Breaking Down the Philadelphia Eagles' Plans for Riley Cooper

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterAugust 7, 2013

PHILADELPHIA - AUGUST 13:  Riley Cooper #14 of the Philadelphia Eagles points towards the sideline against the Jacksonville Jaguars during their preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field on August 13, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Now that wide receiver Riley Cooper is back alongside his fellow Philadelphia Eagles, head coach Chip Kelly returns an important piece to his offensive puzzle.

Cooper received a short break from team activities following the release of a now-viral video that showed the receiver aggressively shouting threats and racial slurs at a security guard while attending a Kenny Chesney concert earlier this summer. 

Tuesday marked the end of Cooper's break, and he took the practice field ready to be inserted back into an offensive system that is new for the entire Eagles team. 

Kelly spent years at Oregon befuddling opposing coaches and making 5-star recruits at other schools look like scrubs because he consistently put pressure on opponents by playing at a tempo that is nearly impossible to get used to. 

It was the "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers without needing to see Kurt Rambis' legs. 

Seriously, this idea that Kelly is some X's-and-O's guru defies reality. In truth, Oregon had a set number of plays that could be run in a variety of ways with a variety of wrinkles, and every single one was run to perfection. It's "bread and butter," except that it's the most delicious darn bread and butter ever, and it was shoved down the collective throats of the Pac-12 at breakneck speed. 

It is that tempo and pressure that is coming to the NFL. It is that system that Cooper must find his way into. 

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Kelly's Offense Will Offer Cooper Plenty of Chances for Success

Chris Brown of wrote a piece for Grantland on Kelly's philosophy. In that column, Brown made a lot of good points, but I was most impressed with how he deconstructed the myth that Kelly is some sort of new animal among the coaching ranks. He wrote:

Chip Kelly's offense works not because it's a gimmick, but because rather than choose sides between old and new, Kelly's teams straddle history. Oregon is successful because it does well what good teams have always done well, albeit with a slightly more modern wardrobe.

That system is a great fit for Cooper and should give him plenty of opportunities for both success and failure in his fourth NFL season. If nothing else, it should provide a greater sample size to review his talents than he ever had under former coach Andy Reid.

Bleacher Report's Brad Gagnon did a review of Kelly's high-octane offensive numbers and found them to be higher than even those of the New England Patriots, who are well above the average NFL teams. Basically, Kelly's Ducks at Oregon ran, on average, 18.6 more plays per game than other NFL teams. 

The hurdle to Cooper's chances could be Kelly's affinity for running the ball and the Eagles' stable of capable running backs with LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk and Felix Jones. Those factors could combine for plenty of plays in which Cooper is on the field, but more as a box-clearing decoy on the outside. 

However, the NFL is a passing league and the Eagles defense will do Kelly no favors in the "able-to-run" department. Kelly can have whatever tempo he wants and come into the game with whatever run-pass ratio he wants, but eventually, the Eagles will need to pass the ball effectively with regularity in the second halves of games. 

That's where Cooper comes in and why he is so valuable to the Eagles. 

In Football's Numbers Game, Cooper's Number is Needed by the Eagles

Vince Lombardi once said, "Football is a game of inches, and inches make a champion." 

While that may have been true at one time, this isn't "three yards and a cloud of Fieldturf pellets". An inch missed here or there in football can be easily made up after the next TV timeout by one of the many quarterbacks who manage to eclipse 4,000 or even 5,000 yards these days. 

"Game of inches" is a phrase that made sense when 4,000-yard passers sounded as absurd as cellphones and moving pictures to the architects of the game. No, now football is a numbers game—hit 'em where they ain't. 

That is true in today's NFL even more than a few years ago because it is not only passers taking advantage of holes in defensive zones, but the read-option is specifically meant to find advantages in numbers along defensive fronts. 

Kelly's system takes it a step further by playing "numbers" in an additional way. The offense always has a substitution advantage in football, as the defense is forced to match up with what the offense does.

To that end, offenses can usually find ways to put fresh bodies on the field. 

Look along any sideline at almost any level of football. Next to the offensive coordinator (or head coach if he's not the delegating type) stands a group of players at the ready. These are members of the offensive rotation and substitution packages. It's usually a running back, a second TE/FB/H-back and the third or fourth wide receiver, but it can vary according to the offensive scheme. 

In Kelly's system, he could easily end up having the entire offensive skill-position depth chart crowded around him on Sunday afternoons, as he looks to keep his skill players fresh and wear down opposing defenses. This is playing "numbers" a different way, as a third- or fourth-string receiver can beat a starting defensive back when the latter is sucking wind. 

However, it's still important to have good players to rotate in. This is not college and there are no Washington States on the schedule. When one factors in receiver Jeremy Maclin's injury and the Eagles' current state of rebuilding, Philadelphia has a problem when it comes to receiver numbers. 

Russell Shepard, a former QB at Louisiana State, is high up on the Eagles' receiver depth chart, as is oft-injured former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Arrelious Benn. Damaris Johnson, a receiver undrafted in 2012, is expected to see a bunch of snaps, as is Ifeanyi Momah, who sat out 2012 after being undrafted because of injury. 

Yeah, Cooper might be needed. 

Where Cooper Fits on the Football Field

We've discussed why Cooper will be needed in Kelly's scheme, but how about where he'll be needed? Cooper himself addressed this (via CSN Philly):

I’m not sure what kind of offense is suited for me. If it’s an offense that needs someone that’s big, tough and strong and plays as hard as he can, then this is the offense for me. We’ll see.

That may be the exact kind of player Kelly's offense is looking for in Cooper. 

This is a basic formation used last season by the Oregon Ducks. Note the spread-out look—trips up top—and assume that the Ducks probably ran out of this formation far more than they ever passed.

What is option football? It's a numbers game, and some simple pre-snap motion along with the optioning of a defender easily turns this into a six-on-four inside-option situation for Oregon.

In this situation, Cooper would be little more than a decoy toward the top of the formation, keeping the defense from crowding the box. 

Now, realize that the Stanford defense saw this exact formation somewhere around a thousand times in tape study and then 50 times in actual game action—although it probably felt like more.

So, Kelly's genius lay in his ability to take this same formation and do so much more out of it. This is called a "constraint play." It's meant to take advantage of defenders who play according to what they think will happen rather than what's on the field. 

Here's a simple wide-receiver screen (or "shadow" route).

The interior receiver draws the defender back into the box with his motion and then seals him at the start of the play. The exterior releases from the linemen and creates a ton of traffic, leaving a two-on-two on the outside. The blocking receiver just looks to get in the way as the target steps back and grabs the ball. If everyone does his job, the receiver has one man to beat and then a footrace with the safety to the end zone. 

Cooper could easily take advantage of a play like this. He's athletic and good with the ball in his hands. However, perhaps more importantly to the Eagles is his size as one of the potential inside receivers. If Kelly's choices are to put either the 6'3", 220-pound Cooper in the middle of that traffic or 5'9", 175-pound DeSean Jackson, he'll get the ball to Jackson every time, and Cooper will be the blocker.

So, assume Cooper is the inside man and Jackson gets the shadow-route constraint play. Let's showcase a constraint of the constraint.

Here, everything is the same as the shadow-route play, but Cooper goes out to block and then keeps right on going down the sidelines. At this point, the defender who was going to try and fight through Cooper's now non-existent block curses to himself and Cooper streaks up the sidelines. With Cooper's big body, large catch radius and good vertical athleticism, he's a tough matchup along the sidelines.  

If both defenders on the outside turn and run with their receivers, it's a quick dump-off to McCoy for a big gain. This same play can easily turn into a QB bootleg with plenty of running room. Heck, let's throw in the possibility of a shovel pass to the front-side tight end just for giggles.

This is Kelly's genius—nothing new, novel or never before seen. No, Kelly simply provides defenses far too much to think about for them to also be effective.

In Kelly's scheme, Cooper's versatility as a talented receiver and capable big-bodied blocker, along with his experience in similar concepts from his days at Florida, give him plenty of value to the Eagles. That's why he was kept around this offseason and why he should be successful as an Eagle in 2013. 

Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.