One of the things that made the Chip Kelly hiring initially so exciting is that it felt like we were jumping forward in offensive paradigms.
Set aside all the other differences between the West Coast Offense and the Spread and the biggest difference is the locus of decision making. In the WCO, it's the coach, on the sideline, before the play. In the spread, it's the players, on the field, after the defense commits. The idea behind concepts like the zone read and packaged plays is that the offense can always force the defense to be wrong.
One of the frustrations with Andy Reid was that he didn't always come into a game with a very good plan. But those weeks were counterbalanced by the Very Special Gameplan weeks that always seemed to crop up after byes, against divisional opponents and as his understanding of his team evolved over the course of the season.
It's wrong to say Chip didn't game plan. Two weeks ago, for example, they did a great job isolating and attacking Washington's Will Blackmon (a template to consider if you want another reason to lean Green Bay this Sunday). But that seemed pretty far down the list of what Chip thought would win games, following culture -> body-appropriate "scheme fits" -> sports science -> play mastery -> tempo.
On that last one, we saw the limits of tempo over the past three seasons. It was a deadly weapon early, but much less so after that first dozen or so 2013 games. NFL defenses adjusted to the pace and it ended up being more of a hindrance to our defense than a boon to the offense.
I've thought a lot about why the tempo stopped working. At the broadest possible level, it reminds me somewhat of a game theory box:
......................... Defense Fast ....... Defense Slow
Offense Fast ............. - ...................... +++
Offense Slow ........... + ........................ +
That first season, the Eagles lived in the upper right-hand corner. They were moving quickly and defenses couldn't keep up. That gave the offense a huge advantage.
This year, they lived in the upper left-hand zone, where the defense was no longer dragging behind them and our offense gave up all the advantages of a slower-paced offense, from audibles to huddles where the quarterback can adjust plays or talk to individual players ("If you get this look from the defender, then break here and the ball will be on you.") That's actually putting the offense at a disadvantage.
I've put pluses in the bottom rows because there is an advantage to an offense threatening tempo, but not using it. Defenses go to fewer sub-packages and the offense can set up better matchups. And slow/slow is the general state of the NFL, where the offenses are so far ahead we're having to re-think how we think about adequate performance.
Ironically enough, I think Chip's preference for lots of interchangeable parts also hurt the tempo offense. Because the Eagles didn't offer sufficiently differentiated personnel packages, like four actually dangerous wide receivers or six-linemen power sets that could pound a nickel defense. They didn't even have the shifty slot guy who could punish linebackers or safeties in base defenses.
And here's the crazy thing -- we started by talking about the locus of decisionmaking being on the field or on the sidelines, and how the spread is supposed to shift the latter to the former. But watch the way Cam Newton changes plays before he runs, say, the inverted veer. Yes, he's running "all that college baloney," but he's doing it against favorable looks because he has the ability to audible. He's not just running whatever his head coach called.
So which approach is really revolutionary?