On Chip Kelly, Statistics, Math And Turnovers

Chip Kelly was asked last month what the ideal range of plays per game will be for the Eagles’ offense.

“Whatever it takes to win,” he said. “I’ve never been caught up in that at all. I don’t care. The only thing I look on the stat sheet is did we have more points than they have. I think people get caught up in too many things.

“The only real statistic I ever look at from a statistical standpoint when you analyze it is response after turnover. It’s not what you do in the turnover battle. Our defense can create four turnovers. If we go out and score no points, it doesn’t matter. You say, ‘Hey, we were plus-four in turnovers today.’ What did the offense do with it? It’s been the same exact thing. We’ve turned the ball over, but our defense goes on the field, pitches a shutout, well they did a great job. They picked us up. So we talk about that from a statistical standpoint.”

Analysts who list turnovers as a key to games generally get an eye-roll from me. It always signals: I have done no homework on this matchup. What can I say right now that won’t make me look foolish?

Turnovers are important in every single game. It’s one of those “goes without saying” things. Might as well say: The team that scores more touchdowns will have a great chance of winning.

But my impression here is that Kelly’s response to the question has more to do with his overall philosophy than his stance on analytics. He has made little changes around the building to separate barriers between the offense and defense. For example, the locker room is no longer arranged by position; players are all mixed together.

In previous years, the parking lot had three spots reserved for the offensive, defensive and special teams players of the week. Those signs have been changed, and now there are just general spots reserved for players. In other words, the point seems to be to promote one team over two or three different units.

Last year, Oregon’s average turnover margin was +1.62, tops in the country. But the defense deserved most of the credit. According to CoachingSearch.com, the Ducks led the nation with 131 takeaways from 2009 to 2012. Oregon’s offense, meanwhile, turned it over 19 times last  year, which ranked tied for 39th.

Kelly wants to make it clear that there’s no room for “woe is us” feelings on either side of the ball. If the offense turns it over, defensive players shouldn’t stand there and shake their heads. They should be focused on going out and stopping the opponent. That’s not unique to the Eagles. But certainly, Kelly seems to want to emphasize it.

As for statistics overall, we know Kelly and the Eagles pay attention to analytics, although like the other 31 teams, they’re not too eager to reveal specific details. You don’t really need an analytics department to fill you in on “response after turnover.” And given that Kelly seems obsessed with exploring every advantage he can provide to his players, it seems naive to think that’s really the only stat he pays attention to.

While he might want to guard the team’s specific use of analytics, Kelly acknowledged the role simple math plays in determining pre-snap decisions.

“There’s a ton of math. Do they have one more guy in the box?” Kelly said. “That’s what defenses are trying to do. We’ve got to get one more guy in the box stopping the run game. If you have one more guy in the box, you have less guys deep. So that becomes a chess match within the game of how are they trying to defend us. Are you going to try to play man coverage all day long and get an extra guy in there? Well, yeah, you can do that, but then you better be able to hold up in man coverage. Does your rush get home?

“That’s the fun part from the strategic standpoint in the game itself. Or can you play 2-deep, but your defense can hold up because your safeties don’t have to be involved in the run fits. If they’re involved in the run fits and the ball gets thrown over your head, that’s the game itself. When you think there’s going to be someone fit in the front, and they’re not fit in the front – they did a great job of disguising it. That’s part of your film study and your evaluation making sure you put a plan together that can take advantage of that and you don’t get fooled.”

Analytics, math and sports science. They’ll all be part of the curriculum next week when the Eagles kick off training camp.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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