Sep 19, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
Philadelphia Eagles Marvel At Head Coach Chip Kelly Power Ball Running Attack
The Philadelphia Eagles have been fighting a battle of identity. In 2013, the first year under head coach Chip Kelly, the offense purred under the quarterbacking of Michael Vick and Nick Foles, and ended up with a nearly half pass and half run offensive balance. The next year, the offense seemed off balance: not only in having 60% of the plays resulting in passes, but in the huge numbers of turnovers. The number of carries for running back LeSean McCoy were virtually identical – 314 carries in 2013, and 312 carries in 2014. Sports Science, random coincidence, or fate ensured that the workload to McCoy was no greater.
So where did the imbalance happen? Well, strange as it may seem, but the Eagles own high powered offense was the culprit. The team ran 1,008 offensive plays in 2013. The same team (figuratively speaking) ran 1,095 plays in 2014. In 2013, the team ran 500 rushing plays, but pared the number back to 474 in 2014. So where did the excess go? The passing game.
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In 2014, the team began the season with newly acquired running back Darren Sproles filling the void of power runner Bryce Brown. Meanwhile, running back Chris Polk began the season injured. Polk did not get his first carry of the season until the seventh game of the year. By the time Polk touched the ball, Sproles had already carried over 60% of his rushes for the Eagles. The Birds played the first half of the 2014 season with two running backs per game. Even with rotating two running backs, the damage to a defense was obvious. When the first game ended against the Jacksonville Jaguars, starting running back McCoy has rushed 21 times for 74 yards. Sproles had rushed for a nearly similar amount, 71 yards, on half as many carries – 11. It happened again in game five, where 24 rushes for Shady netted 81 yards, but 7 rushes for change of pace running back Darren Sproles netted 51 yards.
How was this possible? Defense game plans focus on neutralizing the best offensive weapons of the team they face – and in the games where they faced the Eagles, that weapon was typically LeSean McCoy. But when the offensive formation has no McCoy, the defense has no player to “key” on, and the defense is set on the wrong key, or unable to adjust to the speed or style of a new running back. A similar set of events happened later in the season when Chris Polk got into the mix, and in only 46 carries rushed for four touchdowns. By the end of the year, the Eagles had rushed for 15 touchdowns, six for Sproles, five for McCoy, and four for Polk.
Chip Kelly Assembles Philadelphia’s Fantastic Four
With the exodus of LeSean McCoy, the running game certainly seemed to take a step backwards in the early moments of the off-season. Some believe the off-season went according to plan, some believe that there was no plan. In reality, events that evolved were likely evidence to a very complex and multilayer plan. But this article is not about a plan, a dream, a vision, nor even a wild ar$ed guess (a.k.a. WAG), but simply the likely scenario of four very skilled and formidable running backs in the same offensive set. Much like the Marvel super-hero quartet, Chip Kelly’s version of the Fantastic Four compliment each other: