In the most critical moment of Super Bowl LII, Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson took a page out of Chip Kelly's playbook. And why not? It had worked for him so many times throughout the game.
It was fourth-and-1 near midfield with a little more than five minutes remaining and the Eagles trailed the New England Patriots by a point. Pederson dialed up a "mesh" concept -- where shallow crossing routes come together over the middle of the field to serve as legal picks to defenders in pursuit -- coupled with a wheel route out of the backfield, which is often the quarterback's primary read.
In this instance, running back Corey Clement is immediately picked up. Quarterback Nick Foles, while dodging traffic, sets his sights on tight end Zach Ertz, who has popped open thanks to Brent Celek's rub route. Easy completion. First down.
Seven plays later, Foles finds Ertz for the game-deciding touchdown, and the Eagles become Super Bowl champs for the first time.
At the owners meetings in Orlando, Florida, in late March, Pederson said he had nine versions of that same play installed for the Super Bowl -- nine -- dressing it up in different formations and with different personnel so the Patriots wouldn't get wise to it. He ended up calling it four or five times over the course of the evening with great success, including a 55-yard gainer by Clement late in the first half to set up the "Philly Special." Asked about the play, Pederson came clean that it was not his to claim.
"That was actually a play that Sam Bradford brought to us that he ran in Chip Kelly's offense," Pederson said during the NFC coaches breakfast. "So that is where the play came from. We ran a version of it, but I liked that version better. Sam brought it to my attention. We put it in our first year, probably didn't call it as much. Our quarterbacks really like the play. It is not a play that is in every week because of the structure of the defense, but we just so happened to have several of them in for the Super Bowl.”
This is key in understanding Pederson's approach, and why he found so much success in his second year as head coach. In an ego-mad profession, Pederson generally checks his at the door. There are several benefits to this. One, it keeps him from overreaching into areas in which he is not an authority. Jim Schwartz has autonomy over the defense, Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas run personnel without interference, assistant coaches take care of their respective position groups, and players are empowered to self-police the locker room.
When it comes to scheme, Pederson does not seek full creative control, and is unafraid to pull from other coaches -- both on the pro and college level -- or give credit when doing so.
"As we study these college kids, we're always looking at the college world a little bit," said Pederson, when asked where he looks for offensive innovation. "So we'll pull some stuff from there.
"We just break it down by situation -- who's the best third-down offense? Who's the best red zone offense? Who's the best short-yardage goal-line offense? We just kinda pick a couple and see if there's anything unusual that they did, maybe a formation or a personnel group, something that might benefit us, and see if we can incorporate it into our system.”
The willingness to do so permits fresh ideas to flow in without resistance. And it also allows for some tried-and-true methods from previous regimes to remain intact.
Organizationally, the Eagles have made great efforts to distance themselves from the Kelly era (except for the smoothies; the smoothies they kept). Pederson, though, has pulled from Kelly's playbook; tailored his offense to be more Chip-like to make Foles more comfortable when he took over for the injured Carson Wentz; installed nine versions of the same Kelly play for the Super Bowl, and used it in the game's biggest moment.
That says less about Kelly and his play designs and more about his successor, who showed he doesn't care where a concept comes from, so long as it works.