Shorts, Passes, and Screens — The New Read Option?

Noah Smith Editorials

Needless to say, the Philadelphia Eagles have had an interesting offseason. With a flurry of moves that had (and still have) many Eagles fans questioning Chip Kelly‘s sanity, Philadelphia has set themselves up to have the strongest run game in the NFL.

With potentially the strongest stable of runners Kelly has ever had, the Eagles are primed for dominance. Interestingly, what may make this run game so dominant may very well be the short passing game that Kelly has substituted  for the read option.

While Foles had his breakout season in 2013, the story of the Eagles of offense was their run game

While Foles had his breakout season in 2013, the story of the Eagles  offense was their run game.

Even though the huge story during Kelly’s first year in Philadelphia saw the emergence of Nick Foles, looking at the team’s stats we can see that this was a season that was closer to how Kelly ran things at Oregon. The Eagles led the league in rushing during this season, racking up over 2,500 yards on the ground.

Kelly’s offense quickly adapted to the simple fact that you have to throw the ball in the NFL if you want to run it successfully, as no team is going to let you run the ball on them if they don’t fear your passing game.

With this need to throw the ball in mind, Kelly has adapted his offense to incorporate more short passes and screen passes for the same effect as the read option at Oregon. While the read option looks to freeze a defensive end, taking him out of the play without a need to block him, short passes and screens do essentially the same thing to over-pursuing linebackers and safeties.

This short passing game serves the two-fold purpose of forcing a defense to defend the entire field, opening up holes in their run defense while also making defenders less likely to over-pursue running plays for fear of getting burned.

Bradford could be the perfect QB for Kellys system

Bradford could be the perfect QB for Kelly’s system.

Many teams such as the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers (under Jim Harbaugh) buy into the old adage of running the ball to set up the pass; the Eagles however, have adopted a system that uses the horizontal passing game to open up the vertical run game.

While this is not any sort of revolutionary idea (the Saints and Packers have both used this philosophy for years), Kelly may be the first man who intends to run this style of offense as a run-heavy offense.

With this in mind, Sam Bradford actually makes perfect sense for Kelly’s system, being a supremely talented game manager who has great accuracy as a short-to-intermediate range passer.

But while he is not Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, Kelly doesn’t need him to be, he just needs him to be Darron Thomas with less athletic ability. And should Bradford wind up injured again, Mark Sanchez is fully capable of managing the Eagles offense.

Cowboys would not pay Murray, now Murray is gonna make them pay.

Cowboys would not pay Murray, now Murray is gonna make them pay.

As Rodgers said last season, “R-E-L-A-X Eagles fans. Chip Kelly is taking good care of your beloved franchise. Your team will lead the league in rushing next season, possibly breaking the NFL season record for rushing yards by a team (3,165 by New England, 1978).

“Kelly has weakened your hated rivals the Dallas Cowboys and now sits poised to unleash DeMarco Murray on them in a way they cannot even comprehend. It’s good to be an Eagles fan, just as it’s good to be a Ducks fan.

Top Photo by Kevin Cline

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