Philadelphia Eagles: Positives and Negatives of Hiring Chip Kelly

When the news broke Wednesday around noon that the Philadelphia Eagles had hired Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and signed him to a five-year deal, the reaction was mixed. Some were joyous over the hiring of a college mastermind or even just happy that the wait was over, while many others doubt a man with no NFL experience and who thrived in college thanks to the ability to recruit heavily, an ability that has gotten his former team, Oregon, in trouble with the NCAA.

And both reactions are fair. Gus Bradley was a popular name with many fans, and given the fact that he was runner-up for the jobs, there will always be people who don’t like the signing. And Kelly isn’t perfect by any means. But what will he bring to the table? Here are three positives and three negatives of hiring him:

Positive #1: Offensive Efficiency

Kelly could revitalize D-Jax’s vertical game (via Getty Images).

Chip Kelly may have begun his days as a secondary coach, but he’s an offensive guy first and foremost. At Oregon, his offenses were prolific, bordering on legendary. In his four years as head coach of the Ducks, his teams scored 44.7 points per game. Just this season, Kelly’s Ducks scored over 49 points per game.  To put that in perspective, the Eagles scored only 17.5 points per game.

And in areas where the Eagles struggled mightily this season, namely the red zone and passing efficiency, Kelly was exemplary. The Eagles were fourth-worst among all NFL teams in the red zone, converting touchdowns on only 44 percent of their trips, while Oregon scored a touchdown over 90 percent of the time it reached the end zone. This incredible efficiency results from Kelly’s creative, fluid play-calling, a style lacked by Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg. Those three or four extra touchdowns would have resulted in a couple of extra wins for the Eagles this season.

Then there is passing efficiency. LeSean McCoy is one of the best backs in the league, but he can’t do much when opposing defenses aren’t scared of the passing game. Kelly’s ability to utilize both vertical and horizontal passing threats made Oregon’s passing offense one of the best in the league, averaging nearly 8 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, the Eagles averaged over one yard less, a paltry 6.6 YPA. Kelly’s ability to take speedy receivers, like DeSean Jackson, and make them weapons will stretch defenses, increase the amount of yards the Eagles pick up per play, and take pressure off the potentially great running game.

And Kelly is no one-trick pony. Just because he worked the spread offense to perfection in college doesn’t mean he can’t adapt to the NFL. There is a reason Jeffrey Lurie has repeatedly mentioned Kelly as a “football mind”, not an “offensive guru”.

Negative #1: What About the Defense and Gus Bradley?

Bradley built a legendary secondary in Seattle. Now he won’t get the chance to do the same in Philly.

I wanted Gus Bradley. I’m going to perfectly honest. Not only is he the type of coach who motivates his players, but he’s one of the best defensive coordinators in the league.

Despite not having a complex, fan-friendly 3-4 scheme or employing the infamous “wide-nine”, Bradley was a defensive genius. On first downs, or likely running downs, he would spread his linebackers across the offensive line and play with three large defensive tackles, making it very difficult to get a push up front. On third downs or obvious passing downs, he’d add an extra defensive end and rush linebacker, letting his bruising, talented secondary go to work against opposing receivers.

Speaking of the secondary, Bradley had an eye for cornerback and safety talent. He recommended getting guys like Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, and Kam Chancell0r, all of whom have thrived in Seattle under Bradley. Since he had only solid safety, he ran a nickel package with regularity, playing Thomas as a deep safety rather than putting in two separate ones. This scheme would have worked in Philadelphia if they had made just one move, signing Jairus Byrd of the Bills (more on him later). Curtis Marsh, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Brandon Boykin aren’t studs, but with a safety like Byrd, they would be more than enough to correct a lot of the secondary issues the team had last season.

Bradley, overall, would have been a great guy to come in and revamp the defense. He isn’t as brilliant of a total football mind like Kelly, but losing out on him could come back to haunt the Eagles later if he succeeds in fixing Jacksonville’s defense.

Positive #2: The 3-4

The Eagles have the pieces in place to make the 3-4 switch.

All of that said, I also like the direction Kelly is going when it comes to picking his next defensive coordinator. It seems his top two targets are SEC defensive coordinators, namely Georgia’s Todd Grantham and Alabama’s Kirby Smart.

What do those have in common? They have been indoctrinated in the 3-4.

Now, if you read my Eagles “10-step plan” from a couple weeks ago, you’ll know I’m a fan of the 3-4. The Eagles have many of the pieces in place already, including 3-4 defensive ends (Fletcher Cox and Cullen Jenkins), a rush-side linebacker (Brandon Graham), a strong-side OLB (Mychal Kendricks), and a strong-side MLB (DeMeco Ryans). The big piece they are missing is a big nose tackle; and how convenient, seeing as the 6’4″, 320-lb Star Lotulelei is one of the top prospects in this year’s draft. A Utah Utes product, Lotulelei would be the perfect rock to put in the middle, a B.J. Raji-esque NT.

If the Eagles want to find some consistency in short coverage and with getting on the quarterback, switching to the 3-4 is their best option and it seems Chip Kelly understands that.

Negative #2: College-to-NFL Transition

Can Kelly make the transition (via SBNation)?

Chip Kelly may have dismissed any concerns people had about him being able to make the transition from the college ranks to the pro game, but us as analysts and fans should do not it so easily. There is a reason NFL experience is valued so highly when it comes to head coaching candidates.

Just ask Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Lou Holtz and Bobby Petrino. All were extremely successful college coaches with little to no NFL experience who came into the NFL and struggled. Mightily.

“What about Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh? They have done extremely well in the NFL after successful college stints,” you ask. Carroll spent over a decade in the NFL before leaving for USC and Harbaugh played and coached in the NFL before taking the 49ers job. Kelly, like Spurrier, Saban, Holtz, and Petrino, has minimal (less than three years) of NFL experience.

How you coach the teams is somewhat similar, but Kelly will simply not have the personnel depth he had at Oregon. In the college ranks, he could recruit the top players at the positions he needed and fit his scheme, but in the NFL he needs to make do with a limited amount of stars and make do with what he has.

Kelly may be a bright mind, and I hope he can make the necessary adjustments to succeed, but history leads me to believe the transition will be a tough one for Chip Kelly.

Positive #3: Secondary Upgrade (With An Extra Side of Jairus Byrd)

Getting Jairus “Ball Hawk” Byrd would be an added bonus.

In his four years as head coach, Chip Kelly’s secondaries have intercepted as many passes (77) as touchdowns given up (77). Meanwhile, this past season, the Eagles gave up four times as many touchdowns (33) as passes intercepted. They were tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the worst defensive TD-INT ratio in the league.

Kelly hasn’t had many fantastic defensive backs, apart from Jairus Byrd and Patrick Chung, but he’s made things work in his system. If he were to bring in a guy like Grantham from Georgia, they would be switching to a 3-4 package with few dime or nickel packages, similar to what Kelly ran at Oregon. If he can simply upgrade one of his safeties, both would be wishful thinking, his use of a Tampa-2 or Cover 2 package could help to mask the deficiencies of Curtis Marsh/Nnamdi Asomugha while giving his new ball-hawking safety the opportunity to make plays and create turnovers.

Speaking of his new ball-hawking safety, Kelly could help the Eagles to sign free safety Jairus Byrd. Byrd, who played safety for 3 years with Kelly at Oregon, has picked off 18 passes in four seasons in the NFL and earned two All-Pro nods. He’s risen to become one of the league’s best free safeties along with San Diego’s Eric Weddle and San Francisco’s Dashon Goldson. Byrd is a free agent, and even though the Bills are making a strong case to bring him back, hiring Kelly could give Byrd an added incentive to choose the Eagles over any other team.

To Be Decided: The Quarterback Position

Manuel is a solid third-round option.

What Chip Kelly decides to do at the quarterback position could possibly define his career as Eagles head coach, much like it did with Andy Reid. Reid bet the farm on Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb, and despite failing to win a Super Bowl, that decision put him on track to become one of the most accomplished coaches in the league. Kelly now has four options. Let me tell you the two that I believe would be the right decision: staying with Nick Foles or drafting Florida State QB EJ Manuel in the third-round and letting them battle it out in training camp.

I wouldn’t mind sticking with Foles, especially because Kelly can help him succeed in Philadelphia as a glorified game manager. The Eagles have a wealth of talent around him, including LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin, and there is no reason to believe that Kelly can’t succeed in grooming Foles to make the important, intermediate throws while throwing the deep ball every once in a while.

Drafting EJ Manuel is another interesting option. A five-year player at Florida State, Manuel has all the athletic tools to be a great fit for Chip Kelly’s offense. He is mobile, has a strong arm, and has great intangibles. He’s a leader in and out of the locker room, something Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick never were. In 2012, Manuel threw for 3392 yards, 23 TDs and 10 interceptions. He added 310 yards and four touchdowns on the ground and was 4-0 in bowl games. That shows he can perform well under pressure. While he does overthrow the occasional ball, he completes nearly 70 percent of his passes and given one year to develop, could be the franchise QB this team is looking for at a third-round price.

Then there is the one really bad option, keeping Michael Vick.

Not cutting ties with Michael Vick would be a bad move by Kelly and his staff. A 25-year old Vick may have been a fit, but at 33, Vick is no longer worth the $15 million he is due to be paid. He gets injured too often, isn’t as mobile as he was two years ago, and his accuracy is starting to drop off quickly. If hiring Chip Kelly was the sign of a fresh start, keeping Vick would be counter-productive, even hypocritical.

Drafting Geno Smith with the No. 4 overall pick would be a toss-up. Quarterback is not the biggest problem on this team. If Kelly wants to switch to the 3-4, he will need to draft Star Lotulelei. If he is unwilling to sign offensive tackle Jake Long, then he’ll need to draft Luke Joeckel. That said, I’m a huge fan of Geno Smith, who possesses above average speed and threw for 4200 yards and 42 touchdowns this past season. He would be a great fit for Chip Kelly and the addition of a franchise QB, if that isn’t EJ Manuel, could put this team over the top. But then again, are people ready to give up Foles that easily?

It’s a tough question to answer, which is why how Chip Kelly handles this position could symbolize his tenure.


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Categories: Eagles, Editorial

Author:Manav Khandelwal

I am the founder of Khandyman Sports, and follow all Philadelphia pro sports teams religiously. I also write for the Hoop76, covering the Sixers for ESPN, and am a credentialed Flyers reporter for Main Line Media News.

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