Once upon a time, the Cleveland Browns were the likely landing spot for Chip Kelly as the Oregon Ducks head man looked to take his high-powered offense to the NFL. Things fell apart for the Browns-Kelly connection and both moved on with different levels of success.
Kelly’s first two years in the NFL led to 10 wins but his desire to have roster control (and power over everything) with the Philadelphia Eagles led to his firing. One horrible season as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers was his last time in the NFL.
Back in college, Kelly took over the UCLA Bruins in 2018, it took three seasons before Kelly was able to turn the program into a winning one. Finally, in 2021 and 2022, the Bruins found records over .500 with Kelly.
While Kelly isn’t on his way to Cleveland, his offense might be under Kevin Stefanski. According to QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, former Bruin and current Brown, there are a lot of similarities between the two playbooks:
Browns rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He and Tillman were high school teammates. He said Browns playbook similar to what he had at UCLA. pic.twitter.com/5HgOh7cION— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) May 12, 2023
This is not new news as Cleveland is expected to move toward a more shotgun or pistol-based offense this year but, perhaps, a bit surprising that the offense could look like Kelly’s. The hiring of Bill Musgrave was another move that seemed to point to a change in offensive philosophy this offseason. When discussing Musgrave’s hire, Stefanski noted the time his new coach was with Kelly in Philadelphia:
Thoughts on Musgrave’s shotgun run offense from Stefanski pic.twitter.com/TifWUDrZi6— Jared Mueller (@JaredKMueller) March 1, 2023
While Kelly’s ability as a head coach at the NFL level is rightfully questioned, much of the new wave of offensive football stems from his work. Whether it is zone-read, spread formations or “playing the numbers game”, Kelly’s influence can be seen all over the league. Adopting a version of his attack would put QB Deshaun Watson and RB Nick Chubb in positions to take advantage of what the defense presents:
This is classic play-calling that shifts the strength of the offense to a numbers game on defense. Oregon simply outmans the defense with three receivers against two defenders.
Instead of trying to outsmart or out-muscle the opponent, because both are really hard in the NFL, Kelly’s style of offense finds ways to create numbers disadvantages. It gives the power to Watson to read the defense and quickly make decisions. During his time with the Houston Texans, we got to hear him break down what defenses were trying to do against his offense and his responses:
In 2022, Kelly’s offense, with Thompson-Robinson running the show, was fourth in the nation in total yards per game and eighth in scoring.
In 2023, the Browns version of a Kelly offense could be even more explosive. By adding Elijah Moore, Marquise Goodwin, Cedric Tillman and Jordan Akins to Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Njoku, Watson will have a myriad of pass-catching options. A spread field with fewer defenders in the box, as well as the threat of Watson running the ball, should give Chubb a much easier path to rising up the team’s career rushing list.
As it would be in any offense, Watson returning to his Houston form will be key while Stefanski must put his players in position to be successful while adopting his offense to their strengths.
You can watch more on the Kelly offense with this video from the 2020 UCLA team:
While Kelly didn’t have success as the head coach at the NFL level (seemingly due to power/control issues and a desire to run plays quickly that tired out both his offense and defense), the Kelly offense has been part of the transformation in the NFL.
Kelly and the Browns almost came together a decade ago. A decade later, Kelly’s offense could be on the way to take the team to the next level.