The Chip Kelly Conundrum

Darius Walker at comments upon the disconnect between the offensive system and running back Demarco Murray, who the Eagles gave a $40 million contract to in the offseason:

Chip Kelly‘s high-powered spread offense revolves around spacing. The majority of snaps take place out of the shotgun formation, with the goal of capitalizing on the gaps created by that alignment. To be successful, Murray must rely on his peripheral vision and react to open lanes throughout the entire line of scrimmage. So if a hole opens up on the back side, he needs to see it immediately and take advantage.

“Unfortunately, he’s never had to do that before.”

“Only a handful of backs can be classified as feature backs, which is to say, someone who does everything well. Most runners fall into one of three categories: one-cut, open-field or third-down.

“Murray is a one-cut guy. He has a rare combination of strength and balance, with an exceptional capacity for attacking downhill. He can completely gash opposing defenses between the tackles and get the tough yards.”

“In Week 5 against New Orleans, the Eagles incorporated more runs from under center. The result was one of Murray’s better outings of the season (83 rushing yards and a touchdown). In order for Murray to be successful, and for the Eagles to leverage their investment, Kelly would have to completely alter the offensive approach.”

Which he’s not going to do. Like running backs, you can classify coaches into two types: those who adapt to their personnel and those who need personnel to fit their system. Kelly is the latter. Unfortunately he had zero NFL experience as a coach before being hired by the Eagles, much less as a personnel man.  He’s paying for that inexperience now.

Murray’s struggles mask the other real issue for the Eagles. It’s poor coaching. When he took on the role of general manager, Kelly was arguably distracted and weakened his strongest suit, his ability to get the most out of players, especially on offense. Connor Orr. also at, comments upon one Eagles’ situation their game against the Cardinals as one example of the problem:

“Because they were already trailing the NFL’s fifth-best defense 17-10, Kelly thought that points would be at a premium, so he opted to go for it on fourth down. Following a timeout, Kelly sent out his personnel grouping and the Cardinals immediately countered with a timeout of their own.

“In that moment, Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson noticed that the Cardinals returned with a different defense.

“‘They brought (linebacker Alex Okafor) over and put him over (Eagles tight end Brent Celek),’ Johnson said. ‘That’s basically what they did.’

“Did the Eagles return with a different play call?

“‘Did the play call change? Our call was the same but the defense changed,’ he said.

“So the defense may have anticipated the call?

“‘I think so. It was just a good play by them. We didn’t execute like we should have.'”

“And it wasn’t just moments related to the offense and their seldom-used $40 million player. The defense was drifting into sub packages with their backs against the goal line. Their line and secondary was so scattershot that the Cardinals didn’t even bother taking advantage of the fact that the Eagles were down to their final two healthy cornerbacks, opting to pound the ball with David Johnson.”

Is Kelly in over his head? It sure looks like it. It’s fairly evident that coaching in the NFL is more than just rolling out more talented players than the other team, spreading them out and letting them do the same thing over and over again as Kelly did at Oregon. Its a game of adjustments and re-adjustments over the course of all 16 games. Kelly is likely just realizing that.  Its possible his players are realizing that he’s just realizing it, too.  That doesn’t inspire much confidence or good play.

The Eagles were one of the most interesting teams going into 2015. We all wondered which direction Kelly’s team was going to go in after drastic changes in the offseason meant to give the coach what he wanted to get over the hump. Its now clear that what he wanted was the wrong thing in at least some cases and the Eagles have regressed. The question now is what to do about it.

Once again, the Eagles will be a fascinating team to watch in the offseason. They are left with an unsavory choice. They could quickly tear things down before they get worse. If they choose, instead, to stick with Kelly and let him learn on the job how to both coach and manage personnel in the NFL, the Eagles may well have a ways to go before they bottom out. Kelly is by all accounts a smart man and the likelihood is that he’ll eventually figure it out. But do the Eagles, their players and their fans have the faith and the patience to wait that out? And should they?

Only Limited Similarity Between John Fox and Lovie Smith

David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune praises former Bears head coach Lovie Smith but at the same time under-states the positives of current head coach John Fox by stating that there’s not much difference between the two:

“The praise heaped on Fox comes mostly because he benefits by comparison to predecessor Marc Trestman, the cerebral interloper more suited as a life coach than an NFL head coach.”

“Truth is, Fox re-established credibility at Halas Hall by doing the job much the way Smith did for nine seasons: treating players like men and employing a philosophy built on a strong defense and conservative offense… If Smith could hire offensive coordinators as well as Fox has, perhaps he could have returned to a Super Bowl with the Bears.”

“Fox’s consistency in approach — something that always helped Smith connect with players — gives the Bears hope for the future no matter what their 2015 record is.

“Meanwhile, history gets a little kinder to Smith every week.”

I think everyone recognizes Smith’s accomplishments here and I think everyone recognized them when he left. But we also recognized his faults and there’s no doubt that Fox is a great improvement as a head coach. Fox has almost all of Smith’s positive attributes with out the baggage brought by Smith’s weird combination of both arrogance and insecurity.

It was the arrogance that made him insist on more power over personnel than he should have had in Chicago. It’s what’s gong to end up holding the Buccaneers back with Smith in charge of personnel there.  As former bear general manager Jerry Angelo put it:

[James Winston is] right on the cusp of being a franchise quarterback. They were a really bad team a year ago and they’re not really that much better this year except for him.

My mother could have drafted Winton or Marcus Mariota.

It was his insecurity that caused his poor record of hiring coordinators. Smith insisted they have experience working with him before because he was afraid of the creative tension that might be brought on by someone with a different point of view. He also lived by the tenant that you should never hire anyone good enough to be your own replacement. Even if you discount these speculations the fact remains that Smith couldn’t attract the best coaches.

Fox has none of these problems as demonstrated by the fact that he hired offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the two best available coordinators of 2015. He stays in the background and helps them do their jobs rather than doing it for them as Smith did with the defense after firing Ron Rivera for the sin of occasionally disagreeing with him.

In many ways Smith was a wonderful head coach and despite his flaws he brought some good years to Chicago and I’m grateful. But I don’t miss him. Looking back, the Bears are much better off now than they ever were then.