Saints face challenges in playoff game with Eagles

Can the New Orleans team keep up the pace and claim victory Saturday?

After his first day practicing against a scout team mimicking the speed of Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s vaunted up-tempo offense, Saints linebacker Junior Galette admits he thought to himself, “If this is the pace they’re going, we’re in trouble.”

The members of the Saints’ scout team had worn wristbands that held cards spelling out series after series of plays, and they ran them without huddling up, trying to take no longer than a blistering 15 seconds between snaps. That’s much faster than any other team in the NFL — let alone any opponent the Saints (11-5) encountered in the regular season.

But, at the end of their preparations, Galette and his teammates all said they felt more sure about being able to keep up with an Eagles attack that goes without huddling up all game long when they face it Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Kickoff is at 7:10 p.m. on NBC.

“We tried to make it seem like it was impossible for us to get lined up and basically make it more so of a mental game than a physical one,” rookie defensive end Glenn Foster said. “The tempo we were going was supersonic speed, but I feel like if we go a speed slower than that — or even at that speed in the game — we’ll be good.”

It’s well-established that few teams can move down a football field as efficiently as Philadelphia (10-6), which won seven of its last eight regular-season games to clinch the NFC East. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is the NFL’s top rusher; quarterback Nick Foles posted the league’s best passer rating; and wideout DeSean Jackson tallied the ninth-most receiving yards this year.

The Eagles averaged the NFL’s second-most yards per game on offense (417.3). Yet they owned the league’s lowest average time of possession, 26:24, which indicates how fast they’ve worked on offense in the first year they’ve been under the command of Kelly.

That could mean a frustrating night for the Saints, whose defense was ranked No. 4 but allowed almost seven points and 71 yards more on the road than they did at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the regular season. The Saints like to make mass substitutions on defense, but they won’t be able to do that much against the Eagles if they run play after play on offense with the same personnel group on the field.

However, the Saints aren’t daunted by the prospect of clashing with the Eagles. Kelly, who used to coach Oregon, has never been in a postseason NFL game; and neither has Foles. That’s the opposite of key Saints such as coach Sean Payton, quarterback Drew Brees, wide receiver Marques Colston, right guard Jahri Evans and left tackle Zach Strief, who have been in eight postseason games, including Super Bowl XLIV, which New Orleans won.

Furthermore, in a 30-27 loss at New England in October, the Patriots surprised the Saints with some hurry-up packages on offense they had not used in previous games.

New England racked up 232 yards on 47 first-half plays that day. But Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his players then made adjustments, and they slowed the Patriots down to 144 yards on 36 plays in the third and fourth quarters, though it wasn’t enough to triumph.

“In the second half, when we came out, we were well-prepared for it,” said Galette, sixth in the NFL and second on the Saints with 12 sacks.

Kelly’s quick-paced offense won’t catch the Saints off-guard. They’ve been scheming for it all week.

“Nobody’s practiced at a faster tempo than us in the history of football,” Ryan said Friday. “I know (the Eagles) will be faster than we’ve ever seen, but we’ll be fine.”

Ryan then joked that the Saints’ scout team had run three plays in the time it took him to utter that statement.

Defensive end Cameron Jordan — fifth in the NFL and first on the Saints with 12.5 sacks — echoed those thoughts.

Jordan, who played Kelly’s Oregon teams four times in college with California and won twice, called the Philadelphia offense’s pace of play “alarming but not disarming.”

“It’s just a minor adjustment that we have to be aware of,” Jordan said. “We’ll be able to adjust to it and go on from there.”

Kelly told local media this week that he would expect no less from Ryan’s charges.

“Rob does such a good job of getting that favorable match-up,” Kelly said. “I think that’s kind of the fun part of coaching.”