Bill Lazor articulated Thursday what many have long suspected about the NFL coaching fraternity’s man of mystery, Chip Kelly:
“He believes in what he does and he really doesn’t care what other people think, or what the public perception of the right thing to do is.”
Lazor should know. He spent a season as Kelly’s quarterbacks coach before becoming the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator.
That Eagles team went 10-6 and made the playoffs. And yet, Kelly has since dropped a grenade on the roster. Just 21 of 53 players remain from the Eagles’ opening-day roster from 2013. Among the jettisoned: his star running back (LeSean McCoy), his dynamic receiver (DeSean Jackson) and his starting quarterback (Nick Foles).
In the process, Kelly has taken countless slings and arrows from both the media and his former players. And he has simply brushed them off; even with all the turmoil, Kelly’s team is just a half-game out of first place in the AFC East.
On Sunday, pupil will tangle with master. But the offenses won’t be mirror images.
Lazor has incorporated part of Kelly’s system into his offense in Miami, but also uses the schematic themes Lazor learned from mentor-turned-colleague Al Saunders.
When the Dolphins visit the Eagles on Sunday, we’ll get a chance to see whose approach is best.
“I think Bill’s done a really nice job,” Kelly said this week. “[But] I don’t see a whole heck of a lot of what we’re doing. I think we see some elements, but you see some elements in every offense.”
Ryan Tannehill estimates that 25 percent of the Dolphins offense is taken from Philadelphia’s playbook. Lazor didn’t quibble with that figure.
Both love bubble screens and mobile quarterbacks (although Sam Bradford, in his first year with the Eagles, can hardly be classified as that).
But the element most expected Lazor to bring to Miami — the Eagles’ frenetic pace — never materialized. Philadelphia averages an offensive snap once every 23 seconds that it controls the ball. The Dolphins? Once every 27.
In truth, that was the plan all along. The Dolphins’ decision to play at a more deliberate pace came even before Lazor took the job in early 2014.
“One of the very first conversations I had with the head coach [Joe Philbin] when I was called about coming here [was], ‘What did he want it to look like? We could go no-huddle every play or we can huddle up and have that as our base and have the ability to go no-huddle,’ ” Lazor said.
Although Lazor didn’t go into detail about how that decision was made, the Dolphins obviously picked the latter — and have stuck with it since.
“I remember very early when I was with Chip, someone asked him about, ‘Do you lead the league in plays run?’ ” Lazor added. “He said, ‘No, I want to lead the league in touchdown plays run.’ I have tried to adopt that philosophy also.”
He’s still trying.
The Dolphins rank 21st in the NFL in scoring (21.4 points per game) and are 15th in offensive touchdowns (2.4 per game).
That probably won’t cut it against the Eagles, who average roughly a field goal more per game than the Dolphins this year.
“We need to score more points, absolutely,” Dolphins coach Dan Campbell said.
The easiest answer is to run the ball more. The Dolphins rank second in yards per carry (4.9) but second-to-last in rushing attempts per game (21).
Lazor countered: “If we ran it every play we certainly wouldn’t be as effective.”
But even he acknowledged that it’s easy to second-guess the Dolphins’ decision to throw at the goal line on the last play of the first half Sunday at Buffalo. The pass to Dion Sims was knocked away, and the Dolphins came away without points.
“At the moment I thought it was the best [play] — put two tight ends in the game and they’d think maybe we were running it and felt really good about a big sure-handed tight end running a route where he could use his body and attack the ball,” Lazor said. “Still feel good about Dion Sims doing that. Didn’t work out.”
Lazor added: “You rack your brain about [decisions] and then at the end, if I remember back each time I [called] a play, I thought it was the best play at the moment.”
As Kelly might say, critics can shove it.
“When he’s made a decision, what he thinks is the best thing for his team, that’s what he’s going to do,” Lazor said. “Hopefully, I never forget how I learned that from him.”