Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Nov 2012

The New Old School

A nice Chris Brown piece up at Grantland about Chip Kelly's offensive system and how it might work in the NFL.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 15 Nov 2012

12 comments, Last at 18 Nov 2012, 2:28pm by speedegg


by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 11/15/2012 - 2:30pm

Will check it out tonight. Should be goog

by Dean :: Thu, 11/15/2012 - 4:55pm

Interesting. Last night, Tanier wrote a piece over at Sports On Earth about how Kelly is more likely to be the next Spurrier than the next Jimmy Johnson.

I'm more inclined to believe Tanier.

by Dave Bernreuther :: Fri, 11/16/2012 - 1:48pm

I'll believe Brown over Tanier on most days, and that is by no means a slight to Tanier.

That said, I'm still leaning towards "flop" on this one... but I am VERY eager to see it if he goes to the right team.

I think Kelly is leaps and bounds smarter than Spurrier. I think he relates to people better than Spurrier. I think he adapts better and is more creative than Spurrier.

That's not to say he won't still fail; succeeding in the NFL is REALLY HARD.

But as the commenter Kalon Jelen points out, people who study and talk with Kelly (Gruden among them, though I've never understood the fascination with Gruden, and Belichick too) generally come away very impressed and with new ideas. I personally am very interested in seeing what kind of changes he could make to practices, particularly in this age of fewer and fewer padded reps. That Kelly/Leach/Holgorson/etc style of running practices like sprints and just drilling simple things over and over and over could have some real value with a young roster, and from what I've seen from several teams and coaches, it's still mostly foreign to the NFL. And I think that Kelly's brain has a very good chance of adapting to the things in the NFL that render certain elements of the spread, reads, etc less useful.

I don't know that I'd go so far as to say I'm rooting for him to succeed. But I am rooting for him to try.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Fri, 11/16/2012 - 2:55pm

It's a good point that you've touched on. There are really two questions here. One, how can Kelly's system fare in the NFL? And two, how can Kelly himself fare in the NFL?

I'm skeptical on question 1. There's a reason no one runs option plays as a base offense in the NFL. The defenders are too good, and the coaches work 18-hour days. See also the "wildcat" craze and its rapid slide from "next big thing" to gimmick status. It's been more-or-less figured out, and the players are ready for it.

Question 2 has more to do with personality traits, so it's harder to speculate on. Spurrier never appeared interested in doing anything other than exactly what he did at Florida, even once it become obvious that it wasn't working. If Kelly is willing to adapt and throw out things that won't work, he could be successful.

Not that this necessarily will be predictive of what will happen with Kelly, but it bears noting that the recent history isn't very good for the college coach du jour jumping to the NFL. I'm at a loss to think of a truly successful one during the ~15 years between Jim Harbaugh and Jimmy Johnson. Recruiting is a skill of primary importance for college coaches, and it's just about meaningless in the NFL.

by My name is my password (not verified) :: Fri, 11/16/2012 - 3:27pm

Tom Coughlin, if he was a coach du jour.

by Dean :: Sat, 11/17/2012 - 1:05pm

Kelly's a stat guy. I suspect that the three of you are at least to some extent stat guys - otherwise why are you here? - and I am as well. So to me, that's reason enough to hope he tries and succeeds (unless he has some Jerramy Stevens type issues hiding in his closet or something). But I see more reason for pessimism than optimism.

by speedegg :: Sun, 11/18/2012 - 2:28pm

Hmm, I'm thinking Kelly could succeed at the NFL, but not using the zone read triple option as his base play. As someone else said he can't use "option/deception as your base run" or put it another way, "you can't base your running game around your QB." He could integrate elements of his offense, but sooner or later the QB has to line up under center.

Two examples would be Washington and Carolina, it shows the limitations of running a college offense at the pro level.

by Subrata Sircar :: Thu, 11/15/2012 - 9:23pm

The biggest issue with optioning off NFL defenders is that they're simply fast enough to recover. In the picture breakdown, take a look at the two LBs on the left; one is going to guard the off-tackle gap, while the other has to scrape over to the backside gap (and then gets scooped). If you try to do that to, say, Ray Lewis, he's going to use his speed to guard both gaps. (And Ngata isn't going to let someone come off to scoop him anyway.) Optioning off your average college defender (like the bubble-screen-by-alignment checks used by packaged plays) is sound thinking; optioning an NFL defender requires very, very precise timing to make them commit to one of those holes.

The biggest issue with using the QB as an extra attacker/runner is that they're the most valuable player on the field and losing one to injury is ridiculously bad; putting them in position to get hit that many more times - and in positions where they can't protect themselves as much - is risky in college, where the average player isn't really going to be able to crush the QB on a regular basis. In the NFL it's borderline suicide - even Tim Tebow is going to have trouble taking on James Harrison 15 times a game, 16 games a year.

None of this is to say that Kelly couldn't adapt - his guys are faster too - but only to note that making a college defense defend the whole field is sound thinking. An NFL defense really can defend the whole field - their worst guy is still faster than the best guy on most of the D's Oregon faces year-in and year-out.

by c0rrections (not verified) :: Fri, 11/16/2012 - 3:45pm

Actually let's talk about the speed point. Chip's guys wouldn't actually be faster in the NFL especially not in relative terms. Speed rates very highly on what he recruits and while he doesn't have all of the fast players it's safe to say he has all fast players. There is much baseline for improvement over what he has. Meanwhile every secondary player in the NFL is a fast player from college. Therefore the speed against his speed is much greater while the top up isn't that high.

by Podge (not verified) :: Fri, 11/16/2012 - 6:30am

I see a couple of problems.

The main problem is that with the athleticism of NFL linebackers (and physicality of NFL corners and safeties) finding a QB who can both beat you with him arm and run effectively is damn difficult. I'm not saying its impossible (hi Mssrs Griffin, Newton, Vick et al). That's probably pretty solveable if he managed to time his entry to the NFL at a time when those sorts of guys might be available (hi Mssrs Reid and Rivera).

What I think is a bigger problem is the blocking scheme - 5 in the box against 5 linemen, fair enough - you can even use a QB to read one of the defenders and essentially make it 5 OL on 4. The problem then comes when its 6 on 5. Yeah, you can use the QB to read one, and assume it works, and it makes it 5 on 5. That then requires each of your linemen to beat their man every time, and I don't think that's realistic in the NFL. And unless the QB is a real threat to run (a Griffin, Vick or Newton, not a Luck or Locker etc) then the read will basically be ineffective, because NFL Ds will be able to chase the guy down before he hurts them most of the time, especially if its a staple of the offense.

by Anonymousssssss (not verified) :: Fri, 11/16/2012 - 7:47pm

He doesn't need an RG3. Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck et al are more than adequate in his system running-wise (and obviously tremendous passing-wise). Not that those guys are easy to find either, but then good QBs are quite hard to find period.

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/16/2012 - 3:42pm

Bits of this article gave me a headache, I'd hate to have to defend that attack on a college field with limited practise time. However, in the NFL the field is considerably compressed and I think that will be the most substantial issue in the pros.

The turbo approach could be successful, the Pats have shown that this year but I suspect that Kelly will have to make some schematic changes if he is to thrive over a sustained period.