As with most NFL teams who employ a new coach and coaching staff, we have experienced a variety of super highs and super lows through the first 9 games of the Chip Kelly era. The Eagles offense has gone from being one of the most prolific offenses in history, to being a bottom 5 unit, and one that forced Kelly to answer questions about whether his offense had been figured out. I suspect this will not be the end of a polarizing discussion to continue for the next few years on a week-to-week basis.
However, since we are coming off a dominating offensive performance where Nick Foles threw for 7 TDs, I figure I may as well ride the "How Do You Stop the Chip Kelly Offense?" discussion. Nick Foles Edition.
The first thing to understand about the Nick Foles offense is that, as we all know, by and large attempting to stretch the defense horizontally with the traditional read-option where Nick keeps the backside DE honest is likely not a foolproof long term strategy (Although its working much better than you might think. Idea for another post on another day). So how does Chip stretch the field horizontally without a super-mobile running threat to keep the defense honest?
This was on full display in the Oakland game. Check out the look below. This is the ideal defensive matchup that Chip Kelly is looking for when we run out our 11 personnel with an inside zone read with a packaged bubble screen at the bottom. The first thing is the pre-snap read. Nick sees 7 in the box, but more importantly a 3-2 matchup on the bottom of the screen with the Raiders playing off coverage. At this point, he can scrap the inside zone read and immediately gets the ball to the outside to Riley Cooper for a big gain.
However, heading into this game the "book" on this look was to beat the Eagles offense, you play 7 in the box and press man coverage on the outside. That was highly effective for the Giants and Cowboys against us. The box was loaded against McCoy, our receivers couldn't get open. But the one thing a lot of national writers forgot was that we had really, really crappy QB play in those two games. Furthermore, even with a 7 man box, we still can generally even those numbers out with a 6 man line running the read option. Unfortunately, our running backs didn't want to hit the hole against he Giants.
For that reason, I think it gave the media a bit of a false negative when it comes to Chip Kelly's offense to chew on. After all, if Seneca Wallace struggles against the Eagles this weekend and the Packers lose, does that mean Mike McCarthy's offense doesn't work?
Anyway, so here's what happened when teams played more man press with the 7 man box:
McCoy on a minimal gain into a 7 man box:
The Cowboys have taken away the bubble screen, and the only option is to run McCoy into a 7 man box:
Here's another. Nick has nowhere to go with the ball.
So that's it. Chip Kelly's vanilla offense has been figured out. Load the box and play press man on the outside. Chip NEEDS a mobile QB to run his scheme. Case closed.
Except a funny thing happen on that day in Oakland. What if, maybe, just maybe...Chip's offense wasn't so vanilla. What if, maybe, just maybe, Chip could think of some other ways to beat man coverage.
3 thing Chip revealed against the Raiders on that historical day:
1) Beat the defense downfield
2) Nick Foles' legs
3) The TEs and RBs have hands too
Let's start with the 1st one.
Beat the defense downfield
So we can play man coverage on the outside and one deep safety and Nick "friggin" Foles is not going to beat us, right?
Sunday was an epic day for Nick Foles. For all the talk about his noodle arm over the last 18 months or, Nick certainly quieted some critics and showed the requisite arm strength to be a legitimate NFL QB.
Man coverage on the outside. Eagles actually spread out 4 receivers, leaving a 5 man line and the Raiders have 6 in the box. One deep safety:
Single coverage on the top and Foles let's it rip. Riley is not yet open:
But Nick throws him open for a TD:
And another. This time it's Desean on the top of the screen drawing man coverage. One deep safety:
We'll take one-on-one man coverage any day against Desean Jackson, but the Raiders defender falls down, Easy TD:
So maybe press man coverage is not the kryponite for Chip Kelly's scheme. Note, these were only 2 of several plays Nick has made down the field this season in limited action. He also had the big bomb to Desean with a 2 high safety look and Riley's deep TD was a two high safety look. Needless to say, DCs around the league are going to start respecting Nick Foles' down the field ability.
Now I also think it's important to acknowledge that maybe this HOF-type game where Nick was lights out represents a false positive for the Chip Kelly offense. If bad QB play leads to a false negative, surely we have to acknowledge the other side of the equation. Nick can't be this good every week, so therefore the Raiders performance is not really representative of the Chip Kelly offense we'll see week to week. I think there is no question that Nick's deep ball success this year is unsustainable. But I think there is no question that he's done enough to strike some fear in opposing DCs around the league and forcing them to occasionally surrender the look that the Raiders did on very first screenshot at the top of this post.
However, Chip's using more than just the deep ball.
Nick Foles' Legs
Yeah. I went there. Nick Foles' legs are a weapon, and we've seen it a few times and eventhough it might be the least used tool on Chip Kelly's swiss army knife, if all other options are taken away, Nick can gain you some yards and first downs with his feet.
Take this play. Here's that pesky man coverage on the top thwarting the bubble screen. Nick has an inside zone read against a 7 man box. You see the unblocked edge defender numbered 1 in the shot below. Honestly, Nick probably makes the wrong read here are the defender stays wide, but he keeps anyway:
But watch him pump fake the defender and force him to leave his feet:
And Nick runs for a 1st down:
And then there is this. Double stack formation with a packaged bubble screen at the top and bottom of the screen. Inside zone read leaving an unblocked edge defender:
The edge defender crashes down on Foles and he wisely keeps:
Worst case, Nick is getting 5 yards on this run. But as the DB steps up to stop Foles, he flips it out to Cooper for 18. Run that play again in the future, and Nick might get even a bit more room to run as the outside defender forces the DB to stay honest. What are you going to surrender a 10 yard gain for the slow Nick Foles, or an explosive play down the sidelines?
Here's what I mean. Man coverage and Nick has a huge running lane to the outside. THe DB is covering Cooper and wisely sticks to him for fear that Nick is going to throw it if he leaves coverage:
But watch as he turns his back to a running Foles knowing he's the only defender that can get to him:
And Nick trots 10 yards for the easiest first down you are going to get in this league on 3rd and 10:
The TEs and RBs Have Hands Too
And now for the last bit. So you need to respect the deep ball, and believe it or not, you need to respect Nick Foles' legs. Anything else you should worry about? Well, if the Eagles spread you out like we've shown one of the matchups to really look for are your RBs and TEs who will more than likely get matchups on LBs and Safeties. This is an important match-up to acknowledge since one of the benefits of spreading out is you open up the middle of the field where your TEs and RBs can operate.
One of the things Chip started to do in the Tampa game to counteract the man coverage they were seeing was to start using more motion. More notably, motioning a "back" out of the backfield. I put back in quotes because sometimes that's been Desean Jackson out of a "2-back" set. But in the Oakland game, we started to motion McCoy out of an empty backfield.
Here's the man coverage with a 7 man box. But we'll motion McCoy out of the backfield to spread out the field
You'll see he's getting attention from the Raider with the red arrow who gets pulled out of the middle of the field.
But there's a coverage bust because the edge defender over Ertz also leaks out to McCoy and he's pulled out 2 defenders. Celek is running a corner route and grabs the remaining middle man in coverage. Check out the space opening for Ertz:
And then of course, there is the case where the Raiders don't cover a motioning McCoy at all:
Wide open. Easy TD.
One last related thing. One of the pleasant surprises of the Chip Kelly offense for me at least, is the implementation of the screen game into the Eagles offense. With such an athletic and mobile OL, we definitely have the personnel for a dominating screen game. To follow the theme of utilizing the TEs, but also clearing the middle of the field a last couple of plays to highlight before I call it a day.
Press man on a 2 deep look. Like above, we motion McCoy out of the backfield to the bottom of the screen:
Nick's going to look the safeties off to the bottom of the screen where we know have 3 eligible receivers. Celek is going to leak out for a screen. The Raiders defender in red is the key. He sniffs it out:
Fortunately for the Raiders the LB makes the right read, otherwise, look at the space in the middle of the field:
Celek gets dropped for no gain:
But that look is too irresistible for Chip so he goes back to it later:
Check out the great wall that forms in front of Celek:
The result is a big gain in the open field: