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NFL Philosophies: Scheme Versus Talent

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One philosophy says you acquire players to fit your scheme, another says you acquire talent then fit your scheme to their strengths. One coach is definitely putting the former theory to the test.

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I remember listening to knowledgeable NFL football people like John Madden saying that one of the things that made Don Shula a great coach was that he always changed his scheme to fit the players he had. If he drafted the best player available he would make a change to his scheme to put that player in the best position to make plays.

With Chip Kelly, he will draft/sign players to fit his system. The big difference between Kelly and other coaches like Shula is that Kelly believes his system can work with the players he has and that it will work even better once he gets the pieces in place that are more suited to his scheme. In other words, he is acquiring players to fit his scheme, not his needs. Some might say that is a play on words, but there is a minor nuance. So, let's look at what he is doing.

First thing to realize that since he has come into the NFL his teams have won 20 games and lost 12. Both seasons have been 10 - 6. His offense has been fourth and third in the NFL in his two seasons and that has been done without a franchise quarterback. In fact he has not had "his" type of quarterback yet and we all know that this is a quarterback driven league.

So, what has he done about the quarterback position? He has been searching for one that can be accurate and make smart decisions. He obviously has not been pleased with what he has since he has been trying several different options including trading a quarterback that was drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft for one that was drafted first overall in the 2010 draft. Which in some coaching circles can be spun that "he will thrive under me and in my system and the only reason why he has not done what his college pedigree says he should have done was because he hasn't had the right diet and right trainer as well as the right offensive scheme to thrive in." [Emphasis/Quote mine]

In 2013 Kelly had the number one rushing offense in the NFL and it fell to ninth in 2014. Some say LeSean McCoy did not hit the holes that Kelly wanted him to hit and would bounce it outside too often so he went looking for a one-cut back. Keep in mind that McCoy had the almost identical number of carries in 2014 as he did in 2013 when he lead the NFL in rushing yards, but his average yards was down almost a whole yard from 5.1 to 4.2 yards per carry.

So after trading McCoy for a defensive player, to address the running back problem he first settled on Ryan Mathews and then added DeMarco Murray. The reason for beefing up his running game with the right kind of his guys is that Kelly values running backs a lot more than he does wide receivers. Over at NBC Sports an article by Mike Florio talks about this very thing:

"After Chip Kelly signed running backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews while declining to keep receiver Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles have a wide gulf between what they’re planning to pay their running backs and what they’re planning to pay their receivers.

With a total cap hit of $12.6 million for their six running backs, the Eagles have the second-most cap dollars committed to running backs of any team in the league. Only the Vikings, who (for now) have Adrian Peterson and his huge contract on their cap, have a higher total cap hit for running backs.

But the Eagles’ payroll at wide receiver ranks 28th in the NFL, at $7.1 million. Over the last two offseasons, Kelly has decided to part with two expensive receivers (Maclin and DeSean Jackson) and has declined to spend a lot on their replacements, instead going with the relatively inexpensive Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff.

It’s also important to mention, as noted by Philly.com, that Kelly seems to place particular emphasis on acquiring wide receivers who are good run blockers. A good block by a receiver downfield can be the difference between a 10-yard run and a 60-yard run, and Kelly thinks a receiver who blocks well can spring as many big plays as a receiver who makes the big plays himself in the passing game."

It would seem to me that the Dallas Cowboys feel like if you have a big play receiver that blocks well, it will result in even more big plays than if you just have an average receiver that blocks well and they plan to pay the wide receiver position to show that they feel that way.

Kelly will most likely have to address the offensive line in either free agency and/or the draft because the offensive line is getting old and as much as Kelly likes to try nutrition to help his players stay healthy, last year the offensive line was anything but healthy. So as this article over at philly.com states, the offensive line needs addressing in a big way.

"After having all five offensive linemen start every game in 2013, the Eagles were decimated by injuries in 2014. Left guard Evan Mathis missed more than seven games with a MCL sprain, center Jason Kelce was sidelined for more than four games because of a sports hernia, and right guard Todd Herremans spent the final seven games of the season on Injured Reserve with a torn bicep. Allen Barbre, who started the season at right tackle, sat out almost the entire year with a broken ankle. And Lane Johnson, whom Barbre initially replaced, was suspended for the first four games. Only left tackle Jason Peters started all 16 games."

It is an old line (three of the starters are over 32 years of age) that has problems staying healthy and to me points to one of the reasons that McCoy was less productive.

While the entire NFL is looking at the success that the Dallas Cowboys had with putting the offensive line first and foremost in the forefront in terms of highest priority, it would seem that Kelly will have to also take note and insure that he can get good blocking for that improved running back committee that he is building.

But also keep in mind that Kelly is betting big on health in areas other than the offensive line. While he may be counting on the offensive line to get healthy, he is also counting on Sam Bradford to get healthy as well. And also he is betting that DeMarco Murray, Sam Bradford and Ryan Mathews are not injury prone but rather are just injured a lot and that the injuries will return to the mean.

While Kelly is well respected in the NFL coaching circles, his GM acumen is certainly being questioned as everyone is wondering just what-in-the-heck he is doing.

What I am wondering is will his moves point to the idea that scheme is more important than talent because it would seem to me that he is just plugging anyone in a wide receiver if they can block very well. As pointed out in the first quoted article above, he got rid of his two most productive wide receivers in the last two years.

Well, there you have it. What do you think about how the Eagles will do next year without addressing that offensive line? Do you think he will address it, or will he look to first help the defense in the draft at the possible expense of replenishing the aged offensive line?