When a bride and groom finally get to that fateful moment of truth, the couple is always forced to exchange vows in which they commit to one another “for better” or “for worse.” Well, Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles are about to test the strength of that idiom.
Kelly was a widely sought-after coaching commodity this offseason, and after a chaotic game of stay or leave with the University of Oregon, the Eagles and owner Jeffrey Lurie finally corralled the offensive guru on Wednesday. But while the move raises hope for an Eagles fan base mired in disappointment, the marriage is by no means a guaranteed success.
The move was as confusing as a read option — a Kelly specialty — and it might be just as difficult to defend, too. Kelly’s sudden switch from Oregon green to Eagle green comes less than two weeks after redevoting himself to the Ducks, and makes Kelly green seem about as honest as some of the Irish out in South Bend, Ind. — Notre Dame, I mean.
Lurie didn’t hire Kelly for his honesty or integrity, though, he snatched him up to coach football and that’s just what he’ll do.
Kelly’s up-tempo offensive system built Oregon into one of the premier college football programs in the country and a brand unlike any other in football. Under his guidance, the Ducks redefined the no-huddle offense and put up points at an almost unparalleled pace. Oregon had become a national power and a force to be reckoned with, but that was in the college game. Now, how will such a system translate to the NFL?
The Patriots made great strides in implementing Kelly’s style of offense this season, leading the league in both yards (428) and points (35) per game. Tom Brady utilized a lot of the short bubble screens that Kelly loves with Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, and the running game unexpectedly reemerged with Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead and now even Shane Vereen pounding it on the ground.
New England doesn’t exactly have a mobile quarterback like Kelly so often features, but other teams have found success with the read option attack. Robert Griffin III impressed with it in Redskins country, Cam Newton has done it in Carolina for two years now and Colin Kaepernick is still doing it for the 49ers. So, elements of the style can work at the professional level, but Kelly’s uber fast-paced system will truly test that still-working hypothesis.
The Eagles already have a lot of the necessary offensive weapons in place. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are dangerous speedsters on the outside. LeSean McCoy is a quick, consistent and elusive runner out of the backfield. So, if Kelly finds the right quarterback — maybe even Michael Vick — to run the offense then he should have all the pieces in place to replicate Oregon’s success.
Such success would likely mean constant regular season success, continuous playoff appearances and likely even Super Bowl titles — that’s right, plural. But a major risk factor remains.
There’s a reason that teams haven’t completely devoted themselves to the read-option, or even spread option, attacks in the past. NFL defenders are much bigger, faster and stronger than those guys in college. The combination of top talent from Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma, Texas, USC and even Oregon on the same defense in the NFL could prove treacherous for such an offensive scheme. Just look back to the way Auburn contained Kelly and Oregon in the BCS National Championship Game two seasons ago for proof — and that’s just an SEC defense with NFL talent.
There are inherent risks involved with a guy like Kelly. His commitment level is uncertain — maybe we have another Nick Saban or Bobby Petrino on our hands. His offensive system is still a big question mark at the pro level, and his lack of defensive focus also raises red flags.
Overall, Kelly seems like a genius hire for Lurie and the Eagles. He’s smart, innovative and knows how to build not just a team but also a brand. For now, at least, he looks like a keeper. But there’s really no middle ground in this relationship. Kelly either hits it big in Philly or the Eagles sink even farther down than they did with Andy Reid calling the shots over the past few seasons.
This marriage has a bright future, but it very well may end up just like two-thirds of America, divorced and worse off than they started.