Sean Payton and Drew Brees are the best coach-QB combo in the NFC. If not for the freaky Brady-Belichick duo, they’d be the best in all of football. Payton is the dynamic playcaller and gifted offensive mind. Brees is the brilliant, incredibly accurate QB that makes the offense come to life. That is a special duo. The Eagles would love for Chip Kelly and Nick Foles to become a similar combination to those two.
There is a bond that exists between a coach and a QB. This goes beyond getting along. The coach and the QB bring out the best in each other. The coach creates the right situations. The QB makes the right plays and does/says the right things off the field. It really is a unique relationship. Sometimes it is a fleeting thing. The QB happens to be the right guy at the right time (see Trent Dilfer and Brian Billick). Or it can last for a decade if you have special people. Joe Montana and Bill Walsh.
This doesn’t always have to be an offensive guy and a QB. Jimmy Johnson and Troy Aikman were perfect for each other. Jimmy wanted to run the ball and play defense. The passing game was there for big plays, but not to carry the team. Aikman as a franchise QB could have quibbled with this. He didn’t. Aikman never had more than 23 TD passes in a season. He never threw for more than 3,500 yards. But he ran the team exactly as Jimmy wanted it. And Jimmy knew that Aikman could make plays when called upon. He just happened to prefer feeding the ball to Emmitt Smith. Aikman was a very competitive, intense, disciplined player. He loved Jimmy’s hard-nosed style of coaching. Aikman wasn’t so fond of the successors who came in and were more player-friendly.
Chip Kelly and Nick Foles are off to a great start. They appear to be made for each other. More than anything else, Kelly wants a smart QB. He can work around mobility and arm strength. The one thing he must have is someone that plays smart.
Here are a couple of great articles on Foles and his sharp mind. Mike Sielski from the Inquirer spoke to a former NFL personnel executive and got a good story.
A former NFL player personnel director said in a phone interview this week that he has reviewed a psychological profile that Foles completed before the 2012 NFL draft. According to this person, Foles’ “quickness of learning was at the top of the scale.” That is, the profile suggested that Foles has a natural gift for understanding and mastering unfamiliar and/or complex concepts and systems.
“Let’s say you and I had the same Wonderlic score,” the former executive said, referring to the famous cognitive-abilities test that NFL teams use to size up college players. “Then we go into separate rooms and put the same math problem up. You get the problem solved in 38 seconds, and it takes me a minute and 25 seconds. That doesn’t mean you’re smarter than I am, but you’ve got the ability to process things faster.”
That sounds exactly like the kind of QB Kelly wants.
“You try to think, but not overthink,” Foles says. “I like feeling the game. I like reacting. There’s not, like, math problems going through my head when I’m dropping back. I’m recognizing the coverage; I’m seeing the defenders; I’m reading body language; I’m reading through the area.
“It’s like you’re looking at something, but you are not staring down anything,” he continues. “You are seeing the whole screen at once, and you are trying to react to leverage, depth, where the defenders are that can stop the play. You’re trying to make a read in one to four seconds.”
That’s a great description of playing QB. You’re glancing at chaos and trying to make a decision without truly focusing on one specific player or area. You don’t have time to stare at one guy. You have to anticipate. You have to feel things, with your eyes. This isn’t about gut instinct. It is about the ability to trust flashes that your eyes are processing in half-second intervals.
You know how radio stations will play one-second clips from a song to see who can guess it? This is the optical version of that.
Jason Avant is certainly impressed.
And while Vick steered Kelly’s new offense through its first five NFL games, Foles logged each of Vick’s live reps into what he likes to refer to as his mental “database.”
“That’s what makes him smart, is that a lot of people need experience to grow, but the best growth comes through instruction,” receiver Jason Avant says of Foles. “You can see someone else’s mistakes, and not repeat those. He just learned from Mike, and has taken Mike’s good, and discarded some bad.”
Growth comes through instruction? That sounds like Chip Kelly talking.
The Wall Street Journal had a terrific piece on Chip Kelly. I found this to be interesting.
To screen candidates for the head coach job, Lurie said he prepared a list of 100 questions. The questions ranged from “How would you deal with your offensive line after a poor performance?” to “What would you say to your team if you were overmatched because they didn’t expect certain plays to happen?” Most candidates offered earnest, predictable answers.
Kelly, however, answered almost all the questions with questions of his own: Why worry about a perfect run-pass balance? Why try possessing the ball for long periods of time when the goal is to score more points? Why should the kicking of an extra point be automatic? Why punt automatically? Why align the tackles in a balanced way? Why practice Wednesday, Thursday, Friday? Where’s the science behind that?
“There was obviously a philosophy of being inquisitive,” said Lurie, calling Kelly “someone who challenged the obvious.”
In the interview process, Roseman and Lurie said Kelly argued that strategy ought to be shaped to fit personnel, not to fit a coach’s philosophical beliefs or mirror his previously successful schemes.
So you’ve got a coach who is open to trying just about anything. You’ve got a QB who played in a pass-happy spread offense in college, the WCO as a rookie and and now a run-heavy zone read scheme in Year 2. That makes for an interesting combination. Kelly has run multiple systems over the years. Foles has played in multiple systems. Between them, they might to be able to create something special in Philadelphia.
So far, so good.