If there’s one thing that connects gamers and football, it’s the Madden franchise of videogames. I grew up on it; everything from Madden 64 (N64) to Madden 96 (SNES) to Madden 98 (PS1) to Madden 2002 (PS2). But it was Madden 2003 that took up more of my time than all of those combined.
It started in my freshman year of college back in 2011. My dorm mate supplied the game, I supplied the PS2. From the time Madden games came out for PS2 up until Madden 06 (I think), the gameplay and graphics didn’t change much from year to year. It was simpler to play, but also more realistic in terms of real-life scenarios. For example, the wide receivers in the game would actually get some separation from the cornerbacks. Start playing Madden 12 (for example), and those corners are able to magically stick to the receivers as well as beat them to the route before the receiver gets there. Unbelievable.
On to the point.
At my age, I think I knew better, but I still enjoyed just running up the score and padding stats. My team was the Philadelphia Eagles. Donovan McNabb was my QB, Duce Staley and Brian Westbrook were my RBs, James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, and Freddie Mitchell were my main WRs, and a defense headlined by Brian Dawkins, Lito Sheppard, and Quintin Mikell. Sounds like a pretty good team.
But that’s still not the point.
This was the team from Philadelphia. My team came 5, 6 and 7 years down the road from that. McNabb actually stuck around for that whole duration; everyone else gradually fizzled away, retired, or got cut. My team consisted of guys that I acquired from the draft, trades, and more importantly, free agency. For me, there was only one trait that I looked for: speed. I already had a great, mobile QB. If I found an RB or a WR that had a speed rating of 96 or higher, I snagged them no matter how bad their overall rating was. As long as I could burn the defense, I was set. I didn’t care how short or tall they were, their ability to break tackles, their injury-proneness, or anything else. just speed. I played the game long enough to know which routes and plays would set my players into open space, so nothing else mattered. Mind you, this was all for my offensive playmakers.
Defense was another story. Since no one person on defense can be controlled in a videogame the same way that a QB controls, defensive players was what all of my cap space was invested into. I had two good players in Dawkins and Sheppard that stuck around for awhile, but if any good players hit free agency, I scooped them up. I remember getting the likes of Champ Bailey one year, and an assortment of other high quality defenders. But since I could only control one player on a defense of eleven, I needed to make sure the other ten were good enough to be left on an island.
That’s the point.
This is exactly what Chip Kelly is doing this year; he’s playing to his strengths, and compensating for his weaknesses. It’s not necessarily speed as it was in my game, but it’s a combination of many things to make the system work.
His current QBs are Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, and Matt Barkley. Tebow is obviously the most mobile, while Bradford and Sanchez are mostly pocket passers with the ability to take off for a modest gain. I’m not saying that Tebow will start, it’s just worth noting. Bradford doesn’t turn the ball over, and has good accuracy; either he’s not durable, or just very, very unlucky.
Demarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, and even Kenjon Barner in the backfield…a little bit of everything. Murray is an all-around great back, Mathews is a good change of pace back, Sproles is the infamous shifty, low-center-of-gravity back that can make everyone miss, and Barner is a pure north-south track runner.
Take a look at the receivers: Jordan Matthews, Miles Austin, and Riley Cooper. Are any of them great? No. Super fast? By no means. Above average at being elusive, route-running, or contesting for the deep pass? Not really. Tall? Bingo. Each of them is 6′-2” or taller. Does a tall receiver make them better? Of course not. But by having a couple inch advantage on the defender, it increases the window that the QB can safely drop the pass in. None of Kelly’s current QBs are elite, but by making his WRs more accessible, it could offset a slightly inaccurate pass to an otherwise WR that didn’t have that height.
Kelly’s strength is offense. He took an Oregon Ducks program and put it on the map with players that no one remembers. I remember three of their RBs, only because of how much I was amazed at their burning speed at Oregon. LaMichael James, DeAnthony Thomas, and the aforementioned Barner. Unfortunately, running straight north-south rarely happens in the NFL, so their skill sets are better suited for returning punts and kicks.
At Oregon, Kelly would out-run you, and out-score you. His defense wasn’t very good because it didn’t have to be. That’s why he shelled out for Byron Maxwell, and also why he valued Kiko Alonso more than he wanted LeSean McCoy. It’s why even after the draft, he’ll still be making moves.
Think about this for a minute. Chip Kelly has gone 10-6 the last two years with Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez as his QBs. No one else can do that unless you have the right system. And to do that with two different subpar QBs has proved the system can work.
He’s assembling his team how he wants to. Will it work out this year? Maybe. Maybe not. But I wouldn’t bet against him. I honestly believe that Chip Kelly shares company with Belichick, Harbaugh, and Carroll as the smartest coaches and strategists in the league. Philadelphia is on the verge of something great, I just don’t think they or most of the country knows it yet.