There is an infinite amount of debate about the most effective aspect of the hurry up offense that will be a part of the San Francisco 49ers strategy in 2016. New head coach Chip Kelly's main talking point is that the more offensive plays a team runs, the more chance you have of gaining yards. There are arguments that the tempo makes it more difficult for the opposing team to defend, it takes more endurance during the game as well as a significant amount of additional preparation during the week before a match up. It limits substitutions on the defense and a good offense can take advantage of those mismatches. Beyond all of those things is a small detail that is seldom brought up: the quarterback to coach radio communication rule.
NFL Rules, Section 3, Article 3. Speakers in helmets.
The coach-to-player system allows a member of the coaching staff in the bench area to communicate to a designated offensive or defensive player with a speaker in his helmet. Communication from the coaches' booth via the system is prohibited. The communication begins once a game official has signaled a down to be over, and is cut off when the play clock reaches 15 seconds or the ball is snapped, whichever occurs first.
With Kelly's hurry up system, the offense can be lined up with over 25 seconds left on the play clock. This allows Kelly to relay information to the QB after he and the other coaches have seen the defense line up. Most teams use that window of communication to relay the plays to the quarterback. Kelly and his staff, however are relaying the plays through an elaborate system of placards and hand/arm gestures and therefore can discuss what they are seeing on the other side of the ball. In essence, Kelly is the one calling the audible.
Quarterbacks in Kelly's systems do not need to audible, in fact, they can't. From this Philly.com article last season:
Kelly said last week that his quarterbacks can audible, but former Eagles like Michael Vick and Matt Barkley have said they do not have that capability. They can change protections, although center Jason Kelce handles most of those chores.
Typically, Kelly's offense is going so fast that the quarterback doesn't have time to change the play pre-snap.
It could be argued that this could limit a quarterback. Kelly's own defensive coordinator in Philadelphia, Billy Davis, said this about the traits of the league's top QBs last season:
I think the common theme for all the top five or ten quarterbacks, however you want to rate them, is that they have the playbook at the line of scrimmage. I think those are the hardest to defend. You show a blitz, they run a screen. You don't show a blitz look, you open the box up to where you split the safeties, and they make their best run play. They are constantly moving off what your look is.
That was likely not meant as a dig by Davis of his head coach, but it did raise some eyebrows as the Philadelphia offense struggled in 2015. However, if you aren't one of those top 5 quarterbacks, not having the responsibility of calling an audible, and communicating it to the other 10 players on the field, could make the job easier. Quarterbacks who have a tendency to overthink plays could find more success with significantly less on their plate. Everything is communicated from the sidelines by several staffers: personnel, alignments, formations and plays. Kelly takes what he sees from the field, gets the additional information from the booth, and then has several seconds to tell the quarterback how to best exploit the defense based on how it is lining up.
In other offenses, take the 49ers in 2015 for instance, the play call comes from the coordinator in the booth, who cannot speak directly to the QB. Geep Chryst would radio to Steve Logan, who then had to switch radio frequencies to talk to the quarterback, who then, in turn relayed the play to everyone on the the field. In some situations, plays need to get approval or input from head coach, like they often did when Jim Harbaugh was running the show. Delay of game penalties should be nearly non-existent with Kelly in charge.
Interestingly the 49ers had only two delay of game penalties in 2015 after having 8 in 2014, and 13 in 2013. The Eagles had 3 in each season from 2013-2015 while Kelly was head coach. False starts however were an issue for the Eagles with 16 in 2013, 18 in 2014 and 20 in 2015. The 49ers were not much better with 21 in 2013, 14 in 2014 and 17 in 2015 (These stats include the post season).
It will be interesting to see if Kelly's system can help Colin Kaepernick reestablish himself as the starting quarterback in Santa Clara by boosting his confidence and subsequently his accuracy. Of course it won't be until the beginning of April before anyone knows if this will actually come to fruition or not.