Chip Kelly's spread offense

Chris Brown does a great job breaking down Chip Kelly's vaunted Oregon spread offense. Of course I'll be rooting for Stanford this Saturday night in their matchup against Oregon, but I confess to a huge crush on Kelly's spread-offense. Football strategy innovation is rarer than you'd expect given the huge financial incentives to winning, but every so often, someone like a Dick Lebeau or a Bill Walsh comes along and comes up with something new, like the zone blitz or the West Coast offense, and it's a beautiful thing.

Hear Kelly explain his spread-offense, the logic seems elegantly simple.

At its most fundamental, Kelly's system is a carefully organized, carefully practiced method for forcing defenses to defend the whole field, and then exploiting those areas left exposed. And the first tool Kelly uses is a surprising one: math.

"If there are two high safeties [i.e., players responsible for deep pass defense], mathematically there can only be five defenders in the box. With one high safety, there can be six in the box. If there is no high safety, there can be seven in the box," Kelly explained at the 2011 spring Nike Coach of the Year Clinic. The easiest case is if the defense plays with two deep defenders: "With two high safeties, we should run the ball most of the time. We have five blockers and they have five defenders."

When a team brings that extra defender into the box, the calculus for the offense changes. "If the defense has one high safety and six defenders in the box, the quarterback has to be involved in the play," Kelly explained. "He has to read one of the defenders, in effect blocking him. We can block five defenders and read the sixth one." Marcus Mariota, Oregon's dynamic freshman quarterback, has been an excellent blocker without hitting anyone at all.

Football is really simple, in some ways. On offense, the advantage is that they know what play is going to be run and the defense doesn't. But it's somewhat offset by the fact that the offense has one player, the quarterback, who isn't blocking or running a route, giving the defense one extra person to defend (this is one reason why quarterbacks that can run, like Michael Vick or RGIII, are so dangerous; they force the defense to assign at least one defender to shadow the QB, neutralizing that man advantage).

Kelly's spread-offense tries to neutralize the man disadvantage by putting the offense in situations that give them as few defenders to manage as possible, analogous to a power play in hockey. And by playing fast, like no huddle offenses in the pros, they prevent defenses from swapping in personnel for specific packages, further putting the defense at a disadvantage.

I, for one, hope Kelly gets a long, extended look in the NFL, enough time to try to bring some of that innovation to the pro grame.