The job of any head coach is to put his players in a position to be successful. The ability to consistently do this is one of the many reasons why Chip Kelly has had success at every level that he’s coached at. People often try to define Chip Kelly’s offense as if it’s something that can be put into a box. When pressed for what makes up the “Chip Kelly” offense, Kelly typically responds by dispelling the myth that a “Chip Kelly” offense exists in the first place. As Kelly said in his press conference after the win against the Houston Texans, “I don’t have an offense. I’ve said that since day one. Our offense is directed around our quarterback. So tell me who is playing quarterback and I’ll tell you what our offense is going to be and how it’s going to look because we can always cater it to the skills of our offense.”
Enter Mark Sanchez. Despite his pedestrian 55.2% completion percentage he’s averaged for his career, that 55% is not equally spread out all over the field for all types of throws. He’s actually pretty accurate when it comes to making throws in between the numbers. He also has good athletic ability and coordination to throw accurately while on the move. However, where he can struggle at times is making throws to the sideline on out patterns and comeback/hitch routes. In this case, catering the offense to Sanchez means trying to create as many opportunities in between the numbers while limiting the amount of times he has to make throws to the sideline. Doing this allows Sanchez to play towards his strengths and allows the offense to have the most success possible while he’s the quarterback.
Since taking over for the injured Nick Foles, Sanchez has had 59 pass attempts. Out of those 59 pass attempts, only six of those have been to the sideline on out and comeback patterns. Of those six attempts, he’s completed only one of them for eight yards. That’s about as ineffective as you can get. However, now onto the types of throws where Sanchez excels. Ignoring screens and dropped passes and looking at throws made in between the numbers and throws where he’s rolled outside of the pocket, Sanchez is an outstanding 25/31(81%) for 413 yards (13.3 yards per attempt), 3 touchdowns, and one interception. Contrary to the results of the sideline routes, you can’t get much more effective than that.
Here are a few plays (all to rookie receiver Jordan Matthews) where the Eagles were able to get some significant yards over the middle.
The first play is a simple crossing route to on third down with 10 yards to go. The Panthers are in man coverage. Receiver Riley Cooper is on the left sideline and is going to take his man deep downfield, giving Matthews plenty of open space in the middle of the field to work against safety Colin Jones. Sanchez is able to hit him perfectly in stride which allows Matthews to pick up an additional 15 yards after the catch.
One play later, Kelly calls a play to take advantage of Sanchez’s athletic ability as he has him rollout to his left. Sanchez rolling out on this play makes it nearly impossible for the defender to get an angle on the pass to Matthews. Instead of making the throw from the middle of the field, which could potentially give an opposing defender an angle to make a play on the ball, Sanchez is near the left side of the field and the throw ends up being a straight vertical line from Sanchez to Matthews. Sanchez does a great job of quickly resetting his feet to get into proper throwing position and leads Matthews to the open space for the touchdown.
Later in the game, the Eagles are faced with another third and long. Kelly dials up a double stacked slant play to Matthews and the result is a 33 yard gain. Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews are lined up on the right side of the field, and they both are going to be running slant routes. However, Ertz is going to run his route a few yards deeper downfield than Matthews, and basically acts as a lead blocker for Matthews on this play. As shown in this clip, the defender covering Matthews is completely out of position and can not get around Ertz to make a play on the ball. Again, Sanchez does a great job of hitting Matthews in stride to allow him to pick up additional yards after the catch.
The last clip in this breakdown is another crossing route to Matthews. Safety Colin Jones, who is lined up over Matthews, is going to come on a blitz. This leave safety Thomas DeCoud to cover Matthews. However, DeCoud is over 10 yards away from him and has no shot at preventing a completion. The result is a nice open space for Sanchez to lead Matthews into, and Sanchez executes, hitting Matthews in stride for a 14 yard gain.
That’s what tailoring an offense to the strengths of your players is all about. Even though the passing offense of the Eagles has been largely relegated to staying in between the numbers and ignoring the sideline routes over the past two games, they’ve still been able to move the ball and put up points in large part because they’ve executed with excellent precision in that area of the field.
That’s not to say that this game plan is going to work each and every single game. At some point, a defense may be able to clamp down the middle of the field and force the Eagles offense to move the ball down the field in a different way. When that time comes, it will be up to Chip Kelly and the coaching staff to adjust and give their players the answers needed to beat the defensive players in front of them.
For Chip Kelly, that’s just another day at the office.