In this case, the “double stack” is a flexible (aka “packaged”) play with one running back and four out receivers — one behind the other, wide on each side. It was one of Kelly’s signature plays at Oregon, and spun off into the triple stack play later.
The Eagles scored two of their three touchdowns running the double stack against the Patriots last Friday, and you can expect to see a lot more of it.
Back in May I speculated that – especially with glacially-slow Nick Foles at the helm – Kelly might use screens in place of the quarterback run in a modified read-option play, and — according to writers such as Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated — that is exactly what he is doing. Chris Brown at Grantland referred to this and other “packaged plays” as “read-option football for quarterbacks who can’t run the read-option.” In this game, the back wideouts faked forward, then pivoted to be open for a screen, while the tight end up front blocked the cornerback.
The first time, on Foles’s impressive 10-play touchdown drive, the Patriots covered the receivers tightly, leaving only five defenders in the box, and Bryce Brown easily ran it in for an 8-yard score. Foles told Sheil Kapadia, “It was a two-safety look, and the inside backers were out. So you get a five-man box, you’ve got five guys to block five, you really want to take it. You want to take your O-Linemen on any five any day.”
The second time, again in the red zone, the Pats packed the middle, so Matt Barkley hit unheralded, impressive, and palindromic receiver Greg Salas for a screen. Tight end Emil Igwenagu completely muffed his block, but Salas — who also had an amazing one-handed catch in this game and had two other stunning one-handers in practice recently — juked the cornerback and ran in for a 10-yard touchdown.
The Eagles ran this play several other times as well, including at least one where Foles appeared to make the wrong call, handing off to Brown when Ifeanyi Momah had only one defender — who was being blocked by his stack-front tight end — between him and the end zone. Like a lot of Kelly’s best plays, it’s not especially clever, but it forces the defense to make a tough choice: cheat a safety into the middle, leaving a vulnerability out wide, or send four defenders out to the sidelines, thus opening the middle for runs (just wait until tackle Jason Peters is tearing open holes for LeSean McCoy!).
Your tight ends might actually not block but go out for quick passes. Or your hard-to-cover wide receivers — perhaps DeSean Jackson and Jeff Maehl, who the Eagles just picked up — could go long and middle respectively. Friday’s version featured tight ends up front and wide receivers behind, but at Oregon, Chip ran it with two sets of WRs, and also with RB’s lined up behind WRs.
Whichever way you choose, your plan is revealed and defenders are spread wide, so a middle linebacker is unlikely to help on coverage, and the safety must decide to defend either pass or run, but not both. There was a vigorous discussion on Reddit of ways to stop this formation, including putting in nickel and dime packages. That’s all very fine, unless the Eagles go no-huddle without substituting. Then they can just run up the middle and punish your quick-but-thin backs with power runs, letting their big guys beat up your little guys while you look on, unable to substitute.
And it’s not just that your players might do all these things, but the mere possibility that they might just, will make defenders hesitate and let a quick receiver beat them deep. Opposing coaches will be forced to use up valuable practice time preparing for this look and all of its many variations.
The other fascinating aspect of Game 1 was tempo. The Eagles were not lightning quick and even huddled on several occasions. Even more than at Oregon, they varied the tempo like a good rock band. Jimmy Kempski broke down one quick burst of no-huddle during Foles’s 2nd quarter scoring drive – 3 plays where the Eagles got legally set up for the next play within 14, 15 and 13 seconds after the whistle, respectively. (They actually snapped 2-3 seconds later each time; it takes a little while to read the defense.)
Note that Nick Foles kept it for an 11-yard gain in the middle of this stretch, despite his oft-mocked slow foot speed. And make no mistake, “lumbering” seems a generous description of how he runs. I’m sure this is absurd, but watching it I felt like I could run faster, pads and all. But that’s the beauty of the no-huddle offense, it opens up possibilities that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Besides, it must be that much more humiliating to defenses. “You left a hole so big that NICK FOLES ran through it?!?”
This team is clearly a work-in-progress, especially on defense, but the signs are encouraging. A lot of the standouts in the first preseason game were first- or second-year players, including defensive linemen Bennie Logan, Damion Square, and Vinny Curry, and third-year receiver Salas. Vick and Foles both looked great, the offensive line was strong except for one busted play that resulted in Foles fumbling on an attempted pass. Special teams were vastly improved from last year, including a 62-yard punt return and a punt downed at the one (though the blockers protecting the punter did not do a good job).
It’s important to not get too optimistic about these Eagles. The defense had some horrible moments — the 62-yard run on the first play of the game, and LeGarrette Blount’s slow-motion, two-cutback touchdown run, not to mention ineffective pass defense against Tom Brady, generally.
Kelly has never overhauled a team so thoroughly out of the box before. The Ducks were already running a spread offense when Bellotti hired Kelly as offensive coordinator, two years before he became head coach. Chip also had Nick Alioti, who had been Oregon’s defensive coordinator for a decade when he took over, to head a seasoned D. At the University of New Hampshire, Kelly not only worked his way up over 14 years, but for many years he was an assistant to the same coach he played for as an undergrad at UNH.
The difficulty of a massive overhaul – involving your offensive and defensive schemes, nearly all coaches, and most of the players – is nothing to take lightly, but the foundation has been poured. Let’s just hope that the cement hardens — especially on defense — before the regular season opener against Washington, on September 9th.
Quote of the Week: “That’s more LeSean’s personality than anything else, because he likes to play around with everybody. That is more him. He’s a little bit more Chuckles the Clown than I am.” – Chip Kelly
*UPDATE: As many readers know, the DoubleStack is sold by Wendy’s, not McDonald’s, and it costs $1.99. (I just ate one.) McDonald’s similar burger is the McDouble, which costs $1. But the DoubleStack is worth an extra buck.
Mark Saltveit’s best-selling book “The Tao of Chip Kelly” has received rave reviews from coaches, players and sportswriters since its release in June. You can find it at the Oregon Ducks Stores in Portland, Eugene and Bend, the Multnomah Athletic Club M-Porium in Portland, various bookstores in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, and online at http://www.chipkelly.tv/
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Mark Saltveit’s newest book is “Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution” (Diversion Books, NY) has been recently released. He is the author of “The Tao of Chip Kelly” (2013) and writes on science, religion, wordplay and political scandals. He is also a standup comedian and the world palindrome champion.
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