Chip Kelly’s First NFL Game: The Good, The Bad, and the Duck-ly
The eagerly anticipated Chip Kelly Era was inaugurated with as many explosives on the field as there were fireworks off the field, on Monday Night when the Philadelphia Eagles started their 2013 season with a convincing 33–27 victory over NFC East rivals, the Washington Redskins. It’s time to break down Kelly’s first performance as an NFL Head Coach.
The ESPN announcers for the game, Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden expressed their ‘surprise,’ ‘shock’ and ‘awe,’ at the pace of the Eagles’ offense under Kelly. For Oregon fans, those who have followed Kelly’s career (or regular FishDuck.com readers), Monday didn’t come as much of a surprise. But, as the pro football media is awash with predictions of the failure of the fast-paced Kelly offense in December, and attempts to explain the Inside Zone Read, the more-seasoned Chip Kelly admirer is left trying to work out how to evaluate Kelly and his Eagles after Week 1.
It’s only one week of a long season after all, so join me as we look briefly at The Good, The Bad and the Duck-ly, from Kelly’s NFL debut:
1. The Eagles Won the Game
Amidst the hype about Chip Kelly’s Spread Offense, we can lose the fact that Kelly isn’t trying to invent a new system, he’s trying to win football games. “We’re an equal-opportunities scoring operation”(1).
There’s no such thing as an easy win in the NFL, and to come out of Week 1 with a win over a division rival is a real positive.
2. Offensive Execution
We knew the Kelly Spread Offense could work in the NFL (the X’s and O’s are fundamentally sound, the success at Oregon, and Bill Belichick’s interest in the offense, all testify to that). What we didn’t know was how well this group of players would be able to run the offense and how quickly they’d come to terms with it.
Would Michael Vick make the right reads? Would the offensive line be agile enough, at speed? Would the skill position players block effectively enough? These are all things that are key parts of Chip Kelly’s offense.
The answer, a resounding ‘yes,’ on all counts. The players have bought in to the philosophy, and, other than Vick keeping the ball a few too many times and pass protection breaking down at times (this is the NFL, after all), everything was executed very well.
Six plays and eighty-seven seconds into the Eagles’ opening drive, they find themselves in 4th-and-1 on the Redskins’ 24 yard line. Conventional wisdom says “Kick the field goal, put points on the board.” Kelly went for it, and got the first down. But he didn’t just ‘go for it,’ as NFL coaches will do from time-to-time. It was as though the thought of kicking a 41 yard field-goal hadn’t even crossed Kelly’s mind; 19 seconds after the last play, the ball was snapped, and the Eagles had a first down.
What was so important about this decision wasn’t that Kelly chose to go for it, but that it was a real non-decision for him. This was a sure sign that Chip Kelly doesn’t have stage-fright; he’s the same gutsy playcaller he was at Oregon.
4. The Defense Holds Up
The offense hasn’t been the primary concern of the Philadelphia Eagles for a number of years now. The defense was ranked 29th in points per game in 2012 (conceding 27.8 points per game) and last in turnovers (13 total in 2012). The defense actually held up pretty well, though Washington’s offense had problems of it’s own.
Transitioning from a 4–3 to a 3–4, inside linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks teamed up for 10 tackles, 8 assists and a sack.
Somehow, Kelly’s entire team was ready to play Week 1, and the defense had three turnovers on the night.
1. The Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins are a much better team than they were on Monday night. Offensively, in particular, RGIII’s lack of a pre-season was notable, and they imploded at times in the first half. You can only beat who’s on the schedule, but we must remember that Kelly’s Eagles beat an under-baked Redskins team in Week 1.
2. Taking the Foot Off the Gas
In his pre-game press conference, when questioned about the run/pass ratio of his Oregon Ducks days (a favorite topic of Philadelphia media since Andy Reid’s West Coast offense was installed in 1999), Kelly mentioned that being up by so many points at halftime in eighty percent of those games, skewed the statistics somewhat. “I have a lot of respect for who we play,” said Kelly, “and if you’re up fifty to three and throwing bombs on people, that’s not the way the game’s supposed to be played.”
We can’t be sure how much of that ethic played into the Kelly’s decision to call a much more conservative, slow-paced game after McCoy’s touchdown run gave them a 33–7 lead, but a 26-point lead in the NFL in 2013, isn’t as safe as it once was – as RGIII shook the rust off in the fourth quarter, the lead was cut to 33–27 in a game that should have been over at the end of the third quarter.
In his post-game press conference, Kelly claimed that they ‘took the foot off the gas too early,’ and on Tuesday, said that “four-minute offense is as important as two-minute offense . . . that’s something we need to work on.”
3. Scoring Efficiency
The Eagles’ ran fifty-three plays in the first half, but put up only 27 points; after scoring early in the second half, the offense went quiet, and didn’t score for the remainder of the game. For the dominance the team had on both sides of the ball for the majority of the game, the Eagles should have scored more points, with 6-of-14 drives starting on the Eagles 40-yard line or beyond.
4. Not Shutting the Door
As I’ve alluded to, the Eagles’ defense performed better than expected for most of the game, but any defense handed a 26-point lead should be expected to hold out; this game should never have become a one-possession game in the fourth quarter. The real worry with how the defense closed out this game, is that it might be the sign of cracks in a defense that many feel to be underpar. Better offenses, on a different day, may have much more success against this defense.
There were times in the course of Monday Night where you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching an Oregon team, of sorts, take on the Washington Redskins. Here are my ‘Duck-like’ highlights from Kelly’s Eagles:
“I had fun out there,” remarked Kelly in his post-game press conference, “We don’t run things like a business . . . it’s still a game at the end of the day, and we want our guys to go out there and have fun.”
At Oregon, the whole team always appeared to be having fun. From the way the players celebrated with Kelly after touchdowns to the sometimes amusing play signals from coaches, the Eagles looked like they were having fun again, after a 2012 season that was anything but.
2. League Pace-setters
This might be an obvious point, but it needs to be made. In college, nobody ran plays anything close to the speed Kelly achieved at Oregon. With an increasing number of teams going no-huddle, we wondered how the Eagles would compare. They were really fast, much more so than anybody else in Week 1. “I thought we were slow between plays,” said Kelly in his press conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday morning. It looks like Chip isn’t done setting the new pace of the NFL just yet.
3. The Chip Kelly Spread Offense
As we see, Chip Kelly’s offense with Philadelphia has a lot of his Oregon system in it, from the featuring of the inside-zone read to the double-stack — and we’ll be covering all facets of it throughout the season here at FishDuck.com
Over to you
What do you think? What were your highlights from Chip’s first NFL game? Where are the weaknesses in his Eagles team? How ‘Duck-like’ was Philadelphia’s performance on Monday night? Let me know in the comments.
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