New Ringer: Chip Kelly’s offense is broken. Really broken. How did that happen?

I will be writing for The Ringer this fall (which I’m quite excited about). My first piece is about how (and why) Chip Kelly’s offense is fundamentally broken:

And now Kelly — stripped of any oversight over personnel — is in charge of a 49ers offense that boasts arguably the worst skill-position talent in the NFL and will be led at quarterback by Blaine Gabbert, whose 71.9 career passer rating puts him behind such exalted figures as Geno Smith and Brandon Weeden. While Kelly’s Oregon and early Eagles offenses broke records by weaving together multiple formations, adaptable running schemes, and multifaceted read-options, all powered by an ingenious spread offense philosophy and a frenetic, up-tempo pace, in the last two years those elements have been undermined or simply fallen away, and Kelly’s offense has become, in Evan Mathis’s words, the most “never-evolving, vanilla offense” in the NFL. How did that happen?


Read the whole thing.

  • Phil

    Always great to read new stuff you write,

    want a conspiracy theory?

    how much of a dollar investment is it to buy a private eye an NFL ticket, then hide him (or her) in a stadium of 50,000 people, and then have them film a team’s giant poster board on their iPhone?

    and then how much to have one of your 20 odd quality control coaches sync up what’s on those boards with which plays then get run

    such that when you hold those boards up, everyone who needs to know, has cracked the code as to what they mean?

    if you were convinced that a particular team had won 4 Super Bowls doing similar stuff, would that inspire any copycats? (or is everyone in the NFL’s virtue above reproach?)


    especially given Philadelphia’s fairly wonky week to week success (1 week looking great, the next week looking inept)


    “The tide truly turned on Kelly’s offense in the Eagles’s 24–14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, just one week after Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day win over the Cowboys. Seattle stuffed the Eagles offense, holding them to 139 total yards, and after the game Seahawks players were not shy about telling the media they knew what to expect.

    “We knew what plays were coming,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said after the game. “Their offense is kind of predictable. They have a lot of plays where they can only run one way.”

    This wasn’t an isolated incident. After losing to the Cowboys early in the 2015 season — a game in which the Eagles managed only 7 rushing yards — Eagles receiver Josh Huff said Dallas’s players were calling out Kelly’s plays before the snap. Another example came in Week 1 of 2015, as the Atlanta Falcons repeatedly checked into defenses designed to stop whichever play Kelly called. Whenever he called an inside zone — again, with the running back and tight end aligned to the same side — the Falcons, in turn, checked to a defensive stunt designed to blow up that specific play.”

    those quotes strike me as striking similar to media quotes you heard in Pittsburgh after the AFC championship games against the Patriots back in the early 2000s
    maybe Patriot-like tactics aren’t actually all that uncommon

    or maybe they’ve spread

    maybe Kelly’s problem was that it was easy to hack his lines of communication

  • GM

    Great article Chris! One question I’ve always had about spread/RPO teams. If you know how Kelly will coach the PSR to make the decision where to go with the ball, can’t you line up your defense to “force” a decision? Maybe in the case of Kelly in the pros his QB’s are not so good at making the right decision or maybe the DC is positioning his players to make one side look covered then rotate out?

  • IrishBarrister

    Only if you know what the play will be, which is the agonizing part of Chip Kelly’s offense: predictability. If he used more complimentary plays, then the defense is forced into a more difficult situation.

    For example: Imagine the offense lines up in a shotgun wing-far formation (TE opposite the RB with the TE off the line of scrimmage). Kelly seemed to only have two running plays out of this formation: inside zone and sweep, both to the TE side. A defense can easily set itself up to stop the offense that if those are the only threats. But you throw in a counter to the open (non-TE) side, and it suddenly becomes a lot more difficult to defend. E.g., the backside DE cannot play as aggressively with the threat of a pulling guard coming to blow him up on every play.

    Urban Meyer’s Ohio State and Tom Herman’s Houston teams are good examples of using “complimentary” or “constraint” plays in this fashion.

  • zkinter36

    Why this guy refuses to run out of the pistol is beyond me. You don’t win in the modern NFL by running sideways. If he utilized the pistol, he would eliminate a bunch of tendencies and also be able run REAL outside zone (Alex Gibbs style). It would also allow for a more evolved playaction game. Yes, it wouldn’t allow for the back releasing into routes as quickly, but it’s not like their passing game is doing anything. I look at the offense Shanahan used with RGIII in year one, and I am amazed that teams don’t copy that but with way less of the read elements.

    Kelly is an interesting character because he does things differently and consequently he is hated on by the follower majority… Which is highly prevalent amongst football coaches. I feel like he is too proud of certain concepts that hold him back. If he would embrace NFL plays, formations, motion and shifting, he could still play without a huddle and put way more pressure on the Defense. For the Niners sake, I hope he figures that out.

    The Roman empire was built off of pragmatism not ideology.

  • gomer_rs

    The way Kelly handled this problem at Oregon was by changing the read player while running the same base play. You want to scrape? My tackle is going to kick out and the QB is reading the LB covering the B gap. Still the same inside zone or sweep on the front end though.

  • gomer_rs

    After reading this piece, I thought Chip Kelly’s basic answer should be to run a two 21 formation from the pistol with a TE on each side.