Chip Kelly used TEs quite a bit at Oregon. He came to Philly and the first free agent he signed was James Casey. Kelly used a 2nd round pick on Zach Ertz. He already had Brent Celek, Clay Harbor, Emil Igwenagu and Derek Carrier on the roster. That was a lot of firepower at TE and it appeared to be a key part of the offense.
3 weeks into the season, the Eagles are not featuring TEs. Casey has only played a handful of snaps all year. Ertz is a regular part of the offense, but isn’t starting or playing significant snaps. He and Brent Celek each have 4 catches on the season. This isn’t the offense we expected. What’s going on?
One of Chip Kelly’s biggest strengths is his adaptability. At New Hampshire his early offenses were built on RB Jerry Azumah. Once he left, Kelly built them around QB Ricky Santos. Oregon’s offense had all sorts of different players and looks. Big backs like Jonathan Stewart and LeGarrette Blount thrived just like small backs LeMichael James and Kenjon Barner. There were small TEs like Dante Rosario and big ones like Colt Lyerla. The same is true for WRs and other offensive weapons. Kelly always adapted the offense to his players and found the way to use them wisely.
Kelly didn’t know what he had in Philly. He watched tape and studied the players, but as he always likes to say…you don’t know what you’ve got until you get out on the field and you get a chance to coach them.
Kelly admitted the other day that Brent Celek and Jason Avant have played better than he expected. Rather than stick with his original plans, Kelly has rewarded the veterans by keeping them on the field. They’re playing well. This also is a good lesson to the young players on the roster. You earn snaps. It doesn’t matter if you’re a high pick or a pricey free agent. The best players will play. If you’re not on the field, it is your job to be so good in practice that the coaches feel obligated to play you.
I also wonder if the early season success of Shady McCoy is a factor. Right now Kelly is playing a lot of 11 personnel. That is 1 RB, 1 TE and 3 WRs. This spreads the defense out, leaving lots of running room. The defense responds with the Nickel look (4-2-5 or 3-3-5). That weakens them in stopping the run. Kelly also has good blockers with his 11 personnel. Celek is a good blocker. Avant and Cooper are very good blockers. Even DeSean Jackson is blocking well this year.
Shady is on pace to set the NFL rushing record. He projects to 2107 yards (record is 2105). Clearly the running game is working.
The passing game worked very well in the first couple of weeks. Protection breakdowns and sloppy play by Vick hurt the passing game last Thursday. Will that be enough to force Kelly to make changes? Not yet, I don’t think.
The Chiefs had the pass rushers to pressure Vick while also having the cover guys to do a solid job on Jackson. Not all teams can do that. Kelly will certainly tweak some things, but my guess is that he’ll stick with the current look for now.
Kelly will eventually use Casey and Ertz more. There will come a point when the offense needs to shift to different looks. I also expect Damaris Johnson to play more down the line. The Eagles are just 3 games into the season. You don’t use all your looks and ideas this soon. You need to be able to adjust down the line. Defenses will adjust to the Eagles current group. KC already showed that press coverage can take away the WR screens. There will be other wrinkles by defenses. At some point, Kelly will shift to more TEs or maybe a 4 WR look. He always has a counter-move to what defenses want to do.
There is no reason to be down on Casey, Ertz or Johnson right now. Casey isn’t pouting. He’s playing well on STs. Ertz already has 2 catches of more than 20 yards this year. Clay Harbor has 3 in his career. Ertz is sloppy as a blocker, but there is no lack of effort. His technique needs work. Adjusting to the speed of the NFL is also an issue since most of his blocks come in space. Johnson isn’t getting on the field much on offense. He has been solid on STs, aside from his muff the other night. Johnson is averaging 26.5 yards per KOR so far. That’s a good figure. He’s not had enough chances as a PR to do much.
Right now Vick is 10th in the NFL in passing yards and 8th in passer rating. Jackson is 2nd in receiving yards. Shady is the leading rusher and has more yards than all but 8 teams. Kelly has the star players playing well. He has done well with the big issues. Figuring out a better way to mix in role players will happen over time.
By the end of the season, it will be interesting to see how the offense has changed, as well as which players emerged over time and which ones didn’t.