After the Eagles had their way with the Redskins offense in the first half and change on Monday, I’ve seen a lot of people on the interwebs proclaim that Kelly’s offense won’t be sustainable in the long run. And that may be true. But no one gives a good reason why. They say things like “just do what Stanford did (in 2012)” or “follow Auburn’s gameplan (from 2010).” Yeah, because no one else thought of that. Jim Hasslett did yard work instead of watching those games. Silly him. The idea that suddenly NFL defenses will figure out how to stop Kelly’s offense is hilariously naive. Chip Kelly’s coached against and regularly beaten former NFL defensive coordinators for years.
There’s two ways to stop an offense:
One is to have the better players. But that’s never stopped Kelly. As has been documented many times, Oregon did not have a recruiting advantage. If anything, they had a recruiting disadvantage, as in terms of recruiting rankings and developing NFL players they did about as well or worse as low or unranked rivals. Since becoming head coach in 2009, Kelly’s had 10 offensive players enter the NFL. During that time, Oregon State had 8 defensive players, Cal 12, UCLA 10 and USC 12. Kelly had no advantage in recruiting and no advantage in NFL caliber talent relative to his division rivals, yet lit them up week in and week out. But now with the Eagles, Kelly does have a talent advantage. LeSean McCoy is one of the best running backs in the league, DeSean Jackson is a premiere deep threat, the offensive line is very good and Mike Vick is flawed but of course one of the most physically gifted QBs in the league. His players can stretch the field horizontally and vertically as well or better than anyone. You’ve got to have some special players on your defense to be the more talented unit on the field when the Eagles have the ball. And if you do, kudos. But most teams don’t. And even if you do, so what, being the least talented team hasn’t been a problem for Kelly.
But talent alone isn’t enough. The other way is to have superior game planning and play calling. Good luck with that. As head coach and before that, offensive coordinator at Oregon, Chip Kelly faced four current or former NFL defensive coordinators coaching Pac-10/12 rivals. And he beat them all and beat them all consistently, usually destroying their defense. Let’s take a look. I counted offensive and special teams scoring, but not fumble or interception returns. My reasoning for including special teams was that kick and punt returners, like offensive players, are supposed to have the ball in their hands. And Kelly has stressed special teams since day one, as it showed on Monday. “Ranks” is the FEI/S&P rankings of the defense, for whatever that’s worth to you. A dagger (†) indicates the game was on the road. I did not list whether Oregon won or lost because wins and losses are besides the point, this is strictly looking at how Kelly’s offenses did against former NFL defensive coordinators. I kept it to conference games because these teams saw Oregon nearly every year, so they had the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and correct them. Additionally, none of the big out of conference games were coached by NFL DCs anyway. Spoiler: the Ducks did great.
Mark Banker was interim DC for the Chargers in 2001 after Joe Pascale broke his back and was unable to coach. Banker was a part of the Chargers staff the previous two years. He has the weakest NFL resume in the list that follows, but he was thought of highly enough on the Chargers staff to be the one promoted to interim DC and then Chargers head coach Mike Riley, a good coach in his own right, took him with him to Oregon State, where he has been the DC since 2003. Riley is a defensive coach as well. Additionally, the Oregon-Oregon State rivalry is one of the best in the country, dubbed the “Civil War.” In most match ups while Kelly was in Eugene, both teams were ranked, so the quality of football was very good, and the players and coaches spend a lot of time on this game, as it is extremely important to both schools. And Chip Kelly’s offenses put up 40+ points and 500+ yards in half his games against the Beavers.
Clancy Pendergast was DC for the Cardinals from 2004-2008 and the Chiefs in 2009, before that he was an assistant coach on three different NFL teams in 9 years. Pendergast is not a good coach at the NFL level (he did get fired after going to the Super Bowl), but plenty of defenses that Kelly will face in the NFL won’t be run by good coaches at the NFL level either. Pendergast was the DC at Cal from 2010-2012.
Vic Fangio is in his 27th year in the NFL, having spent 10 years as a DC prior to becoming Stanford’s in the 2010 season. After that season he left with Jim Harbaugh to coach the 49ers, where now runs the their dominating defense. He’s one of the best defensive coordinators Kelly has and will face.
Monte Kiffin is, as you know, a legendary defensive coordinator in the NFL who ran USC’s defense from 2010-2012, which has helped to keep his son employed while USC’s offenses fell on their face.
Notice a trend? The defenses that did do well were smoked in their next meeting. After their best performance against Kelly, Oregon State had their worst performance against him. Cal had the best game in this sample, then gave up three times the points and nearly twice the yards. USC had their best performance in 2011, which wasn’t even that good, then had their worst game. In 2010, Kelly faced all four defensive coordinators listed here. He beat them all, and went 11-2 in his career against them, averaging 43.3 points and 549 yards.
Chip Kelly isn’t the one that needs to adjust. Opposing defenses are.