Film breakdown: Chip Kelly's failed 'swinging gate' 2-point conversion was a bad execution, not bad play calling
In the 1st quarter of the Eagles-Chiefs game, we got to see the first glimpse of Chip Kelly's "swinging gate" formation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, the great Oregon website FishDuck.com explains:
It failed, and the Eagles were left with a 10-6 deficit instead of 10-7 if they had just kicked the extra point. Pundits far and wide bemoaned the call, with overtones of, "Hey college boy, that stuff doesn't work in the NFL."
For at least one week, it didn't work in the NFL. Then again, it didn't always work at Oregon either, as you'll see at the 1:13 mark in the video above.
Let's take a look at the play from Thursday night.
As you can see, the Eagles have the wall set up in front of TE Zach Ertz on the left side. If you'll notice, the Eagles have 5 blockers on 5 defenders. Advantage: Eagles.
This should be a walk-in for two points the majority of the time.
"We had the numbers, 6 on 5," said Ertz, "and unfortunately we just didn't get it done. They wanted me to get the ball and attack the gap. Unfortunately, I just didn't get it done. We have to make that play, obviously."
"It was a good scheme," said Todd Herremans. "We should have gotten into the end zone there easily. We should have been able to walk in.
"If the numbers are right, you go with it. If they're not, you shift back [into FG position]."
Chip Kelly also noted that if the Eagles line up in the swinging gate, they always have the option to move into FG position and take the easy PAT if they don't like what they see.
Below is a screen grab of what actually happened on the play. There were two issues from an execution standpoint. First, Lane Johnson doubled the defender already being blocked by Evan Mathis, when it appears that his responsibility was probably to block Tamba Hali (circled). Hali was instead completely unblocked with a free run at Ertz. Secondly, the snap by Jon Dorenbos was a little behind Ertz. Ertz had to take a step back to go get it (as you can see in the shot below), which slowed him down in attacking the end zone:
Hali made the play, and dolts across the country proclaimed, "Chip Kelly is Steve Spurrier 2.0!" Others made reference to Jim Zorn running the swinging gate when he was the coach of the Redskins:
Does this look anything like what Chip Kelly did Thursday night?
The reality is that the 2-point conversion absolutely should have worked, as Herremans noted.
The Eagles did not work on the swinging gate formation in front of the media all throughout training camp, so as not to give it away, but it is something they have been practicing for some time. As far back as OTAs in June, before the Eagles had begun working on the scheme, I quizzed some Eagles players for The Morning Call on whether or not they recognized the formation.
I asked 6 random (and anonymous) Eagles defenders to take my pop quiz. It was a mix of defensive linemen, linebackers, defensive backs, rookies, grizzled vets, and younger vets. I showed each of them the following formation that I scribbled on my notepad:
This was the same formation used by the Ducks when they threw to the long snapper against Stanford:
Assuming the long snapper (the guy with the "X" inside the circle) snapped it directly to the holder (the guy directly behind him), I asked the Eagles defenders to identify the 5 eligible receivers.
The answer is here:
The answers I received by the 6 players I interviewed were all over the map. In fact, just one player correctly identified the 5 eligible receivers. I approached each player I interviewed with the promise that they would remain anonymous, but since I don't think he'll mind (seeing as he was the one who answered the question correctly), I'll just go ahead and say that the one correct answer was given by Casey Matthews, who played for Kelly at Oregon.
The point is this - Based on the answers received from the non-Oregon Eagles that I interviewed, there's a decent chance that most players around the rest of the NFL would also be confused as to which players they needed to cover if Chip Kelly were to try these shenanigans. That is an enormous advantage for the offense, and the Eagles were in a position to capitalize Thursday night. They simply didn't execute.
Coaches around the league likely took notice that the Eagles had a "hat-on-hat" (blocker-on-blocker) advantage here, and that will concern them. At the very least, Kelly has now forced opposing teams to have to spend valuable extra time preparing against the Eagles for something as basic as a PAT attempt.
To be clear, if it were the 4th quarter, this would be bad situational football. But in the 1st quarter, if you have a reasonably good expectation to get 2 points instead of 1, a calculated gamble is worth the risk.
The swinging gate probably isn't going away just because it failed on its first attempt. And if you don't like it, just know that your opinion is aligned with Skip Bayless.