The Chip Kelly Era Takes Off

September 10, 2013 by Peter King
LeSean McCoy’s 100-plus yards at halftime and a run/pass ratio above 60/40 showed that while Kelly’s offense will play fast, it will do so primarily on the ground. (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
LeSean McCoy’s 100-plus yards at halftime and a run/pass ratio above 60/40 showed that while Kelly’s offense will play fast, it will do so primarily on the ground. (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

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.

Kelly is willing to try anything to confuse a defense, as his unusual sets flummoxed Washington. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Kelly is willing to try anything to confuse a defense, as his unusual sets flummoxed Washington. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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.

Start getting used to unusual sighting on the Eagles sideline. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Start getting used to unusual sightings on the Eagles sideline. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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.

.

Tuesday Mailbag

WHY NO WEEKLY PICKS? Will Peter be having his weekly picks put up on this site? I liked looking last year at who he predicted would win the weekend games.

—Michael

In the past few years, my picks have grown to an 800-1200 word column, where I try to be part informant and part wise guy in previewing the games of the weekend. I have some new duties with the new website. For instance, I have to do three videos per week that were not on my schedule a year ago. I have to edit stories, which was not part of my job a year ago. And I have to write an additional Tuesday column, which is different from the column I had to write a year ago and requires more reporting. So, at some point, I had to make choices. Originally I wasn’t going to do my mailbag each week, but because so many people wanted me to do that, we decided that I would do that as the second part of my Tuesday column. I’ve had a few people tell me in the last few days that they really miss my picks. I don’t know why—I stunk at it. Maybe that’s why. Maybe its fun to see how bad I am at predicting the outcomes in the sport that I cover.

* * *

DON’T JUDGE THE BOLDIN DEAL YET. Don’t you think the title of Monday’s MMQB column, “Anquan Boldin has the Last Laugh,” is extremely premature? It was you who wrote about the defensive players the Ravens were able to add in the offseason solely because of the money they saved by dealing Boldin. I don’t think Ozzie Newsome was sitting at The Castle watching Boldin have a monster game against a very suspect Green Bay defense thinking “Man, I wish we had him for the final year of his contract and not Elvis Dumervil for the next five years.” Especially considering Terrell Suggs’ contract expires soon, and he’s the Ravens only other proven pass rusher.  Boldin had a great game, and the receivers for Baltimore had the complete opposite, but it was one game.  Let’s see who benefits most from that transaction in a few years from now, not after one game. 

—Ryan

I don’t write the headlines to the column, and I didn’t write this one. I will say that the intent of my item was not to tweak the Ravens, but simply to say that it has been my contention all along that Boldin certainly was worth $6 million a year, and he began to prove that on Sunday.

* * *

WEEK 1 WAS SLOPPY. During the Sunday night game yesterday, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth made reference to something about the CBA requiring either less intense or less frequent practices, which could account for a lot of the sloppy play we all saw in the Week 1 games. Is there any truth to this, and do you think it had an impact?  Or do you think we just saw a lot of cobwebs being cleared out in the first games of the season? Obviously player health is a critically important part of the game, but does the new CBA go so far as to dilute the game by making it harder for coaches to prepare their players?

—Chris

I definitely think there is something to it. I think more important than new practice schedules is the fact that so few teams practice tackling or play physically during training camp. That means that for many players on Sunday, they may have only had 15 to 20 plays all summer—meaning plays during preseason games—where there was actually tackling. I think the poor play in Week 1 was more related to the lack of tackling and physical practices than the fact that teams can practice less now than they could before the 2011 CBA.

Talk Back

Have a question or comment for Peter? Email him at talkback@themmqb.com and it might be included in next Tuesday's column.

QUESTIONING MIKE MCCARTHY. Before the penalty-enforcement debacle in the Green Bay-San Francisco game, Mike McCarthy accepted a five-yard illegal motion penalty instead of declining and having San Francisco face a 4th-and-1 from inside its 10-yard line. I also believe it was a full yard that needed to be gained, not a short yard. If he thought it was very close, why not ask for a measurement to take some time? To me that was a critical mistake. He wasn’t going to push the 49ers out of field goal range—it was a chip shot even if Kaepernick takes a sack on the 3rd-and-6. He gives a mobile quarterback, who is also hot, another chance at the TD/first down without facing a fourth-down conversion. I believe Jim Harbaugh takes the field goal there (though I could be wrong; he is very aggressive). If he doesn’t, you have a shot to stop them on 4th-and-1. I don’t think I’d take a 10- or 15-yard penalty in those circumstances, but definitely not a five-yarder. Thoughts?

—Michael

I agree. I do think that was a mistake by McCarthy, and if he had to do it over again he would have made a different call. Good catch.

* * *

THE SAINTS RECEIVERS JUST GET IT DONE. After watching the antics and listening to the nonsense of diva wide receivers all these years, I take a look at the Saints wide receivers and see Marques Colston (seventh-round pick), Kenny Stills (fifth round) and Lance Moore (undrafted) as the starters for an attack that rolls up passing yards at a near-record pace year in and year out. It seems the lesson for wide receivers should be: Unless you’re Calvin Johnson or Randy Moss, keep your mouth shut and find a good quarterback.

—Rick

Part of that, I think, is that Sean Payton is not going to stand for a bunch of nonsense from any player mouthing off on his team if it interferes with how the player plays. But you’re right. I think most people in America are tired of diva antics, and want to see guys behave like professionals.

* * *

JUSTIFYING TEBOW. You mentioned in your column, “Tebow can have a role as a changeup quarterback on a winning team.” Why would any winning team want to take a winning quarterback off the field and put someone like Tebow in? He’s not an everyday quarterback; he’s a circus, period.  Would you take out Tom Brady for a series for Tebow? Would you take out Drew Brees for a series for Tebow? Would you take out Matt Ryan for a series for Tebow? Would you take out Aaron Rogers for a series for Tebow? I think you get my point. What are your thoughts?

—Johnny

More Week 1

Greg A. Bedard breaks down four plays that were keys to victory for the Bears, Seahawks, 49ers and Colts in The Inner Game.

Simple. Say you have a pocket quarterback. You decide as a coach that you want to work on the two-point conversion play, when the ball is snapped from the two-yard line. You have a spread offense in the game, with four receivers. You put Tebow in the shotgun. You have a running back, and Tebow thus has six possibilities when he gets the ball at the six-yard line. He has the four receivers, the running back, and himself. This is a guy who is a 245-pound battering ram right now. If you don’t think that in short yardage or on a two-point conversion play Tebow would be a good weapon, I would respectfully disagree with you. That’s where I think Tebow would help a winning team win more.

* * *

FOULED UP ON THE FALCONS. The Cardinals lose to the Rams and you have them ranked in your Fine Fifteen. Baltimore gets steamrolled on national television and they are ranked as well. Atlanta loses a nail-biter on the road to a motivated and rejuvenated Saints team and they don’t make the cut? What have you done for me lately indeed, Mr. King…

—Anthony

I blew it. Atlanta should definitely be in the Fine Fifteen. My mistake, and I will be more careful from here on out.