When the Eagles traded up to the first pick in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft and selected Matt Barkley (USC) some moaned about what a poor fit he was for their new look offense. Chip Kelly comes over from Oregon and is the new head coach of the Eagles. He's going to bring an exciting spread offense to the NFL, but there are some misconceptions about that which need to be cleared up. These misconceptions have formed opinions wrongly about Barkley's fit in the offense. To understand what Barkley must do to command this offense, first we must examine the structure of the design.
The offense is based off inside power running first and foremost. Kelly uses the Inside Zone Read (IZR) as the base for his system. Everything feeds off that one play and multiple plays can be run from the IZR formation.
The Oregon offense was deceptive through honesty.
They show the play every snap by the way they line up, and every defense in the Pac-12 knew it. When the running back is lined up behind the quarterback it's an IZR look. This play is simple in it's execution, yet brilliant in the design. The IZR is essentially an old fashioned dive play designed to go up the gut between the tackle and the guard. Chip Kelly's twist on this old school play is that he zone reads a defensive end or defensive tackle on the back side of the play.
This wrinkle causes three things.
First, by leaving a defensive end or defensive tackle unblocked on the back side it frees up an extra blocker on the play side. Second, the free end or tackle is essentially neutralized as he has to choose between going after the quarterback or going after the running back. Finally, the nature of the design stretches the defense and causes gaps somewhere up front.
Blocking for an IZR is straight up power. Offensive linemen will essentially try to maul the defender in front of them and push them back into the linebackers. This push up front opens up multiple rushing lanes underneath. Running backs in this system have the freedom to improvise. IZR is designed for up the gut running, but if a cutback lane is bigger then the back can go there instead.
IZR is the staple of the offense, and all other plays extend from there. Oregon also uses outside zone read (OZR) as their secondary formation. When the running back is lined up alongside the quarterback (and slightly in front) then it's an OZR look. OZR is designed to push the edge of the defense and the blocking is entirely differnt than IZR. Offensive linemen in OZR must be agile laterally and move from sideline to sideline. At the snap they kick step to the play side and just keep pushing their man in the direction he wants to go, even if that's upfield. The running back is supposed to hit on the outside of the offensive tackle's shoulder, but just like IZR, he is free to look for other lanes.
This isn't giving away Chip Kelly's secrets.
In fact, most of his offensive philosophies can be found online with a quick Google search. Kelly WANTS opponents to know the IZR and OZR formations because he'll then know how they will work to stop it. The beautiful thing about this offense is that it forces the defense to cover the entire line of scrimmage, not just stack inside or umbrella outside. The whole field is then opened up when Kelly throws in play action passing, mid-line option, triple options, speed double options, roll outs, and bubble screens.
Oregon lost more yards than any other team in the Pac-12. But that's comes from the honesty of tipping their hand with every formation, either IZR or OZR. Kelly will continue to go back to the well, even when runs are getting stuffed because he knows on any given play there could be one player out of place, and that's all it takes for a big play to happen. The Kelly offense forces everyone on the defense to play perfectly on every snap. Any lack of discipline or over aggression will be taken advantage of by the offense.
The Ducks were a run heavy team under Kelly even though they ran a spread offense. Last year they had 685 carries as a team, with undersized Kenjon Barner getting 278 of those. Obviously this hire was GREAT news for LeSean McCoy's fantasy owners. Even Bryce Brown could get enough touches to be a flex option from week to week.
The QBs in this offense are asked to do only a few things, but they must be decisive, smart, and quick with the trigger. This is where Matt Barkley could fit in nicely.
Even though he doesn't have a rocket arm, Barkley is a highly confident passer who will test tight windows down the field. Over the last two years Barkley has thrown 24 touchdowns of 20 yards or more with only two interceptions. While Barkley isn't the most mobile quarterback, he does a good job of throwing on the run. For his career Barkley has completed 65% of his passes with 23 touchdowns and three interceptions when outside the pocket, including 16 touchdowns on designed roll outs.
Barkley was known as an incredibly accurate passer on short and underneath routes. In addtion, he also shows good touch and pass placement to his receivers underneath where they can avoid trash and maximize yards after the catch. He has high football intelligence, and teammates rally around him because he goes down swinging.
All of these traits - deep accuracy, mobility, intelligence, and quick decisions- are PERFECT for this system.
This season, Barkley may not start for the Eagles as Michael Vick is expected to win the starting job over Nick Foles. However, Barkley may play a big role on this team sooner than some think. Vick is an injury prone quarterback and may not be the best fit for this scheme. He'll often hold onto the ball too long which leads to turnovers and sacks. These are big no-nos in the Kelly system. Quarterbacks must be precise and get the ball to the skill position players quickly via pass or handoff. If Vick gets banged up, then Barkley may be able to beat out last year's third-round pick Nick Foles. Even if he doesn't play a down this year one thing is certain; this team has a plan in mind for Barkley. Fantasy owners - especially those in dynasty leagues - should have a plan for this potential star as well.
More from Cecil Lammey:
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The Audible: 2013 Beat Writer Tour - Interview with Chargers Beat Writer Michael Gehlken - June 25
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