New Grantland: The New Old School: The Success of Chip Kelly’s Oregon Offense

It’s now up at Grantland, and I can safely say it’s the most definitive piece on Chip Kelly’s offense I’ve written:

Kelly’s anecdote about his old high school team suggests another possibility. Chip Kelly’s offense works not because it’s a gimmick, but because rather than choose sides between old and new, Kelly’s teams straddle history. Oregon is successful because it does well what good teams have always done well, albeit with a slightly more modern wardrobe.

“We spread the defense so they will declare their defensive look for the offensive linemen,” Kelly explained at that same clinic. “The more offensive personnel we put in the box, the more defenders the defense will put in there, and it becomes a cluttered mess.” Twenty years ago, Kelly’s high school coach ran the unbalanced, two–tight end power-I, so he could execute old-school, fundamental football and run the ball down his opponent’s throat. Today, Kelly spreads the defense and operates out of an up-tempo no-huddle so he can do the exact same thing.


Time will undoubtedly tell whether Kelly’s offense can work in the NFL, but my vote is that it will. It would require Kelly finding the right players, but a Chip Kelly–coached NFL team would win for the same reasons that the Chip Kelly–coached college team wins. Behind the speed, the spread, the Daft Punk helmets, and the flashy uniforms, Oregon ultimately wins with old-fashioned, fundamental, run-it-up-the-gut football. I think everyone, even fans of the spread offense, can appreciate that.

Read the whole thing. In addition, I’ve got some additional stuff I left on the cutting room floor that I hope to put on the site in the coming days.

  • Alex

    Hey Chris, I really enjoyed the read. But I have one complaint: all articles on Oregon talk about how tough they are to beat and how unsuccessful teams are. But teams have beaten them and I haven’t seen any deep analysis like this on why. What do the teams do successfully to beat Oregon? What did Auburn, LSU, and USC do to beat them?

  • Kevin Credible

    Hi Chris. Big fan of the site. I’m wondering to the “Draw It-Up” articles that used to appear on Grantland with some consistency. Haven’t seen too many this season, really enjoyed them on in-depth looks into certain plays. Thanks for all your hard work.

  • smartfootball

    Hi Kevin — They’ve been appearing but not always as “Draw It Ups,” and also my schedule has been extremely erratic. The result has been that I’ve still filed a number of shorter length pieces, but they’ve tended to be shorter “articles” than pure breakdowns. A couple of examples were my breakdown of some Peyton Manning plays for Denver and Alabama’s game winner vs LSU:

    I thought of those as “Draw It Ups” but they didn’t exactly fit the series. And, as I said, my schedule has been hectic so it’s been admittedly difficult to write with consistency. Hopefully I’ll have some regular times down the stretch here. Thanks for the kind words.

  • Josh Schlichter

    Auburn never really put a choke hold on Oregon’s offense, but Nick Fairley busted up a few key plays (i.e. the midline read where he just bullrushes Darron Thomas), Barner was held short of the goal line on 4th down, Thomas was rattled etc.

    Against LSU, a bunch of turnovers, and penalties deep in their own territory led to easy LSU scores.

    USC played to their full potential offensively, and put up their expected point total at 38 points (take away the phantom pass interference call, and the garbage time touchdown from SC this year and the Trojans fared the same as last year). Oregon had a blocked punt, a key fumble in the red zone, missed reads, etc.

    Bottom line: Mistakes. Missed opportunities and turnovers are all central to Oregon losses. Oregon’s biggest threat is itself.

  • NoHuddleAirRaidForTheWin

    Josh, I agree with this assessment. I would add that against Auburn, it appeared that Kelly pulled out several new formations, plays, and motions. On some of the plays, Thomas appeared to be uncomfortable making option reads. If they had practiced it the entire season and kept it under wraps, then I guess Thomas’ discomfort could be attributed to other issues. But if they only installed all the new stuff after the conclusion of the regular season, then I think it is possible that Thomas did not have enough practice time with it.

  • Cromulent

    1) It looks like on this play that MLB is executing what he thinks is a scrape exchange, no? Except there is no unblocked DL on this play.

    2) There is one guy I’d like to see match up against Kelly’s offense: Utah State DC Dave Aranda. I figure the only reason you haven’t done him yet is the Aggies are too low profile.

  • Josh Schlichter

    Right from the get go Thomas struggled with the two new formations. That might of been the last time Chip ever installs a brand new set of formations and concepts for just one game. Haven’t seen it since, and I doubt we will see those wishbone and full house formations any time soon.

  • Robert Johnson

    Oregon is awesome and their hurry up might cause theses mistakes. But what exactly are Wisconsin’s LB’s doing and why. I am sorry, but on that play that is just poor defense. They have everything covered if the LB’s just fill their gaps. All the gaps would be filled for the zone and the DE would have QB and the OLB would pitch. Form the picture it looks like Oregon has twins left. If that is the case, the slot could block the OLB, but the safety should be filling the alley by that time along with the rest of the team pursuing by the time they get to pitch. Since both LB’s scraped opposite the RB on the zone, the only thing I can figure is that they had the line slant one way, while the LB’s scraped the other. Except the line forgot to slant. Just odd, really odd.

  • Guest

    “Auburn never really put a choke hold on Oregon’s offense”.

    Eh? Auburn completely smashed Oregon’s ground game:

    James 13 49 0 14
    Barner 11 32 0 9
    Thomas 8 -6 0 5

    Now granted, Darren Thomas DID throw for quite a few yards so the offense wasn’t completely stopped, but they were still extremely fortunate to be in the game at the end. I recall Newton short-arming at least a couple of what should have been easy 3rd down completions, plus they fumbled late in the game.






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  • Josh Schlichter

    You won’t gain 200 yards against a top-flight rush defense in the first place, and as you said Oregon still passed the ball effectively in the NC game.