Chip Kelly has always been different, and that's why people question him.
When the former Oregon coach was hired as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, his first job in the NFL, back in January, the skepticism began immediately.
Will his spread out, up-tempo brand of offense translate to the NFL, where the athletes are faster and stronger than they ever were in the Pac-12? How long will it take Kelly to assemble the pieces to run his zone option rushing attack? Will he be able to adjust? Is this offense a gimmick?
Kelly has always faced questions, dating back to his days as a high school coach. At each stop along his coaching career, he made adjustments and evolved. The NFL was just the next logical step.
So in his NFL coaching debut on Monday Night Football, of course Kelly and his offense looked like they were ahead of the curve. Running schemes that looked remarkably similar to what Kelly ran at Oregon, the Eagles ripped off yardage at a blistering pace, opening up a 26-7 halftime lead on Washington.
Kelly did what he has always done. He adjusted and reacted to what the defense was doing and exposed them in a big way. With some help from Smart Football's Chris Brown (who has been my go-to resource for studying Kelly's offense over the last 12 months), we can see why the Eagles' offense worked so efficiently against the Redskins.
The most obvious aspect of Kelly's offense is the pace with which it operates. The Eagles ran 53 plays in the first half, which is more than four NFL teams were able to run in four quarters of play on Sunday and the most in a half since the Vikings ran 56 plays in a 1998 game. Philadelphia rarely huddled up and was only slowed down by a fluke fumble and a few Washington players coming up limp with cramps.
For starters, the pace exposed a conditioning issue in Washington's defense (the lack of talent on Washington's defense helped the Eagles as well). The Eagles were ready to go full throttle and run plays at a rapid pace, which left Washington scrambling and off balance throughout the first half. But it's not just the speed and conditioning that helped the Eagles succeed.
The danger of the no-huddle offense is that it doesn't allow the defense to make substitutions or disguise blitzes and coverage the way it normally would. That allows Kelly to identify mismatches and helps simplify the game for Michael Vick. As Brown points out, Kelly's offense doesn't always operate at the lightning pace, but the threat of it keeps the defense off balance.
The running game
Some may confuse Kelly's offense, which is labeled as a spread attack, for one that airs the football out. But Kelly has made his living on the running game throughout his career. He has done this through a series of concepts that Brown once again does an excellent job breaking down in detail.
For the purposes of evaluating Monday night's success, the outside zone read is the concept to focus on. An overly simple explanation of this blocking concept is that it is designed to stretch the defense wide and open up cutback lanes for the running back. It worked to perfection on a handful of plays in Week 1, and LeSean McCoy deserves a lot of the credit.
Few running backs in the NFL are more skilled at finding and taking advantage of cutback lanes than McCoy. His ability to reverse fields and explode laterally was on display against Washington. Those gaping holes the Eagles' offensive line was opening had something to do with it, too.
By the end of the night, McCoy was the NFL's leading rusher, and the Eagles had piled up 263 rushing yards.
While Kelly's running game is intricate, it is predicated on simple concepts that rely on the power of numbers. He uses unbalanced offensive lines to create mismatches in his blocking scheme. He is able to double-team certain defensive players, because Vick presents a running threat. Leaving a defender completely unblocked doesn't hurt the Eagles if Vick makes the right reads with the football, which he did more often than not.
How can it improve?
Kelly admitted after the game that the Eagles took their foot off the gas pedal too early. Washington started to crawl back into the game, and the final score wasn't a strong indicator of how close the game really was.
Can the Eagles sustain that type of pace for 16 games? Probably not. But they don't necessarily have to. The tempo is more of a weapon than it is the foundation of Kelly's offense. And that weapon was used to exploit Washington, and it won't be the only team to fall victim to that pace.
Teams will study film and perhaps get conditioned to how fast Kelly and the Eagles operate. But if there's one thing that Kelly has shown, it's that he's always one step ahead of the curve. After Monday night's win, there's no reason to doubt him now.
For a better understanding of the new-look Eagles offense, check out some of the work Chris Brown has done on the topic for Grantland and his own website, Smart Football. Here are a few that I've found particularly helpful over the past couple of seasons.
The New Old School (Grantland)
Studying the Raw Materials of Chip Kelly's Up-Tempo Offense (Smart Football)
The Future of the NFL: More Up-tempo No-huddle (Smart Football)
Fish Duck has also done an excellent job breaking down Kelly's offense. Check out the site's spread offense directory right here.