Finding the Right Fit

Posted: November 5th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 46 Comments »

This is a guest column by Mark Saltveit. He is hack from Oregon, but since he has pictures of me in a hot tub with Andy Reid and Lindsay Lohan, I have to occasionally let him share his thoughts on Chip Kelly and the Eagles.

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by Mark Saltveit

When Chip Kelly was first hired by the Eagles, several sportswriters said he had a heavily pass-focused attack. It was a natural assumption: his Oregon Ducks averaged over 48 points a game. How could you possibly score that much running?

Well, they did, with a tempo offense that kept defenses off guard and emphasized downfield blocking by receivers, turning 5-10 yard gains into 30-60 yard explosion runs. Their run-to-pass ratio was 2 to 1, but average touchdown drives were under two minutes, and often measured in seconds.

So writers who did their homework emphasized Kelly as the running coach. In the opener against Washington, the Eagles ran 2-1 over passing and picked up 263 yards on the ground. At the time Michael Vick got injured, not only was LeSean McCoy the NFL’s leading rusher, but Vick was the league’s 15th best runner himself. That’s right, half the league had top running backs with fewer yards than Chip Kelly’s QB.

But Chip Kelly is not a run-based coach, either. As Offensive Coordinator at the University of New Hampshire, his Wildcats set passing records behind the arm of Ricky Santos (who won the Walter Payton awards as outstanding FCS player of the year) and the hands of David Ball (who briefly passed through the Eagles’ training camp after Jeremy Maclin was injured.)

And even that oversimplifies Kelly’s attack. In his first year as Oregon coach, while LeGarrette Blount was suspended, he relied on Dennis Dixon’s passing until LaMichael James emerged as a dominant runner. And at UNH, before Santos, the Wildcats were a running team led by Jerry Azumah.

The point is, Kelly is not a running coach or a passing coach. He gets the best talent he can, and adapts his play-calling to them. Some coaches take pride in developing name-brand offenses, like the Air Raid, Run and Shoot, or even West Coast Offense, which have a distinct philosophy of attack. These offenses are great for sportswriters — we can talk about their nuances, analyze them at length, and sound like real experts (which probably makes coaches puke). The problem is that these ideological offenses are very vulnerable to game-planning. They are theoretical constructs, and opposing coaches can scheme out theoretical answers, or sometimes find extraordinary individuals who can ruin the scheme.

Kelly’s approach is like a tailored suit, compared to these off-the-rack Men’s Wearhouse jobs. The problem is, you can’t lend a tailored suit to a friend and expect it to fit. And that’s what it looked like in the last three games. Despite spasmodic success, Nick Foles and Matt Barkley were wearing Michael Vick’s custom offense, and it didn’t fit right. That offense was designed to maximize running, with Vick’s breakaway threat and 11 personnel all designed to spring LeSean McCoy for big gains. With Vick it was great, but on Foles the sleeves were too short.

To my eye, the Raiders game was the first time Chip tailored his offense to Foles. We saw a lot of 12 personnel for the first time all year, and six different receivers caught passes on the first drive alone. Bryce Brown may have figured something out, but it’s also possible that this new approach opened things up for him. LeSean only got 44 yards running — plus another 36 by air mail — but in case you didn’t notice, the passing game seemed to improve a little.

So why didn’t Chip make this change in the three previous games? It’s not as simple as that. With Chip’s approach, you can’t just change up on a dime. It’s very important to him that his teams play instinctively, not in their heads. We all know that’s more effective, but Kelly has made a (sports) science of making it happen. And that begins with practice, practice, practice. Reps in practice, reps in games. That’s the only way to execute a play at top effectiveness.

If you merely learn a play and are thinking about it on the playing field, you’re not going to succeed. Kelly and his assistants don’t even coach players on game day, if they can avoid it — that is reserved for weekdays. The coaches do the thinking, and call in their plays. The players job is just to execute them.

So when Chip complained about quarterback instability, he meant that he wasn’t sure how to practice his team, who to plan for and practice with. When he can do that, the results are impressive. Yes, the Eagles had a record-setting pass attack yesterday, but it felt organic — not some manic “Air Raid” blitz, but patient and balanced playcalling (starting with a Nick Foles run) that perfectly exploited the situation.

In my book “The Tao of Chip Kelly,” I quote the ancient Chinese sage Zhuangzi, who says “When the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten.” You become one with the shoe and move effortlessly together. Today, everyone is talking about Nick Foles and how good he looked yesterday. No one is noticing the tailor who fitted out his suit, and that’s fine with Chip. He has shifted to Foles going forward, and everyone’s looking pretty sharp.

Mark Saltveit’s book, “The Tao of Chip Kelly,” will be republished in a new, expanded version by Diversion Books of New York later this year. You can still get a soon-to-be-rare first edition online at www.chipkelly.tv, and at Doylestown Books, the Joseph Fox Bookstore in Rittenhouse Square, Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr, and the Spiral Bookcase in Manayunk.

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Great stuff as usual.

Mark was able to attend the game in Oakland so he’ll be doing a write-up on that and offering some good insights.

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  • http://YoBitch.com/ Enslaved Meth Cook

    great post… one of your best!!

    even tho u didnt write it.. lol

  • Mac

    Very nice analogy, and smooth writing style.

    @ Mark, when can we expect you to roll out a line of sunglasses?

    • Mark Saltveit

      Um, what? I don’t think I know the reference. First time Tommy called me a hack, though, which is a big milestone. I still hate PBR though.

      • nicolajNN

        A while back the site had some problems with spam(or so Tommy claims), the content of this was usually cheap sunglasses and lasik surgery

        • Mark Saltveit

          Ah! Makes sense — you’ll need cheap sunglasses to cover up the effects of your cheap lasik surgery.

  • Chippah

    Always good to hear from you, Mark. Any other wrinkles from Oregon we might look for with Foles in the driver’s seat?

    • Mark Saltveit

      Good question. Nothing especially comes to mind, though Chip experimented with a lot of multi-tight end looks in the preseason which could arise. I’m not an Xs and Os guy especially, but I’d think about basic differences — what plays does Foles’ height open up?

      Vick tends to stare down his receivers, Foles doesn’t, so various passing plays may be smarter now. 2 back looks, maybe DeSean and LeSean going opposite directions, so 1 can fill the role Vick did by running? Or LeSean and Ertz/Cooper. Cooper surprised me with his speed on that screen pass.

      I’ve been looking for Damaris in that TAZR role De’Anthony Thomas has played at Oregon, ranging from WR to back to slot, various pitches, screens and motions. Maybe LeSean doing that, especially if they fill the box on him. Just speculating here.

      • knighn

        Thank you for your article! Informative and interesting – can’t always have those two together! We Eagles fans are blessed to have Chip Kelly as our coach and to have knowledgeable Chip Kelly fans (and writers) on board!

      • Chippah

        I’d love to see someone take over the TAZR role but Damaris doesn’t seem thick enough. He’s even smaller than DeSean.

        I’ve also been thinking about your article on the long chess game, setting up plays for weeks and months. I feel like Chip is holding back a lot of his playbook so he has new ideas and schemes to break out near the end of the season… maybe even next season or the year after. Thoughts?

        • Mark Saltveit

          If I knew something secret, I wouldn’t tell. Luckily I don’t. But Chip is just as likely to plant a play to make you waste time preparing for it, as he is to spring something new. As he has said, no one has invented anything truly new in football since the 1950s (or the 1890s, depending which day he says it.) Especially in the NFL, they’ve seen it all.

          But you can’t prepare for everything. Which one is he practicing behind closed doors? The 3 tight end look? An unbalanced line, with both tackles on one side? The Emory and Henry play?

  • TheRogerPodacter

    liking the guest writers here at Iggles Blitz. hope to see more of it in the future.

    side note: hoping to see less of the “meet singles age 40+” ad on the side of the page. that lady leaning over the weight bench is really throwing me off.
    god i hope these ads aren’t tailor made for me, that would be funny…

    • ACViking

      TRD:

      Looks like the adds have shifted to the Dominican demographic.

      Or maybe it’s just me.

    • Tom33

      I’ve got United Airlines and Minivan ads on my page. Your life sounds a lot more fun than mine!

      • Homer Frizzell

        I’m using firefox so have all of them hidden. Shhh.

    • Mark Saltveit

      Probably my fault. I’m 50ish, and talk about online dating a lot in my standup comedy act. Sorry.

      • ACViking

        Would that also explain the young Dominican women I’m now seeing on my screen?

        • Mark Saltveit

          I wish.

    • SteveH

      I get Dominoes ads. Somehow the computer knows about my pizza loving ways.

    • Christopher Miller

      Lucky! I just get ads to thank some talking head politician for fighting obamacare and to join a gym (presumably so I can avoid obamacare by being fit). Can we trade?

      • Michael Winter Cho

        WTF!? I get ads titled “Male Gamers Only” that have pictures of scantily clad pirate girls or warrior chicks. Actually, that’s not bad, I guess.

        • TheRogerPodacter

          lol yea i get those pretty often too. its not the worst ad you can get haha

    • Mac

      **bad news Roger, mine is for straighttalk wireless.

  • Steven Steiner

    I am looking forward to reading his take about the Raiders game. I had to finally break down and buy the Kindle version of the Tao of Chip Kelly – I need to find out more. The link in the article is wrong, says http://www.chipkelly.com but I think Tommy meant to put the thetaoofchipkelly.com – nice job getting Mark, Tommy. I love to hear his Oregon vs. Philly insights on the team.

  • ACViking

    Re: So it’s true . . . there’s a new gunslinger in Philadelphia

    MS wrote:

    “He [Chip Kelly] has shifted to Foles going forward, and everyone’s looking pretty sharp.”
    _________________

    Mark —

    Are you opining that Chip Kelly has now pushed all his chips [sorry] to the middle of the table to bet big on Foles as his QB for the final 7 games?

    Or are you hedging?

    • Mark Saltveit

      Thank you! (I also write at BGN and FishDuck.) I trust Chip when he says he takes it week to week. Vick WAS the clear winner of the competition, but then he got hurt. No point in thinking past the next opponent. So, not ALL of his chips, but my sense is that he will focus on Foles for his game planning until something big changes. He said, joking that Foles could take over with 100 for 100 with 26 TDs, and Nick is not that far off. Probably easier to switch a Foles-focused offense to Barkley, too.

      • ACViking

        Interesting.

        Do you think the wiggle room he’s left for himself is unsettling to the team? The QBs? Is there always a competition going on with the QBs . . . who I’m not sure are as interchangeable as OGs? Or does “my starter” in September mean, once healthy after an injury, “my starter” in December — regardless of the sub-QB’s performance?

        • GEAGLE

          I think Vick is done…y? Because that’s what Jeffry Lurie said, and he never says anything at all. It was a calculated statement that the Eagles wanted to get out and use Lurie as the messenger

        • BlindChow

          From all accounts the players have enormous respect for both quarterbacks, and my guess is they appreciate Chip not (publicly) throwing Vick aside while he’s still injured, which could be embarrassing for Vick (and even Foles, if he bombs again).

          I think as long as the quarterback who’s playing is handling his duties in practice and on the field during games, they’re not going to have any problems. Especially if he’s breaking records while doing it.

          • Mark Saltveit

            Good perspective. Can’t see anything I disagree with.

        • Mark Saltveit

          Not really. Seems like common sense — if there’s not competition on some level, you’re basically saying “You get to start no matter how badly you suck.” which would be crazy. I think CHip has shown that it’s not hair trigger, he sticks with players and has not substituted anyone during one game for playing poorly, though Foles arguably deserved as much against Dallas.

          In my book I talk about DeAnthony Thomas’ first game, as a true freshman against #5 LSU on national TV, he fumbled twice on consecutive touches and clearly cost them the game. Chip wouldn’t criticize him, left him in the game, played him next game, and he became a star.

          Chip’s not disloyal. But also, no favorites, no tenure. He’s going to play the best player game to game and really, what other system would you want? If someone else is clearly playing better, how can you not play them?

  • ACViking

    Re: Where’s that Tommy Lawlor?

    Hey, T-Law . . . .

    It’s been a few weeks.

    I just want to offer my (irregularly spaced) thanks to you, again, for sustaining and expanding the best Eagles community outside of the Linc.

    What a treat this place is.

    • TommyLawlor

      Thank you for being such a key part of the community atmosphere.

    • Philip Soloninka

      I would argue the community here is 100% better than the one at the Linc.

  • Baloophi

    Congrats, Mark, on the republishing!

    RE: “When the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten.” Darkly ironic that this adage comes from the same place that – centuries later – would embrace foot binding as a cultural norm.

    • TommyLawlor

      I didn’t even think of that. Irony can be pretty ironic.

    • Mark Saltveit

      Great observation. I bet those bound feet were never forgotten though.

  • GEAGLE

    I enjoyed this article..although I do think people noticed the changes this week in Oakland even if Chip liked to pretend there was nothing new..

    Reading this article I assume you cringe everytime you hear an “analyst” say: “I think Nick will be a really good QB in this league, I just don’t think it will be here”

    It drives me insane…as if QBs who can analyze NFL defenses presnap, and know how to exploit it thru your playbook, and then deliver the ball accurately while you stand tall in the pocket under pressure grow on trees…this notion that if Nick becomes a good QB, that Chip will trade him because he doesn’t run fast enough is absurd..people that say that shouldn’t be paid

  • austinfan

    So why start the season with Vick?

    I think Chip felt that was an easier transition than having a young QB master both the nuances of NFL football and the nuances of playing for Chip. His
    “passing” offense is more complex than his “running” offense, in that a
    young QB has to make some bang bang decisions, and as we saw with
    Barkley, those decisions can result in turnovers. For Vick, because the
    run option was far more viable, it meant he could avoid having to make
    tough throws by pulling the ball down. A QB who can’t present a running
    threat must be an excellent “Chip” (i.e. repetive accuracy, good
    decision making) passer to survive – and that’s asking a lot of a young
    QB in the first year of the offense.

    • Mark Saltveit

      I think Sopoaga made sense at the nose tackle at the start of the season, too. But Logan, Cox, etc. superseded him.

  • eagleyankfan

    No comment. Nice read.

  • Pennguino

    Great perspective Mark. To quote Will Smith “The difference between you and me? I make this look good.”

    There are no physical WOW attributes on Foles. No cannon arm. No 4.4 legs. No ankle breaking jukes. Just good old boring efficiency. If he can keep up the cerebral part of it and translate it to his play, then I will take A Beautiful Mind for a thousand Alex.

  • DaO_Z

    great article and insight….

    up until you referred to yourself in the 3rd person in the last paragraph…j/k..

    • Mark Saltveit

      Is your login “Da OZ”, or “Dao Z”?

      • DaO_Z

        Da O.Z. …. the Oh Zee

  • Scott J

    Interesting perspective.