2 post-Super Bowl thoughts

Well, that was an incredible game between Oklahoma and… nope, wait, sorry! Wrong game, although one could be forgiven for thinking he/she was watching the Big XII conference in action Sunday at the Super Bowl. Ultimately, I think the Eagles’ victory is justice in more ways than one. Not only were they the better team on the day, but they were the best team on the season before Carson Wentz’ knee injury, which had everyone believing – myself included – that their postseason chances were cooked when the quarterback went down for the season. So kudos to Philly for pulling off this Varsity Blues-esque accomplishment. Here are two more things that come to my mind at the close of this NFL season.

1. Doug Pederson kicked some serious ass. 

Speaking for the Eagles’ head coach, take it away, CM Punk…

Might we have badly underestimated the former career backup quarterback? The Ringer‘s Michael Lombardi kept insisting for most of this season that Pederson was getting too much respect for his coaching acumen. And as the season was unfolding, whose name did we consistently hear when talking about the game’s best coaches? Obviously, it starts and ends with Bill Belichick, but apart from him… We sang the praises of Andy Reid when the Chiefs started the campaign on an absolute rampage. We were (correctly) in awe of Sean McVay as he transformed the Rams from downright pathetic to dynamic and fun to watch on offence. We even marvelled at the job Sean McDermott was doing in Buffalo until he so incomprehensibly sabotaged himself by throwing Nathan Peterman into the starting lineup as the Bills were on pace to make the playoffs. But what about Pederson?

Sure, no one was as disrespectful as Lombardi when it came to talking about the Eagles coach, but the narrative around Philly’s success mostly revolved around Wentz blossoming into an MVP candidate. He certainly deserves tremendous praise for the sensational season he was enjoying before his injury, and I do not mean to diminish the significance of what he has become, but who out there gave Pederson his due? Who stopped for a second and really asked, “could this be happening at least in part because the coach really knows what he’s doing?”

Fast forward to February and Pederson, along with his staff, has masterminded a Super Bowl win with Nick Foles at the helm. After the Eagles lost Wentz, the consensus was that they were doomed. As if the initial lack of faith wasn’t bad enough, Minnesota just so happened to pull an incredible finish out of their hat against the Saints. The Vikes were coming to Philadelphia to earn the right to play the Super Bowl at home. They looked like a “team of destiny.” Then, the Eagles and Foles forced people to take notice when they treated the Vikings to a shellacking akin to this one…

“Ah, but that was against a team led by fellow journeyman Case Keenum after they had the big emotional high to win the previous week,” they said. “Now, they’ll be going against the (so-called) “GOAT” and against the greatest head coach of all time.” Different ballgame? Perhaps, but it seems people told Pederson and his team that their loss was pre-ordained a few times too many. Working with his offensive coordinator and fellow career backup QB Frank Reich, Pederson proved himself a riddle too complicated for Patriots DC Matt Patricia to solve. The Eagles moved the ball pretty much at will for the near entirety of the game. Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth saw many more RPOs than the true amount Pederson actually called, but there were several, along with many well-timed play-action passes and an outside zone scheme that created big lanes for running backs Jay Ajayi and LeGarette Blount virtually all night long. Oh, and of course, at a critical moment in the game, there was this balls-of-steels 4th down call…

So, basically, I take away two things from the offence I saw from the Eagles at the Super Bowl. First, I expect to see an increase in the quantity of schemes NFL coaches borrow from the college game and in the frequency at which they do, namely those oh-so-trendy RPOs, which are quite simply a cheat code against two-safety looks. Secondly, the NFL coaching community, for all its conservatism, has some bright offensive minds. Doug Pederson is one of them.

2. Shut up, Steve Young! Tom Brady was not outplayed tonight.

This may come as a surprise to those of you who are aware that I do not share the increasingly popular opinion that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time. No, I still don’t. No, it wouldn’t have changed anything had the Pats won this year’s Super Bowl.

BUT…

After the game, Steve Young, in one of his customary insults to the audience’s intelligence, said that Nick Foles out-dueled Tom Brady tonight. If there is any sense to be found in this affirmation, it doesn’t lie in the fact that the Eagles won and the Pats lost.

Brady became the first ever quarterback to lose a game despite throwing for 500 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Both quarterbacks were outstanding tonight, so somebody please give me a break with this notion that Brady was outplayed! Part of my case against him being the “G.O.A.T.” is that circumstances have favoured him more than any other quarterback in history. Yet, tonight, he just might have pulled another one of those mythical comebacks had circumstances not gone against him for a change. Any chance of a late equalizing drive was almost eradicated after the Pats’ decision to try a reverse on the game’s last kickoff backfired, leaving Brady with 92 yards to gain in one minute with no timeouts.

I find it ridiculous to compare quarterbacks as most of us do, which is to say based on records and titles that hinge on breaks in the game so completely out of their control. It’s one of the many reasons why it’s incorrect to call Brady the “G.O.A.T.,” but it’s also why I think it’s preposterous to say he has been outplayed tonight or that this impacts his legacy. And if this is hard to grasp for you, here’s an analogy: in 1966, the Giants had one of the worst defenses in the history of the league. The team scored 40 points or more in two consecutive games, and lost them both. (I simply cannot wrap my head around the level of defensive ineptitude required to make this happen…) Saying Brady was outplayed tonight is the equivalent of looking at that ’66 Giants team after those two losses and saying, “well, our offence just couldn’t score us enough points!” It’s worth reiterating that Brady is now the only quarterback to throw for 500 yards, three TDs, no picks, and lose. Nick Foles played very well tonight, but he didn’t out-duel a soul.

Anyone who wishes to question Brady’s consensual status of G.O.A.T. cannot possibly have earned that right tonight; you either did before tonight and you still can, or you didn’t and you still cannot. Brady is what he is, and none of that changed because his team lost a tight game to a really good, very well-coached Eagles squad and couldn’t quite reel in Lombardi trophy number six.

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The First Round Mock Draft

So, the draft is today. And since I turned the intro to my mock draft into a separate article, I’m not making you wait any longer, so here goes.

1. Los Angeles Rams (from Tennessee): Jared Goff, Quarterback, California:  I won’t be shocked if the Rams go Carson Wentz, but everything coming out of L.A. points to Goff, who is considered the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft. What tips the scales in Goff’s favour for me is the fact that Rams’ head coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead are fighting for their jobs and need to win now.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (From Cleveland): Carson Wentz, Quarterback, North Dakota State: Philadelphia has made no secret that it wants whichever quarterback the Rams don’t pick, so Wentz falls to them here. There is no way the Eagles don’t go quarterback here, even though they have the Sam Bradford saga to begin with.

3. San Diego Chargers: Laremy Tunsil, Offensive Tackle, Ole Miss: This has turned into the draft’s pivotal pick. The Chargers are believed to be looking at Tunsil and FSU’s Jalen Ramsey. We’re also starting to hear the name “DeForest Buckner” lately, which leads me to think smokescreen. I think they go for the franchise left tackle.

4. Dallas Cowboys: Jalen Ramsey, Defensive Back, Florida State: Without a quarterback to tempt them, the Cowboys get back to noticing they have an atrocious defensive backfield. Ramsey can act as an eraser in the secondary who can shift around between corner, nickel and free safey depending on the week. The Cowboys need an edge rusher, but the guy worth picking here is Ramsey.

5. Miami Dolphins (From Jacksonville): Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back, Ohio State: Word on the street is the Dolphins are looking to move up to get Elliott ahead of other teams who might want him. With Jalen Ramsey gone, there is no one Jacksonville really wants who is worth taking here. Therefore, the trade happens. Elliott is one of the rare running back worth taking so high, and he instantly upgrades the position for a team that lost Lamar Miller and missed out on CJ Anderson.

6. Baltimore Ravens: DeForest Buckner, Defensive End, Oregon: The Ravens may be tempted by Ronnie Stanley and Joey Bosa. Compared to these two, though, Buckner is a bigger need than Stanley (Eugene Monroe starting at left tackle is not a liability) and a better system fit than Bosa. Baltimore is the ultimate “Best Player Available” team, so who the hell knows, but Buckner figures to be really close to the top of their board, and he fills a huge need.

7. San Francisco 49ers: Myles Jack, Linebacker, UCLA: Yes, I know the 49ers have been burned by health concern linebackers. However, the Niners also know that when they were dominant defensively, it started with the inside duo of Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. Right now, Gerald Hodges is slated to start next to Bowman. San Fran knows that a healthy Jack is one of the five best players in the draft, and new coach Chip Kelly takes a chance on him here.

8. New Orleans Saints (From Cleveland through Philadelphia and Miami): Joey Bosa, Defensive End, Ohio State: So Cleveland is in asset-stockpiling mode, and the Saints need a quality end to put opposite the excellent Cameron Jordan. New Orleans knows that Tampa Bay needs a quality edge rusher, so they use the fact Cleveland doesn’t need any of the top guys who are available here to come up and grab Bosa, who not only helps in terms of production but also in terms of leadership.

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronnie Stanley, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame: With Joey Bosa gone, the Bucs reinforce their offensive line. Donovan Smith was a pleasant surprise last season, but he’s still better suited for the right side. Stanley provides true left-tackle-quality protection for second-year QB Jameis Winston.

10. New York Giants: Leonard Floyd, Edge Rusher, Georgia: OK, I’m not gonna lie… This is one where I’m allowing the media to influence me. I’ve been hearing Floyd to the Giants if he’s still there for the past week or so. This pick makes absolutely no sense to me. Right now, Floyd is an overrated project type of player who reminds me of Dion Jordan, who is warming up the bench in Miami after being picked third overall. I know his athleticism is enticing, but his lack of production really worries me. The question of system also comes to the mind, as Floyd is a quintessential 3-4 linebacker. This might be the draft’s best smokescreen, but if Floyd does go to the Giants, it’s a major risk.

11. Chicago Bears: Jack Conklin, Offensive Tackle, Michigan State: The Bears’ roster is really bereft of talent in many places. Among the Bears’ many needs is the left tackle position, following the release of Jermon Bushrod. Thus, the Bears could go in a number of directions, but at this point, Conklin is the best player who fills a need for Chicago, and he fits the Bears’ mentality.

12. Cleveland Browns (From New Orleans): Jarran Reed, Defensive Lineman, Alabama: Last year’s first-round pick, nose tackle Danny Shelton, was not enough on his own to paper over the cracks of Cleveland’s run defence. In a division where everyone can run the ball, Reed is added to one of the end spots and gives the Browns another run-stuffing lineman.

13. Jacksonville Jaguars (From Miami through Philadelphia): Vernon Hargreaves III, Cornerback, Florida: The Jags are ecstatic to find a cornerback who can, at worst, give them some kind of depth in the secondary. More likely, Hargreaves is a factor as a starter or as a nickel. For a team whose secondary was a dumpster fire a year ago, this is a terrific catch.

14. Oakland Raiders: Reggie Ragland, Linebacker, Alabama: The Raiders continue to add quality pieces to their defence, this time reinforcing the inside linebacker position. They will give Darron Lee and his athleticism some thought, but the hard-nosed Ragland is another player who fits the Raider mentality, and who fills Oakland’s need for an in-the-box player.

15. Tennessee Titans (From Los Angeles): Taylor Decker, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State: All mock drafts before the Titans traded down to this point had them taking Laremy Tunsil. Thing is, the Titans need more help at right tackle than left, so they’re elated to see Decker drop to them. Pencil him in there at right tackle for the foreseeable future.

16. Detroit Lions: Sheldon Rankins, Defensive Tackle, Louisville: The Lions love upfield rushers, and while Haloti Ngata claims to enjoy the role, he’s not a natural for it. Moreover, since losing Ndamokung Suh, the Lions don’t have a true interior pass rusher. Rankins, an explosive player in the mold of Geno Atkins, fits the bill.

17. Atlanta Falcons: A’Shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Alabama: The Falcons could use help at linebacker, but Robinson helps them a great deal because he can either line up on the nose, or at the two-gapping weakside end position in the Falcons’ Seattle-inspired defence. Wherever he plays, he helps with the Falcons’ run defence.

18. Indianapolis Colts: Noah Spence, Edge Rusher, Eastern Kentucky: Someone is going to take a stab at Spence, a talented player with significant character concerns. In the end, though, Spence is the draft’s only true blue-chip edge rusher, and that’ll make him too tempting for Indy to pass up.

19. Buffalo Bills: Shaq Lawson, Defensive End, Clemson: After losing Mario Williams, the Bills need to replace the pass rush he gave them before he spent last season looking uninterested. Buffalo will 100% have a discussion about taking Paxton Lynch here, but in the end, they go with the more immediate need, and with the player who has a much higher floor in Lawson.

20. New York Jets: Paxton Lynch, Quarterback, Memphis: Is anything the Jets do these days NOT a tactic to pressure Ryan Fitzpatrick into signing at a discount? Even if Fitzpatrick returns, he is not a long-term solution. However, the Jets could use him while they groom Lynch, who has much to learn in order to be a functional pro quarterback. Besides, when he does mature, he can allow the Jets to avoid the struggles typically experienced by teams who throw a rookie quarterback to the lions.

21. Washington: Darron Lee, Linebacker, Ohio State: Washington can’t quite believe Lee has made it this far, but they won’t complain. Their inside linebacker group could use his athleticism, and he figures to become one of the leaders of a unit severely lacking in star power.

22. Houston Texans: Corey Coleman, Wide Receiver, Baylor: The Texans are crying for a receiver to help out All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins. Coleman runs a very limited arsenal of routes, but has blazing speed, a trait that complements Hopkins’ all-around game. Brock Osweiler will love having the speedy Coleman in Houston.

23. Minnesota Vikings: Josh Doctson, Wide Receiver, TCU: Receiver is one of the rare holes on the Vikes’ roster, and while they may hesitate between Doctson and Laquon Treadwell, they end up going with the TCU product because he posted better timed speed than Treadwell, and he’s the best receiver in the draft at pulling down jump balls.

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Laquon Treadwell, Wide Receiver, Ole Miss: This is a dream come true for Cincinnati. A receiver of Treadwell’s quality will benefit from AJ Green’s defence-stretching ability, and will work his magic on short-to-intermediate routes, which is what he’s best suited for anyway. Treadwell is the perfect complement to Green home run ability, and will be a far superior second option to Marvin Jones or Mohammed Sanu.

25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Eli Apple, Cornerback, Ohio State: This is just a Steelers kind of pick, isn’t it? Apple fits the rugged Pittsburgh mold of defensive back, and since Pittsburgh now plays much more Cover 2 than they did under Dick Lebeau, Apple’s tendency to give up the occasional big play figures to be hidden better than it was at Ohio State.

26. Seattle Seahawks: Ryan Kelly, Centre, Alabama: If Seattle wants Russell Wilson to play longer than six years, they are going to have to start taking better care of him. Before last season, the Hawks dealt star centre Max Unger to the Saints, and their offensive line never really recovered. This pick is a great opportunity to start fixing a problem they have been neglecting for some time.

27. Green Bay Packers: Vernon Butler, Nose Tackle, Louisiana Tech: It seems the Packers are drafting a D-Lineman every year. BJ Raji’s departure leaves them extremely thin at the nose tackle position, and the help Butler can bring is sizable in every sense of the word.

28. Kansas City Chiefs: William Jackson III, cornerback, Houston: After losing Sean Smith to divisional rival Oakland, the Chiefs pick Jackson to give themselves a top pair of young cornerbacks along with last year’s outstanding rookie Marcus Peters. Throwing against KC figures to be mighty inconvenient.

29. Dallas Cowboys (From Arizona): Kevin Dodd, Defensive End, Clemson: With no one they especially like here, the Cardinals trade back to the early second round, thus enabling Dallas to come up and grab the pass rusher they decided to skip at #4 when they picked Jalen Ramsey over Joey Bosa. Hopefully for the Cowboys, they don’t have to give up too much.

30. Carolina Panthers: Will Fuller, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame: Sure, he’s a bit of a one-trick pony. Sure, he’s very reminiscent of Ted Ginn in that his deep speed is about his only calling card. But he’s the top player on Carolina’s board at this point, and the Panthers would do well to remember that their receiver group overachieved last year. It can’t hurt not to go all-in on it happening again. Cam Newton can certainly benefit from having a new weapon to work with.

31. Denver Broncos: Andrew Billings, Nose tackle, Baylor: As critically-acclaimed as that Denver front was last season, it was bereft of a true nose tackle. Billings still being there at 31 is the ideal opportunity add such a player to the roster. Billings, a powerful player who can get off the ball and push the pocket, can serve as a setup man for Wade Phillips to run his crazy blitzes and twists.

Chip Kelly’s firing: lessons from a gutsy experiment

I was surprised by Chip Kelly’s firing from his twin post of head coach and general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, but I cannot say I was shocked. My surprise came from the fact that the team’s decision to sack him went against everything we were hearing in the days that preceded it. And while even his most energetic defenders (of which I am one) wouldn’t dare say the firing was unjustified, hence the absence of shock, his firing, much like his hiring, carries the potential of league-wide ramifications. Knee-jerk reactions were legion, but it matters for the NFL that its notoriously conservative boys’ club of coaches draw the right lessons from his firing.

One rather large problem for both Kelly and any team thinking of hiring him is that there are very few organizations for which the former Oregon prodigy coach is actually a fit. One of the reasons why this is the case is because it is rather necessary that he be hired as a head coach. Allow me to explain. Some people have suggested that an NFL team should hire Kelly as an offensive coordinator. In abstracto, this makes sense. After all, why not limit him to a role that more rarely demands the leader-of-men qualities Kelly so obviously failed to display as a head coach in Philadelphia? Upon further scrutiny, however, this idea carries its share of potential pitfalls.

The most obvious one is the following: if Kelly is not the head coach, then the team’s entire coaching staff must be unequivocally on board with the changes that Kelly’s hurry-up, no-huddle offence entails. You see, I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a mere hurry-up offence; there are only hurry-up TEAMS. Having the hurry-up as your base offensive M.O. forces coaches on both sides of the ball to alter their coaching methods to the extent that anyone who has coached in a more traditional setting will find themselves profoundly challenged by this new format. The odds are that, while some coaches may embrace the opportunity to innovate, most will not. The way hurry-up college teams practice would be heresy to many seasoned NFL coaches. A few years ago, I had the privilege of coaching a football camp with former Montreal Alouettes receiver Shaun Diner, who played for Kelly at New Hampshire. At the time, Kelly was starting to become a household name at Oregon, and Diner told me the biggest thing for Kelly was always that everyone buy into what the team was doing. Nothing kills the hurry-up, no-huddle’s chances of success faster than coaches and/or players who let their skepticism affect their preparation. If Kelly is the head coach, then he gets to pick assistants who believe the system can work. If he’s not, he has to win over a staff he hasn’t chosen, in which case his odds of stumbling into colleagues who are refractory to his methods increase dramatically.

There is more. Within the NFL community, two highly problematic viewpoints about Kelly’s system appear to persist:

  1. The system has become so intimately associated with Kelly himself. Is it possible that Kelly simply lacks the man-management skills required to connect with the group of narcissistic and capricious millionaires known as NFL players? Of course. However, it would be both dangerous and intellectually inept for the larger football community (Yes, I’m looking at you, media!!) to create an amalgam between the system he brought to the league and the way he interacted with players as well as with his unequivocally disastrous decisions as personnel director. Whatever one thinks of Kelly’s system, though, it would be hasty to condemn it along with the coach himself given that so many other factors went into the Eagles’ struggles this year. If the NFL community refrains from hiring a coach who runs a similar offence just because Kelly “failed” in Philadelphia, then his firing will be a tremendous setback for the mere idea of offensive innovation in the NFL. (P.S.: So two 10-win seasons and a playoff berth in three years is failing in the NFL, now? I’m sure the likes of Ron Rivera, Jason Garrett, and John Fox are glad they weren’t held to that same lofty standard. Makes you wonder why, though.)
  2. It’s still often associated with the expression “The Spread”, and with option quarterbacks. Coming into the NFL, Kelly had enjoyed plenty of success spreading the field, and combining his hurry-up, no-huddle with a lethal read-option game at Oregon. Unfortunately, though, it seems that seeing so much option coupled with spread formations, the hurry-up, and the no-huddle has convinced many people, including several journalists that all these things go together and cannot be dissociated from each other. Without getting into the tactical minutiae of why this idea is problematic, let’s just quickly separate these notions from one another. Not all spread attacks carry pure run-run option plays (in fact, on aggregate, few of them do). Moreover, we really have to rethink of what we include in the definition of the  “option” play, because to think of it as strictly a running play that puts the quarterback in jeopardy, nowadays, is inadequate; the run-pass option, which usually keeps the quarterback in the pocket as a passer, is such a huge part of college football now that many offences use it as the foundation of what they do. Also, just because the quarterback is in the shotgun doesn’t mean his team runs a spread offence, nor does his being under-centre prevent the offence from being a spread (to the latter’s effect, the system Drew Brees ran at Purdue comes to the mind). Even if your quarterback is in the gun, if the rest of your personnel includes a fullback, a tailback and a tight end, you’re not in a spread alignment. Too many people who comment on the NFL have internalized these amalgams (along with the idea that spread offences can’t work in the NFL though they have now become the norm in the league today), and it’s a problem.

Looking at things as they stand today, it seems obvious that many people around the NFL are delighted that Kelly has “failed.” Unfortunately for those of us who badly want to see his brand of offence succeed in the pros, his detractors have on their side a few undeniable points:

  • The fact that, for the reasons we’ve just covered at length, he HAS to be head coach if you’re going to hire him. 
  • Making his offence work is going to be a high-maintenance balancing act from a personnel perspective: If the player personnel director isn’t on the absolute same page as Kelly, the organization risks assembling a team of square pegs for round holes. Therefore, the easiest thing would be to put Kelly in charge of personnel… except the Eagles tried that, and the results were nothing short of atrocious. In the span of what amounts to a year-and-a-half, he managed to a) cut two key starting offensive linemen and replace them with scrubs; b) get some players to state publicly that he can’t relate to stars, and that he doesn’t like black players (the latter is most likely untrue, but the damage is done); c) make other really, really puzzling roster moves – i.e. 1) let Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson go, but re-signed Riley Cooper, 2) traded Brandon Boykin for what amounts to Big Mac leftovers, 3) spent a first-round pick on the invisible Marcus Smith, 4) spent big money on free agent bust Byron Maxwell, a press corner who, from the very beginning, might as well have come from Seattle with the expression “product of the system” tattooed on his forehead, and then played him at free safety, where he’ll never get to press, 5) signed BOTH DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews to play running back, neither of whom were really going to work because the O-Line was neglected, and Murray flopped badly; d) replaced Nick Foles (not a great fit for Kelly’s offence) with Sam Bradford (an even worse fit for his offence). The condensed version of this train crash? Kelly has proven himself unworthy of controlling personnel.
  • The offence may be a tough sell for many NFL veterans. We’ve blamed Kelly, the person, for many of his Eagles’ struggles. Journalists have speculated ad nauseam about whether his way of handling players might only be suited for the college game. However, the system does require an unusual level of commitment from players, especially when it comes to the way they practice. I want to blame Kelly’s failings on his inability to be the diva whisperer most pro coaches have to be and on his blunders as a GM. Still, we have to account, at this point, for the possibility that the system itself might be as tough to accept for players as Kelly’s personality. I hope it’s not true, and I don’t think it is. But we can’t rule it out.

That said, NFL GMs and owners would also do well to contemplate the following facts, which show Kelly in a more favourable light:

  • The notion that his system has proven itself fundamentally unsound for the NFL is a misconception: No, it didn’t look pretty this year with the wrong personnel, and yes, it does put pressure on the defence when they fail to at least gain a few first downs. Yet, Kelly himself will have to wonder not only what possessed himself to make all these reprehensibly dumb personnel decisions, but also why he so bastardized the offence that worked so well in his first year. In fact, one could make the argument that he coached against ghosts, and anticipated that opposing coaches would “figure it out” instead of testing whatever so-called solutions DCs would have for it. He was roasting the NFL with his run-pass option plays his first year. Why did he get away from that? What would happen if a coach, Kelly or someone else, stuck to that gameplan and combined it with Kelly’s trademark tempo? Take the read option, for example. Tune in to the NFL Network, and you won’t have to wait long to hear some meat-head ex-player triumphantly claim that NFL coaches have figured the read option out. No, they haven’t! There is no “figuring it out.” You either ask one guy to play both potential ball carriers, or you assign a player for each one. Both ways have their strengths and weaknesses but, in the end, it’s a sound football play that carries its share of counters depending on how the defence plays it. And in any case, athletes will make plays on it, or they won’t; just as is the case with any other play, really. Kelly’s tempo just makes it harder for defensive players to muster the concentration required to defend it properly.
  • If it’s not Kelly, it’ll have to be someone else because… at all other levels of football, neither the spread nor the option are going away, people. Used to be, high school teams would take their best athlete and put him at running back, because if you’re running a pro-style offence, it’s the best way to get him a higher number of touches. But with the spread came the realization that while putting the great athlete at running back meant he touched the ball a lot, putting him at quarterback means he touches the ball every single play. It’s simply too advantageous a proposition to pass up. And since spread systems with lots of run-pass options (which mean lots of short throws to left-alone receivers) are now the norm in the NCAA as well, several players who would have played receiver or running back in the past because of their marginal passing skills now play quarterback despite the fact that they can’t make every throw because they’ll still be dynamite as dual-threat guys. Before Marcus Mariota, a legitimate first-round NFL prospect, those are the kind of guys (Dennis Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas) Kelly turned into college superstars. And no, none of Mariota’s predecessors would have been suitable starters for the NFL, but that’s the nature of the beast; some spread option products will be good enough for the NFL, and most won’t be. Yet, how is that any different from products of NCAA pro-style offences? Need we really reminisce about the likes of Jimmy Clausen, John David Booty, Jordan Palmer (Carson’s brother), Matt Leinart, or the immortal Mark Sanchez? In any case, spread passers outnumber the Andrew Lucks of the world by a stronger ratio every year, even now. UCLA has a dynamite pro-style prospect, Josh Rosen, who played the 2015 season for the Bruins as a true freshman. What did he run at UCLA this year? All run-pass option stuff. It baffles how quick we are to dismiss the likes of Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin as being finished as NFL starters because they don’t work when handcuffed in a traditional offence. Yet, we seem to think it’s OK that thoroughly limited players like Andy Dalton, don’t-give-a-shit-itis sufferers like Jay Cutler, and good-stats-on-a-bad-team guys like Matthew Stafford are on $100-million contracts, holding their teams hostage because said teams don’t want to risk “winding up in quarterbacking hell.” Instead, these teams are stuck in QB purgatory, and I hope for their sake that their fans learn to enjoy it, because that’s where they’ll remain as long as these mediocre passers remain on their roster, eating up cap space like offensive linemen eat up carbs at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Something’s gotta give, so unless the NFL is willing to start its own minor league system, the league’s largely inflexible coaches will need to start doing a better job of tailoring their offence to the abilities of dual-threat quarterbacks.

Moreover, there is another reason to want Chip Kelly, and his brand of offence, to succeed: the sheer spectacle of it. Watch Oregon games from Kelly’s time there, or even the very first game he coached for the Eagles. It is fun, man! College football has spoiled us in terms of system diversity to the extent that I often find it tedious to watch 32 teams run variations of the exact same offence. Seriously, I watch NFL offences play, and most of the time, the only thing that allows me to tell them apart is their teams’ uniforms. Potentially, Chip Kelly could change that. There were even times in Kelly’s three years in Philadelphia when it looked as though he just might have pulled it off. For the sake of the “watchability” of its offensive football, the NFL needs Kelly, or someone else like him, to succeed. Since Kelly is already here, the NFL might as well give him a real go. Lots of things have to be in place within a team’s infrastructure for it to work, and for goodness’ sake, Kelly mustn’t be put in charge of personnel. None of it, however, alters the fact that the main thing I hope to learn about the Kelly experiment in the NFL is that it isn’t over.

 

 

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