In Chip Kelly’s first NFL game, the Eagles threw a highly innovative offense at Washington – with lots of read-option plays, unbalanced offensive lines, and even an Emory and Henry play – and they dominated the Redskins, especially in the first half.
Philadelphia’s game two offense was much more normal, and the Eagles lost. They passed 37 times and ran only 20, a typical NFL ratio. By Sheil Kapadia’s count, the Eagles ran only 9 zone-read plays, compared to 49 in game one. They were in a standard "11 personnel" (with one tight end, one running back and three receivers) on 46 of 58 plays; two tight ends were deployed nine times, and three TEs only twice.
Worst of all, Chip attempted four field goals instead of going for it on 4th down, including a fourth and three situation and a fourth and two. As Nick Fierro of the Allentown Morning Call asked, when did Chip Kelly turn into Marty Schottenheimer?
Is Kelly abandoning his principles and innovations, suddenly gunshy now that he's on the big stage? Did he see the wisdom of all those naysayers, convinced that Oregon's offense will never work in the pros?
Never, no, and no. The fact is that Chip Kelly has been extraordinarily successful -- offensively -- in his first two games. His approach changed but the results were the same.
LeSean McCoy is currently the leading rusher in the NFL, DeSean Jackson is the leading receiver, and Michael Vick is third in QB passer rating at 119.0, trailing only Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. All three are on-track for career years.
After two games, the Eagles have run up 954 yards -- the 13th-best start in NFL history, in Chip's first two games. The problem is, they've given up 768 passing yards during that time, which is 6th-worst in NFL history. But the problem is not the offense.
Tommy Lawlor points out that "a crucial trait with great coaches is that they get star players to play at an elite level," something Andy Reid clearly did not do the last two years. It's less flashy than some whiz-bang tricky play, and brings less attention to the coach, but it's a great way to win. As I wrote in "The Tao of Chip Kelly," he has the courage to not be clever, when not-clever is what's going to win.
Chip Kelly is not some ideologue promoting zone-read offenses in all situations. He is a strategist, and the read-option, no huddle attack is only one of the weapons he has in his arsenal. It’s a very strong weapon that fits his players, but Kelly signaled from day one that he was going to adapt to the NFL.
To be precise, it was on day five of Kelly's new job -- January 21st, 2013, when the Eagles hired Pat Shurmur as his Offensive Coordinator. Many people were puzzled because Shurmur is not a "new age" zone read guy; he’s known for running a West Coast Offense.
Well, Chip didn’t need anyone to show him how to run the zone read, but he knows how successful WCO has been in the NFL. Hiring Shurmur showed his willingness to use those concepts where the matchup calls for it.
Kelly's offense adapts to the talent he has at hand, and to his opponents. At the University of New Hampshire, he ran a record-breaking passing attack built around quarterback Ricky Santos and receiver David Ball -- who broke Jerry Rice's FCS record with 50 career TDs. (Ball had a cup of coffee with the Eagles in training camp this year.)
In Eugene, Chip had LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner and no great QB until Marcus Mariota arrived his last year, so they favored the run over passing 2 to 1. But when California stacked the box against the Ducks last year, Mariota threw for 377 yards and 6 TDs. It's all situational.
If anything, Kelly's play-calling against San Diego should have been more conventional, running down the clock on that final drive. True, the fast pace is part of what works for Chip, and rhythm can be a key component of that. But once the Eagles got down to the Chargers 14 with two and a half minutes left, the FG was basically in the bag, so why not run and chew up time? Even if it failed?
Philadelphia passed more often on Sunday, but the run was still working for them; LeSean McCoy averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Ironically, the read option would have been the perfect play to fit a conventional time management strategy of running down the clock. Shady is always a good bet, and if his path is blocked, Michael Vick’s speed and deft execution of the zone-read mesh make him deadly in the red zone. Check out the hole he created on his touchdown run off a zone-read pull in game one.
Going forward, we can expect Kelly to change his strategy from game to game, and even from drive to drive. Now all he needs is a plan for how to patch the gaping holes in his defense.
Mark Saltveit is a staff writer for Bleeding Green Nation and FishDuck.com. His best-selling book "The Tao of Chip Kelly" has received rave reviews from coaches, players and sportswriters since its release in June. You can find it at better indie books stores including Joseph Fox Bookshop, Powells Books and the Oregon Ducks Stores, and online at Amazon and at http://www.chipkelly.tv/