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Are there audibles in Chip Kelly’s offense?

Sam Bradford says no; coach Kelly disagrees.

One of the criticisms leveled at Chip Kelly’s program in Philadelphia was that the offense became predictable. This was viewed in part because the fast tempo did not allow the quarterback to call an audible when the defensive alignment was unfavorable.

At least that’s what Sam Bradford has said, in January, and again in March, and in June, and again yesterday. He can’t stop talking about it, and probably lectures the barista at Starbucks on the subject every morning, too.

To hear him talk, you’d think Chip installed a hyper-speed version of Tecmo Bowl, where the coach picks one of four plays and if the defense guesses right, the offense is screwed.

That’s not how Chip Kelly sees it.

Yesterday, in his press conference, a reporter raised the issue directly.

Your quarterbacks generally haven’t had the chance to be able to audible. Some people say that’s really restrictive, but why is that?

Chip didn’t accept the premise.

Well, that’s not true. They do a lot of it. They don’t have the full selection, but they can check protections. There’s a lot of plays that we run that have options within the play. So, there may be two plays called at the same time, one’s a pass, one’s a run and they opt to throw the ball instead of hand the ball off. So, there’s a lot of things that go on within it. So, I think sometimes that’s a little bit of a misconception in terms of what we do.

How could there be a disagreement on this point between Kelly and his starting quarterback last year? The offense either allowed audibles or it didn’t, right?

For one thing, Bradford is making some political points with these complaints. He’s flattering his new coach, auditioning for a job with a different franchise next year and distancing himself from the guy his organization just fired. He is also very impressed with his own intelligence and feels that his former coach didn’t make good use of it. Back in March, he elaborated.

“My mind is a great attribute. I enjoy going to the line and making checks. The fact [new Eagles coach Doug Pederson] let Alex [Smith] do that in Kansas City, I look forward to that.''

The bigger issue, though, is that the meaning of the word “audibles” can vary. Most people imagine Peyton Manning diagnosing the coverage just before the snap, and shouting out a coded phrase that means “Forget everything I just said, everybody just go out long” or whatever, followed by “Omaha!

It’s hard to be absolutely sure unless you were in the quarterback meetings at the Novacare Center, and no reporters were, but it’s pretty clear that Chip Kelly’s Eagles did not allow for this kind of audible. That’s what Kelly seems to mean when he says “They don’t have the full selection...” Philadelphia sports writers were quick to chime in on this point yesterday.

But there are other types of adjustments, starting with the protections that Kelly mentioned. In Philadelphia, these were generally set by center Jason Kelce, not the quarterback, even before Chip arrived.

More generally, Kelly is at the forefront of a league-wide move toward post-snap options, rather than pre-snap verbal calls. That includes zone read plays and RPOs (run-pass-options that, for example, pair an outside zone run with a pop pass to the TE in the seam, or with a double-stack alignment setting up wide receiver screens out along the sideline).

In Philadelphia, Kelly also introduced option routes where wide receivers can alter their destination based on the coverage they face.

So when Chip described “options within the play,” he was probably referring more to these post-snap adjustments instead of Manning-type pre-snap verbal calls.

While new Eagles coach Doug Pederson has been hyping his introduction of audibles all spring, he too admits that the distinctions are not as simple as people imagine. Speaking with USA Today’s Turron Davenport recently, he sounded a lot like, well, Chip Kelly.

“It’s important to change and audible, but it’s not everything that we do. When I say audibling, it doesn’t necessarily mean changing the play,” Pederson said. “We might go into two or three route concepts on a play and he can hand signal to get us in and out of one. Those are the types of things that we talk about, not necessarily changing the plays and the protection.”

Clearly, Chip Kelly has made a number of tweaks to his program in its second NFL incarnation. He has relaxed some of his rules (on daily urine tests and the color of socks), adopted the Niners’ practice of resting veterans such as Joe Staley, and is reportedly making his snap counts less predictable.

The logic of post-snap adjustments is strong, because you force the defense to declare their choices before reacting. That’s why the league is moving in that direction. But these mid-play adjustments require near-perfect execution, and not every quarterback can read and react fast enough to make it work.

It would be wonderful if Kelly could find a way to add the potential for traditional audibles while keeping all of his post-snap options. Whether that will happen this year or in the future, no one yet knows.