Oregon head coach Chip Kelly tops the Christmas wish list of fans in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Kansas City and maybe even Dallas. The Pac-12 genius looks poised to make a jump to the NFL, and he'll have no shortage of suitors if and when he's ready.
Kelly's allure to the NFL comes from his exciting, fast-paced offensive schemes. A regular Oregon game looks more like a well-dressed track meet than a traditional college football game. Skeptics wonder whether Kelly's offense can translate to the NFL, and rightfully so.
Which aspects of the Oregon offense will aid Kelly once he makes the jump to the professional game, and which will have to be revised for the hyped college football coach to succeed?
The Zone-Read Option
Oregon's offense is based around the zone-read option, but unlike Texas with Vince Young at quarterback, Oregon's zone read is used as much as anything to set up the passing game.
With a dangerous running back and a quarterback who can run—but doesn't have to—the Oregon zone read freezes defenses. While Kelly does run a true zone read or triple option early in games, the Oregon offense shifts into a play-action attack off the zone read once it has established the run.
As seen above, Kenjon Barner (RB) comes across the face of Marcus Mariota (QB) to sell the run. This freezes safeties and defenders—as does the TE staying in to block. By all accounts, this is a run play to the defense. The beauty of Kelly's offense is that instead of this being a run, it's a vertical passing play with the two receivers to the left running a pair of posts—one deeper than the other—and the wideout to the right running a straight "go" route.
This is an example of a play that can—and will—work in the NFL. The key is in freezing the defense and isolating your playmakers on the edge. It's no different than a play action by Tom Brady in the New England Patriots offense.
Five Route Combinations
One of my personal favorites of the Chip Kelly offense is his five-route play combinations.
Oregon's offense can get away with sending five receivers into routes due to the scrambling ability of quarterback Marcus Mariota. Because Mariota is a solid runner, and one who can extend the play without scrambling, Kelly is confident in his offensive line and quarterback's ability to withstand a blitz or heavy pass rush.
Kelly's asking his quarterback to read one side of the field first—not uncommon even in the NFL. Mariota takes the snap and reads the safety. If the safety closes on the outside receiver, the ball goes to the running back in the flats. If the safety crashes to the running back, either of the outside reads (No. 1 or No. 2) will be open vertically up the sideline.
This is classic play-calling that shifts the strength of the offense to a numbers game on defense. Oregon simply outmans the defense with three receivers against two defenders.
How will this work in the NFL, where defenses are hypertuned to playing man coverage? This is definitely a play call against a zone defense, and with so much Cover 2 and Cover 3 being ran in the NFL, this play is still highly effective. And remember, USC (shown above) is coached by a former NFL defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin.
As much as any single component of the Oregon offense, the pace in which it runs plays is most important.
The logic here is that by the end of the game, Oregon's offense will have simply worn down the opposition. And in most cases it works. Can this be done in the NFL? Absolutely.
The Buffalo Bills ran a no-huddle "K-Gun" offense in the early 90s. Peyton Manning has been a maestro at orchestrating no-huddle offenses in both Indianapolis and Denver. The no-huddle is no stranger in the NFL, and when executed correctly, it's proved to be very effective.
One of the biggest obstacles for Kelly's transition to the NFL is conditioning his game-day players to handle the speed of the game. With only 45 active men on the roster, Kelly would need either an incredibly deep roster of wide receivers and pass-rushers or a team that's in amazing physical shape. Probably somewhere closer to both.
Speed on the Edges
Chris Brown over at Grantland wrote a fantastic piece on how Kelly's offense attacks a two-high safety look. It's a great read at how the Oregon run game can work in the NFL, and how it's basically already being used there. Read it.
One thing that I'd add to Brown's piece is that the Oregon offense is able to force defenses into a two-high safety look because of its speed on the outside. For Kelly's magic to work in the NFL, he needs a roster full of track stars.
With players like De'Anthony Thomas on the edge, Oregon's offense is built to outrun defenders, and it does a pretty good job of it. To combat this, defensive coordinators want their safeties lining up 15-20 yards deep. This gives the safeties a running start if they have to turn and run to keep up with receivers streaking vertically down the field, but it also gives the safeties a better vantage point for stopping the zone read option.
With so much speed on the edge, Kelly's offense can hit you up the middle against a spread-out front seven, or attack with quick routes against what becomes essentially a Cover 2 defense. Seam routes and run-after-catch options are all in play with two-high safety looks.
There will be a ton of conjecture about which NFL franchise is currently the best fit for Chip Kelly's offense to succeed, and while some of that will hinge on the upcoming 2013 NFL draft, there is one clear-cut favorite at least in terms of personnel.
Picture LeSean McCoy running the ball in a play-action offense built to put five or six defenders at most in the box. How well would speedsters Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson look running a vertical offense that let them blow past defenders who can't hope to keep up with them? And with an athletic offensive line already in place, few changes would need to be made to the front five if Chip Kelly were to become the next head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Many will point to Michael Vick as a reason for the fit, but I disagree. Vick's contract is a problem, as is his play. He's not accurate enough, nor can he be trusted to make quick, accurate reads. Vick wouldn't be the quarterback in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly—Nick Foles would.
Kelly saw Foles in the Pac-12, and he raved about the quarterback's ability last fall. It's convenient to think Vick's running ability would translate best to the Chip Kelly offense, but don't overlook Foles' presence on the roster as a major pull for Kelly to Philly.