Football season is getting closer. We’ve spent a ton of time this offseason talking about the Eagles players and what they can/can’t do. It is always good to mix in some X’s and O’s and remember just what the Eagles offense is all about.
Sheil Kapadia wrote a great post on the inside zone and what it means to the Eagles offense. It is really amazing how good Sheil has become at taking Kelly’s football concepts and breaking them down into simple terms so that everyone can understand them.
When Kelly made the jump to the NFL last year, the inside zone served as the foundation for an offense that set franchise records in yards and points. So there’s a good reason why Stoutland yells the same number for the same call over and over again during practice. The pre-snap communication has to be mastered. The footwork has to be flawless. The combination blocks have to be executed. And the second-level linebackers have to be driven down the field with authority.
“It’s something we work on every day,” said offensive tackle Lane Johnson. “It’s always gonna be our bread and butter.”
Johnson estimated that 40 to 45 percent of practice time for the offensive linemen is rooted in perfecting principles associated with the inside zone. Kelce doesn’t think that’s an exaggeration.
“I would say yeah, we really spend a lot of time on our double-team blocking with our offensive line coach and trying to make sure that our offensive line is working together,” he said. “That’s not really exclusive to that play in particular. We do that on a lot of different plays. But that play, especially against a four-down defense, there’s a lot of the double teams that come around and everything. It’d be hard to put a number on it. But we definitely spend a lot of time on it.”
Kelly despises labels. Last year he joked that the Eagles ran the “see-coast offense.” If they were to see something they liked that could help them score points, they would run it.
And to a large degree, that was true. It was one of Kelly’s biggest strengths in 2013: figuring out what the defense was trying to do and attacking its weaknesses. Some games that meant running more sweeps. Other weeks, the screen game was prolific. And throughout the entire first season, the Eagles did damage downfield, leading the NFL in pass plays of 20+ yards.
But Kelly also believes in having an identity on offense, in addition to the different tools.
“If you give your players something to hang their hats on, they will perform,” he said during a Nike Coaches Clinic in 2009. “If they can run the offense with any scenario they may face, you will be successful in running the ball. If they have all the answers to the problems the defense may give them, they will be good.”
Given that philosophy, it’s no wonder that his offense spends so much time on the inside zone.
“What’s special about the inside zone is that it can hit anywhere,” Mathis said. “It’s not necessarily designed to hit in any certain gap. If it’s wide open left tackle to right tackle, it can hit there. The blocking for it is more of a downhill, smash-mouth type blocking and getting on your guys quickly.
“We do it a lot so we get pretty good at it. At first, it took awhile. There’s a few of those blocks on the inside zone that took awhile to get comfortable doing. But over the course of the season, the more repetitions we got, the more we saw it on film, the more we learned the intricacies of the play. Our experience really came to help us.”
That is just part of the post, but gives you an idea of how good it is. Make sure to go read the whole piece.
The funny thing about Chip Kelly is that for all of his innovation (smoothies, music at practice, Sports Science, etc.), he really is an old school coach in a lot of ways. Kelly believes in the run game. He believes in running the ball to the inside. He stresses blocking more than any Eagles coach in decades. Whether you are a O-lineman, TE or WR, you will block in the run game or you will be replaced.
Kelly isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel. He is simply taking the wheel and presenting it in different ways to make it look different.
One of the reasons I don’t think people are going to shut down the Eagles offense in Year 2 is that Kelly isn’t running some gimmick attack. If you have a talented RB and good OL, you should be able to run the ball. You can do it from the I-formation, from a 2-TE set, a 3-WR set or however you like. Blockers block and the runner runs.
There is no “secret” for defenses to figure out so they can magically solve the Eagles offense. Certainly they can study it and look for trends or potential tips, but the offense is based on fundamentals and execution.
Defenses will have a better feel for the Eagles offense this year, but so will the Eagles. With better, more consistent execution, the offense could be even better in 2014.