Note from the editor-in-chief: Each Tuesday during the season, I’ll write a column about some element of the weekend’s games that has major significance for the rest of the NFL season—this column, called “On Further Review.” Accompanying the column will be an embedded video featuring other impact events of the weekend. The first column centers on Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense in the wake of the Eagles’ 33-27 win at Washington Monday night.
What a fun night Monday was for the future of football. Unless, of course, you’re a fan of Washington, and/or its star quarterback, Robert Griffin III. Fun is more plays, more chances for scoring explosions. And in the first quarter, playing at breakneck pace, Philadelphia quarterback Mike Vick ran 30 snaps and put Chip Kelly in the forefront of American football innovation.
Will he stay there? Time will tell. Maybe an enterprising defensive coordinator will find holes in the Eagles’ offense, and find a way to break through the zone-blocking scheme protecting Vick to disrupt his play-managing and -making. Defensive coordinators always figure things out—just look how first-year Eagles coordinator Billy Davis frustrated Griffin Monday night.
Not to take a hard left turn in this story, but after one week of the season, I can tell you the most-anticipated game on the 2013 schedule, at least as of this morning, is Chip Kelly at Peyton Manning in 19 days. In altitude. Bring your oxygen masks for that one.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like this,” said Vick, the 33-year-old quarterback who took a beating Monday night. He’ll never last 16 games getting hit as much as he did in game one. “When the first quarter was over, I thought we were about to go into halftime. Unreal. The only thing I could tell myself was, ‘It’s going to be a long season.’ ”
A fun one, if this night is any indicator. Two favorite plays, both from the same series in the second quarter, from the Philadelphia’s win over rusty Washington at FedEx Field, in the first game of the Kelly Era:
• Split out on either side in two I-formations, with one receiver behind another. Jason Avant is in front of Riley Cooper on the left, DeSean Jackson behind Brent Celek on the right. At the snap of the ball, Cooper and Jackson turn to Vick and stare in anticipation for him to throw the ball. He doesn’t. Rather, he rides LeSean McCoy in a read-option play, handing it to him, and McCoy gains eight.
• Three plays later Kelly shifts the two tackles out wide, into the bunch formations on either side of the line. Now, instead of a five-man blocking line, there are only three linemen—the center and two guards—remaining to block the confused five-man Washington front. And Jason Peters (left) and Lane Johnson (right) are in three-man bunch sets to throw off Washington. It works. McCoy runs past the strangest formation he’s ever run behind for 10 yards.
In football, creating confusion can be a very good thing.
“This is stunning, Mike,” ESPN’s Jon Gruden said to play-by-play man Mike Tirico not long after that play, with tackles as receivers split wide, forced much finger-pointing and shifting and confusion by Washington.
Wish I’d said that.
I spent time with Kelly in training camp a month ago, and I found him surprisingly open-minded. “I’ve always been a ‘why’ guy,” Kelly told me that day. “The only thing I won’t accept is because that’s the way we’ve always done it. I think the one thing we’re very conscious of is, we don’t have an ego in our program. So it’s not: We are gonna do it our way no matter what and I don’t care what anyone else thinks. If it makes sense, and the science is behind it, we’ll do it.”
That’s how the team looked Monday night. In the first half, with Vick never huddling except at the start of drives or during penalties, the Eagles averaged 17 seconds left on the play clock when they snapped the ball. Only twice did the clock get inside 10 seconds. With McCoy eating up big chunks of yards—he had 115 rushing yards as the Eagles built a 26-7 halftime lead that could have been much worse—Philadelphia didn’t need Vick to be a bombs-away player. Don’t try to do too much is the mantra in the Philly offense. In fact, the Eagles were a 64 percent run team on the night. Not surprising if you’ve studied Kelly. His Oregon teams in 2011 and 2012 ran the ball on a combined 63 percent of their offensive snaps. This is not going to be a pass-happy offense, and Vick’s fine with that.
Kelly let his foot off the pedal in the third quarter when the Eagles had a 33-7 lead, and it sounds like he thinks he might have been too quick to go from attack mode. Asked if he eased up too soon, he said, “We may have eased. The clock’s always running at this level. It’s a different game than in college. We have a lot to learn.” That’s what I mean about being open to ideas; Kelly understands that any team that can play fast (and Washington can) is a threat even down 26 midway through the third quarter.
But when it was over, Jackson chest-bumped Kelly like he was one of the players. Owner Jeffrey Lurie gave the new coach a game ball. It was a good night, and Kelly remembered why he was there.
“It’s still a game,” he said. “We love playing football. We had fun out there tonight.” We saw.