The Teams Change, But Kelly Remains The Same, And Doesn’t At The Same Time Part II


It’s not an exaggeration to say Kelly is already re-writing the Eagles history books when it comes to offensive numbers.  And as I said before he’s doing it with the same group of skill players Andy Reid had last year, with the exception of Zach Ertz who has been very good, but is never going be mistaken for a game changing talent like Calvin Johnson.

Before continuing I want to be clear I’m not piling on Reid.  Over his tenure he set a lot of records of his own, by being a very good offensive mind.  I thought he was an excellent coach here in Philadelphia, and gave me a number of memorable season during the time in my life (late teens through college) when I was most concerned about the teams I root for.  A lot of people in Philadelphia wouldn’t agree with me, but I think they are forgetting just how bad things were under Rich Kotite or Ray Rhodes and romanticize the Buddy Ryan era a little too much.  I’m happy Reid has found success in KC and think his departure was best for everyone involved.

Kelly though might be able to do the one thing Reid wasn’t able to in Philly, win a Super Bowl.  It’s year one under Kelly and the Eagles transformation has been astounding when you reflect back on where this team was when the 2012 season ended.  Billy Davis deserves credit for bringing the defense along, but for now I’m sticking to what Chip Kelly was brought here to do, which is win and build a terrific offense.

When Kelly was hired there were two points in particular that every NFL talking head wanted to drive home.  The first was that Kelly was going need to learn to make adjustments to his offense if he wanted to find any sort of success in the NFL.  The second point many analysts believed was that Kelly would need a running quarterback to make his offense work.  The smarter analysts believed Kelly when he said he didn’t need a running quarterback.  Kelly’s answer to the question of the running quarterback is correct, but a little incomplete.  Kelly can make his offense work very well without a running quarterback, but his offense is even more lethal when he does have a quarterback that runs.  The reason, Kelly is almost like an eco-crusader or Native American hunter with regard to his offense.  What I mean is that he doesn’t let anything go to waste.  The same way an environmentalist will find uses for items that would otherwise be considered waste or how in elementary school we were told that Native Americans used every part of the animal they killed.  If Kelly had Tom Brady with 4.4 speed he’d use that skill.  He’s not going to force his quarterback to stay in the pocket if he can move well and cause more problems for the defense.  Kelly’s coaching stops before Philadelphia were at New Hampshire and Oregon.  Neither one was a juggernaut before he got there, so in order to compete against schools with more talent Kelly had to make sure every ounce of talent his players had was put to use.  You can see the philosophy all over the place in Kelly’s offenses.  It’s why he’ll stretch the field as much as possible with his wide receivers and tight ends.  The width of an NFL field is 53 and 1/3 yards.  So Kelly uses the entire field when he draws up plays forcing defenders to cover more ground.  This opens up the one on one situations you see Desean Jackson or Lesean McCoy exploit again and again, which has let to the Eagles leading the NFL in YAC average.  Same goes for Kelly’s change in tempo.  There are no rules stating a team has to huddle for 12 seconds before running a play, so why not use different tempos to tire out the defense and confuse them.  So to the original point, yes Kelly can run an offense without a mobile quarterback, but his offense can be that much more dangerous if he has a quarterback that can run.

This leads into the second fear NFL types had for Chip Kelly, that he would not be able to  or would be too stubborn to make the necessary adjustments to his offense.  However if anyone took the time to really look at his time at Oregon they’d see that he made adjustments to the personnel he had to work with.  When someone on television talks about Chip Kelly’s system they’re not seeing what he is really all about, because if they did they’d realize that there is no specific Chip Kelly offense.  At Oregon when Kelly’s quarterback was Dennis Dixon he had him both throw and run the ball since he was an effective thrower and runner.  When his quarterback was Jeremiah Masoli he threw less and had him run more since he was a far more efficient runner than thrower.  Just the opposite when his quarterback was Darron Thomas.  And in his last year as head coach with freshman Marcus Mariota at quarterback Kelly’s Ducks averaged 49.6 points per game due in large because Mariota is an incredibly gifted athlete running with the football and a poised decision maker when throwing the football.

Kelly’s goal is to put his players in a position where they are most likely to succeed given their skill set.  He’s not forcing his players into “The Chip Kelly Offense,” but rather tailoring the offense to them.  This philosophy is exactly what frustrated so many Eagles fans the last couple of years under Andy Reid.  With the athletic, but inaccurate and sometimes indecisive Vick at quarterback Reid had him throw 351 times in 10 games last year and 423 times in 13 games the year before.  Reid made those decisions because his offense was predicated on the West Coast Offense principles and he ultimately had more faith in his system than the players he had to work with.  This led to Reid criminally ignoring his best playmaker, Lesean McCoy, who only had 200 carries in 12 games last year.   As opposed to this season where McCoy has already received 269 carries through 14 games and leads the league in rushing.  Kelly’s flexibility and ability to adjust is what has allowed him to weather the storm this year while having to use the erratic but athletic Vick, accurate but slow Foles, and the catatonic Matt Barkley who is still reeling from his decision to come back to USC for his senior season.

The best example of Kelly’s flexibility with his offense came two weeks ago against Detroit in the blizzard.  Down 8-0 at half and not having any success moving the football I assumed Kelly had found his kryptonite, inclement weather.  Shame on me for not having faith in him, because in the second half Kelly pounded the Lions into submission with his rushing attack.  The Eagles finished the game with 46 rushing attempts to 22 pass attempts.  Maybe it’s wrong for me to assume, but had that been Reid I can picture him stubbornly calling pass play after pass play as Foles struggled to throw into the wind and snow.

At Oregon Kelly was able to get the most out of the players he had, and that has continued at the NFL level.  The first person to look at is Michael Vick.  In the short time that Vick was the starting quarterback for the Eagles Kelly’s offense produced Vick’s highest single game passing yards, 428 against San Diego.  Before going down Vick had also rushed for 308 yards on 34 carries giving him an average of 9.1 yards per attempt, which is Vick’s highest mark since his rookie season.  And Vick’s two rushing TDs equaled his total from the previous two seasons combined.  Obviously Vick’s small sample size isn’t going move the needle for the people still skeptical of Kelly so lets press on.

Ask Desean Jackson, Lesean McCoy, or Riley Cooper if they don’t like playing in Kelly’s system, as Donovan McNabb suggested at the beginning of the season, and you’ll get a violent head shake from all three of them as they go on about how much they love the offense.

Riley Cooper’s season started off poorly, because of a terrible decision he made.  But even before the incident took place Cooper wasn’t a safe bet to make the team.  Now, after the season he’s had Cooper is going get a substantial payday from someone.  This season Cooper has 41 receptions for 743 yards and 7 touchdowns.  Those numbers rank the former 5th round pick 39th in receiving yards, tied for 19th in touchdowns with players such as Alshon Jeffery and his 18.1 yards per catch puts Cooper 3rd behind only Josh Gordon and Kenny Stills.  Not bad for a guy who was close to being thrown on the trash heap.  Safe to say it’s been a career year for Cooper considering his numbers through his first three seasons were 46 catches 779 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Much of the same for Desean Jackson.  Unlike Cooper Jackson has been the Eagles number one wide receiver for the last six years so Jackson’s bar is set significantly higher than Cooper’s.  That doesn’t matter though as Jackson has already set new career highs in receptions (75) receiving yards (1,275) and has tied his previous career high in receiving touchdowns (9) with two games still to go.  Jackson is 5th in the league in receiving yards and tied for 10th in receiving touchdowns.  Twice this season he has had single game receiving yards that rank in the Eagles top 10 all time, 195 against the Vikings (8th) and 193 against the Chargers (10th).  Jackson’s 1,275 receiving yards also puts him only 134 yards away from breaking the Eagles single season receiving yards mark set by Mike Quick in 1983 with 1,409 yards.  Jackson is on pace for 1,457 yards.

Lesean McCoy’s season has been a bigger story since he currently leads the NFL in rushing with 1,343 yards.  His 5.0 yards per attempt rank him 3rd amongst running backs and also ranks third in runs of 20 plus yards (8) and first downs (62).  Against the Lions two weeks ago McCoy broke the Eagles single game rushing record with 217 yards.  And in the season opener against the Redskins McCoy piled up 184 rushed yards which is 10th best all time for an Eagle.  And like Jackson, McCoy is closing in on the Eagles single season rushing yards record of 1,512 yards set by Wilbert Montgomery in 1979.  McCoy is on pace for 1,535 yards this season.  It doesn’t end there.  McCoy’s 1,850 yards from scrimmage this year put him only 254 yards behind the Eagles all time mark of 2,104 set by Brian Westbrook.  If McCoy finishes these last two games with his season averages in rushing and receiving yards he should finish with 2,114 yards from scrimmage this year.

And then there is Nick Foles, the quarterback Kelly inherited from the Reid era, who many believed could never succeed here under Kelly’s new system.  Throughout the summer and pre-season Kelly continued to tell anyone that would listen he didn’t need a running QB to make his offense work.  Pundits were skeptical, and they were wrong.  Everyone knows about the 7 touchdown passes to 0 interceptions against Oakland tying an NFL record and putting him in rare air with Peyton Manning, George Blanda, Y.A. Tittle, Sid Luckman, and Joe Kapp.  But Foles success isn’t just a one game anomaly.  In 8 starts this year Foles has completed 62% of his passes for 2,398 yards 23 touchdowns and two interceptions, which translates to a Passer Rating of 117.0.  His Passer Rating is the highest in the league, besting Manning, Brees, and Rodgers.  Oh and he’s also rushed for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Numbers not usually associated with pocket passer quarterbacks.  In the red zone, an issue for the Eagles over the last umpteen years, Foles has been superb.  He’s 20 of 28 (71.4% comp percentage) for 155 yards and 12 touchdowns to 0 interceptions.  Foles’ two interceptions this season have him on pace to post the best touchdown to interception ratio (11.5) since 1990 which is as far back as Sportingcharts.com’s data goes.  Currently Tom Brady has the best mark ever of 9.0 set back in 2010.  Foles and Kelly are accomplishing all of this in the quarterback’s second season but first season under Kelly and first as a starter.  Here’s how Foles stacks up compared to some other quarterbacks in their first year as a starter.

Name Pass Comp Pass Att Comp % Pass Yards TD INT Passer Rtg
Nick Foles 165 266 62.0% 2,398 23 2 117.0
Tom Brady 264 413 63.9% 2,843 18 12 86.5
Peyton Manning 326 575 56.7% 3,739 26 28 71.2
Aaron Rodgers 341 536 63.6% 4,038 28 13 93.8
Russell Wilson 252 393 64.1% 3,118 26 10 100.0
Robert Griffin 258 393 65.6% 3,200 20 5 102.4
Andrew Luck 339 627 54.1% 4,374 23 18 76.5
Colin Kaepernick 136 218 62.4% 1,814 10 3 98.3

As an offense the Eagles are 7th in points, 2nd in yards, 10th in passing yards, 1st in rushing yards, 2nd in yards per pass attempt, 5th in passing touchdowns, 4th in fewest interceptions throw, 5th in cumulative quarterback rating, 1st in rushing yards per carry, tied for first in explosive plays (runs of 10+ and passes of 25+ as defined by sporting charts.com), 2nd in explosive play percentage, and 2nd in offensive touchdowns scored.  The advanced stats illustrate more of the same.  They are 2nd in points per minute of possession, 1st in yards after the catch, and 2nd in yards at the catch (meaning distance the ball is in the air before it is caught).  And as a team the Eagles are in line to break a few Eagles records.  They are on pace for 2,446 rushing yards which would be the 6th highest mark all time (2,607 is the most rushing yards in a season), but they have also only attempted 430 rushes in 2013.  The Eagles single season high is 632.  Kelly’s offense is on pace for 4,435 passing yards, which would be the best all time.  They’ve thrown 28 touchdown passes putting them within striking distance of the single season mark of 34.  And finally the Eagles are on pace for 6,624 net yards this season.  That would best the previous single season record by almost 300 yards.  The 6,624 yards would also be the 8th highest total of all time in the NFL.  Yes, 8th highest ever.

Kelly and his offense have accomplished all of this with the same collection of offensive talent that went 4-12 last year and ranked as one of the worst offenses in the NFL.  Like any coach Kelly has certain types of players he prefers, and once he gets those players on his team the offense becomes a freight train, like his 2012 Oregon Ducks offense.  But until then Kelly makes due with what he is given and designs an offense that best compliments his players.  When the season began Eagles fans were expecting something in the neighborhood of 7 wins, signs of improvement, and hope.  Kelly has the Eagles currently sitting atop the division with one of the three most potent offenses in the NFL this year.  So I ask again, are you not entertained?

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