Why Chip Kelly will be successful in the NFL
On January 16, 16 days after firing Andy Reid, the Philadelphia Eagles announced that they had hired the Oregon Ducks’ Chip Kelly to be their new Head Coach. Entering the league with no prior experience coaching in the NFL, opinions varied on whether he would be a good choice to lead the Eagles out of the hole they have been for the last 2 years.
Hiring Kelly is a good move, and here’s why:
You can’t argue with results
To firstly justify his hiring, have a look at his record at Oregon.
46-7 record as Head Coach
- 4 BCS bowl appearances in 4 years, including wins in the Rose bowl (in 2011) and the Fiesta Bowl (in 2012).
- A trip to the BCS National Championship Game (a narrow 22-19 loss on a last second Field Goal).
- High powered offences that produced:
- 500 Total yards per game
- 283 Rushing yards per game
- 45 Points per game (including 50 ppg in 2012)
All of these statistics fall within the top 10 for the entire NCAA Division I-A football program over those 4 years.
Furthermore, his record during his time both as the Head Coach and as the Offensive Coordinator (2007-2008) stands at a win/loss of 65-14, and included a 9 point PPG swing from 2006 to 2007 (from 29 to 38).
He is renowned as being an offensive genius.
You’ve seen the statistics in the above paragraph, but there is more to support the claim that Kelly is an offensive mastermind. To get an understanding of what validates this theory, lets take a look at the scheme he runs at Oregon.
Like many coaches in the NCAA, Chip Kelly operates a spread offense. A Spread offence is characterised by its:
- 3,4 and 5 Wide Receiver sets.
- Single Running Back backfields.
- The Quarterback operating out of a ‘Shotgun’ (standing 5-7 yards back from the Center) or occasionally Pistol (3-4 yards back) formation. .
The purpose of a spread is to, as the name suggests, spread the defence out and force them to defend the entire field, as opposed to just a section of the field as you would with other offences.
Now, Chip Kelly operates a fairly uncommon version of the Spread known as a ‘Spread Run Option’ attack (although, with Oregon’s success, more and more teams are adopting it). This involves the QB lining up in shotgun with the single RB positioned to the side of him, and as the ball is snapped, looking at a section of the field as he goes to hand the ball off to the RB. If the section, or ‘zone’, is filled by a defender, the QB hands the ball off. If the defender who is meant to fill that zone isn’t there, the QB keeps the ball and runs it himself.
This is a representation of an offence and defence before the snap. In this picture, the Q is the Quarterback. C is the Center. E are the Defensive Ends. T are the Defensive Tackles. M is the Middle Linebacker, and W is the weak side Linebacker. The ‘T’ lines extending out from the offensive players show who and where they are going to block. The arrow lines indicate where RB/QB will run with the ball. The dotted arrow line is an optional pass.
This play is called an “Outside Zone Read” (OZR), to the left. For this example, I’ve taken a common defensive package, with 4 Defensive Linemen, 2 Linebackers, and 5 Defensive Backs in the game, known as a nickel package, or a 4-2-5. As the ball is snapped, the offensive line slants across the field, blocking to their left and driving the defence sideways, in order to attempt to open a hole on the left hand side.
The shaded box is the zone the Quarterback is reading. As the Right tackle goes up to block the weak side linebacker, the defensive end (DE) is completely unblocked, and can rush straight at the Quarterback. If that DE stays in that area, or the DE rushes and the W fills that gap, the Quarterback will hand the ball off to the Running back, and trust his offensive line to open a hole. If the DE runs after the running back to try to make an early tackle and the W stays still, the QB will keep the ball and run it himself. He also has the option of throwing a quick pass out to the Wide Receiver on the right side, if the area is open (the QB will determine this before the snap).
An Outside Zone Read to the right:
Here is where the scheme gets smart. Oregon have only a few different run plays, but the formation they line up in tends to indicate what type of play they will run. If the offensive line and RB are skilled and know their part, then they will be able to pick up enough yards running this OZR play over and over again, if the defenders stay true to covering the entire field. So, in order to try to shut this down, often the defence will specifically target the side to which the play is going, by going straight across to that section of the field when the ball is snapped.
As soon as the defence does this, and therefore overcommits, the RB will have the chance to change where they run, by cutting back up the middle of the field, and completely negating the defence as they have run too far in the opposite direction. This is how Oregon have most of their big plays.
Other plays spawn off this constant running as well. As stated above, the offensive line and RB are going to continue picking up yards if the defence stays true to covering the whole field. Eventually, they will need to send more guys down in run support. It’s at this moment that Oregon can use a fake handoff, and then throw the ball vertically upfield, resulting in a big chunk of yardage, and often a touchdown.
There are other plays that Kelly runs, but the process and way in which they work are similar to how this works.
He will craft an offense that works in the NFL
Will Chip Kelly use exactly this offensive scheme in the NFL? Probably not. More than likely he will have these plays in his playbook, but won’t use them on a play to play basis; defenders in the NFL are simply too big and fast, all the while being able to disguise their defensive plays better than NCAA teams. While the occasional, or even semi-regular use of them will get some yardage, using them all the time would likely end up being ineffective.
That said, there is definitely a place for them in the game. As we saw in the NFL Divisional Playoff round between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers, Colin Kaepernick was able to apply similar concepts in order to tear their defence apart. Throughout the year, the Washington Redskins and Robert Griffin III utilized similar concepts as well, often to great effect, with rookie RB Alfred Morris stockpiling 1613 yards, and RG3 picking up 815 rushing yards of his own on 120 carries. However, RG3 did have some injury issues throughout the year (culminating in a torn ACL and LCL in the Wild Card Playoff round). It is possible that a coach will be able to integrate these plays on a regular basis at some point, but I don’t believe it is a viable option at the moment.
How far Kelly goes towards using this scheme will also depend on the personnel he has. In Philadelphia, he has the perfect RB in LeSean McCoy; a quick, shifty guy who can cut back and forth and avoid tackles. However, the QB situation complicates things. If Michael Vick was still playing good football, I think he would excel in this scheme. He can make plays with his legs, has a strong arm, and would complement McCoy in the same way Oregon’s QBs have complemented their RBs in the past.
However, Vick appears now to be injury prone and does not have good ball security, giving rise to Nick Foles. Foles is quite the opposite of Vick, and his lack of mobility means that he would not fit this scheme very well.
Despite this, I still believe Kelly is a good hire. He was able to craft an innovative and highly successful scheme when he took over as Oregon’s Offensive Coordinator/ Head Coach, so it stands to reason that he would be able to do it again. Kelly is noted as being able to adjust his offense to suit his players, and in this situation, this is the most important thing he will bring to Philadelphia.
The impact of his knowledge has already been felt in the NFL
In 2010, 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh watched from the sideline as the Oregon Ducks shredded his Stanford Cardinal team, 52-31. Two years later, and just two weeks ago we saw the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick use many of the same plays Oregon uses, in order to take apart the Green Bay Packers’ defence. Harbaugh did an excellent job of adjusting the scheme to apply more NFL concepts, such as variations of straight isolation runs between the guards and conventional pass plays out of the same formation, but the zone read plays were there, and Kaepernick was able to pick up 181 yards and 2 touchdowns by keeping the ball and running it himself.
Aside from his scheme, Kelly’s impact has been seen elsewhere. Prior to the 2012 season, he met with New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and discussed with him the strategy behind his no huddle offence. Typically, a no huddle will involve several different terms needing to be called out to determine offensive line blocking, formation, and wide receiver routs. Kelly was able to condense all of that into a single word call, and Belichick adopted this, to great effect, for his Patriots this year.
Chip Kelly will face many challenges coming into the NFL, as he adjusts his scheme to work in the NFL, as well as finding the right personnel to run what he wants to run. Nonetheless, he has shown time and time again that he has the skill and knowledge to craft a potent offence, and I don’t see this changing as he transitions leagues.
What do you think? Will Chip Kelly be successful, and turn the Philadelphia Eagles around?
NB: If you have any questions about Chip Kelly’s scheme, feel free to post in the comments and I’ll answer you as best I can.