double down on running the ball once they do get a lead, even if it may not be the most exciting way to play the game. Had the Eagles focused on going up six instead of 10 heading into the half versus San Francisco while taking as much time off the clock as possible, they wouldn’t have given the 49ers the four minutes – and momentum swing – needed to take the lead.

Throw in a few more of Pederson’s signature play, the RPO, or even the Kelly special, the read-option, and the Eagles could maddeningly limit the amount of time the Cowboys are on the field and stifle any momentum Dallas tries to generate.

Remember that horrible feeling I described earlier? Imagine Cowboys fans in the City of Brotherly Love experiencing that feeling Monday night. *chef’s kiss* beautiful.

Next. Lane Johnson gives an update on Brandon Brooks. dark

So Nick Sirianni, learn from Chip Kelly’s mistakes. While it’s certainly fun to score touchdowns, move the chains consistently, and pick apart an opposing defense with a sophisticated passing attack, it’s just as fun to watch a team impose their will on an opponent and move the ball as the clock ticks down. For a team that looks like it’s going to win a lot of close, low-scoring games, this could be the key to picking up a few more wins and making a play for the NFC East. The Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line is arguably their strongest unit; why not play to that strength?