QB Play in a Chip Kelly Offense

If any form of Chip Kelly's offense is going to succeed in the NFL, it will need to feature a QB with the ability to read defenses and recognize, pre-snap, where the offensive advantage lies.

Kelly mentioned he’ll start the QB that will make the right decision and deliver a catchable ball in less than 1.5 seconds. That might be Nick Foles. It's certainly not Michael Vick.

Vick has always struggled to read defenses and recognize mismatches. At the QB position, that’s a flaw no amount of athleticism can overcome. But there’s more to it.

In some cases, QB’s have an easy pre-snap read. Put Calvin Johnson on the field and the mismatch is apparent. Unless Randy Moss is playing cornerback, it's impossible for defenses to account for Johnson's size and speed. Rob Ryan found this out in October of 2011. The Cowboys secondary knew Johnson was going to get the ball and shifted to double and triple coverage. Johnson caught 8 balls for 96 yards and 2 touchdowns. Anyone can recognize the mismatch Johnson creates just by stepping on the field. As a QB, you just have to make the throw.

Igglesblog[1] described this aspect of offensive play calling and QB responsibility years ago. Addressing opposing defense’s inability to judge DeSean Jackson's speed, they described the Eagles offense as running one play over and over again. The play was called: have Jackson run somewhere, then throw him the ball.[2] Yep, pretty much. That's a mismatch Vick can recognize.

Other reads are more work. Wes Welker certainly has athletic ability—not trying to disrespect the guy—but doesn’t provide the same pure physical advantage at the line of scrimmage. Signed as a rookie free agent by Miami, size or speed-wise, they couldn't get him to outperform the defense and shipped him to the Patriots for a case of beer. Now he's consistently one of the NFL's most productive wide receivers. And it's not because of his physical stats. The Patriots have a QB with the ability to identify when defenses don't adequately account for Welker. If Gronkowski or Hernandez pull double coverage, or, if the linebackers show zone underneath, Brady recognizes the mismatch and delivers the ball. It’s the pre-snap read that allows Brady to zero in on the favorable matchup and shave seconds off delivery by skipping other progressions.

In terms of QB play, identifying physical mismatches doesn’t require the same amount of football IQ as indentifying schematic advantages. It also shouldn’t determine your choice of QB. Most NFL QB’s should be able to recognize that if Megatron pulls man coverage, once you look off the safety, you should probably just throw him the ball. I mean, people call him Megatron. In the same vein, Vick showed he could get the ball to Jackson once the physical mismatch took effect. LaRon Landry knows all about that.

Identifying scheme mismatches is where the level of QB play quickly separates. Names like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and even RG3 come to mind. If these guys get a good look at the intent of the defense pre-snap, they'll skip their regular reads and go straight to the matchup they like.

For Kelly and the Eagles, that's not Vick. Certainly not if Kelly intends to operate an offense premised on the QB's ability to read defenses pre-snap and option one way or another. How many times have we seen Vick walk to the line, look right at a blitzing corner and not make the adjustment? How many times has Vick thrown into double coverage, with the replay showing a single-covered, or worse, wide-open man down the other side-line. It's a mystery, but after being in the league for as long as he has, Vick simply can’t read a defense. He might have the ability to eventually escape the free blitzer, but scrambling around in the backfield isn't how the play was designed. And, yes, when the safeties are 25 yards off, he might audible to a run, but I doubt that's the level of recognition Kelly is looking for.

And I don’t think Vick can be reformed. In other words, Eagles QB coaching isn't to blame. Think back to prior QB's. There are many examples, but here's one that brings back good memories. In October 2006, the Cowboys defense called a corner blitz. The play resulted in an 87 yard touchdown to Hank Baskett. After the game, McNabb explained he saw the same look earlier in the game and indicated to Baskett, pre-snap, that if they sent the corner again, Baskett should break off the designed curl and streak the sideline instead. Doubt Vick would have caught that.

Foles has shown some promise in this area. For starters, he beat Tampa Bay by drawing a play in the dirt. There he had Avant run an improvised route because he noticed the linebackers were clearing out over the middle with that many WR's on the field. Brilliant. He’s had a few questionable throws, and he’s gotten lucky on others, but during the limited number of starts he's shown high football IQ for a rookie. Also, he moves well in the pocket, throws well on the run, even across his body, and had a 14 yard rushing touchdown against Tampa Bay. He might not move at Kaepernick speed, but he’s not immobile.

Unfortunately for Vick, it comes down to this; his athleticism will never overcome his inability to read defenses. And Kelly won’t trust his nuanced offense to Vick's pre-snap reads. He also can’t afford to pay starter money to a backup. Maybe the Jets are interested in a running QB.

In the meantime, there are plenty of slower, but successful QB's in this league. Give Foles a shot at the pre-snap looks and a 1.5 second delivery.

[1] Still miss those graphs.

[2] Jackson split the safeties for a touchdown against Dallas in September of 2008. Beat DRC for a touchdown in the 2009 NFC Championship game. Maybe the best, burned LaRon Landry on 1st and 10 against the Redskins in November 2012. Good times.

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