So as most of us know by now, Chip Kelly, the former Head Coach of the Oregon Ducks has signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. This has brought a range of different opinions out on our site (and in the rest of the sporting world for that matter) about how Kelly's system will fare in the world of professional football. Some experts and fans say that Kelly will be a failure in the NFL, relying too much on a "gimmicky" style of football that just won't be able to match up with the way the league is today. Others argue that his system will exploit the traditional styles of football that we see in the NFL today and they point to Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III as examples of NFL success for offenses that involve read options and other college oriented playbooks. And while nobody knows exactly how Kelly's venture into the NFL will go, it's fair to speculate the possibilities.
During Kelly's tenure he turned Oregon into a successful, high octane team.
The offensive system that Kelly implemented at Oregon takes advantage of having very fast, agile players that are able to get into space and manipulate the field to their advantage. Classified as a "spread" offense, Kelly throws in many more formations and play types than what you may see in a traditional spread team. While Oregon can air it out, they also rack up tremendous yards on the ground. This year Running Back Kenjon Barner had 1767 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns while quarterback Marcus Mariota ran for 752 yards and 5 touchdowns. This system takes advantage of having the defense spread thin. Once the middle of the field is open due to teams playing their nickle/dime packages against the four or five Wide Receivers that are on the field, Kelly exploits the lack of defensive presence and uses his running game to attack the defense. If the defense goes back to the middle of the field, Oregon simply airs it out.
Below is a video of Oregon playing USC one year ago. One of the things I notice is that the quarterback has a lot of say in his offense, calling out weaknesses he may see from his position in the shotgun to the offense so that they can make some on-field adjustments and exploit the defense. On passing plays the route may be tweaked if the QB reads a hole in the zone. Or if the defense plays man there is likely to be at least one receiver that beats their man. The spread set usually consists of four wide receivers and one running back. Otherwise the pistol package will be used. Often there is a receiver in motion, which is mainly used as play action via end around. Defenses are forced to pay attention to Oregon's play action because there is always a chance that the running back or wide receiver may take the hand off and gash the defense if they turn their backs. Since Kelly always has explosive running backs, whether it be LaMichael James or the previously mentioned Barner, the defense MUST respect the running game.
Another piece of this offense is the read-option, which we saw a lot of against the Redskins and Panthers this year. Kelly's read-option usually involves three different options, either a quarterback keeper, a hand off to the running back, or a hand off to the wide receiver coming in on motion. There are very few plays in Kelly's system that are designated quarterback runs. The quarterback keeps it only if he sees room to run. There is also an assortment of screens, ranging from running back screens to wide receiver bubbles.
Below is a more in depth explanation of Kelly's triple option and how it exploits the space that both the speed and the spread create. One thing that I will note from this video is that Oregon's offensive line is much different than Philadelphia's offensive line. I don't see Jason Peters or Todd Herremans being able to block the zone read as effectively as Oregon does. They are much more traditional linemen in that sense. Also don't expect that kind of down field blocking from Desean Jackson.
When looking at the Oregon offense, the first thing you notice is the speed and agility of this team. Former Running Back LaMichael James ran a 4.45, and Barner is expected to be at least that fast. Mariota is very quick, and their Receivers have very good straight line speed. But while the backs have speed, it seems that they lack size. James dropped in the draft despite his production and speed because he was only 5'8 and hovered around 195. Barner is only 5'11 and 195. In fact the biggest player in the back field was the quarterback, Mariota, who stood at 6'4 and weighed closer to 200 pounds.
One quality that is essential for any player in the backfield of this system is the ability to read a defense. Whether it's the quarterback and having to decided which part of the option to run, or the running back and having to use your vision to know where your cut is at, it's pivotal to know your way around the field. The Eagles don't currently posses a quarterback that excels at reading a defense. Michael Vick has struggled with both reading coverages and making pre-snap adjustments at the line. Lesean McCoy on the other hand possess both the vision and the speed to fit this offense. If Kelly wants to be successful with this offense in the NFL, he's going to have to find a Quarterback who can read more complex defenses and an offensive line that is capable of blocking in a zone blocking scheme.
How to Beat It
After a while, the big play capability and the sheer speed of Kelly's offense wears down a defense. Teams get overwhelmed by the large chunks of yardage this offense picks up, and that's how Oregon put up all of those points over the years. But despite the ability of this offense to daze and confuse a defense, there is a way to not only slow down, but almost entirely stop Kelly's system. In fact Stanford did just that this year, holding Oregon's high octane offense to just fifteen points. Did they create new, crazy defenses to stop this offense? Nope, Stanford actually brought one back from the vaults and played responsible, hold-your-gap football.
The first key to beating Kelly's offense is gap responsibility. This means every defensive player staying home in their gap and controlling the man in front of him. Shockingly enough, the Giants have problems with this. Both Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyoria are guilty of shooting up field and running by the play. Justin Tuck is the one Defensive End that is best at maintaining his gap, despite his lack of pass rush this season.
Another big piece to beating this offense comes from the Linebackers. Yes, I hear the audible sigh from Giants fans everywhere. Not only do the Linebackers have to be fast and agile to keep up with the speed of this offense, but they also have to be smart. They have to be able to read the play in the backfield and react to it with good instincts and aggressive speed. Jacquian Williams is the ideal anti-option player since he can both cover a receiver/Tight End and is strong enough not to get pushed around by blockers and get to the Running Back if necessary. Which is another point to bring up about Linebackers. They have to play far enough off the ball to read what's going on with the offense, which Stanford did by playing their interior Linebackers five to six yards off the ball. This is demonstrated in the picture below.
The linebackers are able to read and react to the play taking place, and then must possess the strength to fight through blocks and make a tackle.
It would also be advised to not play a three Linebacker set, especially for the Giants. Instead the Nickel would be more preferable, allowing extra DB's to cover the receivers. This does not mean that the Linebackers should spread out though. There should be at least one linebacker around the middle of the field at all times, making sure the running plays don't gash us up the middle. Playing Antrel Rolle up on or around the line of scrimmage would also be a good countermeasure.
[See Bleeding Green Nation for full coverage of Kelly's hiring]
Moves The Giants Need To Make
If the Giants want to prevent Kelly from putting up ridiculous numbers on their defense, there are going to have to be some adjustments made to our roster.
#1) It's time to say goodbye to Chase Blackburn. Against this offense, and against the Redskins offense, Chase just isn't fast enough to keep up. Replacing him with a MIKE like Kevin Minter or Alec Ogletree would be ideal.
#2) The Giants must find another defensive tackle to pair with Linval Joseph. While Linval is a beast in the 1tech, he can't do it by himself. I'm hoping Marvin Austin develops into a great 3tech, it wouldn't hurt to invest in another guy that has a good motor and quick feet. Sheldon Richarson is favored by a few members around BBV.
#3) Perry Fewell has to make adjustments. If something isn't working in game, fix it ASAP. If you don't, Kelly will exploit the weakness over and over again. Mix it up, send Rolle on a few blitzes, or let Hosley blitz from the nickle. Fake the inside blitz and confuse the blocking scheme for the offensive lineman. Anything to throw the offense off balance and mess up the flow of this offense.
#4) We need to find another fast, physical cornerback to pair up with Prince. A guy who isn't going to get burnt by a receiver and can also fight off blocks and prevent a running back from getting too far down field if the front seven do happen to miss the guy initially. Xaiver Rhodes in the first or David Amerson or Terry Hawthorne in the second would all be good options.
This Chip Kelly signing can either be a huge pain or a laughable joke for our New York Giants. If Kelly is able to exploit space and eat up yards against NFL defenses like he did at Oregon, we're in for a long ride. But if he can't, and teams use Stanford's defensive game plan to shut down this new style of offense, Kelly may easily be run out of the NFL. I say that it's up to the Giants to put an early end to this hyped up style of play. Put the pieces together on defense and play responsibly. If those two things can be met then there is no need to panic. But if the Giants refuse to make the adjustments required then we may see the back of McCoy's jersey a lot. Ultimately we don't know how this will turn out, but it sure will be interesting to watch.