A Closer Look At Chip Kelly’s Zone-Read Offense


Jan 17, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles new head coach Chip Kelly addresses the media during a press conference at the Philadelphia Eagles NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

As Chip Kelly settles into his new adopted home, fresh off an impressive press conference that was unlike anything Andy Reid conducted during his tenure as head coach, he brings with him fresh ideas, a new attitude, and an offensive gameplan that is unlike anything ever seen in Philadelphia.

Chip Kelly, master of the zone-read offense.

But what is the zone-read offense, you may ask? Well, it’s a bit complicated to explain, so I’m going to let someone else do the majority of the explaining.

Meet Charles Fisher of FishDuck.com, an Oregon Ducks football website that is well, really, into the Oregon Ducks. Fisher recently created a series of Youtube tutorials explaining the different facets of Kelly’s offense.

Much of what’s shown is similar to the Washington Redskins’ pistol offense run by RGIII and Alfred Morris that was run with so much success this year.

Only, Chip’s going run it better. Right, Chip?

There are two main components of the zone-read offense, the first of which is called the inside zone-read. Take it away, Chuck!

As you can see in the video, the zone-read is fairly easy to identify. When the running back is standing behind the quarterback, the play is an inside zone-read. If the running back is standing behind and to the right of quarterback, that means the play is designed to go to the left side of the offensive line. If he’s standing behind and to the left of the quarterback, the play is designed to go to the right.

It’s the quarterback’s responsibility to see what the primary defender, usually a defensive end or blitzing linebacker, is keying. As the quaretback hands off the ball, he should be able to tell if the defender is going after him or the running back. The quarterback can then decide whether to execute the handoff, or hold onto the ball and run.

The astonishing thing about Kelly’s system, both with the inside and outside zone-read is that the defense knows exactly what play is coming. There is no disguising it. That’s why Oregon has a tremendous number of plays for losses, amongst the most of any team in college football. However, they also had more big plays, because when the defense guesses incorrectly who is going to get the ball, huge holes open up for big gains.

This concept was apparent in the Washington-Dallas game in Week 17. The offensive line basically left DeMarcus Ware unblocked for much of the game. Yet, Ware was completely ineffective, mainly because he stood flat-footed so much of the time, trying to figure out if Morris was going to get the ball or if Griffin was going to keep it. This look also neutralizes the pass rush on designed play action passes.

Next, the outside zone-read.

With the outside zone-read, the running back lines up directly beside the QB, not behind him. In the outside zone-read, the RB runs to the opposite side of where he’s standing. For example, if the RB is standing to the left of the QB, the play will be going to the right, and vice versa. The offensive line and wide receivers then attempt to seal off the edge for the running back to take off down the sideline, or cut back and find an open lane in the middle of the offensive line.

In the outside zone-read, the offensive line is blocking horizontally, trying to move the defensive lineman laterally, while with the inside zone-read, the offensive linemen are doing straight ahead blocking. It’s all designed to keep defensive linemen on their toes.

The QB also has the option of keeping the ball himself which often results in large holes opening in the middle of the line.

It’s important to note that this system does require an athletic quarterback, but it is more dependent on a quarterback who is smart, makes quick decisions, and can throw the ball accurately.

Of course, the Eagles’ personnel in 2013 may not be equipped to do everything Kelly did at Oregon. Some of these plays may not work at the pro level, and Kelly has said he will design an offense based on the personnel around him, not the other way around.

Kelly is going to have to be flexible and creative. He has two dynamic running backs in LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, two speed options at wide receiver in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and a solid tight end in Brent Celek.

What he doesn’t have a proven quarterback. It’s possible neither Vick nor Foles will be his starter when the season opens in September.

But this should give everyone a good idea of the kind of system Kelly would like to run, once all of the pieces are in place. The zone-reads have already had decent success in the NFL, and his up-tempo offensive style, currently being modeled by the New England Patriots to great success, is something the NFL has never seen before.

Only time will tell if all this will actually work.