Smart Guy Thursday

There’s an old adage that states the most successful people are those who surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are. Clearly, this is Mike Lombardi’s current career strategy. Anyway, with the Browns’ pursuit of Chip Kelly reaching warp speed, these thoughts become even more relevant as the Oregon Head Coach represents a brave leap forward for a Browns’ franchise that has been stuck in previous decades for far too long.

Extending this thought even further (to myself), it’s nice to operate a niche Browns’ site that is read by the kinds of smart, nice people who contribute links, information and thoughts such as the following:

But first, the following link is either extraordinary, insane or just overwhelming. You decide.

Advanced NFL Stats – Play by Play Data

And back to Reboot readers, such as PDX Scott, Zack Luby and Fubar – who contributed the following. If you haven’t taken the time, do yourself a favor.

Grantland – The New Old School – Chip Kelly Post-Bowl Press Conference

Iggles – Let’s Talk About Chip Kelly – Tutorials on the Chip Kelly Oregon Spread Offense

And to throw a couple more links into the pool, here’s something I did a few months ago on Kelly. Inside are links to Greg Bedard’s great Kelly/Bill Belichick/Patriots piece.

Reboot – Friday Feedback: Future Edition (The One With Chip Kelly)

And to wrap things back around, here’s another smart comment from Fubar. (Smart as in “intelligent.” Unless Fubar was implying sarcasm throughout the following – which would instead make him “brilliant.”)

From Reboot reader FUBAR:

Kelly’s current Zone Read offense is clearly well suited to the Pac 10/12, but not the NFL. If I, a football scheming babe in diapers, can figure this out; then I think Chip Kelly has long since figured it out. The Oregon Zone Read works in college because it stretches relatively slow college defenses horizontally, which results in huge gaps opening up in the defense on many, but certainly not all, plays. But in the NFL, the defensive players are smarter and faster than in college. NFL defensive backs would feast on a pure college Zone Read system, swooping in quickly to stuff running plays or massively pressure the QB on passing plays.

However, I believe the Zone Read can be adapted to work in the NFL. It would require stretching the defense vertically as well as horizontally. That would mean dropping the run/pass ratio from 70/30 or 65/35 as found at Oregon down to a more NFL reasonable 55/45 or 50/50, and using play-action and bootlegs to maintain the horizontal stretch while adding a strong vertical component to the offensive threat. Bear in mind, that Kelly also runs a no-huddle, often at high speed, but also at slow speed; in such a way as to screw up defensive substitutions and keep defenses confused and wrong-footed.

Also, I think Kelly would use that superior defensive speed against NFL defenses. A critical component of the Zone Read is telegraphing before the snap where the play is going, and thus suckering the defense into over pursuing the ball. It doesn’t always work, but it works often enough to bust some really huge plays. Smart NFL defenders wouldn’t get suckered as often as college players into over-pursuit, but they would screw up often enough for it to work, especially with more sophistiated and disguised pro-level packages. And with so much speed and thus too much over-pursuit, the open gaps would be truly huge. I could see Trent Richardson exploiting enormous gaps in the defensive line to get to the 2nd and 3rd level of defenders. With his ability to break tackles and make huge gains after first contact, TRich could really thrive in a modified Zone Read, even if he isn’t quite as fast to the hole as the ideal Zone Read back.

The Zone Read is primarily a run-first offense, although it can switch to a play-action variant which racks up huge passing yardage against certain defenses. I think a run-first offense in the modern pass-happy NFL is a bold albeit counter-intuitive idea. Defenses are built to defend the pass, and not so much a terrific running attack. Richardson, Hardesty, and Jackson could really thrive in an NFL Zone Read, with Chip Kelly smartly tweaking the playcalls to suit the differing strength of these backs. And contrary to popular myth, the Zone Read is not a Spread Option where the QB runs a lot and subsequently gets tackled and injured a lot. Oregon QBs don’t actually run with the ball very often – though they must present the threat of running to help sucker the defense into over-pursuit. From what I have seen of Weeden and McCoy’s scrambling on broken plays, either of them can run well enough to get by in an NFL version of the Zone Read.

I love analysis like this. Fubar hits on several points here and emphasizes that Kelly’s offense can be both versatile and NFL-friendly. Again, it’s worth stating that several NFL teams already run elements of Kelly’s offenses – and perhaps more importantly, Kelly has certainly borrowed pieces of other offenses to accentuate his own.

As for the zone-read ideas, this again is something that several NFL teams already employ. Obviously, the Redskins have utilized Robert Griffin III’s unique skills by crafting a zone-read offense around him. Throughout most of the season – even during the Redskins’ earlier 3-6 start – the offense has been run first, but has featured enough play action and misdirection to create downfield passing opportunities.

Fubar’s comments are beyond helpful, as most Browns’ fans who will become acquainted with Kelly will likely focus on the Browns not having an athletic, “running” quarterback – which Kelly has featured at the college level. And although RG3 and Russell Wilson to an extent have proven to be successful mobile quarterbacks, this is one of those areas in which Kelly’s Oregon offense will not directly translate to the NFL.

More importantly, Browns’ fans should not zero in on Colt McCoy being the guy to run such an offense – at least based on his mobility. (Because I GUARANTEE this will be the thinking if Kelly gets hired and will be REALLY ANNOYING.) Fubar is right in that both Weeden and McCoy could operate a Kelly-NFL offense, mainly because they both have decent mobility. However, in terms of making downfield plays, we would probably regress into 2011 and 2012 meaningless QB debates – which in a potential Kelly era, should never, never, never, never be allowed to exist.

Certainly, Weeden would be an intriguing option in a new offense and it was painfully obvious that Weeden struggled in trying to become a 1993 QB for Pat Shurmur. (And yes, a similar case can be made for McCoy in 2011.) However, Weeden thrived in a faster paced, zone read type of attack in college and practically deserves the chance to play in a similar offense in Cleveland. Of course, much will depend on how the new Browns’ front office values the players that were drafted prior to 2013.

Anyway, as I suggested months ago, the IDEA of Kelly means that the Browns are finally moving towards becoming a contemporary NFL team rather than one that continues to copy old systems – i.e., the 49ers, Cowboys, Patriots, Ravens, Patriots again, Packers, Eagles, etc. Even if the Browns don’t eventually land Kelly, at least we know that the front office is genuinely trying to drag this franchise into 2013. And as for the real fans of the team, watching Kelly’s offense – in whatever variation it becomes – should be a reward for having to suffer through 32 games of primitive bonehead Shurmurball.


I’m not trying to elevate Banner and Haslam to deity status, but yet again let me state that ANY new ownership group was an unbelievable improvement over Randy Lerner. However, give Banner and Haslam credit for some hustle. Already this week, Arizona has been covered, as both Ray Horton and Ken Wisenhunt have been interviewed, with Kelly due on Friday. Could you even remotely imagine Lerner having the desire to keep up a similar pace OR to actually have a logical plan in place?


As always, leave your thoughts below in the COMMENTS section. Take a look at the links that everyone left and add your voice – either pro or con. Tell us what is missing here.

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Comments (20)

  1. MadElf

    BOOM! Nice read, Big D!

  2. ahahah. You are right about the freaking colt mccoy/weeden argument, will totally be annoyingly stoked if CK ends up coming to the Cleve.

    One additional point: CK coming to Cleveland would make it an attractive place for offensive players to come. I can’t imagine being a QB, WR, RB, or TE that didn’t want to play in this system. I think that would help with the NFL version of recruiting.

    Our offensive personnel is also a solid fit for his system (I think we would need to upgrade our guard and possibly TE – and I would guess CK would keep Weeden for now and look for some QB’s with more mobility, just a hunch). Thomas, Schwartz, and Mack should thrive. Greg Little would be CK’s favorite WR for his blocking acumen (no more bus-throwing). Josh Gordon would have to block, but could learn from GL. (I saw someone mention how good of a blocking WR Gordon was, I totally disagree, he shies away from contact). Richardson would excel in this system once he is healed up and plays a bit faster (he would be the best RB that CK has ever had, Jerry Azumah aside!).

    So, that being said, I am sure it won’t happen.

    • fubar

      Zack, I largely concur with your remarks about the Browns current offensive roster under Chip Kelly. Many of our current players could do well, but over time some changes might be necessary. I definitely think all the offensive lineman would be put on a diet, shedding excess fat and working very hard on conditioning. Chip Kelly strongly favors smart, agile blocking – including multiple blocking assignments that rapidly move upfield from the initial block on the D-linemen to take out linebackers and even the occasional inrushing safety or corner. Like you said, the Browns might have to upgrade the guard positions – the guards don’t pull quite so well. But that might have been in part the result of Shurmur coaching ineptitude. I lack the expertise to really suss out the truth of that one. Do our guards suck at pull blocking, or were they assigned to stupid pull blocking schemes doomed to failure? Finally, Little might catch more passes than Gordon under Chip Kelly. Kelly loves receivers who block often and well, and makes sure they are targeted more often. Gordon would have to upgrade his blocking game considerably. Good.

      I also agree with you about the inanity of the Weeden versus McCoy tantrums that will erupt should Chip Kelly come to Cleveland. The useless noise over that issue will be ear shattering. Let’s look at some historical facts on the whole Weeden versus McCoy thing, and get in a little gratuitous Shurmur bashing while we are at it, cuz – apologies to DK – there’s no such thing as too much Shurmur bashing.

      In the last three years, Pat Shurmur coached and called offensive plays for three different quarterbacks. During the course of those three seasons, each of the quarterbacks regressed as a player. In none of those three years did the playcalling take advantage of each QB’s individual strengths while minimizing his weaknesses. The case of Colt McCoy is especially enlightening. Under Brian Daboll, a poor NFL offensive coordinator, Colt McCoy did… meh… OK. Under Shurmur, Colt got worse. Shurmur was staggeringly awful as an offensive coach and playcaller, and the whole McCoy versus Weeden brouhaha must be analyzed only with the understanding that Shurmur put both of them in a position to fail, not succeed.

      If Chip Kelly comes to the Browns, I literally do not care who the quarterback is. I am confident that Kelly will pick the best QB from the limited options available to him, and then adapt his coaching and playcalling to best maximize the success of that player. That is the best possible outcome we could hope for, and one that has not happened in Cleveland for many decades now – not since the days of Rutigliano and Shottenheimer. All the head coaches since then have been “system coaches”, using a rigid, inflexible system requiring very specific kinds of players and four to five years of roster turnover and rebuilding and training until the glorious “system” has any hope of producing consistent victories. I hate system coaches and want nothing to do with them. System coaches are just scam-artists trying to rig the system to guarantee themselves long-term job security despite bad results.

      I think that both Weeden and McCoy could succeed in an NFL Zone Read offense. Weeden has stated publicly that he can’t do it, which I find disappointing. Maybe he just wants out of Cleveland as Tony Rizzo has remarked – I don’t know. A year of Shurmurball can destroy the enthusiasm and will-to-play of most any player. But the Zone Read is much closer to what both Colt and Weeden ran in college with great success, than the Shurmur WCO at which they both failed. Both of them are mobile enough to present enough of a “threat to run” to make the NFL Zone Read work. Other than that, they each have unique strengths and weaknesses which would be Chip Kelly’s job to sort out and resolve. And if neither of them are suitable, the Browns have plenty of cap room and Alex Smith might become available.

      Setting aside potential quarterback choice handwringing, it is quite clear from Chip Kelly’s actions and words over many years, that he continually upgrades and adapts his offensive playcalling to best suit the talent of the players he has on hand, while countering the evolving defensive schemes he faces every Saturday. It is entirely reasonable to assume he would do the same thing in the NFL every Sunday. I am sure over time he will turn over the roster to bring in the best players for his system, but in the meantime Chip Kelly knows how to work with the hand he has been dealt. Remember, Kelly is a Pac-10 coach, not an SEC coach. He never gets highly ranked recruiting classes. He never gets the biggest, strongest, fastest players in the country to come to Orgeon; which is why he doesn’t produce very many NFL caliber players. But he always produces a Top 10 team and goes to a Bowl game. He accomplishes more with less. In this, he is the ideal coach for the Cleveland Browns current roster.

      • Fubar -

        Such great points, I agree with you across the board.

        Hadn’t considered that Lauvao/Pinkston/Greco limitations may be Shurmur-related, but they certainly could be. I still tend to think that they are not great at pulling/mobile but I am not an O line coach, that is just based on my gut feeling from watching them struggle with it in this offense. Still, getting athletic guards shouldn’t be too tough.

        The Weeden comment is also troubling/surprising/weird. I haven’t actually seen the interview, but had the thought that he could have just been joking about how slow he is. He ran a very similar offense at OKST, minus the running part for the QB. Was just a weird thing to say, it seems like it just doesn’t make much sense. He very well could just have been fed up with football after a year of 15 word play calls, end arounds, and fake reverses.

        I also totally agree about not caring who Kelly picks as QB. If we get him, this team is going to be freaking exciting again, no matter who is under center (or 3 yards deep in the pistol, or 5 yards deep in the speed spread).

        I do have the feeling that I am setting myself up for a big disappointment, as I really want CK.

        I also almost as deeply do NOT want Bill O’Brien. He strikes me as a total system guy. When he got into screaming match with Brady on the sidelines two years ago in NE, I immediately downgraded him into Todd Haley status. I am fine with being fiery, but he is tom effing brady, no need to scream on him like his dad. That is the outcome I most fear, would even prefer one of the retreads to him.

        • and greg little has to be downright SALIVATING at the prospect of playing for CK. he is the prototypical CK guy, would be a career-maker of a move. i get fired up thinking about him laying the wood on trembling secondary guys who want no part of contact on richardson stretch run plays.

          • I didn’t even think of that. Little is a terrific downfield blocker. I still envision him as contributing some Percy Harvin plays. Or in a hopeful new era, Little can be everything we always wanted Josh Cribbs to be.

        • Totally agreed on the “system” pick – I think we’ve traveled down that road way too many times in the past. SF, Baltimore, NE, NE again, GB and Philly. That’s quite enough.

          A sort of related point – I remember Haslam in the preseason before the Eagles preseason game talking about how “one day the Browns can reach the level of the Eagles” or something to that effect. After 2012 finished, let’s hope that was more colloquial than anything else.

      • There should be no discussions about Weeden and McCoy and who Kelly prefers – I totally get this point. However, knowing how a LOT of Browns’ fans are fixated on individual performances and not on the actual scheme and play calling the quarterbacks are subjected to (ShurmurBall, where no QB can succeed), these meaningless discussions will linger until either a QB is declared as the starter or a new one is drafted. Of course, as Fubar states, Kelly can probably get more out of either one of these QB’s than Shurmur did. Actually, I’m quite sure he WILL get more out of either one.

        As for some of the “reports” talking about Shurmur possibly interviewing with other teams for an offensive coordinator, I say he will be very lucky to even land on Andy Reid’s coaching staff as a QB coach. The reports are a total LaMonte PR special, which is a bit ironic, since Shurmur will be competing with other LaMonte clients for a job.

        • fubar

          I still can not understand how Shurmur ever rose to the high level of quarterbacks coach. As for offensive coordinator, that just blows my mind. How could Shurmur ever be promoted so far beyond his talents?

          You know, the NFL fanboys yap a lot about how incredibly intense the competition is throughout the league at every possible level. After watching people like Shurmur get a head coaching job, or Romeo Crennel get a second run at head coach; I think these claims of uber-competitiveness and total excellence are a bunch of bullshit, corporate, happy talk. The NFL is hidebound and conservative to an extreme, with way too many retreads and gladhanders getting the top jobs. 90%+ of NFL franchises are about satiating the owner’s ego and making money, not about building a great football program.

          • The NFL is like any other business, where talent doesn’t equal success. Particularly with the rise of agents, certain coaches retain higher value than others. There’s also an issue of trust, in that an organization would rather hire someone that they are familiar with (i.e., the Chiefs and Crennel) than strike out to find an unknown coach who may have more talent. In Shurmur’s case, he stumbled into pure dumb luck in hooking up first with Reid, (then LaMonte), then Holmgren.

            In real life – depending on your age – just think about all the knuckleheads you went to school with – people you never thought would amount to anything. If the right connections are made, the sky’s the limit, regardless of actual talent.

    • Think positive. These aren’t Randy Lerner’s Browns anymore.

  3. pdxscott

    i’ve been skeptical of banner since the beginning, but the approach to the coaching search so far has me warming to him a bit. the difference between the lerner-delegate-and-hope approach and the haslam/banner coordinated and (so far) exhaustive approach is night and day. if they manage to persuade kelly to chose the browns over the eagles, it will be a boon for the the psyche of this fan base (at least until the first blowout loss in preseason).

    honestly, what do the eagles have that we don’t? their front office is at least equally messy and they’ve tied themselves to a questionable evaluator of talent in howie roseman. they have a number of discontents in the locker room and some gaping holes on their roster. their qb situation is arguably worse than ours.

    the crazy travel channel browns show that i haven’t seen… i wonder how prospective coaches feel about it. i’m sure if shurmur didn’t like it, he didn’t dare say a word about it. if chip kelly agreed to coach under the condition that the show be dropped, would haslam pull the trigger?

    • No, remember that Shurmur said that he DID watch the Travel Channel show (probably because Haslam was behind it), but was adamant about NOT watching the Browns’ 95 special?

      Why do I still care about these things?

      Anyway, PDX is right – the Eagles are a mess. Plus, any coach has to follow Andy Reid, who in a few years will be severely missed by Eagles’ fan. It’s a tough act to follow in a really tough city to succeed in. Kelly couldn’t ask for a better situation than Cleveland – at least based on the available jobs.

  4. Max

    I went to the one website and there were pictures of people doing horrifying things to each other with china and flatware!

    Whats that? Oh its Fish Duck? I typed in dish…well whatever. Never mind.

    • You really have to be careful out there. A while ago, I looked for a tutorial on how to build a Cornhole set. I saw things that won’t be easy to forget.

  5. ah, yes…..such a perfect description of the past two years, “…..primitive, bonehead, shurmurball”!

    And yes, lets give lots of credit to the Haslam-Banner team. What a contrast of energy to the Mike Holmgren, late morning office arrival, leisurely HC search and actually interviewing no one other than to satisfy the Rooney Rule.

  6. Another plus in the Chip Kelly column is his use of math/analytics/statistics to aid in-game decision-making.

    I would love to watch a team that goes for it on fourth down, goes for two, attempts surprise onside kicks and fake punts/FG’s when it makes sense to do so (which is, I believe, MUCH more often than most NFL head coaches choose to do those things).

    Aggressive, confident game management would be such a refreshing change from a Browns HC.

    • Let’s hope for your sake, Zack, that the Browns hire Kelly.

      But great point on the fourth down stuff. (One) thing that bothered me about Shurmur was his detachment from the flow of the game. And then after the Indy game, he continually went for every fourth down as a weird reaction.

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