The Philadelphia Eagles just hired Chip Kelly as their next head football coach. Many people are saying that this is not a good move, citing previous college coaches’ struggles in the NFL and saying his offensive system cannot be successful in the NFL. I’m here to tell you why they’re wrong.
In four years as the Oregon head coach, Kelly’s record was 46-7. That’s better than Nick Saban’s record of 43-11 in his first 4 seasons at Alabama. Now there are two major types of head coaches, offensive minded coaches and defensive minded coaches. As head coach they are obviously in charge of the entire team, but this is their specific area of expertise. Remember that these guys have spent a lifetime working their way up the coaching ladder; so they started off as position coaches, then offensive or defensive coordinators, and finally head coaches. Chip Kelly is definitely an offensive minded coach.
With this mind he created the most explosive, fastest, and most effective offense in today’s college football. Last year his team had the 4th most yards in FBS college football with 537.4 yards per game and the 2nd most points per game at 49.6. This was done while they pulled their offensive starters in a majority of games due to blowouts. The most impressive statistic however, is that they ran a play every 20.9 seconds.
Now many people believe this system won’t work in the NFL for two major reasons. First, they believe his offense is a gimmick, which uses the quarterback as a running back and that NFL defenses are simply too fast and well coached for this to work like it does in college. Chip Kelly uses creative ways to “run” the ball in different ways. He doesn’t run a spread offense; he runs a pro offense with a bunch of wrinkles. He once said, “The more offensive personnel we put in the box, the more defenders the defense will put in there, and it becomes a cluttered mess.” Most old-time football coaches liked to line up in power sets, and run the ball down your throat. Chip Kelly makes you cover all his wide receivers on the edge, line up quickly to defend his up-tempo offense, and then he does the exact same thing, he runs the ball down your throat.
These people are also under the false assumption that his offense doesn’t already work in the NFL. Anyone who watched the Washington Redskins and RGIII this season watched a college run pistol offense. It seemed to work just fine, 4th in the NFL actually.
But that’s not even what Chip Kelly runs at Oregon. He runs a much more traditional pro-style offense, with a few zone reads and read-option plays mixed in. Why does that sound familiar? Oh that’s right, that’s exactly what the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson have used to shred NFL defenses the last few months. It’s also a similar offense you have seen the traditional, pro-style, two-tight end power-I running poster boy Jim Harbaugh use with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco. Now I dare you to go ask the Packers players if they just gave up 45 points in the playoffs to a gimmick offense; or tell the New York Giants defense that the Redskins were using an inferior offensive strategy to run them all over the field. Here is my simple question to you, guess who was the first guy to implement and perfect this type of offense? That’s right, Chip Kelly. If Harbaugh and Shanahan and Carroll can make it work in the NFL, so can Chip Kelly. Trust me.
The second major argument people use to say it won’t work is that his quarterback will get killed in the NFL. These people don’t understand Kelly’s offense at all. Chip Kelly doesn’t like running his quarterback; he just wants the threat of the quarterback run.
In it’s simplest form, Kelly’s offense makes you cover the entire field with the same number of guys. By doing so he uses the most sound methodology: math.
The more area those 11 guys have to defend, the more space there is in between them, and if you saw his offensive skill players at Oregon, you know that his players are deadly when they have just that, space.
In the picture above, you’ll see that there are two deep safeties and 5 defenders in the box. In this case, the math we talked about earlier says that his 5 offensive linemen can block those 5 defenders and the running back should be able to reach the secondary.
The problem is, you’ll see most NFL teams bring down one of those safeties against run heavy offenses. Adrian Peterson sees 7 and 8 men in the box most of the time. When this happens, most NFL teams either throw the ball with man coverage, or run the ball and hope their running back can beat the unblocked defender. Chip Kelly’s offense adds a wrinkle to a simple run play though. He makes you “block” the quarterback. “If the defense has one high safety and six defenders in the box, the quarterback has to be involved in the play,” Kelly says. “He has to read one of the defenders, in effect blocking him. We can block five defenders and read the sixth one.” This means that Kelly uses his quarterback to “block” a defender without every having to touch him. Math. It’s fun.
Then, just when you think you can stop the magnitude of runs his offense uses, he reminds you that his team is more than capable of throwing the ball. In the picture above, you’ll see how Kelly takes advantage of the pass friendly defense his opponents are forced to play to stop the run. If you look at this play in-particular, the two wide receivers at the top of the screen have huge cushions because the cornerbacks have no safety help, making a quick screen to them a very high percentage throw for easy yardage. They can also run deep routes and challenge the cornerbacks ability to cover for long periods of time. They’ll generally have a lot of time because the defense can’t rush the quarterback like they can against most teams. They must first watch for the running back to get the ball, then they will have to worry about a quarterback keeper via the option or zone read, and finally they will have to worry about containing the quarterback and keeping him from scrambling for a first down. All of this will make them much slower to pressure the quarterback. Finally on this play, the tight end is being covered by a linebacker without even being chipped by a defensive lineman. Teams won’t be able to do this in the NFL. NFL tight ends are simply too fast and big to be covered in space by linebackers. With this play, Chip Kelly is forcing you to cover every inch on that field. He forces you to choose where you will be vulnerable. Pick your poison.
The offensive stats prove that his system works. The rushing and passing stats prove that his quarterback is in fact, a quarterback, and not a running back. In every season at Oregon, Chip Kelly had at least one running back rush for over 1,000 yards and his quarterback never led his team in rushing. Last year, of the teams 48 rushing touchdowns, freshman quarterback Marcus Mariotta only had 5 of them. He has said, “I look for a quarterback who can run and not a running back who can throw. I want a quarterback who can beat you with his arm. We are not a Tim Tebow type of quarterback team. I am not going to run my quarterback 20 times on power runs.” Mariota threw for 2677 yards and had a completion percentage 68.5% which was 7th for all quarterbacks in the FBS. I think this proves quarterbacks can throw very effectively in Kelly’s offense with minimal chance of injury.
The final reason I believe he will be successful in the NFL is the personnel his offense will require. Two of the most successful young quarterbacks in the NFL this year were Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. They were picked in the 2nd and 3rd rounds respectively. Both of these quarterbacks would be absolutely perfect for Chip Kelly’s offense. This means unlike most teams, he could get solid quarterbacks with later picks in the draft, and focus on other positions in the first round. It would be extremely easy to get a few backup quarterbacks for cheap in case his quarterback did get hurt as well. A luxury other teams in the NFL simply don’t have.
In those same two drafts, quarterbacks Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Locker, Christian Ponder, Andrew Luck, Robert GriffinIII, and Ryan Tannehill, we’re all drafted no later than 12th overall. Now of those 7 quarterbacks I would say only Newton, Luck and RGIII have looked worthy of such a high draft pick so far. Of those three guys, who were drafted at 1st, 1st and 2nd overall I might add, two of them would be perfect mobile quarterbacks for Kelly’s system as well.
The same goes for the other offensive skill positions. I believe Kelly will be able to get great quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers without using early draft picks or spending a lot of money in free agency. Look for players like current Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, former Oregon running back LaMichael James, or even Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson to flourish in this system. This means he can spend those same high picks on defensive players and offensive lineman.
The next thing that will surprise you is that Chip Kelly was originally an offensive lineman coach. He’s excellent with blocking schematics and his system is built for a creative mix of spread options and traditional power run blocking. This means he won’t need to revamp the entire offensive line with smaller, faster offensive lineman. His system uses the same offensive lineman that most NFL teams do; he just knows how to get much more out of the same guys.
Finally, I think the Eagles will get him a great defensive coordinator. This defensive coordinator will have the advantage of getting to draft a lot of players for his defense in the early rounds, and pay more for defensive players in free agency, due to the offense Kelly runs. Many people worry that Kelly doesn’t know enough about defense, or that his up-tempo offense will tire out his own defense. To this I will simply say that no coach coaches both offense and defense. He will not coach the defense but will simply oversee it. They will need to be in great shape, but all NFL defensive players do. The New England Patriots ran the fastest offense in the NFL this year, they seemed to do just fine. I don’t hear anyone saying Brady and company score too many points too fast. Of course the Patriots defense gave up a few more points and more yards per game than most. Who cares where your defense ranks in points and yards allowed per game, as long as you win. The Patriots win. Chip Kelly won at Oregon, Chip Kelly will win in the NFL, and in the NFL winning is all that matters.