May 20, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running backs coachDuce Staley
leads the running backs to the next drill during organized team activities at the NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
What’s It All About?
To understand what the Eagles are doing this year, you have to simply forget that this is the NFL. This is Chip’s house now, and the only way to truly understand what Chip is up to is NOT his words (albeit he’s pretty forthright) but his offense while coaching for the Oregon Ducks.
The key to the Chip Kelly offense is the fact that it is designed to be a spread formation running game. The offense establishes two basic plays: the inside zone read and the outside zone read.
Inside Zone Read – On an inside zone read play, the running back is to the side and behind the quarterback. It’s designed to be physical runs up the middle of the offense, such as a dive or a plunge play. Blocking is straight ahead. The quarterback follows the defender who is key to the play. If the defender breaks inside to stop the running back, the quarterback keeps the ball and runs outside. If the defender “stays home”, the quarterback hands the ball off and the running back slices through the inside hole.
Outside Zone Read – On an outside zone read play, the running back lines up parallel with the quarterback. It’s designed to be a rush to the outside across from the side where the running back begins. Blocking begins with a kick step and offensive lines turning their shoulders to get to the outside of the defender. If the defense overreacts, the running back can cut back to an open hole.
Power Play – This is an inside zone read formation, but instead of forward blocking, the offensive line blocks on a slant and an offensive lineman pulls to lead the running back through the hole and to neutralize any defenders in position to make the play.
Triple Option – This play will likely see plenty of work in 2015. The offense shows a balance backfield, with two running backs set up behind the quarterback. On this play, the offense can attack the defense with an inside zone read, while attacking the outside of the other side of the defense. Imagine an offensive formation which has Murray attacking the inside while Matthews attacks the outside on the same play.
Sweep Read – This play resembles the outside zone read play, but on this play the offense pulls one or more offensive line (rather than just kick step to the outside). The “read” becomes the option of what the interior defender does. If the defender breaks to the runner, the quarterback keeps the ball and runs to the spot the pursuing defender vacated.
This is all information we learned when Chip Kelly arrived. But with the arrival of now four running backs, the offense takes on a new dimension. The NFL defenses are expert at dissecting offenses, styles, and tendencies. Now that defensive coordinators have seen two years of the Philadelphia offense, they have been able to see what the Eagles plan to do based upon the way the running back sets up, leans, and breaks upon the snap of the ball. Since the offense is predicated on making defenses see and react to what the play is giving, it commands players to follow through even if it is stopped. With four different style but skilled NFL runners, the Eagles have added another variable.
Chip Kelly learns as he goes, and then goes back to the drawing board to counter what defenses are throwing at him. In the first two years in Philadelphia, he has been forced by the number of running backs to burn excess offensive plays via the passing game, to his disappointment. With four running backs, and a run the ball mindset, Chip Kelly has the makings of a small counter-revolution in the NFL.
As teams spend money on receivers, Kelly loads up on discounted running backs. And in a league where predictability is fatal, the Eagles have added uncertainty to their running game. From the power running of Polk, to the deceptive elusiveness of Sproles, to the burning speed of Matthews, to the forceful first down rushing of Murray, the Eagles are set to fight a ground war in 2015. As the defense faces the team in 2015, imagine the fourth quarter with a Philadelphia team fielding fresh runners.
It’s true that its a passing league, and the rules and the game has gone that direction. But the team that runs best typically ends up successful in the NFL. With four fantastic runners, the Philadelphia Eagles have set themselves up to have a good season running the ball. And while the rest of the league wonders what the plan is, the Philadelphia Eagles marvel at head coach Chip Kelly power ball running attack. With four runners carrying the load, the team has also set up no one running back carrying too much of the load.
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