Usually when a coach or scheme takes the league by storm in a given year, an adjustment is made the following offseason and the phenomenon is neutralized, or at least diminished significantly, in year two.
Why? Look no further than the key phrase from that last sentence. Various schemes. Last year, while finishing in the top four in the NFL in terms of both points and yards and tied for first in terms of yards per play (with a significant edge over the next 30 teams), Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles ran arguably the most eclectic offense in the NFL.
From week to week, quarter to quarter, play to play, it was always changing. And so there isn't one solo trick that his counterparts have to solve.
It isn't just about stopping the zone read, which the Eagles ran nearly twice as often as anyone in the league last season, per ESPN Stats & Info, or adjusting to that break-neck pace, which on a snap-by-snap basis was the fastest in the NFL by a wide margin, according to Football Outsiders.
|Team||Seconds between plays|
It isn't about slowing down the NFL's most productive running game, because it can't possibly be about that while also being about limiting the league leader in plays of 20-plus yards. While being the only team in football to average more than 5.0 yards per carry in 2013, PhillyMag.com explains that the Eagles also had more deep completions and runs last season than anyone else in the last 18 years.
Understandably, Kelly himself despises the idea of putting his offense in one box.
"We run the See Coast Offense," he said back in November, per PhiladelphiaEagles.com. "If we see something and we like it and we think it fits, we're going to run it."
That's cute, but it also sums this offense up as best you can. Because while it's almost always a "blur offense," it is always changing. Because we have a desire for these things to be black and white, we want to categorize the offense, but that just isn't possible here.
As Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen explains in this breakdown, it's all about manipulating matchups with opposing defenses in order to overwhelm them in their weakest areas. That's why Kelly emphasizes speed, size and versatility.
It's also why this isn't just about Kelly, but who he has handpicked to take the field and put it all in motion.
"If we introduce new concepts or schemes, it was based on personnel," Kelly said earlier this offseason, per PhillyMag.com. "…I think every decision we always make is personnel-driven in terms of how we’re gonna fit guys into the map, who’s pulling the trigger, what does he feel more comfortable doing as opposed to the other guy."
This system is so reliant on the personnel as well as Kelly's brain that it isn't something that can be emulated like the Wildcat or sheer zone-read principles at face value. It's not a gimmick, it's a coordinated approach and it's incredibly tough to copy unless you have a way of cloning Kelly and his weapons.
It's a copycat league, though, so many will try. The Dolphins, who hired Philly's former quarterback coach, Bill Lazor, are reportedly adopting similar tendencies. Not surprising. But Lazor isn't Chip Kelly. And while we're at it, Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller aren't LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. They don't have the mastermind, and they don't have the arsenal.
Also factoring in? The blur offense is apparently getting, um, blurrier. Here's what Kelly said at the start of organized team activities, per CBS Philly:
We’re going faster. We’re getting more reps off and more plays off because the guys have a better understanding, the mechanics of it. So, the basic structure of how we’re doing things is the same. Our teaching, in terms of how we want to train on the field, we have an understanding when it’s a full speed drill and when it’s a teach period and all that, but I think we are getting more snaps off in team’s and seven on seven just because our guys are more comfortable in how we want to operate.
The entire offensive line and every key offensive cog is back, save for DeSean Jackson. That's a big loss, but that leaves 10 returning starters who are now ready to take a simple, yet vast system to the next level. Kelly has talked about wrinkles, and now he has players who are familiar enough to take that next step.
Plus, he's added Sproles, who since 2011 has more receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns than any back in the game. And he's added second-round wideout Jordan Matthews, who has shined during OTAs and should be at least the No. 3. He's also added Jeremy Maclin, who had 857 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012 before losing 2013 to a torn ACL.
"So I think you can build upon a lot of things we do with the guys that are back," he said in April, per PhillyMag.com, "and then when you add the new guys into the mix, that’s why what we look at at the finish of the year will be different."
Kelly was already killing opposing defenses with wheel routes to McCoy. Now expect standard schematic additions to that famous mesh offense, but also expect to see Sproles running those wheels as well, just as he did in New Orleans.
How are defenses supposed to stop that? Philly won't just have Maclin, a matchup nightmare in Cooper and young guns in Matthews and third-rounder Josh Huff, but it'll also have the best 1-2 running back punch in the league, especially when it comes to the passing game.
|1. Darren Sproles||Saints||232||1981||16|
|2. Ray Rice||Ravens||195||1503||4|
|3. Matt Forte||Bears||170||1424||4|
|4. Pierre Thomas||Saints||166||1292||5|
|5. LeSean McCoy||Eagles||154||1227||8|
|6. Chris Johnson||Titans||135||995||4|
Pro Football Reference
And don't forget about the regulars who are only going to get better.
Lane Johnson became a stud during the second half of his rookie season, so there's no reason the 24-year-old No. 4 overall pick can't become a Pro Bowl-caliber right tackle in 2014.
Same for center Jason Kelce, who in his third year was graded by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the best player in the league at that position.
And with four touchdowns in the last six games of his rookie campaign, 23-year-old tight end Zach Ertz should pick up where he left off as one of Nick Foles' favorite targets next season.
Oh yeah, did it take us that long to mention Foles? You know, that dude who posted the third-highest passer rating in NFL history while also leading the league in yards per attempt and touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2013. He's back for that all-important stepping stone season—his third—and for the first time he's the man Week 1.
If Foles has made the improvements third-year quarterbacks are expected to make, he should be back in the Pro Bowl. He's got the weapons and he's got the coaching, so you'd be silly to doubt him.
That's what makes this offense just a little more special than those in, say, Denver, Chicago, Green Bay, New Orleans or New England. For the most part, everybody caters to their personnel. But the Broncos are the Broncos because of Peyton Manning, and the Bears are the Bears because of Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. Same rules apply with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, Drew Brees and the Saints and Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Those offenses are good because they're good. They have taken exceptional players, and in all cases phenomenal quarterbacks, and they've built around those guys. Kelly has used a similar strategy, but it's his genius, his special touch that makes the difference. He helped make Foles and Cooper into what they are.
That's why Foles, Jackson, Cooper and McCoy all had breakout seasons as soon as Kelly came on board. Kelly found a way to use a versatile, spread attack and a wide variety of shockingly basic schemes in order to allow those players to continually abuse defenses where they were most vulnerable.
Don't expect that to change in 2014, because Kelly is only becoming more comfortable. And so are his players.