Since Chip Kelly was announced as the new head coach of the 49ers, the focus has been on Kelly’s impact on San Francisco’s offense.
But, based on how his Philadelphia Eagles performed under his three seasons, the hiring also will put more pressure on the Niners’ defense in 2016.
As Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee noted, “The fast pace of his offense means his defense tends to be on the field more than a typical team’s.” So, the defense will need to be deep and in condition to keep from breaking late in games. Barrows pointed out that in 2015, the Philadelphia defense was on the field so much longer than the offense that it “played the equivalent of two and a half extra games.”
Kelly takes over a 49ers defense that struggled in 2015, ranking fourth from the bottom in the NFL in yards allowed per game at 387.4. Eagles defenses in Philadelphia ranked 29th, 28th and 30th overall under Kelly and, according to Barrows, many Eagles defensive players complained that the fast-paced Eagles offense put more pressure on the defensive unit, which had to be on the field much longer.
In 2015, the Eagles offense was last in the NFL in time of possession, at just 25:51 per game. It also ranked last in 2014 at 26:40.
At one point during the 2015 season, Eagles pass rusher Connor Barwin told Philadelphia media: “I feel bad for (defensive coordinator) Billy (Davis), because our numbers are so skewed. We played three more ‘games’ than Seattle. I’m not trying to make excuses, but we weren’t as bad as some of the numbers look. That’s because we play three more ‘games” than other teams. That makes a difference.”
So, Kelly’s choice of a defensive coordinator will be a key move for the 49ers’ new head coach. According to reports, Kelly met Friday with 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini. He’s an option, as is Davis. Barrows noted that several other successful defensive coaches – such as Lovie Smith, Jim Schwartz and Mike Nolan – are available.
Kelly has dismissed the argument that his fast-paced offense is bad for his own defense.
“It’s plays played,” he told the Dallas Morning News this season. “It’s not time of possession. I just think too much is put into that stat.” He has a point: his first two seasons with the Eagles, he was 20-12.
But former Cowboys fullback Daryl Johnston, now a network TV analyst, said a defense that’s on the field as much as Kelly’s can get tired and vulnerable.
“The big thing about defense is pursuit to the football,” Johnston told the Morning News. “I think you can underestimate leaving your defense out there for 32 minutes, 33 minutes during the course of the game.”