Back when Chip Kelly was the head coach at the University of Oregon, he visited a Seahawks practice and traded ideas with then-first-year Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. Now, for the second time in three years, Kelly and Carroll will face off in the NFL, this time with Kelly coaching the San Francisco 49ers after three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Like every occasion when a coach, NFL or otherwise, visits the Seahawks, Carroll tries to learn as much from his guests as they get from him—"always compete" applies to learning new things as much as it does to playing a football game—and held true when Kelly visited years ago.
"It was his request to come here, then I was grilling him," Carroll said of Kelly's 2010 visit to Seahawks headquarters. "He had some things he wanted to see, I guess, he was just curious, and as soon as we got to talking, we were firing back and forth. It was just a really good exchange."
Presumably some of that "grilling" had to do with Kelly's no-huddle offense, which first gained notoriety when he was the offensive coordinator at Oregon, and has sense helped him have success as a head coach in college and the NFL. And when the Seahawks face the 49ers Sunday, slowing that up-tempo attack will be one of Seattle's top priorities. While San Francisco's offense will present unique challenges, one thing the Seahawks have going for them is that NFL players are much more accustomed to defending that style of play now than before, in part because of Kelly's success and the imitators it has spawned.
"Historically, it has put pressure on the defense, and that's why guys are doing it—teams are doing it all over the country in college," Carroll said. "However, now that it's kind of part of regular football, they don't huddle any longer than we do, we don't have to. So we know how to do that, so it's kind of a no-huddle offense, no-huddle defense. It just kind of depends how you approach it, but it can have an effect if you're not prepared for it."
Offenses playing fast is nothing new. Carroll remembers defending against it when the Bills went up-tempo back when he coached in the AFC East, but both in college and the NFL, Kelly's offenses have tried to take up-tempo to another level, and for the most part he has had a lot of success doing that.
"I don't really know where that begins, because I go all the way back to Buffalo, and I was with the Jets all those years, and Marv Levy and those guys were doing it in great fashion," Carroll said. "So I don't know where it started, but Chip certainly has been at the forefront. He's had a tremendous effect on a lot of coaches and a lot of football around the country… Certainly he's noteworthy of having a big factor in all of that."
While Carroll and the Seahawks have a lot of respect for what Kelly's offenses can do if they get going, they're also confident that they are prepared to face the 49ers. As more and more college teams have gone up-tempo—again, Kelly's success at Oregon is a big reason for that—more college defensive players are coming to the NFL used to facing no-huddle offenses.
"Even the guys coming in, they've played the no-huddle situations all through their college career too, so it's not a big transition," Carroll said. "… There's nothing new here. It's just getting accustomed to it. Now that we have to face it every year, we're practicing it regularly, so we're just more accustomed. The biggest thing is if you're restricted communications wise. As long as you get through that, they have to communicate, we have to communicate. So it's no-huddle O, it's no-huddle D."
As Carroll mentions, communication is key, and with a veteran defensive nucleus that has played together for so long, the Seahawks believe they can be on the same page even with little time to communication between plays.
"A lot of it is non-verbal communication you have," said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. "So because we've played together so long, we know what to do. This isn't our first go-around. It's all about communication."
The Seahawks also are confident because they know they have played well against Kelly's offense before, holding the Eagles to 14 points and just 139 total yards in a win at Philadelphia in 2014. The key for the Seahawks in that win was never letting the Eagles offense get going, holding Philadelphia to a 2-of-11 third-down conversion rate, which allowed the Seahawks to run 40 more plays on offense than the Eagles.
"We've faced this head coach before, we've done really well against them," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "We know the tempo, we know that if we play really good defense and get the ball back to our offense, it'll be a good day for us. That's the game plan."
The Seahawks held practice outside at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Thursday as the team prepares for their game against the 49ers.