The Chip Kelly Factor
Its a new start to a new season for a new team with a new perspective. In 2014, the Philadelphia Eagles must prove once more that they have prepared, trained, and come together better than 31 other NFL teams, and with so many distractions and with the economic and media standing of the league, that is not easy by a long shot. The team is preparing as they always have, with some new wrinkles. Players are signed as they always have been, with some new faces. Still, the process is as it has been and as it likely will be for the foreseeable future. So what is the difference, this “winning attitude” and where did it come from? Let’s call it the “Chip Kelly Factor” for now.
Chip Kelly is familiar enough with the limelight. From the moment he was linked to the Philadelphia Eagles, pundits lined up to either praise the man needlessly, or denounce the man prematurely. To his credit, Chip Kelly is one of the most controversial coaches in the NFL today – not by what he says or even does, but in the reactions of so many football analysts, sports writers and sports casters, and in the fans themselves.
You’ve likely read enough about Chip Kelly to be fairly versed on the guy in only one year in the NFL. My plan is to break down what Chip Kelly does for the Philadelphia Eagles into three component parts and discuss these three elements.
Much of Chip Kelly’s first year has been living up to, or debunking the myth that he runs a gadget offense which can easily be figured out by defensive coaches of opposing teams. But when you look at the basic fundamentals of Chip Kelly’s offense, and all of the associated “Chipisms” – “Big guys beat up little guys”; “We’re an equal opportunity scorer.”‘; “We’re from Philadelphia and we fight.”; “The Philadelphia Eagles runs the see coast offense. If we see something that works, we run it.”
This kind of wit is pretty simply stated, but its the tip of the vast amounts of preparation that begins now, in training camp. Malcolm Jenkins, the new free agent safety signed after playing for the New Orleans Saints, admitted as much in a recent interview on the Jim Rome Show:
“I think we’ve worked harder than any team in the NFL. I think we’ve gotten more reps and more exposure than any team in the NFL, so right now at this point we’re winning. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to win anything. All we can win is today and each day, we go out as a team and try to do that. I feel like if we continue on that path and get better and better as we go, I definitely see this team having a chance.”
What he is referring to is the Chip Kelly mantra of “Win The Day”. It’s simple. You practice harder. You study harder. Each individual has a goal to win their day. As each player goes, so goes the team. The methods behind the madness are truly insightful. When astronauts launched to the moon, they spent months simulating the mission on earth, even down to replicating weightlessness and working in space suits underwater. They did this to prepare the astronauts to act second nature throughout the mission.
The Chippah has taken that same concept and applied it to the NFL practices. Rather than give team hours upon hours of drills, which have NOTHING to do with the short bursts of intensity experienced in an NFL game, he simply changed the entire training to emulate the timing and pattern of an NFL game. He runs practice fast. He runs drills in short duration repetitions (much like when the offense or defense are on the field). He gives learning periods, which again are similar to working with coaches on the sidelines of games.
And when his offense takes the field, you can diagram on the board, but he makes full use of 11 players on both offense and defense. He coaches not merely what the offense must do, but turns it back upon himself and tries to defend his plays to make them better.
When he places two tackles to one side, he forces the defense to compensate beyond their comfort zone. If they stack three players to negate two big bodies, he merely takes the ball another direction. If they stick with two men, then Chip uses his size and skill advantage and takes the ball behind the big men. It’s not a trick, a gadget, or even smoke and mirrors. The offense forces the defense to show their hand, and then reacts accordingly. That is basic, fundamentally sound football.
So fundamentally, the offense forces a defense to commit and then goes to the play which favors the offense. So why don’t offenses do the same thing against the Eagles? Well, some try. But the Eagles have made HUGE strides in answering that dilemma this year. If you recall, the Eagles defenders had a thread of “versatile” and “multi disciplined” attached to their descriptions. Safeties who have cornerback experience, cornerbacks who can play safety in a pinch, outside linebackers who can set the edge to stop a run, rush a passer, and effectively drop back in space to cover. All of these types of players give the Eagles the advantage. How? The longer the offense takes to understand what the defense is trying to do, the better the odds favor the defense.
It was pretty safe to guess that outside linebacker Trent Cole would be rushing the passer, and his counterpart Conner Barwin would likely be dropping back into coverage. But with the selection of Marcus Smith, the Eagles believe that they have a second cover/edge guy. If Smith is able to see playing time, his flexibility will give the offense pause. That again is basic fundamental football.
Practice What You Preach
The game of NFL football has been described as the game of inches. But more than that, it is a battle of wits and resolve. Each week, players congregate in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans, until the tide goes against them. When that happens, cheers become silence, silence becomes boos. The game of inches is a game of perseverance, and of execution.
In the last section, I described how Chip Kelly directs his practice to run fast, to have bursts of activity followed by periods of training. He plays music. In fact, he pretty much sets up his practices to emulate as many game day experiences as he can. Most coaches run practices to teach players how to think, and those thoughts are how to play throughout NFL game day. But as anyone can tell you, learning to do something is never effective if you have to think about what you are doing. A dancer cannot dance if they are looking at their feet. A child on a bicycle will topple if they look down and forget to peddle. Why? Well, after practicing something enough, your body acts without conscious thought. It becomes “automatic”. What really happens is the process is downgraded to the subconscious where it will go off without a hitch.
So practicing for an NFL game should be as close to all conditions as possible. With that familiarity, the human mind does what it has always done – when events appear familiar, the body runs on autopilot. The advantage of that is simple. When a player has practiced so effectively that they can execute without the conscious mind, they will not be distracted and performance will improve dramatically.
Need proof? In Chip Kelly’s first year, two Philadelphia Eagles players had performances which were so exemplary, that they have been sent to the pro football Hall of Fame. Can anyone really believe that both quarterback Nick Foles AND running back LeSean McCoy were on track to have their jerseys on display in 2013? Both are very good at what they do.
Practice for the Birds is more than simply teaching the body WHAT to do, but also sets the pace for how fast it needs to do it. Kelly’s methods are set to run practices quickly, so quickly in fact that come game day that same “fast offense” actually seems slow to the players. Speed is relative – if the speed of a game appears slower than practice, they will have plenty of time to make plays. If their opposition does not have that same training rate, a game with the Eagles feels fast, pressured, and eventually leads to award winning performances by players faking injuries to slow the game pace down.
Expect The Unexpected
You’ve got to know when to hold them, and know when to fold them. And at the same time, you have to be poker faced so that your opponent does not know which you are in. But Chip Kelly knows this. So he changes his pattern.
In a game against the Oakland Raiders, the Philadelphia Eagles offense appeared to be committed to the pass. When the Eagles took the snowy field to face the tough Detroit Lions, they ran at will. The team is nearly impossible to pigeonhole because it has many options.
After playing the best season of his career, the Eagles parted ways with wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The media looked at the event and tried to piece reasons behind the decision. But after the smoke cleared, it appears that it was simply a business decision, and huge paychecks will not exactly be the way of the future. The decision appears risky to many. But even to that point, the team is in the hands of a man who has no hesitation to take risks. Some will fail, and there are many who will cry foul at each such occasion. But success requires risk-taking. Chip will go for two points when a single point can tie it up. He will try an on-side kick if the opposition appears unprepared. He will even try unusual formations in an effort to place the Bird at an advantage It means not doing it the same old same old way. Its a new start to a new season for a new team with a new perspective.
Chip will be the first to laugh at unwarranted praise. He will scoff at the idea that he is doing anything revolutionary for or to the game of football in the NFL. But make no mistake, he is prepared. His team is prepared. Chip Kelly will try to improve upon his 58.8% scored in 2013. If you haven’t heard this one… you should look it up. You will enjoy it.