Chip Kelly Is Already Two Steps Ahead Of NFL Defenses

In his Sunday training camp rundown, Sheil Kapadia mentioned one play the Eagles ran that caught my eye:

The Eagles run what initially seems like a read-option play, but instead of taking off, Vick unleashes a pass to McCoy, who is out wide.

It's just one small play in a whole day of practice, but the implications are much greater—it shows that Chip Kelly is a couple steps ahead of the NFL defenses he's facing. Opposing coaches have been studying up on the zone read, trying to get a handle on stopping it before it expands even more widely this season. Last week, Chris Brown wrote a fantastic piece on that quest, as did Greg Bedard—who had Stanford's Derek Mason take him through the learning process NFL coordinators are facing.

If you read those articles, you'll understand the difficulty inherent in facing an offense capable of running the read option. You'll also see suggestions that NFL defenses can catch up if they adopt the "scrape-exchange" and other policies that expert college teams have worked on. But while coaches are trying to teach their defenders how to fight back, Kelly is bringing in a host of new ideas from the college level, most notably turning the "regular" zone read we've already seen from Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick into a triple option attack.

Brown wrote about these variations back in 2009. He described how the triple option off the zone read is easy to do with a third runner in the backfield, but also how bubble screens and other pass options can be even more deadly and unpredictable way to keep the defense honest. Here's Fishduck on Kelly's use of the bubble screen: 

Most of what Fishduck talks about in the related article is using the bubble screen as a constraint play to keep the defense honest. Many times, the read is taking place before the snap, and the zone read is little more than a play-action pass. But other times, as in 1:40 in the video, the quarterback is reading two defenders. After pulling the ball based on the defensive end crashing down, he sees the outside linebacker coming at him too. Instead of taking a loss, the quarterback has a third option to throw a quick bubble pass.

Kelly actually talks about that exact play in this video (at 2:15) with Urban Meyer:

The key, as you learn from Fishduck above, is that a third pass option added to the zone read makes it that much harder to defend. The defense can't load defenders into the box without the quarterback making an easy switch to the outside pass (without even needing to audible). Moreover, even if they execute the scrape-exchange properly and get a defender on the quarterback keeper, he still has an option to throw. 

Nothing about this is fool-proof, and a sound defense can slow down the triple option threat (or keep it to dink-and-dunk down the field). But NFL teams still trying to catch up to last year's version of the zone read are going to be falling down if they don't adjust to what Kelly is adding on to it.

Also: Buy the Eagles Almanac 2013 if you haven't already!