The Philadelphia Eagles under head coach Chip Kelly unleashed his adaptation of his Oregon offense upon the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football. In the first half, they were impressive, running 53 plays, gaining 322 yards, 21 first downs, and 26 points. The offense was declared an overwhelming success and Kelly is on his way to Canton. Not quite, but that there is certainly a huge amount of excitement and buzz around what the Eagles were able to do. The problem was that at the end of the game, Michael Vick came off the field looking battered and bruised, so while there is a ton of excitement, there are some concerns and when it comes to dealing with the NFL Draft and what teams need to look for if they want a quarterback who can run the offense over the course of an entire NFL season and over the course of a career.
It is important to remember that a team that wants to run this offense will be hoping to play 19 or 20 games in an NFL season with the playoffs and Super Bowl and that is excluding the preseason. In college, with smaller, slower players and a 12-14 game season, it is a little easier to come out of the season unscathed.
That does not mean that the Eagles need Cam Newton to come in and run their offense with his incredible size and physical strength. The Eagles would not complain if that were the case, but in addition to the speed and tempo, Kelly’s offense requires smart decision making from the quarterback position and that is of the utmost importance when it comes to a quarterback protecting their body.
Vick played well, but his aggressiveness with the ball in his hands subjected him to hits the Eagles and that offense really would rather he avoided. Rather than diving head first to pick up extra yards and taking a shot to his shoulders and head, he needs to slide and avoid the hit. Come back, run another play. That is part of why Kelly’s offense can work. Rather than lowering the shoulder to pick up extra yards, go ahead and go out of bounds. There may be some crucial late game situations where using that all-out style to pick up extra yards and get the first down or get into the end zone but 95% of the time, the offense needs the quarterback to take the safe way out so they can survive.
Vick is the embodiment of why doubters think this offense will fail in the NFL. Vick does not make it through full seasons of NFL football and last night suggests that this year will be no different. He usually misses a few games to an injury or a few nagging issues and ends up playing around 12 games per season. If last night was any indication, Vick will not make that many this season. This is why the NFL has been hesitant to embrace the read-option and spread concepts. While college football was basically hitting full stride in these areas of the game around 2004, the money invested in the quarterback position has caused them to wait until 2012. No team wants to give their quarterback $100 million and then watch him get killed. Vick showed everyone why last night. The offense looks great, puts up yards and points but how long can it possibly last? In college, even with a player like Vick, they do not need him to last that long and can use him for two or three years and move on to the next one. That is not the case in the NFL.
Much of the problem is a style and aggressiveness that Vick has played with his entire career. It has allowed him to be an unbelievably exciting player and electric runner but he has also been battered in the process. Looking at Oregon, Kelly did not have a bunch of huge, thickly built quarterbacks. In fact, most of them look like Vick in terms of their body type. From Dennis Dixon to Jeremiah Masoli to Darren Thomas to Marcus Mariota, the quarterbacks are not overwhelming physical specimens. Mariota might be the most NFL-looking body of the group at a listed 6’4” 211lbs.
For this Eagle Raid type of offense, it is going to be incredibly important for the Eagles or anyone else trying to employ an offense like this for someone who can pose a threat to run while being smart with how they put their body at risk. Oregon quarterbacks were pretty good about avoiding taking punishment. Kelly is going to want someone who naturally has that instinct or can learn it. And because of the proliferation of offenses that use read-option, quick pace, and astronaut type weapons, there are a ton of options out have the athleticism to run this type of offense.
This does not mean that suddenly 40 times are going to be vogue to determining who can play quarterback in the NFL or in an Eagle Raid type offense. They just need to be able to be a little bit of a threat. Would they love to have an athlete like Robert Griffin III or Colin Kaepernick? Absolutely, but it is not required, which is why the Eagles could draft Matt Barkley and it be a fit.
Another incredibly important trait to have is the ability to read and make decisions quickly. The offense Kelly runs really tries to make the decisions much easier for their quarterback in the way they stretch defenses out and create holes, but it still requires the quarterback to diagnose what is happening quickly and make the right decision. That offense has to have it in order to succeed. Vick did a good job of this in the first half and the offense cruised as a result.
Accuracy matters quite a bit and while the offense makes it easier to find passing windows, ball placement is still a huge trait because it allows players to catch and run quickly and easily almost like a long hand off. Throwing passes that force them to make big adjustments and stop their momentum is problematic and limits the amount of yardage plays can gain. Proper ball placement and understanding where to put the ball on a receiver is critical.
Lastly, overall arm strength is not a huge concern for Kelly, but velocity, zip, and the ability to get rid of the ball quickly is far more important. Vick has a cannon but he is also able to throw a tremendous fastball with a short delivery. The fact that he can stretch the field the way he does certainly gives Kelly more options in how to draw up plays but it is more important to get the ball out quickly and into the hands of their weapons so they can pick up yards and move the ball down the field. That fits into the tempo and speed of the offense. They want to get as many snaps as possible but they also want the ball in the hands of LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek quickly to put pressure on the defense.
While Vick seems like he is the ideal quarterback for the Eagles Raid type of offense, he really is not. The Eagles threw the ball a total of 25 times and ran it 9. Vick came off of the field like he threw it over 50 times, ran it 15-20 and kept taking monster hit after monster hit. Vick has to be smarter with his body and the likelihood is he will not change. Kelly will adapt by getting someone who can, most likely this coming year in the NFL Draft.
The landscape of the NFL Draft has so many quarterbacks currently in college who could play in this offense that it is impossible to name them all. What may surprise some people is who does not really fit in the Eagle Raid style of offense. Tajh Boyd. Boyd is athletic and built like a fullback but he has not been terribly accurate in timing routes. He really does a great job of throwing the ball deep but that is not what Kelly wants in a quarterback. Some of the quarterbacks who would be a great fit in the offense and some might surprise include Derek Carr out of Fresno State, Brett Smith at Wyoming, Devin Gardner at Michigan and yes, Johnny Manziel. All of them are extremely athletic, can get rid of the ball quickly and seem to have an interest in self-preservation. In Manziel’s case, he was recruited by Kelly before ultimately deciding to stay in Texas and go to Texas A&M. Obviously Marcus Mariota would be a natural fit as well, since he is currently running the offense for Mark Helfrich at Oregon. There are a number of other quarterbacks that could potentially run the offense. One sleeper that could do the job that was discussed Monday is Ohio State’s Kenny Guiton.
Whether people believe this Eagle Raid is a gimmick and fad that will not last or an offense that is going to revolutionize the game is unimportant right now. Kelly is going to run it and other teams may copy it even if just for the short term and if they are going to do it, they are going to need a quarterback capable who has the right skill set to do the job over a long season and career. Teams that can address it effectively could see sustained success with it. If they end up with a player like Vick, they may butt heads with the owner over their investment getting killed and better have a capable backup who can come in and make it work. Like with everything else, it is a quarterback driven league and teams have to get that right in this Eagle Raid style of offense.