Chip Kelly’s offense isn’t working, and here’s why

By Vincent Frank

Blaine Gabbert isn’t accurate. Blaine Gabbert wasn’t accurate at Missouri. He wasn’t accurate in Jacksonville. And he hasn’t been accurate in San Francisco.

Even if you gave him five tries, Blaine Gabbert couldn’t hit Beyonce’s backside from five yards out.

This isn’t an exaggeration.

Chip Kelly’s offense relies on a power-running scheme and accuracy from its quarterback. It relies on spacing. Getting the receiver the ball in space. And much like the west-coast offense, it relies on yards after the catch.

When a quarterback is consistently off-target with his passes, Kelly’s offense looks inept. A once dynamic scheme looks watered-down and unable to match wits with today’s defensive minds.

When a quarterback is accurate, it looks much different.

Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert

So. The easy conclusion here would be to bench Gabbert in lieu of Colin Kaepernick.

We’ve discussed this in length, actually calling for this to happen.

One problem.

Colin Kaepernick isn’t accurate either. By saying this, we mean he’s been among the most inaccurate quarterbacks in the NFL five-plus yards past the line of scrimmage over the past two seasons.

Kaepernick may add another dimension with a cannon arm, but that’s somewhat mitigated by Kelly’s scheme. Though, as we saw Thursday night against the Arizona Cardinals, Kelly’s scheme also enables receivers to get wide open down the field.

Hitting on those passes, something Gabbert has consistently failed to do with the San Francisco 49ers, would help matters a lot.

It would actually be nice for this offense to succeed. Heck, it’s a requirement of this offense to succeed.

Chris Brown over at Smart Football penned a smart article. See what we did there? It’s an article that lays out the nuances of Kelly’s offense and how it might fail to succeed in today’s NFL.

One of the primary points Brown covered was Kelly’s previous willingness to switch up his scheme when it wasn’t working. This was evident during his first two seasons in Philadelphia, as the scribe noted.

“Kelly did it by adapting, as he increasingly folded in NFL passing concepts brought by his assistants, particularly Pat Shurmur, and found new ways to run the ball from under center, Brown wrote. “Kelly had created a blend of shotgun spread and pro-style offenses that looked like the future.”

This is definitely not something we’ve seen thus far in San Francisco. One of the paramount aspects of Kelly’s success at Oregon was having a quarterback under center who could run the ball. Through the first five games of the 2016 season, Gabbert has done just that. He’s put up 172 rushing yards and an average of 4.4 yards per attempt.

But he’s often too indecisive when lined up in the pistol formation. It’s something we saw from Kaepernick over the past two seasons, but it’s also something that simply can’t happen in a Kelly-led offense.

NFL Week 2, Blaine Gabbert

More to that point, the predictability of these runs is what stands out the most. Multiple times against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night, we saw defenders find a way to maintain the edge when a run play was called for Gabbert. He might have succeeded in picking up a few yards on the plays, but the end result is not what Kelly had hoped.

Making matters more difficult for the 49ers, Gabbert is averaging less than six yards per pass attempt. This is as much to do with Kelly attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole as Gabbert’s inability to resemble a real NFL quarterback.

If Gabbert had shown any real ability to be accurate in the past, he’d have been a better fit in this scheme. His yards per attempt numbers would be higher, and the 49ers’ offense wouldn’t be among the league’s worst. Heck, even if Kaepernick takes over, this will likely remain an issue.

The other major issue here, and it’s rather large, is the fact that San Francisco poses no real vertical threat in the passing game. Torrey Smith, who led the NFL in yards per reception last season, has been a forgotten man. And it’s led to a potential rift between him and the quarterback (more on that here).

It’s not as much about Smith’s inability to get open. Instead, it’s about Gabbert’s unwillingness to actually utilize the vertical passing game.

Without that, defenses can stack the box, bringing defensive backs in against the run. Not only does this snuff out the ground game, it disables the receiver’s ability to actually catch the ball in space.

Combine that with an inaccurate quarterback, and this is the end result.

See how Marcus Cooper could jump the route here? There was no threat of a double move. No threat of a pump fake. Nothing. He could sit on the intermediate pass, and in reality, act as the targeted receiver.

Is this schematic or simply just Gabbert performing at a horrible level?

Well, it’s a combination of the both. Kelly’s offense relies a lot on one read, quick passes. That’s why many figured (and still do) that Kaepernick would have success running.

But when your quarterback goes one read, can’t show any accuracy and isn’t a threat to throw deep. Well … We’re pretty sure you know the answer to that.

None of this is to say that Kelly’s system is broken. It isn’t. Instead, it requires expertise. The ability to run it to perfection. When you don’t have the players to do it, the failures far out measure the successes. This, even more so than any other pro-style offense.

This system still creates mismatches on the outside. That became evident Thursday, when Gabbert missed multiple open receivers for what would have been big plays.

It also shows a bunch of different blocking schemes in the running game.

This has led to success running the ball in San Francisco. After  all, Carlos Hyde is on pace for 1,400-plus total yards and 19 rushing touchdowns.

The issue here is that Kelly doesn’t have the personnel to dominate his scheme. He doesn’t have the quarterback. He’s missing that true No. 1 possession receiver (Jeremy Maclin for example). And in reality, he doesn’t have the elite tight end to make it work.

This should have all been known to Kelly when he took the job. Heck, maybe it was. It could be possible that we were overestimating his scheme. That is to say, he can’t get water from a rock.

But through five games, it’s readily apparent the Kelly experiment has been a failure thus far. And if he’s willing to drive this failure down the road with Gabbert at the helm, it will lead to a crash of epic proportions.

That became apparent Thursday night, and there doesn’t appear to be a resolution to it any time soon.

Maybe it’s simply time to hope that San Francisco doesn’t have a short hook with Kelly. That the brass at Levi’s realizes this is a long-term project.

Colin Kaepernick

But maybe Kaepernick himself will be the answer to this problem. He might come in and run Kelly’s offense to perfection. If that happens, all this white noise will be drowned out by instant praise for both the head coach and the quarterback.

Unfortunately, that seems highly unlikely at this point. Kelly’s offense has proven to be a fraud with its current cast of characters, Gabbert included.

Until something changes here, we’re likely going to continue watching an inept unit struggle to resemble anything close to what a NFL offense should look like.