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Does Run Set Up The Pass Now?

Posted Feb 28, 2013

Lost in the conversation about the quarterback position and the rebuilding of the defense is a premise that many believe will become truth for the Eagles: The run will be used to set up the pass ...

The very idea that the Eagles could be -- and we stress could be -- a run-to-set-up-the-pass offense is so incredibly foreign after 14 seasons of Andy Reid's throw-early-and-run-with-a-lead philosophy that it hasn't quite been absorbed and that maybe, perhaps, this is the way it's going to be with Chip Kelly.

So let's say Kelly is going to take what he was so successful with at Oregon and bring as much of it as he can to the Eagles. It makes sense to do it that way, right? Kelly's Ducks offense averaged more than 6 yards per carry the last couple of seasons and ran the ball nearly twice as much as it threw the football.

The concept of the Oregon offense, documented at great length in a variety of public web sites, is that everything starts with the Inside Zone Read, a play which has the pre-snap look of the quarterback in the shotgun position, with a halfback lined up behind and to the side of the quarterback. As described by a devout Oregon fan on FishDuck.com, the play is a simple tailback dive play that relies on physical run blocking and a running back who has vision, elusiveness and some giddy-up through the hole.

The other play that is described at length is the Outside Zone read, a play on which the quarterback is again in the shotgun. The tailback, however, lines up next to the quarterback and the play is designed to run to the edge to break a big gain down the sideline.

At Oregon, Kelly's offense ran with incredible success. The offense was keyed by the big-play running attack, which also had many, many plays during which the defense recognized the formation, reacted quickly and stuffed the running back for losses.

What made it work at Oregon was great blocking and running backs who were able to exercise the option in the scheme and bounce an Inside Zone Read play to an open spot outside or to change direction on an Outside Zone Read play and zing an overreacting defense with a change of direction and a sprint to daylight in the open field.

Do the Eagles have the assets to run this offense? The quarterback question is out there, with good reason, because there is a mobility element that Oregon quarterbacks demonstrated, and the passing game relies on a quarterback who can throw after play-action fakes, who can roll and stop and throw and who can successfully operate the tweaks Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will devise from the formations that defenses will study and anticipate.

Certainly, the running backs here are just about perfect for this system. There is no back in the NFL who has more change-of-direction ability than does LeSean McCoy, who may find that when it all works he's going to have more plus-20-yard gains than he has ever enjoyed. The idea of McCoy lining up next to the quarterback and taking a handoff on an Outside Zone Read play and cutting back against a defense that has worked so hard to get to the sideline is exciting. McCoy's quick feet will cause defenses a lot of headaches.

Same with Bryce Brown, who should have the opportunity to take his game to the next level. Brown showed flashes of greatness in his rookie season, but he also had his numbers shrink considerably once defenses jammed up the line of scrimmage and shut down his options. Brown was run continually to the edge, with his only read the defensive end. If the defensive end was walled, Brown ran to the sideline. If the defensive end was free, Brown tried to cut inside.

Now, there are many more options because, in theory, the field will be spread and more lanes will become available with good one-on-one blocking. The Eagles can create overloads on one side and then run to the open end. Brown, with his combination of speed and power and the ability to make a defender miss, should play well.

Dion Lewis, largely forgotten last season, has the quickness and elusiveness that Kelly's backs at Oregon possessed. Is Lewis big enough to run it 15 times each week? Not sure about that, but if the Eagles truly do reverse their run/pass ratio and call 30 runs each game, Lewis could be a valuable contributor.

Chris Polk has a lot of power and bulk and he's fully healthy after using his rookie season as a learning experience. He doesn't appear to be the kind of back in the mold that Kelly used at Oregon, but Polk has real talent and good coaches find ways to use talented players. So we'll see how Polk fits into the offensive system here.

I don't know what Kelly has planned for the offense, but it's clear that the strength of the Eagles is running the football and the personnel they can employ using a spread formation to create favorable matchups. If the name of the game is speed, then the Eagles have plenty of it. They may not have the ideal "speed" situation at tight end, but Brent Celek is a playmaking pass catcher who can get down the field, as can backup Clay Harbor.

Who plays quarterback? That's the day-in, day-out question, of course. It's one that likely won't have an answer for quite some time, as options remain on the table in free agency and the draft and with the understanding that no matter who is here when practices begin, the competition for the job is wide open.

The quarterback, whoever he is, has a lot of talent with him in the backfield. And you can expect that the ball is going to be in the hands of the running back a whole lot more than we've seen in the last decade-plus of Eagles action.

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