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Chip Kelly and the Vision Thing

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James Keane is concerned that the Eagles' defense lacks a clear identity. But Chip Kelly has had a lot to say on that subject.

Alan Crowhurst

In a recent article, James Keane makes the case that the Eagles' defense is suffering from Billy Davis' failure to define his vision for his unit.

That's ironic, because Chip Kelly has made a huge point of defining the vision for his teams throughout his career. He coined the term "Win the Day!" at the University of New Hampshire, where he was the Offensive Coordinator.

By the time he got to Oregon and became a head coach, he had boiled his vision down to four words: "Fast. Play Hard. Finish." (That's chapter two of my book, "The Tao of Chip Kelly." Literally. "Win the Day!" was chapter one.)

For Kelly this is more than just talk. In his talk at the 2011 "Coach of the Year" workshop, Chip told his fellow coaches that "When I took over at the University of Oregon, the first thing we had to find out was, 'What do we stand for?' ... People should be able to come, observe you, and in five minutes figure out what you stand for."

It's not clear if Kelly has the same exact vision for the Eagles. It seems like size is a bigger part of his program in Philadelphia, if for no other reason than it can be. Oregon has always had smaller players than USC, Stanford and the SEC, and they likely always will.

Chip's emphasis on speed at Oregon was shrewd, not only because smaller, faster players such as De'Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James are relatively undervalued, but because Oregon is a track and field superpower. Thomas picked Oregon in part because he is a gifted sprinter who went to the NCAA track championships this past year as one of three football players on the Duck's 4x100 relay team. (Oregon's overall track team placed fourth among men and third among women.)

In the NFL, though, Chip can have a team as big or bigger than any, just by saying so. Perhaps his new vision is "Fast. Big. What are you going to do about it?"

The defense might be a different story. There was no separate vision for the D, though it had a reputation as a "bend but don't break" unit. Oregon gave up plenty of yards, and always trailed in time of possession, but the the Ducks had a gambling defense that led the nation in net takeaways and was in the top 10 in red zone defense. That part seems to be a necessary counterpart to his blitzkrieg offense.

The clearest thing Billy Davis had given as a vision for Philly's defense is that they will disguise their looks, so that offenses won't know who is going to rush, for example. This is hardly a unique strategy in the NFL -- it's closer to common sense -- and worse yet, they seem to have failed miserably at this goal.

A common thread in the Eagles' three losses is that offense read what they are doing and call audibles or change the play to counter it. San Diego actually used a Bizarro World variation of Chip Kelly's no huddle offense to do so, rushing to the line to force the Eagle defenders to line up and show their look. Instead of snapping quickly though, they would let the clock run down while they figured out what play they wanted to run to counter it. Whether it's the no huddle slowdown or Peyton Manning's audibles, though, the flaw is the same: Philadelphia is telegraphing its defensive schemes in some way that other teams are easily reading.

Of course, part of Davis' problem is a basic lack of talent to implement the two-gap 3-4 that Chip clearly wants. Before the season began, both Kelly and Davis made noises about easing the drastic transition from the Wide-9 to the 3-4, perhaps via a 4-3 under, according to the talent available.

In practice, though, they have stuck with the 3-4 pretty rigorously despite some square pegs in those round holes -- neglecting Vinny Curry despite his evident success in the few plays he's been given, and sticking with Sopoaga when his only noticeable contribution has been throwing long passes in practice.

We don't know if Davis and Kelly have a vision they haven't announced, or if they're winging it. But clearly they are not living up to Chip's standard of a vision that anyone can figure out by watching the team for five minutes. And perhaps they'd be more successful on D if they did. There's a danger in a lack of clarity. As Chip once said, in a different context, "I think sometimes you can confuse yourself more than you can confuse them."