Former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly is now in the NFL, and no shortage of articles and airtime have been spent hypothesizing about the style of offense he'll bring to the big show. After a preseason look at Kelly's offense, what exactly does it do, and what doesn't it?
Kelly's uptempo, dual-threat offenses at Oregon were generally led by mobile quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota, Dennis Dixon and Jeremiah Masoli. With the Philadelphia Eagles, he has one of those guys in Michael Vick, and then complete opposites in Nick Foles and Matt Barkley. That's what made his offensive game plan against the New England Patriots so unique—he didn't change it for each quarterback.
It's all too common in today's NFL to see a separate game plan for the mobile QB and the dropback passer. The Washington Redskins don't run the read-option with Kirk Cousins, but they do with Robert Griffin III. In San Francisco, we wouldn't see Colt McCoy running the ball as much as Colin Kaepernick does. But in Philadelphia, what we saw from all three quarterbacks was notable for how little it changed. Let's break it down.
Michael Vick: First-Team Offense
With Michael Vick in the lineup, the Eagles offense is more dynamic due to his dual-threat abilities. That's an advantage for Philadelphia, but they still have to find a way to deal with Vince Wilfork at nose tackle.
The beauty of an option offense is that when you can't block a player one-on-one, you can use him as the "read" defender and eliminate his impact without ever touching him. That's what Chip Kelly does here. (Hat tip to Chris Brown of Smart Football and Grantland for first pointing this out.)
By reading Wilfork in the middle of the field, the Eagles are able to zone block on the strong side by asking the offensive linemen to step down and angle block. On the back side, Kelly does something unique by pulling the left guard and attacking the defensive end. He then shoots the left tackle upfield inside the pulling guard to get the crashing linebacker. Not only is this a tough read for the backside defenders, but it sets up nicely to run a counter to this side of the ball off an option fake.
This is just one example of Kelly's read-option, but it's the most innovative of the three examples we're highlighting today. By reading the defense's best player, Kelly is putting his offense in a numbers advantage, which is what you want the option to do. Instead of double-teaming Wilfork, he's "blocked" by the quarterback holding him captive with the read.
Nick Foles: Second-Team Offense
Nick Foles isn't known for his speed or mobility, not with his 5.14 in the 40-yard-dash, but here Kelly shows us that you don't have to be Vick to run the read-option with success.
Pre-snap we see that Foles is in a 10 personnel grouping, which means one running back, no tight ends and four wide receivers. The receivers in this formation are notably split out wide from the offensive line, leaving plenty of room between the offensive tackle and the receivers for operating room.
At the snap, Foles looks down the line of scrimmage to find the end man on the D-line. This is very important to note, as the quarterback doesn't always read the defensive end, but rather is taught to read the last man on the line. In this case, that's a defensive back who has creeped up near the line pre-snap with a blitz read. If the DB crashes down on Foles, he'll give the ball to the running back. If the defender follows the back's path, Foles is taught to keep the ball or throw the hot route.
Also, let's note what Kelly has his inside receivers doing here. Both the "Y" and "F" receivers come back toward the ball at the snap. This is designed so that the QB has hot-route options on throws, and also so that these inside receivers may set a crack-back block for the running back or quarterback—whoever has the ball. This is an ingenious design, as the quarterback has options to keep the ball, give to the runner or throw to a hot-route target with room to run (thanks to those splits we noted above).
This is my favorite of Kelly's option plays he showed against the Patriots due to the many different options it affords the quarterback. Success on this play is guaranteed if the QB makes the correct read.
Matt Barkley: Third-Team Offense
If you can run the read-option with Foles, you can run it with Matt Barkley. Kelly shows us again that his offense is designed to give the quarterback multiple choices on any given play. It's all up to the man under center (or in the shotgun) to make the correct read and get the ball in the right hands.
Pre-snap, we see Barkley in an 11 personnel formation—one running back, one tight end. This is a balanced formation thanks to the two wideouts to the left of the center and the tight end and receiver combination on the right. Barkley, in a shotgun formation, has a clean look at the defense and will make his read of the weak-side linebacker who is the end-man on the line of scrimmage.
Post-snap, Barkley looks left to the linebacker to see if he's a) crashing down on the running back or b) coming after him in the backfield. Based on what this linebacker does, Barkley will decide to either keep or give the ball.
We also see the "F" receiver in the slot once again giving Barkley a passing option by wheeling to the flats. Here he can serve as a receiver or as a crack-back blocker should Barkley keep the ball himself. Once again, the signal-caller has three options at the snap of the ball.
What's most impressive about Chip Kelly's offense is not just the simplicity, but also the success of these plays. Without great athletes, the offense is able to confuse the defense and create hesitation in the front seven.
The read-option is beautiful in that anyone can run it—slow or fast—and by eliminating productive players like Wilfork, a weak-side defensive end (most teams' best pass-rusher) and a blitzing defensive back, this offense succeeds as long as the quarterback makes the right reads.