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Golden Spotlight: Chip Kelly And His Oregon Ducks Playbook

See Oregon defense and Oregon offense preview posts.

(Apologies; this post is incomplete in thought and content. I plan on exploring Oregon's offense in greater detail after the regular season concludes. All I can offer you today are cursory glimpses.)

Zone Read



The bread-and-butter of the Oregon offense is the zone read. The Ducks will leave usually one man on the defensive line unblocked (usually the backside defensive end as pictured above). This gives the offensive linemen one less, and usually with the wide receivers/tight ends involving themselves in downfield blocking, eliminating one defender from the play if the read is executed right.

(via keeerrrttt1)

This is a recurring theme for Oregon's offense. Wearing down guys with the tempo of their offense and the complexity of their playbook, they eventually fatigue their opponents not just physically but mentally as well, and they end up giving up the big plays and get the avalanche rolling.

Oh, but you say the Oregon offense isn't complex? Au contraire. Ignore the idiots on certain message boards who keep on saying that the Ducks are running a simple offense that Cal should emulate overnight so we can gangbust on everyone. What Chip Kelly has created at Oregon has taken three years of experimentation, adaptation, and evolution. It's every bit as complex and intricate as the pro-style Tedford offense.

Oregon's main staples are the inside and outside zone running plays. Again, for those who've forgotten, here's Chip Kelly explaining it a few years back.

The inside zone play is our "go to work" play. We want to get off the ball and be a physical downhill running football team. This is not a finesse play. This is physical football. The offensive lineman play with confidence because they know they have help from their teammates in their blocking scheme. This is the offense we run and everyone knows that. We have great players but we also execute it well. We ran this play 202 times this past season. We averaged about seven to eight yards per carry with this play.

The outside zone play is a complement to the inside zone play. The inside zone is a hole to cutback play. The outside zone is more of a hole to bounce play. The reason we run the outside play is to circle the defense. When you get good at running the inside zone the defenders begin to tighten their techniques and concentrate on squeezing the inside gaps.

If we feel that is happening or we start to get many twists and blitzes inside we run the outside zone play. It gives you speed in space and the offensive line can play with confidence when you have something to change the focus of the defense. We ran the outside zone play 122 times last season for 6.8 yards per carry. It is a good compliment to the inside zone play.

Here's the first subtle advanced strand of Oregon's offense.


Smart Football explains this evolved version of the zone read.

First, just because you’re reading the defensive end doesn’t mean you’ve made your blocks on everyone else — a stud defensive tackle you can’t block can still blow up the play. Second, the defense can simply play games on the backside; the zone read is no longer new. A common response is the "scrape exchange," where the defensive end crashes down for the runningback, thus forcing the quarterback to pull the ball, only to run right into a "scraping" linebacker waiting on him.

An increasingly frequent solution to both of these problems is to read defenders other than the defensive end. One, you can read, instead of trying to block, the most dangerous defensive lineman on the other team. Two, this makes the "scrape exchange," at least where it involves the backside defensive end and weakside linebacker, irrelevant, as you just block both of them.



You can see these diagrams are for 4-3 defenses. In a 3-4 it's a little bit dicier, because a disciplined nose tackle can blow that play up very quickly.

Last year, Jeremiah Masoli read Cal's nose tackle (Derrick Hill, Aaron Tipoti, Kendrick Payne) on several occasions, while the Ducks offensive line focused on blocking out Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan and slipping out to take care of the linebackers. We'll go to the tape at the end of this post; the results were mixed.

In the video below, Jurrell Casey does a pretty good job diagnosing the midline run, lining up in a three technique and nearly blowing up the play in the backfield. LaMichael James is just too good for Casey.

(via keeerrrttt1)

Veer/Inverted Veer



Why use the veer play over the typical zone read? The answer lies in the difference in the offensive line blocking. The zone read is usually a man blocking scheme, and last year Oregon's offensive line would've had a lot of trouble containing Cal's front three one-on-one (and they did, as a lot of Oregon's early runs got stuffed). With the veer, you can double-team the defensive ends (particularly Tyson Alualu last season) before moving to block out the linebackers, giving the running back just enough space to attack the available holes.

The multiple blocking angles also makes the inverted veer just as deadly.



Additionally, instead of leaving the DE unblocked (and Cal's defensive ends have been very strong the past few years), you instead leave the outside linebacker (OLB) to contain quarterback and running back. And OLB has been a point of weakness since Zack Follett's departure.

How much Oregon goes to the zone read rather than the veer play will depend on their confidence in containing Cameron Jordan one-on-one. They might opt for the zone read if they feel the inside linebackers are stronger this year so the linemen move more quickly to the second level, but it's anyone's guess what they go with.

The only real difference between the veer and the zone read is the blocking schemes. Expect a lot of each, and expect not to know the difference.

Power play


Yes they do. They ran it particularly well against us last year and USC the last two seasons. Backside guards and tackles will come around while the rest of the offensive line forms a wall along the playside of the tailback. It isn't featured as much so there aren't as many clips on it; you'll get a chance to see some of the video when I briefly review Cal-Oregon 2009 below.

Spread option run



You've seen Tim Tebow run this play a hundred thousand times at Florida. Get good downfield blocks, gain the outside edge on the defense, then have the tailback option for the pitch in bidding for more yards. Oregon has incorporated this play into their attack, and it's particularly adept at taking advantage of teams with weak cornerbacks and outside linebackers.

With Cal struggling with outside contain this season, I expect to see this play in short-yardage situations against the outside linebackers or cornerbacks a few times. Whoever has the responsibility of keeping the runner inside, the  lanky Thomas should have the advantage.

Speed Option (via swschlick1)

Triple option



Oregon hasn't run this play much. Yes, they do put a receiver in motion every now and then, but it's generally to draw a defender away from the inside contain and give the running back a better chance of running straight forward to the end zone. Like here.

Oregon RB LaMichael James 76-yard touchdown run vs. Stanford 10-02-2010 (via keeerrrttt1)

Pass attack

Bubble screen

Oregon Bubble Screens vs. Stanford (via swschlick1)


When an opposing defense keys in that they're trying to stop the run (or gives receivers outside cushion), the quarterback is quick to throw to the receiver and take advantage of the numerical superiority outside. This is usually slow death that can only be contained by good run defense. Otherwise these options snowball the offensive opportunities.

Play action

Buckeye Football Analysis breaks down how most of Oregon's offense (like most Pac-10 teams) uses these types of plays to get the chains moving.

Oregon's pass offense's design is instead to get big plays off of teams overcommitting to their run game.  They are primarily a play action team.  They have two basic play action movement passes.  The first is off their zone read game where the QB will either pull back or take a half roll and look to get the ball vertical or on deep crosses.

Zone read bubble screen play fake: the quadruple option

This is one of my favorite plays because it puts everyone in an aggressive defense out of position. First you're given the option of running or passing d. If Oregon decides not to run, the quarterback feints toward the bubble screen, drawing the second line of defense forward. That leaves the possibility of a receiver slipping past the coverage, which can result in something like this.

Oregon WR Jeff Maehl touchdown catch vs. Stanford 10-02-2010 (via keeerrrttt1)

Finally, a challenge to the heartiest of Cal fans. Relive 42-3 and fill in the blanks. Which plays are showcased above? Watch the video before scrolling down for the answers.


0:02--Zone-read bubble screen. Masoli reads the ILB Mike Mohamed on the initial handoff and/or OLB Mychal Kendricks when he comes into Masoli. If Kendricks doesn't bite on this play, Masoli probably takes off and picks the first down, but because Kendricks comes inside, that leaves the outside receiver with plenty of room to run for extra yardage when he receives the screen pass. This is a well-executed play that takes advantage of good receiver blocking for the receiver to pick up the first down. I wouldn't be surprised to see the bubble screen return on Saturday, especially if Cal decides to play heavy on the run.

0:24--Midline option: HydroTech has broken down this play before. Bad receiver blocking gets this play blown up.

1:19--Zone-read bubble screen: HydroTech already has broken down this play.

1:42--Play fake bubble screen. This one too.

2:45--Looks like a veer play, although I can't really tell. The guy being read (OLB Kendricks?) is WAYS away from the play. I guess if Kendricks had started rushing toward the play Masoli would've kept it, but it's pure speculation to me. Any thoughts would be great.

2:55--Play-action off of zone read bubble screen. Masoli's pass to Dickson is almost the exact same play as Thomas's TD throw to Davis--play-fake the outside zone run, then hit the receiver running the opposite direction from where the. It's not visible on TV, but I'm guessing the same thing that happened to the Furdie is what happened to the safety who had deep responsibility here (Ezeff?); the safety bit on the run and left Dickson with a wide open hole to throw to for a big pickup.

3:05--Well what do you freaking know. Oregon runs our damned power play. Devin Bishop rushes inside and leaves his side of the field wide open for Reme Allston to dash through.

3:33--Zone-read tight end out. I think Masoli reads the OLB Eddie Young off and finds Dickson sneaking out. HydroTech breaks the play down further.

3:44--Looks like a power play. (backside guard pulls, rest of line forms a shield between James and sidelines). But I thought Oregon's offense was simple! (Young takes a bad angle here and opens up the inside, and then three Bears run into each other while tackling James without tackling James. Fun.).

4:07--Designed rollout. HydroTech breaks down the play further.

4:15--Oregon runs the power play again. Mohamed and Kendricks get off their blocks and nail James for a minimal gain.

4:25--Midline option: Masoli reads Hill, who crashes toward James. The O-line blocks well and leaves Masoli with a wide open hole down the middle. Syd'Quan Thompson missed a tackle leading to a Masoli first down.

4:41--Outside zone run/inverted veer. One of the things I notice is how exceptionally poor our linebackers were last year at shedding blocks when the defensive line opened up the gaps for them to attack through. Mike Mohamed couldn't get off anyone and was left reaching for James. James then makes Brett Johnson miss with a series of NASTY moves that would have left any college safety dazed and confused. You can't teach that sort of skill. It's instinctive.

(That's as far as I could get. What do you guys say about the rest?)