I don’t think anyone would dispute the success of the Eagles offense in 2013. Chip Kelly brought in his up-tempo attack from Oregon and delivered great results. The Eagles set a franchise record for points in a season. LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing. Nick Foles had one of the highest QB ratings in NFL history. And on and on and on.
It hasn’t started yet, but something tells me that we’ll see more than a few “the NFL will figure out Kelly’s offense” articles this offseason. There were skeptics last year. They were proven wrong, but the group can now twist their initial doubts and focus on the idea that NFL coaches will be able to shut down the Eagles since they’ve seen the offense.
That notion is wrong.
Kelly’s offense isn’t based on trickery. It does involve options, which people mistake for trickery.
On a given play, the QB will have the option to hand the ball off or keep it, to throw a quick screen to the outside or to hit the TE over the middle with a pop pass. That’s not a trick play. Kelly doesn’t have players doing unorthodox things. He simply has designed a play where the QB has multiple options. The theory is that there should always be a hole in the defense. It is up to the QB to make the right read and get the ball to that person quickly.
Heck, even the RB has options. He can run the ball to the playside or cutback. Again, this isn’t a trick. That’s basic football. If the defense is too aggressive, they can get burned on the backside.
Kelly does mix in some tricks. The OL line up to the outside at times. He uses unbalanced lines. The Eagles lined up DeSean Jackson in the backfield. They ran one reverse. They had Brad Smith at QB for a couple of plays. The tricks are few and far between. The base offense is built on old school principles. Let’s run the ball. Let’s find a mis-match and exploit it, whether in the run game or passing game.
Defenses can’t really solve Kelly’s offense. They can beat it. They can stop it. But not solve it. If executed properly, the Kelly offense should have a favorable matchup on just about every play. That’s because of the options.
This isn’t the same thing as Peyton Manning going to the LOS and calling an audible. If you can figure out his signals, you can get a big jump on his offense. Peyton is making the read before the snap. Kelly has his QB making the read after the snap. Obviously the QB looks at the defense before the snap to get an idea of where he should go, but he’s going to react to what the defense does after the snap.
Defenses can stop Kelly’s offense by controlling the LOS. It is crucial for Kelly to have a good OL. That allows him to use his skill players as runners and receivers, not blockers. You saw Stanford do this to Oregon in 2012. They won the game up front. Marcus Mariota didn’t have a chance to use the options on a given play due to pressure.
Defenses that can play tight man coverage can make things tough on the Eagles. That takes away most of the quick screens and limits the QB’s options on a given play. Kelly has adjustments for that, but none are as effective as the quick screen.
One concern that there could be with Kelly’s offense is how it would function with backups. The Eagles got lucky this year that 3 of the top 4 WRs stayed healthy. The top 2 TEs stayed healthy. Shady stayed healthy. All offenses suffer when starters go out, but some fare better than others. The Eagles offense was terrible vs Dallas and the Giants, when there were issues at QB. I know we saw some bad games with backups running the Andy Reid offense, but 3 points in 2 games is pretty darn awful. Let’s hope that won’t be the case in the future.
Kelly and the coaches will make some adjustments to the playbook for 2014. They have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. They might also have some new ideas, from watching other teams or talking to other coaches. Kelly tweaked his offense at New Hampshire and Oregon. No matter how smart the guys he went up against, Kelly always stayed a step ahead of them.
Kelly is a very smart coach and his ability to adapt and come up with moves and counter-moves has helped him to remain one of the leading offensive minds in the game of football.
It will be very interesting to see how the 2014 offense looks. Will it be even better? Will defenses slow it down? There are no guarantees that the Eagles will put up the same kind of numbers, but I think the notion that defenses will solve the offense are way off the mark.
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I want to make one other point in regard to the Broncos and Eagles. Peyton Manning made some players look like major stars. Clearly those guys aren’t all at that level. This is especially true of the OL. Without LT Ryan Clady, who is a top player, Denver got exposed. They weren’t able to block the DEs for long. Most of the year Peyton was able to throw the ball to open receivers or at least dump the ball off to a shallow receiver. Those guys got RAC yards. Seattle pressed and didn’t let the receivers get open quickly. When they did play off and the Broncos caught the ball on short routes, Seattle closed to the ball immediately and eliminated RAC yards.
The Broncos simple formula for great offense was undone because of poor blocking more than anything. I think the lack of a speedy receiver also limited them. Denver has big guys, but Seattle has big DBs. That matchup hurt most teams, but not the Seahawks.
The Eagles have a nice balance with Riley Cooper and DeSean Jackson. They can be big or fast. I’d love to see Coop and Jeremy Maclin return so we could see just how good that group could be.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The slot receiver in the Kelly offense isn’t a typical slot guy. Mac, Coop and DJax could all share that role. This offense could use all 3 guys together and it would be a natural fit. I hope we get to see it.