49ers: Is Head Coach Chip Kelly’s offense NFL-worthy?

Recently on Niners Live, we discussed whether Chip Kelly was ready for the NFC WEST. We’ve analyzed, while taking an in-depth look and breaking down his coaching record, the NFC EAST division, and the level of competition between 2013 to 2015. Now we’ve turned our attention to the next part of our two-part series: Is Chip Kelly’s offense NFL-worthy?



Chip Kelly’s system of offense has been under fire ever since he came into the NFL in 2013 with the Philadelphia Eagles; and from this writer’s perspective, rightfully so.

Having been progressively more successful during his stint at the University of Oregon, there was little doubt that Chip Kelly would end up as a head coach in the NFL; but, the question was always whether he would have the same success at the pro level.  If you look at his stats thus far, the answer is an obvious, “No.”

In his first season, Kelly’s Eagles were ranked 2nd in offense, so people were beginning to think his system might just be good enough for the NFL after all.  However, the next year, the ranking was 5th, followed by 12th last year, and thus far this year, 31st (as see in the chart below).


Notice also, that his points rankings went from 4th in 2013 to 18th so far in 2016; and most worrisome, check out the giveaway rankings – his first year was good, but ever since, defenses have figured out his system and have quickly taken advantage of its weaknesses.

The giveaway stats are imperative when critiquing Kelly’s offensive system, especially when you consider the constant reality of his teams having quarterback controversies.  In 2013, there was the battle between Nick Foles and Michael Vick. The next year, Foles and Mark Sanchez. In 2015, Sam Bradford was in his battle with mediocrity until his injury; then Sanchez added fire to the situation by playing poorly in his two starts, losing both. And this year, there is the highly emotional fan-loyalty controversy between Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick (Kap fans are loyal due to his play during Jim Harbaugh’s reign, despite the fact that he has not played yet this season and actually had worse stats than Gabbert last year)  (as see in the chart below).


My point concerning the quarterback controversies is that perhaps, the quarterbacks are not the issue; but, as I believe, the offensive system is to blame for the poor showing by the 49ers thus far.  It is true that this year’s team does not have the same level of talent when compared to the teams that played under Harbaugh; but, there is a trend showing between the four seasons that Kelly has been a coach.  His first year was very good, but his system has continued its downward spiral ever since.

Important to Note: The 49ers rank 31st in passing with an average of just 170 yards per game (NFL.com).

In order to quantify my opinion of Kelly’s system, I analyzed the film of every offensive play run by the 49ers in last Thursday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals, and found the following to be troubling realities concerning the design of the pass plays; as well as the poor decision-making of Blaine Gabbert in crucial situations.

The first disturbing trend I noticed was that nearly three-quarters of all the pass routes run by the targeted receiver were under ten yards in length, with the vast majority being either crossing, out, or curl patterns.  What this means, is that the receiver was rarely heading upfield when the ball reached them; they tended to be running horizontally or stopped.  In contrast to Kelly’s offensive scheme, Bill Walsh’s system had the receiver moving toward the goal line as often as possible (remember all those 7-yard slants to Jerry Rice or John Taylor, etc., that turned into touchdowns). This is a significant contrast when you compare Kelly’s offense’s average yards and points rankings to Walsh’s (Kelly 12.5 & 9.5 – Walsh 5.4 & 7.9).  It is also important to contrast the first three full years of coaching for both Kelly and Walsh.  With Eagles, Kelly was 10-6 in both of his first two years, but just 6-9 in his third year.  Walsh, on the other hand, was 2-14 and 6-10 in his first two seasons with the 49ers; but, 13-3 and Super Bowl Champions in his third year. Walsh went on to set the standard for head coaches and offensive coordinators in the NFL, winning three Super Bowls; Kelly, on the other hand, has regressed.

Interesting Side-note: Jeremy Kerley is, if you go by stats alone, the 49ers best receiver thus far this season; however, did you notice who Arizona’s Patrick Peterson was covering in man-to-man situations?  It was Torrey Smith, and Peterson always draws the opposition’s greatest threat.  Perhaps Arizona (and maybe the rest of the league, knows that Smith is the key to victory in the 49ers passing game.  Just an interesting thought.

The other trend I noticed is that all of the quarterbacks that play in Kelly’s system go from being sought after (for whatever reason), to being seen as inadequate at best.  Case-in-point: Blaine Gabbert.  Though he has the worst record in the first 40 starts of any starting quarterback in league history (9-31, including this year), he was seen by many around the league as being a capable QB, but has played for two really weak teams (Jacksonville and San Francisco).  That being said, here is what I found when I re-looked at the film.

Gabbert tends to duck and run far too quickly when he ‘feels’ pressure, whether or not it actually exists; and, he runs without looking to pass, if possible. This is in contrast to quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, who seek to find open receivers first, running only when it is the only or best option.   Also, I noticed that he tends to scramble to his left a lot, despite having a clear path to the right side.  Overall, I feel Gabbert is a victim of the system; though I believe he makes far too many bad reads, on both running and passing plays.  It is important to note that if you were to watch the film of every game in which Colin Kaepernick played, you will notice the same tendencies.

Interesting Stat: The 49ers average seconds per play (24.93) is the fastest in the league.

So, what is my ultimate conclusion?  It is that Chip Kelly’s offensive system is not NFL-worthy, for it is pedestrian at best, amateurish at worst.  It may have worked in college, but it will not work in the NFL.  Kelly needs to re-design his pass routes to ensure that, as often as possible, the targeted receiver is moving toward the goal line, rather that horizontally.  Also, his quarterbacks have to be taught how to check down from target to target, rather than focusing on the primary receiver too long or scrambling too soon.  This offense is a disaster that isn’t waiting to happen, it already has.

All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus,49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated.  Steve Weston, Staff Writer , Editor Niners Live.