Greg Cosell’s Playoff Preview: Chip Kelly’s offensive innovation is all in the presentation

Greg Cosell
Shutdown Corner

I like the Eagles’ offense and enjoy watching them on film – their offense really features a ton of misdirection and deceptions. They create conflicts for defense and space for running backs and receivers. That’s what they do in a nutshell.

And they’re so good at doing those things.

I think what Eagles coach Chip Kelly does is all in the presentation. If you watch right after the snap, you see a large majority of tactics everyone does. The route combinations are NFL combinations, the running game is a zone game for the most part, like a lot of NFL teams. When ball is snapped, he’s doing mostly what everyone else does. Before the snap, it’s formations, it’s motions, it’s very simple, subtle things you probably wouldn’t notice when you’re watching a game. I don’t always notice them watching the game the first time, then I watch the games on film and I see them. Keep an eye out for it when the Eagles play the Saints on Saturday night.

I’ll give you an example, and it came on a 20-yard run by LeSean McCoy in the first quarter against the Cowboys last week. Receiver Jason Avant motioned into the formation. Seems like nothing – take a slot receiver into the formation. Seems like everyone does that, no big deal. But what happened is, when you do that, you end up creating another gap for the defense to account for. And you have defenders outside of those gaps, so when you have an inside run, there aren’t enough defenders. Then the Eagles snapped the ball as soon as Avant got to the formation.

It’s simple stuff like that, and it gets a 20-yard run.

Again, it’s all in the presentation. He’s great using formations and motion and spreading field horizontally. He makes the defense defend the whole field. There’s a lot of space for the opponent to cover.

In the passing game, it’s funny because you don’t see Nick Foles make a number of difficult throws. We talk about NFL quarterbacks making stick throws into a tight window, and how that is a necessity. You don’t see that a lot with Foles. He throws to a lot of open receivers. Kelly breaks defenses down really well with his routes and spreading the field. There are route combinations everyone runs, he just gets to them in a different way. Again, he creates conflict for defense and space for his offense to work.

I don’t know if this has been drilled into Foles by Kelly, but Foles is a safe quarterback. If he doesn’t feel it’s there or it’s not in the play design, he doesn’t throw it. He’s a primary read quarterback – and my interpretation is that’s what Kelly wants.

Kelly's concepts are sound. And the speed/tempo element adds a lot. When you think of no-huddle offenses, people think of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. They get to the line of scrimmage and take some time to and research the defense. The Eagles don’t research the defense, they get up to the line and snap the ball. It’s hard to play defense against that. Opponents just have to make sure they get lined up, and they have to play every basic. The Eagles don’t face a lot of the defensive multiplicity, and that’s an interesting element in the playoff game against the Saints.

Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is very good at what we call “designer blitzes.” He comes up with some for each opponent. But it’s hard to be complex against the Eagles. And you can’t substitute. This particular player may be critical to this specific blitz for the Saints, but you might not be able to get him in the game. That doesn’t mean the Saints won’t blitz at all, but sometimes it’s limited against speed/tempo offenses like the Eagles.

Chiefs at Colts

A lot of people take their first impression of teams and use that the whole season. Maybe they saw the Chiefs play early in the season, and think they run the ball well and play great defense, and that’s the impression they have of them. The problem is, the Chiefs’ defense is not very good.

Over the last eight weeks, the Chiefs are the worst defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed. They gave up more yards than the Cowboys. The Chiefs haven’t been able to rush the quarterback – Justin Houston was out with an injury, and that was a factor. They had 35 sacks in the first seven weeks and only 12 in the last nine games. That’s one issue. Also, they’re a high, high percentage man-to-man defense. Teams have broken that down using concepts, whether it’s bunch or stack or whatever. There are ways to beat man defense. And when you play something all the time, opponents tend to beat it.

On the other side, the Colts have improved over the last three weeks. I think their offensive line has just played better. I don’t get the feeling quarterback Andrew Luck is playing the game under siege, which I felt was the case earlier in the season. There were games where they had no chance. That has changed in the past few weeks. And I think Luck is the most overlooked quarterback going into the playoffs. He has played very efficiently lately.

Chargers at Bengals

I think most people aren’t aware how the Chargers have evolved into a running team. Ryan Mathews has 29, 29, 25 and 24 carries in their last four games. They’re running the ball quite a bit, and he’s been successful. Mathews has got a lot of talent.

The other thing about the Chargers is how much they use two-tight end sets. They have Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green, who is very athletic. He’s very raw, like Denver's Julius Thomas was a year ago, but he’s very athletic. That presents a problem as to how you want to play them, and it will create a challenge for the Bengals on Sunday.

The first thing you have to decide is if you’re going to play base or nickel when both tight ends are on the field. If you play base and they put them in the slot or with any spread element, who is going to cover those guys? Then if you play nickel with an extra defensive back because you’re worried about the pass element, the Chargers run the ball against you. In this game, Cincinnati's Chris Crocker is a safety who essentially plays slot cornerback and is probably better equipped to match up against the Chargers’ tight ends than most slot corners, but it’s a formation issue more than anything else.

The good news for the Bengals is their defense is still really good, even without tackle Geno Atkins, who was lost for the season with a knee injury. I think defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer does a great job with their blitz concepts. They start with a double “A gap” concept, with a player on each side of the center, and work off that. Zimmer is really good at that.

One player to watch is Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey. He has played more snaps lately and he has done well. He can blitz, and he’s quick and athletic. He’s an interesting player for them.

49ers at Packers

I don’t know how minus-35 degree weather, or whatever it will be, affects things. Nobody is prepared for that. Who does it benefit more? I don’t have the answer to that. The 49ers’ offensive foundation is the run. I wouldn’t say that about the Packers, although they’ve run the ball better this year with Eddie Lacy. But in weather that cold, I just don’t know.

I’m not sure how much each team will pass the ball, but let’s look at the quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers returned last week, and while I thought there was more good than bad, he was uneven. He missed some throws with poor ball placement, the type of thing you don’t expect from Rodgers, but he also made some great throws. There was the Rodgers factor and he just made some plays that not many others can. Under the circumstances, coming back after nearly two months off with a broken collarbone, he played well.

San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick has been up and down. One thing that struck me watching last week’s game against Arizona is how limited their passing game was. No vertical shots. Very few snaps of three-receiver looks. A majority of plays featured two tight ends. At times they were overmatched by the Cardinals’ defense. My feeling about Kaepernick is he’s kind of an individual play quarterback: He’s capable of big throws or runs, but there’s no subtlety or precision.

One matchup to watch is 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree against Packers cornerback Sam Shields. Last week, against Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, Crabtree didn’t create any separation at all. He’s still working back from injury. One thing the Packers have done this season is put Shields on the opponent’s best receiver in man coverage with no help at all. They seem to think he’s their best cornerback, based on how he’s used.

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

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