Making the Jump, Part V: Kelly's NFL offense

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Making the Jump, Part V: Kelly's NFL offense

July 19, 2013, 9:00 am
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Whether or not Chip Kelly can put together an efficient NFL offense remains to be seen. (USA Today Images)

FAST AND FURIOUS

Total Plays
2012 season

Tulsa - 1,160
UCLA - 1,095
Marshall - 1,087
Arizona - 1,082
Baylor - 1,072
Clemson - 1,062
Oregon - 1,058

Oregon under Kelly (rank)

2012: 1,058 (7th in nation)
2011: 1,015 (12th)
2010: 1,024 (6th)
2009: 885 (not top 10)

In Part V of our five-part “Making the Jump” series about Chip Kelly’s first training camp, we examine Kelly’s vision for his offensive attack, which isn’t shared by some of his critics.

For those who keep obsessing over Chip Kelly’s fast-paced, warp-speed, all-no-huddle offense, Kelly asks that you heed these words of caution: Pump the brakes.

Kelly, who on Monday will start his first training camp as Eagles head coach, has already spent more time than he’d like debunking myths and misconceptions about his blueprint for success at the NFL level.

It seems that regardless of what he says, people still think the former record-setting Oregon head coach plans to radicalize offense at the NFL level. They have theories that he knows only one speed and intends to wear down NFL defenses with the heaviest dose of offensive plays that the league has ever seen.

But they can stop right there.

For starters, the suggestion that Kelly wants to smash NFL records for total number of offensive plays isn’t accurate. Despite his college track record of fielding prolific offenses that wore out scoreboards, Kelly’s teams never led the NCAA in total plays in his four years as head coach at Oregon.

“I think if you lead the country in plays run, like at the college level, then you’re probably not very good,” Kelly said. “Because you’re always playing catch-up. We were up a lot at halftime, so we took our foot off the gas.”

Last season, six FBS teams ran more offensive plays than Oregon, which finished with 1,058. Tulsa, which led the country, ran 1,160 total plays -- 102 more plays than the Ducks did. In two of Kelly’s four seasons as Oregon’s head coach, the Ducks placed outside of the top 10 in offensive plays.

“We could have run 100 plays in a lot of games, but there was no reason to run 100 plays,” he added. “I think, being sensible, is that -- all of a sudden, we have the ball now, I want to go on an eight-minute drive, I don’t want to score in two seconds. We did that in the first half, and now we’re up.

“We played our first game last year [against Arkansas State], we were up 50-3 at halftime, we won 57-34. Our [third teams] got a ton of reps, we emptied our bench, and we got a lot of guys valuable playing time.

“Where other people were like, ‘The other team was coming back in it,’ but look at the value of us getting to play our entire roster ... I think they actually ran more plays than us, and we were up 50-3 at the half.”

This rationale segues neatly into another Kelly misconception, that his offense only functions at 100 mph and operates exclusively out of the no-huddle.

Sure, Kelly prefers an up-tempo offense that has several periods of no-huddle. But he scoffs at the suggestion that he can’t dial it down and adjust to the game’s flow and tempo. Part of his no-huddle, he explained, is less about game strategy and more geared toward maximizing the limited time at practice.

“We’re not going to be no-huddle the entire season every single play,” he said. “I mean, we huddle now in practice. If someone said you had to huddle during the season, then we’ll huddle during the season. But I would still be no-huddle in practice because we want to get more plays off.

“We’re just trying to be efficient with our time on the practice field. So we’re saving time and running up and back to the line of scrimmage. But ... I’ve heard that whole concept of we have four or five different speeds in how we do things, and that’s not how we do it.

“There are certain plays we can call where we don’t need a defense to be set. There’s other plays where we need to make sure we get the right look to put us in the right play. So we don’t talk about that from a speed standpoint. We’ve never talked about we want plays snapped in X amount of seconds or any of that stuff. We never got involved in that.”

If it seems as if Kelly is constantly rebutting stereotypes about his coaching style and offensive philosophies, it’s because his college teams -- at New Hampshire and Oregon -- were scoring juggernauts and somewhat innovative in formations and execution.

During his Oregon career, Kelly’s teams produced more plays of 25 yards or more than any other FBS team. His 2012 team racked up more than 7,000 total yards and averaged a smidgen under 50 points per game.

His offenses, obviously, became the national storyline as Oregon went from a ho-hum program that occasionally contended for a conference title into a powerhouse that went to four BCS bowl games in his four seasons as head coach, including a national title-game appearance.

Oregon’s success with an offense that capitalized on the no-huddle and read-option formations caused ESPN analyst and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski to predict in May that Kelly would struggle in the NFL, even though Kelly had already said his playbook here wouldn’t completely mirror his college ones.

“We’re way too early to pass judgment on anything that’s going to happen,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said during the spring. “The last time I checked it’s May and we’re developing. We’re working through a new system, and we’re going to try to put together a system that can run the ball efficiently, throw the ball effectively and score points, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Shurmur, a disciple of the West Coast offense coaching tree, has experience as a head coach and offensive coordinator. Kelly, who had never coached at any NFL level, emphasized the importance of hiring coordinators who had NFL coaching experience to assist in his transition.

But the notion that Kelly’s college offenses weren’t reactionary to defenses and therefore lacked adjustments, which will manifest in his first year as Eagles coach, come primarily from those who didn’t watch Ducks games on a weekly basis or believe that Kelly isn’t adapting his offense for the professional level.

“A lot of times, we need to make sure we see the defense,” Kelly said. “We’re going to run the right play based on what the defense is in. And I think sometimes you can confuse yourself more than you can confuse them.

"If they didn’t line up right and they have nine guys standing over there and you have a play called that’s going to run into those nine guys, then maybe playing fast wasn’t the smartest thing to do.

“Sometimes, you need to let things get settled down and get an opportunity to make sure that you’ve got the right look. A lot of things we’re doing, we’re trying to throw it versus the best-located safety. Well, we better make sure we locate the safeties before we snap the football. Do we want to run it at one guy or run away from another guy? You’ve got to make sure some of those things you can see before you start it. It’s just not all driven on let’s see how many plays we can get run.”

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