Studying the Raw Materials of Chip Kelly’s Up-Tempo Offense

With Chip Kelly going to the Eagles, there’s been much hand wringing about whether Chip Kelly’s offense will work in the NFL, whether he’ll bring it to Philly verbatim, and so on. I honestly don’t know the definitive answer  — I am not sure Chip does — but I’m certainly looking forward to watching. Nevertheless, I expect Kelly to evolve his offense and, more importantly, tailor it to the personnel he has in Philadelphia. But whether it will work will probably be as much a function of things unrelated to the offense, like the mastery of the roster, drafting and salary caps, his ability to coach, train and teach professional versus college players, and how he generally adapts to a pro game that is in many ways just different. But, knowing how bright Chip is, I have a difficult time believing that it will be schemes — and certainly not from too much fidelity to a certain scheme — that does him in.


I guess I need a new visor

Unfortunately, much of the analysis around these questions is exceedingly weak, because there is such little knowledge of what Kelly actually does. I wrote a lengthy piece this fall centering on Kelly’s actual philosophy and approach, and I think that perspective is the right one to start from, as his individual schemes have always evolved at Oregon and undoubtedly will even more so in Philadelphia. But if you want to really know how his offense works, there is no substitute for study, and in football study begins with the film. That’s what his opponents have had to do, and they almost universally come away impressed. That includes Monte Kiffin, the former Southern Cal foil and now defensive coordinator for in-division rival Dallas Cowboys:

Monte Kiffin, NFL defensive coaching legend, was standing at the top of the ramp outside the Coliseum late Saturday, about an hour after his USC Trojans fell to the visiting Oregon Ducks 53-32; in the process, Kiffin’s crew had given up 599 yards to Chip Kelly.

Kiffin was trying to assess the mind-boggling precision of the Ducks’ offense that he had witnessed first-hand and was in midsentence praising how “innovative” Kelly is when the Oregon coach happened to walk up behind him to shake his hand as he made his way to the Ducks’ bus.

Kiffin, caught off guard, smiled, and told Kelly “good job” and came right back to talking about how impressed he was by what these Ducks can do. It’s hard not to think that Kelly must seem like he’s in a lot of defensive coaches’ heads.

“That guy is such a good coach,” the 70-year-old Kiffin went on to say as he watched Kelly exit the Coliseum. “I respect him so much just from watching their tape. It’s the discipline they have. The offensive line does a great job. The receivers do a great job of downfield blocking. They don’t beat themselves very often.”

“I mean, you’re hanging in there, but then they just get you. You get a lot of guys up to stop the run and then, they play-fake. You can’t get beat like that. Arizona State played them like that and they get four or five big plays. I don’t think it’s so much the tempo, it’s really just that they execute so well.”

The first place I’d recommend going to learn more about the offense, particularly for those with a comfort in independent film study, is this page at Brophy’s site. He has all-22 game film cut-ups, organized by play and pass concept, from a few years ago for almost all of Chip’s offense.  It’s an excellent resource. (I would pay particular attention to the passing game, as if there’s anywhere that I think Chip will need to develop his offense it is there.) On the flipside, Coach Hoover has an excellent series on defending Oregon’s offense, particularly from a 4-3, a subject that also will be much discussed all offseason.

From there, I highly recommend much of the analysis at FishDuck, an Oregon site which has spent the past several years doing film breakdowns of Chip’s offense. Some of the information is slightly outdated — Chip began adjusting the alignment of his backs more often so as to not give away the play, though as stated in the article he usually built up keys and tendencies in order to set up defenses for later and break open a big play — but there’s probably no better introduction to the nuts and bolts of Chip’s attack than the following. Happy studying.

  • mike Jordan

    I was re-reading Chris’ book on the section about Wilfork and 2-gapping. I wondered with all the zone reading in the college game and increasingly in the pros will that increase the need for more two gap players?

    Wouldn’t more two gap players be better suited to occupy the gaps and allow extra men take the quarterback without having to actually put more people in the box?

  • All I know is, If I read one more ill-informed sportswriter op-ed breezily dismiss all read-option and spread offenses because of “Wildcat, harrumph” then I’m gonna go crazy. Colin Kaepernick could put up Manziel/Cotton Bowl numbers in the Super Bowl and a significant portion of the NFL media would proclaim that defendes are just too fast for the offense to work.

  • mike Jordan

    Makes me sick as well. Or when they say “Just hit the qb”,”Just bring 8th man in box”

    Then they show a highlight of an 8 man box forcing the give go for 30 yards smh. The only reason I would want SF to win is to justify in media’s eyes how the read option game is a sound concept.

    I wish Chris could go on their and tell Jaws, Merril Hodge, and everybody on that network the deal (Nfl network as well). The pistol is formation that’s all, and the zone read concept is sound concept that, just like any other concept.

    However, I still would like to know if 2 gap teams would fair better. I may have read his explanation of it in his book wrong. But from what I understand a 2 gap player can control 2 gaps. So I would think if the 2 gap player is “good” enough they can leave those gaps guarded by one man take a lb who in 1 gap system be assigned one of those gaps and take the qb.

    I am sure finding a 2 gap player to do this is easier said then done but I wonder is a sound concept or idea?

  • thestage

    a 2 gap lineman is essentially just playing a man instead of a space. his job is to occupy the blocker in front of him, preventing him from sliding off onto linebackers or directing the dlineman into a disadvantageous position. the job of actually making a tackle is usually up to the linebacker. a 5 tech end (ie, two gapping on the tackle in a traditional 3-4 play) is not the guy being zone read, the outside linebacker on the backside is. in a general sense, there is no huge structural change to the play, which is to say there is no systemic advantage for 3-4 two gap defenses.

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