Kelly’s staff in Philadelphia further supports this view. Kelly said he wanted offensive and defensive coordinators with NFL coordinator experience, and in Pat Shurmur and Billy Davis, that’s what he got. Throughout this offseason, Kelly has made clear that he wants the Eagles to be something of a laboratory for football ideas, whether it be X’s and O’s or the science of peak athletic performance.
But this line of thinking still has to be tempered with a bit of realism. Kelly is clearly bright, committed, and open-minded, but the idea that he can step into the NFL and runany offense — spread, pro-style, West Coast, Coryell, Wing-T — seems implausible. He shredded college football running a very specific attack based on very specific principles, and the mathematical advantage he gained from having his quarterback be at least some kind of a threat to run was a central tenet. He might be able to adapt his offense to his players and coaches, but this is not the same thing as continuing and growing what worked at Oregon.
Former Nevada coach and Pistol Offense auteur Chris Ault has been on a bit of a media blitz recently; check out interesting interviews he’s done with the New York Times and the NFL Network. And in his interview with Mercury-News’ Jerry McDonald, Ault highlighted the fact that it’s myopic to think of this stuff as just the read and specifically the quarterback keep. Instead, what makes it all work — and potentially viable for the future in the NFL — is it’s just one piece of the puzzle but it actually bolsters the rest of what you do.
Where it always begins
Q: Seems like common sense to take advantage of the athletic skills these quarterbacks have . . .
Ault: Absolutely. I’m not here to tell you that the 49ers should run the read 16, 17 times a game. You can’t do that in the NFL. But I think by running the read play, it’s in your offensive system and you’re going to run it five times, nine times a game, it’s one more thing you’ve got to defend. And then when you throw the play-action pass off it, that’s another thing. So it’s not just one dimension that you’ve got to look at, it’s a couple of things. You see Kaep run that 56-yard touchdown, and you say, great, that’s the read option. And it is great. But I think one of the things that set that up was a couple of the play-action passes out of the pistol.
Q: Atlanta saw to it that Russell Wilson did not carry the ball on the read option based on how they deployed their linebackers . . . Kapernick’s running on the read option can be taken away, correct? And in so doing, do you relinquish the middle?
Ault: That’s exactly right and that’s what happened in college. They would load the outside and take Kaep away, and that’s why it’s the read. You give the ball off. We really designed our pistol offense, where we want the running back to carry the football. That is first and foremost in our thinking. But all of a sudden, you just fall asleep, just like Green Bay, you’re handing it, and handing it and handing it, and he might’ve been able to pull it a couple of other times, but he waited until the right time. No question, they might just say, ‘We’re not going to let this Kaepernick run the ball.’ And we had that in college. Then, it gives you an opportunity to run the read and the play-action pass.
This was fairly prophetic by Ault, as Atlanta ended up trying to take away Kaepernick and in the process gave up over 125 yards and 3 touchdowns to Frank Gore and LaMichael James, as well as some big play-action passes. (Though not all of this was from the Pistol; LaMichael James’s touchdown came on the inverted veer.)
Q. One of the recent trends in the NFL is more pistol formation. People are tracing that back to you. Your thoughts on what seems to be a melding of the NFL and college games.
COACH KELLY: Don’t know. Haven’t been there. Don’t run the pistol offense. That’s not what we do.
Chris Ault at Nevada invented the pistol offense. Just retired. Great football coach out there. There’s a lot of ways to play football. Pistol, don’t know that very well. We’re more of a spread run team.
Trends go one way and the other. I said this a long time ago, if you weren’t in the room with Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne when they invented this game, you stole it from somebody else. Any coach is going to learn from other people and see how they can implement it in their system. Anything you do has to be personnel driven. You have to adapt to the personnel you have. There’s a lot of great offenses out there, but does it fit with the personnel you have? The key is making sure what you’re doing is giving your people a chance to be successful.
- As Chip observes, whether or not these kinds of schemes will be sustainable in the NFL will depend in a large degree on personnel — the supply of multi-talented quarterbacks. As Matt Hinton points out, while this year’s NFL draft class has few true dual threat candidates (and few quarterback candidates to get very excited about at all, though there are some potential sleepers), there is another wave of dual threat guys working their way up through the college ranks right now.
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.
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.
And most interestingly, a reader pointed me to a slight wrinkle on the stick/draw combination that Oregon under Chip Kelly ran in their spring game last year: a quick pass combined with a shovel pass. See the diagram and video below (note that the diagram is not entirely accurate; I drew the “stick” concept but Oregon actually ran “spacing,” which I like as a concept but like less for this purpose).
I point this out because I actually like the quick pass plus the shovel play more than I like the draw. The blocking scheme for the line remains the same: basic draw blocking, potentially with a fold technique, though you can also try to leave a defensive end unblocked if you’re willing to read him. But doing it as a shovel pass over the draw has a number of advantages, I think.
That Oregon coach Chip Kelly has a plethora of spread and read concepts in his offense is by now well-known. And Saturday evening against Stanford was no different. Kelly has often remarked that it sometimes takes him a couple of series to tease out how the opponent wants to defend him. At that point, his up-tempo offense usually explodes.
Against Stanford, Kelly repeatedly went to his basic zone-read run game but with three receivers to one side and a tight end to that same side — an unbalanced set. Because Kelly forces the defense to cover his three receivers with three defenders, or else his quarterback is instructed to throw a bubble screen to one receiver while the other two block, he forces the defense to make decisions in how it will defend the inside runs.
Read the whole thing. Highlight of the play after the jump.
The speed option may be the best run play in football. The pro guys don’t like it because your quarterback can be hit, but, whether under center or from the shotgun, it’s an exceptionally useful play to have in your arsenal. There are three basic reasons why the play is so effective and useful:
Simple: Both the concept and the schemes are simple. Unlike the true triple options, there are not multiple reads and the one read that is there is a simple one of a defender often stuck in space.
Wish they called this more in Denver
Inexpensive. What I mean by inexpensive is that the play requires very little teaching for any offensive players as the blocking scheme should be one already used for a traditional play. Typically, this will be outside zone blocking.
Speed in space. This is tied to #1 and #2, but the play works most of all because it is a simple and inexpensive way to get athletes on the perimeter of the defense in space. The option threat by the quarterback — and the numbers advantage gained by reading a defender instead of blocking him — keeps the defense inside, but the point of the play is to pitch the ball to the runningback on the perimeter where he can burst upfield to do maximum damage.
What further makes the play so good is that these concepts are universal; they are not tethered to a single offense or system. The play works from under center or shotgun, and has been effectively used by teams with great running quarterbacks and it has been used by teams with more pedestrian quarterbacks as just a cheap way to get the ball to the outside.
In modern form, the play is simple. The line outside zone blocks, which means they step playside seeking to cut off the defense and to even reach them as they can. The linemen work together to double-team the defensive linemen before sliding off to block the linebackers, and the idea is to create a vertical crease somewhere between a spot outside the tight-end and the sideline. The offense leaves an outside guy unblocked, typically either the defensive end or the strongside linebacker. The quarterback takes the snap and runs right at the unblocked defender’s outside shoulder. If the defender stays wide, the quarterback cuts up the inside crease (and typically looks to cut back against the grain). If the defender attacks the quarterback or simply stays inside, the QB pitches it. The outside receivers block the outside run support, being more focused on being in their way than pancaking anyone. Below is a modern example of the speed option from gun:
For a little more historical perspective, Tom Osborne’s great Nebraska teams used the speed option as one of its chief weapons. (more…)
Hoke-a-mania. Michigan has hired Brady Hoke, prodigal son most recently of San Diego State. I don’t know much about Hoke — seems like a solid guy and he obviously wanted the job. The rumor is he’s bringing Al Borges with him to be offensive coordinator; I’m already getting lots of questions about his so-called “Gulf Coast Offense.” I don’t know where that name came from, but as far as I can tell he’s a pro-style guy: nothing too exotic. But he’s been an offensive coordinator for a long time (close to two decades), in three major conferences (the Pac-10 at Cal, the Big 10 at Indiana, and the SEC at Auburn), and when he’s had first-round NFL talent (Cade McNown at UCLA and Jason Campbell, Ronnie Brown, and Cadillac Williams at Auburn in 2004) he’s had elite offenses.
I think that sounds about right. Michigan’s coaching search was explicitly about someone who wanted to build the program, not hiring the next offensive genius. And I can’t really argue with that — the Rodriguez thing ended badly. That puts on the onus on Hoke, however, as he must recruit and build the program from the ground up; there won’t be any reliance on a decided schematic advantage to win. But is that a bad thing?
Below are some clips of Borges’s offense at San Diego State this year.
- Richard Sandomir takes down Brent Musburger. Ouch. I don’t know if I thought it was as bad as described in the article, but I have to admit that “This is for all the Tostitos” was an unreal comment.
- Pat Dooley apologies for “dumb” tweet.This really is crazy; what made him say that about Frank Beamer?
Tom Brady, the presumptive M.V.P. winner this year, was the 199th pick in the 2000 draft. The Patriots’ leading rusher, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, wasn’t drafted. Neither was their leading receiver, Wes Welker. Danny Woodhead ranks just behind Green-Ellis in yards from scrimmage but he wasn’t one of the 23 running backs selected in the 2008 draft. The rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught 10 touchdown passes, qualifies as a superstar by Patriots standards: he was the 42nd pick in last April’s draft. Of New England’s eight most productive offensive skill position players — Brady, Green-Ellis, Woodhead, Welker, Deion Branch, Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Tate — only Gronkowski was a top-60 draft pick.
… The Patriots led the N.F.L. in points scored. They threw the most touchdowns passes… They ranked second in rushing touchdowns and in net yards per pass attempt…. So how does Belichick turn an offense that appears marginal on paper into a dominant unit? …Conventional wisdom would suggest that Belichick is both a master of the draft, finding gems with late-round picks, and a fantastic coach in the truest sense of the word, able to turn young men into elite players with his tireless attention to detail.
[I]t goes a step further than that. The Patriots, for the first time in the past few seasons, have regained a level of organizational clarity that few teams can match. When Scott Pioli and Belichick built the championship Patriots teams at the beginning of the decade, New England consistently added “their guys,” players who fit the Patriot profile. With the drafting of Hernandez and Gronkowski, and the re-acquisition of Branch, to go along with Welker and Brady, the Patriots are back to finding players who, first and foremost, fit their system. Green-Ellis, Woodhead and Branch wouldn’t succeeed on a lot of teams, but Belichick knows exactly what he wants out of every roster spot and only looks for players who possess those traits. And that’s a big secret of his success.
- Did Chip Kelly not run this year’s offense in the National Championship game, and instead next year’s offense? Bruce Eien thinks so, as they will have three very good backs next season. Here’s Bruce’s visual preview (click to enlarge):
Nick Fairley gets the game ball. As I predicted, the differences in the game were Cam Newton’s ability to do things no one else can do — convert short yardage plays, scramble for big plays on third down, and generally as reader/decoy to open things up for McCalebb and Michael Dyer — and Auburn’s superior defensive line, particularly Nick Fairley. Fairley was incredible throughout. Maybe most importantly, he didn’t tire out like we all expected. Much of this was because Oregon failed to get in their tempo for much of the night, as they couldn’t get consistent first downs and thus couldn’t sustain that tempo, but Fairley deserves a lot of credit for just being able to be on the field and keep his energy at a high level. Not easy for such a larger human. Yet the images that stick out to my mind are those where he completely destroyed Oregon’s attempts to read him on the midline option by blitzkrieging both quarterback and runningback and arriving at the option mesh point before the read could be made. I spoke with some coaches after the game who figured what Chip Kelly obviously did: if we can’t block him, let’s read him, except Fairley, when unblocked, took out everyone. A great performance. (And when Oregon got tired of that and tried to block him and read someone else, he split the double-teams. He’ll be a top five NFL draft pick, if not one or two.)
Stick to the plan. Oregon and Chip Kelly, however, did themselves no favors by coming out of the gates with a lot of funky stuff they’d never shown this season. I get that you want to do something different for Auburn — and that you’re Chip Kelly, a very bright guy — but that team averaged 49 points a game on the outside zone with a read from spread sets, and the Ducks came out with a bunch of three back sets with a triple option look off the inside zone. Now, Auburn’s defensive coordinator Ted Roof came out with a lot of fire zones and zone blitzes from the field or wide side to take away the stretch plays, but I’m still shocked that those runs weren’t a bigger part of Kelly’s gameplan. It didn’t help that Darron Thomas, Oregon’s quarterback, struggled with his reads (though for good reason — see above).
Malzahn and Cam. Gus Malzahn (oh, I’m sorry, I meant “Guz”) called an effective game, and Cam Newton made some special plays. It wasn’t a Vince Young-esque domination, but Cam did things no one else can do. He also made three very costly mistakes: the shorthopped goalline pass to a wide open receiver on fourth down, the late fumble, and, to my mind, the worst, the overthrow when Gus had called a great double-move and his receiver was wide open. Only the last one really stung because it would have blown the game open in the third quarter while the Tigers led 16-11, but the kid played great. And from the second half on, Malzahn relied on the inside zone with a bubble screen to the opposite side — where Dyer got most of his yards and Cam Newton a lot of simple throws — and of course called that post-dig/wheel route combination for several big plays, including the touchdown. Sometimes you don’t have to be fancy to call a good game; you just have to call the right plays for the situation.
Defensive special? A lot of the commentariat claimed this was a defensive game — and most of my points above indicated faults I found with both offenses. But these two teams combined for nearly 1,000 yards of offense — 968 in fact — and featured multiple turnovers and goal line stands. I thought it was pretty entertaining, as it’s more fun to watch good coaches deal with good players and issues than it is to watch one of those steamroller-where-is-the-defense games. Those who tuned out because “there wasn’t enough scoring” can’t be faulted, but you can still appreciate what the teams are trying to do, and thus why a performance like Fairley’s was so unreal (i.e., yes he went unblocked, but that was intentional and it’s what he then did that was so impressive). It was a fascinating — though slightly sloppy and erratic — title game.
Also, hat tips and thanks to Brophy and the Offensive Breakdown site for some great info (especially to Brophy for the image on the power scheme). Check out great info from both sites on Malzahn’s offense here and here.
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