Chip Kelly was hired at
Florida UCLA over the weekend. It was a small shame that he wasn’t retained by the 49ers for this season, depriving everyone of a wealth of material to write or talk about prior to the Eagles playing the 49ers. (I had a really good tear down in mind, oh well.) Kelly might succeed back in the Pac-12, it’s a good gamble for both parties. For the Eagles, the decision to move on from Kelly and forward with Doug Pederson has been richly rewarded.
A lot of times when a coach is fired he is replaced by someone who is the exact opposite. Teams routinely fire a former “hot coordinator” and replace him with a retread, or vice versa. Offensive coaches are swapped for defensive coaches, and defensive coaches are replaced by offensive coaches. A hardass coach is replaced with a player’s coach, or in the Eagles case a heartless one was replaced by a coach with “emotional intelligence.” Often teams looking for “the next [insert name here]” and they almost always don’t get him.
In many ways, the Eagles finally got what they wanted when they hired Kelly, they just got it with Pederson. Some are well earned, some are things out of Pederson’s control, and some are superficial, but Pederson is getting spoils that Kelly didn’t get, or didn’t want.
Chip Kelly was supposed to revolutionize the NFL and create an efficient, high scoring big play offense that beat teams over the head week in and week out. In reality, his team was a series of moments of brilliance. In 2013 there was the debut against the Redskins, Nick Foles’ 7 TD against the Raiders, and the drubbing of the Bears on Sunday Night Football. 2014 had beatdowns of the Panthers and Titans and the 27-0 Sunday Night embarrassment of the Giants. Even the awful 2015 season had some laughers, the blowout of the Saints and the upset of the Patriots that ironically played a key part in Kelly’s dismissal.
But none of it lasted. Kelly’s offenses ran through LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson. When they were gone, the Eagles offense wasn’t threatening. In 2013 the Eagles offense was 3rd in DVOA, which slid to 13th in 2014 without Jackson, and 26th in 2015 without McCoy, and his 49ers offense was 23rd. In the red zone, they were 18th, 23rd and 15th in his three seasons in Philly. Chip Kelly’s teams were fun when they were good, but they weren’t the dominant, efficient offense Kelly was hired to install. And more than the final scores, Kelly’s offense devolved each year to the point where it became the most boring and predictable offense in the league. Without star players, his offense was unwatchable.
Pederson on the other hand is running the league’s best offense in 2017. Even last year, with the worst set of skill position players and a rookie QB, the Eagles offense was 20th in DVOA and 24th in the red zone last year. All things considered, a respectable showing, and on par with the worst of the Kelly era. This year, he’s tops in both. The Eagles are scoring 31.9 points per game, which would be the 13th greatest 16 game season in NFL history, tied with the 2009 Saints. They’re on a seven game streak of scoring at least 28 points. The talent upgrades at RB and WR certainly play a part, but Pederson’s offense doesn’t lean on individual players. Until Sunday, the team hadn’t had a 100 yard receiver, and they’ve only had two games where a player has caught multiple touchdowns, one each by Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery. The Eagles have run all over teams, but there too the distribution isn’t bunched. Corey Clement is the only runner with multiple TDs in a game and LeGarrette Blount is the only RB with a 100 yard game, which he’s done once. The team’s best pass catcher is Zach Ertz, and the offense scored 51 points when he was a late scratch against the Broncos. They haven’t missed a beat without the irreplaceable Jason Peters and Darren Sproles.
And then there’s the balls. The big balls. When Chip Kelly was hired he was expected to go for it on 4th down and for two points a lot, he was going to be the coach that finally went for it than fans across the NFL have been clamoring for. Here too Kelly was a dud. Pederson on the other hand had no expectation of being an aggressive coach, and if anything he was expected to be a timid one. Instead, he’s been the most aggressive coach on 4th downs, no team has gone for it on 4th down in the first three quarters than the Eagles under Pederson’s tenure. And in less than two years he’s already gone for two more than Kelly did in three years, even accounting for the Cowboys game where his hand was forced.
Even in the cosmetic stuff, Doug Pederson is just about everything Chip Kelly wasn’t. Kelly was criticized from just about every corner for getting pummeled in time of possession. In every season, including his year in San Francisco, Kelly’s teams finished dead last in time of possession. For some that meant nothing, for others it was meaningful. Those who killed Kelly for ceding the clock should be worshiping Pederson: under him the Eagles have been tops in time of possession.
Of the many reasons for Chip Kelly’s downfall, his personnel moves might be his most infamous. In his one year as GM he was an outright disaster, and his previous offseasons with significant personnel input and increasing control were awful. There’s no worry of that with Pederson, who has limited input in operations. Jim Schwartz appears to have more say in personnel than Pederson: the Eagles have signed five of his former players to just two of Pederson’s, both of whom were backup QBs. Chip Kelly wanted the keys and got them, Pederson seems content to not even be told where the keys are kept.
The Eagles wanted the opposite of the Chip Kelly era, and they got it. They got it by getting from Doug Pederson what they wanted from Chip Kelly.