On Monday morning, I made an offer. The first person to chip in $100 for the Eagles Almanac kickstarter got to name his or her post here on the IgglesBlog.
Twitter-er @Thunder_Lips -- who probably isn't actually Hulk Hogan -- is your winner. And since he's such a nice guy, despite not really knowing what he wanted me to write about and in the face of a number of truly ludicrous suggestions, he actually picked the headline you see there at the top.
Which is nice, because it's kind of something I've been thinking about anyway. To the post ...
Let’s get this out of the way first – all coaches want players who are versatile. Why settle for tight ends who can only block or linebackers who can only plug gaps if the other option is 22 players who can do it all?
The answer, obviously, is that you’ll never have a perfect roster. Even good teams have holes. You just hope the greatness of Brian Dawkins can help cover up some of the limitations of Chris Gocong.
So when we say “Chip Kelly wants versatile players,” we’re not really saying anything about him that isn’t true for every other coach in the league.
Having said all that, I think there’s still something to this idea that Andy Reid and Chip Kelly come at versatility in different ways.
You could either describe Andy Reid by saying he liked having a wide range of weapons with which to attack a defense or you could criticize him by saying he wasted too many draft picks and roster spots on a bunch of one-dimensional cat toys. It’s pretty much the same thing.
At the individual level, the challenge with many of these guys is that they weren’t versatile. When MacJax get hurt, third-down specialist Jason Avant has been basically useless outside. Speedy little Ryan Moats combined Danny Watkin’s blitz awareness with DeSean’s physicality. Human sledgehammer Tony Hunt … ah, forget it.
You could even make the case that something similar happened on the other side of the ball. Asante was a ball-hawking machine, just don’t ask him to tackle anyone. Jason Babin rushed the passer secure in the knowledge that every apparent handoff was actually a well-disguised play action pass.
On the other hand, if we elevate the level of analysis from individual to team, this weird collection of misfit toys actually does start to look versatile. All these different players could – if put in the right positions – make plays. Fast guys did their jobs, big guys did theirs, and as long as our coaches stayed one step ahead of the other side’s, the results could look pretty good.
At the roster level, what we see here is a form of additive versatility. You have a base offense, onto which can be added new “fastballs” that provide additional capabilities and new types of plays.
So that’s Andy.
This is the point where we have to paste in the boilerplate about how we don’t really know anything about what Chip’s going to do this year since we haven’t seen even a sliver of training camp, much less a game. However, the guy’s been an object of fascination among the smarter football commentariat for years, we have hours of Oregon game film to sift through online, and as much as he hates giving anything away during his sessions with the media, I still believe in the virtues of close textual analysis. So.
Chip seems like he has a different approach to Andy’s. And it’s one that springs logically from everything else he does. So let’s talk about that first.
It goes too far to suggest Kelly’s approach to football is primal. He coaches violence, builds his offense around a power running attack, and recruits/drafts for size and physicality, but there’s also a mathematical elegance to what he tries to do. He needs the size and violence so that his six guys can beat the crap out of your six guys – but it’s the math that gets him to six on six rather than six on ohshityourbackjustgotcreamed.
What’s weird, too, is that on a surface level his schemes look gadget-y. You’ve got option football, running quarterbacks, wide receivers taking handoffs, and on and on. But all of those things are just window dressing. The basic, underlying plays are simple and straightforward.
And that starts to get into the differences between the old coach and the new one. Andy Reid wanted you to bring that safety down and heck, go ahead and blitz, because if you do that, you might get us once or twice, but otherwise we’re going to block up and light your ass up on the back end.
Chip Kelly would rather see those safeties stay back all day. Go ahead, take away the deep ball, because if you do that, he’s going to split out three receivers, make you play with six in the box, and repeatedly pound the ball at you.
Hey, that’s great that you took away the sideline route. Good job!
Here’s another inside run to chew on. Thunk.
When Reid’s offense didn’t work, it was usually for one of two reasons. Either the pressure was overwhelming his offensive line – giving the QB no time to hit those big plays – or the defense was playing sound, “contain-y” football and his guys just couldn’t execute the short/mid-range game consistently enough to sustain drives.
Chip will have his own challenges to solve – number one being that no one’s going to give him a six-man box to whale away at for more than a couple of plays before they change things up. (At the NFL level, every team has enough speed to do more than sit back and hope.)
It’s this realization, I believe, that’s driving Chip’s desire for versatility. He doesn’t need guys who can add “bonus plays” to his regular offense – he needs guys who can force the defense to let him run his regular offense, even when that’s the last thing the defense wants to do.
So that’s the beauty of a guy like (Rice alum) James Casey (who went to Rice). When you have someone who can play all over the field (as he did at Rice), you can put the defense in a bind. If they stay big – by keeping three or four linebackers on the field – spread ‘em out and run the quick passing / WR screen game. If they go small to take that away, just run over them.
Note also that what Chip really wants – as far as we can tell – is for the defense to go small and spread out. That’s why H-backs are better than tight ends and fullbacks are pointless. Don’t block the box!
Shifting gears, I also think this same philosophy helps to explain Chip’s preferences on defense, as well.
[Standard boilerplate again.]
What we do know, however, is that Chip’s expressed preference is for a 3-4. He said it had something to do with special teams performance – a point examined and debunked by Jimmy Kempski – but I think the truth is that he just prefers the versatility. When you present a balanced front, you’re not leaning one way when the defense wants to go the other. And exchanging that fourth bigger/slower guy for a fourth almost-as-big/faster guy makes it easier to counter any of the crazy stuff the offense might be planning.
The same ability on offense to make you commit and then do the opposite is exactly what he wants to avoid with his balanced, versatile defense.
A few more quick topics, since I’m only 90 minutes into a five-hour flight and I no longer have to worry about saving some stuff for tomorrow.
Number one: The Eagles needed Lane Johnson and they need a great offensive line. This entire offense seems to be about having enough guys to block all their guys (Chip’s job) and then your guys actually blocking all their guys (their job). The offensive line has to be the best unit on the field if that’s going to work.
Furthermore, the Eagles last year were absolutely horrendous against the blitz. I don’t have the stats handy (airplane), but there were entire quarters if not games where the offense simply crumbled under all the pressure applied to Vick and Foles.
Things are not going to change on the defensive side this season. Our opponents can’t sit back and die a death of a thousand cuts, nor can they passively show us eight-man run fronts and watch as Vick goes bombs away over their heads.
They’re gonna come – a lot – and if our guys can’t stop them, it will be like last year all over again, just with different guys getting crushed in the backfield. Chip can take some pressure off everyone with a quick passing game that gets the ball outside before the rush arrives, but even there, it’s not like we have ideal, tackle-breaking receivers to pull that off.
Pray for good health for the big dudes.
Number two: Don’t sleep on DeSean. Assuming the line can stem the blitz tide, someone’s going to need to make everyone pay for overloading to stop the run.
If DeSean can be DeSean when everyone on the defense knows that job number one is taking him away and living with everything else, then I’m pretty much expecting him to be DESEAN once the imperative shifts to defending the run.
We also know that it’s going to be tough for the Eagles to use the QB to hold a defender out of the run game the way Chip so often did at Oregon. There will certainly be some forms or run/pass option trickery (imagine Foles starting the handoff, seeing the end crash down the line, and then yanking the ball back to chuck it outside), but by far the easiest way to deal with that extra defender in the box is to force him out of there before the play even begins.
DeSean is key.
Number three: We’re finally back to a coherent scheme. The last couple seasons the Eagles have been running Frankenstein-ian schemes on both sides of the ball. Two years ago they ditched Juan Castillo’s offensive line techniques to graft on Howard Mudd’s zone scheme (and boy are we glad they did given that we’re now implementing … Kelly’s zone scheme). On defense, they foisted the wide nine on a group of coaches who had never dealt with it before, then tried to bolt on some coverage competence in the form of Todd Bowles.
What we experienced with both those systems is that when they worked, they really worked. You can see why other people ran them elsewhere.
But when they didn’t work, our coaches were surprised, confused and struggled to catch up. In the red zone in particular we became exactly the kind of “play offense” Kelly warned against in one of his famous coaching clinics.
We may not know everything about Kelly’s system, but one thing we do know is that it’s going to fit together. He knows his moves, he knows your countermoves, and he knows the counters to your counters. He also knows exactly how to teach the techniques needed to run it.
It also helps that Kelly hasn’t been running the same thing for 13 straight years against the same opponents six to eight times a season. Have to figure just being goofy-footed is going to be worth at least one win this year.
Of our 10.