Comparing Chip Kelly to Gary Kubiak—what could possibly go wrong?



The most significant news to me coming out of Eagles OTA’s is that DT Bennie Logan has bulked up to 317 pounds (all muscle mass!) and the future of the defensive front looks a whole lot brighter. But today I wanted to take a look at the offensive system Chip Kelly has installed, and try to compare it to what Gary Kubiak had success with at Houston before the wheels came off the Texans’ wagon.

I think there are some basic similarities.

I went to an Films source, the TV and blog analyst Greg Cosell, to try to pin down the basic features of Kubiak’s system which make it unique. I also looked up a resource called Zone Reads to find out what went horribly wrong with it at Houston last year.

First up is Greg Cosell:

“What he’s been doing, going back to his Denver days and his Houston days, it’s a zone-run game and a play-action pass game that works off the zone-run game,” said Cosell. “When he was in Houston, I remember we researched it, his teams were among the best teams in the league at first-down passing because of their zone running game. It was run-action, as opposed to play-action. They were a very good run-action team on first-and-10. That’s what he’s been.”

That means basically a lot of play-action passes and bootlegs, stretch runs, and a zone-blocking scheme.

Kubiak used to say everything will start with his offense being “physical” at every position, and acknowledged that running the football will “make the rest of it go”…Kubiak, whose first coaching job in the NFL was as the quarterbacks coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 1994, has historically employed concepts from the West Coast passing game, relying heavily on the run to set up the pass, frequently using play-action and bootlegs while getting tight ends involved.

“There’s a lot of deception with the offense,” former Texans offensive guard Eric Winston said. “There’s so many different ways of doing the same thing so the defense can’t get a bead on it. There’s screens off of every run. There are so many choices. It’s a system where you can be successful.”

Maybe the Chippah runs his offense at a faster pace than Kubiak did at Houston, but I think I’m seeing a real parallel universe in the basic designs of both.

So what went wrong in Houston the last few seasons? What is the flip side of a Kubiak offense when it goes south?

We take a time-travel journey back to some dark times in Houston with Zone Reads to find the dark side of Kubiak’s offense:

“A 23-20 overtime loss last season to Seattle was a microcosm of Gary Kubiak’s tenure in Houston: a mostly-well-executed bread-and-butter game combined with a failure to turn opportunities into points and a fatal predictability on offense that sabotaged the team in the most important moments of the game. It’s a pattern that’s been with Kubiak’s teams since he arrived in Houston in 2006. Through good times and bad times, you can always count on a solid zone-running game paired with an undermanned passing offense and passive decision-making that combines poor clock management, predictable play-calling, and the famed “two-yard pass on third-and-five” to create a team that scores far fewer points than it should and never really competes with the best teams.” ‘

“Gary Kubiak’s weaknesses are holding this team back. This is what I see those weaknesses as being:

“An extremely uncreative, vanilla offensive gameplan, with no new wrinkles or matchup-specific designs. If you’re a Texans fan, it must be infuriating watching teams like Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers installing a read-option package for Colin Kaepernick, then holding back on unleashing it until the playoffs, or watching Bill Belichick’s staff make chicken salad out of chicken crap every year with whatever receiving talent they find hanging around the facility. Good coaches make the most out of their talent and find ways to exploit matchups. Kubiak does neither. He has his zone run and his small package of play-action passes, and he doesn’t have a plan B. That’s what he runs against every single team, and if it isn’t working, he’s a deer in the headlights. He’s not helped by the team’s apparent refusal to bring in weapons in the passing game, seemingly depending on Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels exclusively since 2006. The NFL is an offensive, passing league nowadays; you can’t be a top team with only one top-quality wide receiver. Drafting DeAndre Hopkins was a huge step in the right direction, but this team is still woefully undermanned in the passing game.”

An inability to close out games. This ties into the first point. I’m convinced that if Gary Kubiak gets a lead– any lead– in the second half, his offensive game plan reverts to “shut down and run out the clock”. Doesn’t matter if it’s 13-10 with 12 minutes left in the third quarter. Kubiak plays to hang on, not to win. Even if this were a viable strategy, it’s hampered by that vanilla offense, because defenses always know what’s coming, and they know how to stop it and get the ball back. (Granted, they’re helped by the fact that Kubiak calls plays with a seeming indifference as to whether or not those plays have a chance to extend the current drive.) Witness the OT loss to Seattle: The Texans didn’t score a single point after halftime.”

A seeming failure to understand that points win games, and that giving up opportunities to score points is giving up opportunities to win. The Texans are consistently one of the most under-performing red-zone teams in the league, particularly when compared to how the offense performs the rest of the time. Part of that is the same predictability that haunts the offensive play-calling. Part of that is occasional play-calling that makes no sense. (Why has Kubiak refused to use Andre Johnson in the red zone for so long, but is now doing things like throwing short crossing routes to Keshawn Martin?) In addition to the play-calling, Kubiak routinely mismanages the clock in the end-of-half/end-of-game situations, always taking the “safer” play. I’m convinced his optimal two-minute drill is “three kneels and take it into the locker room”. You combine these factors and it’s no wonder the Texans always seem to score fewer points than their talent and performance in between the 20’s should indicate. Even the OT loss to Seattle is another great example: They ran 88 plays to Seattle’ 58, outgained the Seahawks 476-270, and still managed to lose.”

If Zone Reads has analyzed Gary Kubiak’s in-game coaching mistakes fairly and accurately, then it would seem Chip Kelly is way ahead of the learning curve which claimed Kubiak’s head coaching job in Houston.

But you might want the Chippah to pay heed to at least two of the cautionary tales above—the ones about “having a Plan B” and “not having more than one top-quality wide receiver”…

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.