JEFF MCLANE, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
POSTED: Monday, November 10, 2014, 1:08 AM


If Chip Kelly was the television producer portrayed by Holly Hunter in the film Broadcast News, then Mark Sanchez would have been the William Hurt broadcaster who was thrust into the anchor's chair when news broke and the regular anchor was absent.

With Kelly feeding Sanchez plays over the headset, like the quick-thinking Hunter feeding the neophyte Hurt his lines through an earpiece, the coach and backup quarterback helped guide the Eagles past the Texans on Nov. 2 after starter Nick Foles left with a broken collarbone.

Sanchez may not yet have the job, but he is the Eagles starter for the time being, and Monday night's game against the Carolina Panthers is his next chance to prove what he has been saying since he was acquired off the New York Jets scrap heap in March:

Kelly's offense fits him perfectly .
"It's been so fun to be a part of," Sanchez said last week. "I'd watched it from afar, I played against, competed against him, but now actually being in it you understand why he's been successful."

Many other quarterbacks have been successful in Kelly's offenses dating back to Kelly's tenure at New Hampshire. They've all been different, though, sometimes drastically so, and the scheme, Kelly said, is always tailored to the skill set of the quarterback.

"I don't have an offense. I've said that since day one," he said last week. "Our offense is directed around our quarterback. So tell me who is playing quarterback and I'll tell you what our offense is going to be and how it's going to look, because we can always cater it to the skills of our [quarterback].

"That's the beauty of what we're doing here."

There are mainstays, though, such as the up-tempo pace, one-word calls, and package plays that often simplify the offense for quarterbacks. They require a mind that can make quick decisions in the snap of a football. And playing fast, and occasionally too loose, has always been a Sanchez trait.


"When I talked to his quarterback coaches at [Southern Cal], when I talked to people who coached him before - 'How does he process that information?' " Kelly said. "I think that was part of the evaluation process for me, but then you got to see it . . . when he got here.

"I thought he made some really good decisions early, so I kind of felt comfortable that he would be a good fit for us."

Quarterback friendly

Kelly chafes when given credit for the quarterback, but there is a perception that Foles' winning ways over the last two seasons were more a product of the coach's "quarterback-friendly" system than anything else. How Sanchez performs over the next six to eight weeks, or longer, should help clear up that question.

To Kelly, the offense should be friendly for every player, and he's just doing what any good coach would do.

"If you make it too complicated where your players don't understand it, therefore they're thinking [too much] and they can't go out and execute, then shame on you as a coach," Kelly said. "I would say any system that's not quarterback-friendly, then it's probably a bad system."

Sanchez's struggles with the Jets have been well-documented. He was the quarterback on teams that reached the AFC championship game in each of his first two seasons, but the Rex Ryan-coached Jets were defensive-oriented and the offense run-based. Sanchez's responsibilities weren't overwhelming, although he was clutch in many big spots.

With time, the Jets added to his plate, but offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's scheme was considered by many to be overly complicated. His replacement, Tony Sparano, had Sanchez chucking the ball downfield far too often in an offense that lacked creativity.

By the end of 2012, Sanchez was a far cry from the college quarterback who completed 66 percent of his passes and tossed 34 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions in his final season.

With Kelly, "I enjoy how excited he is about offensive football," Sanchez said.

The quarterback finally may have the coach and the offense that suit his needs. Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, before Kelly's objections, labeled the scheme "quarterback-friendly."

"I think it's friendly because the progressions are pretty cut and dry, where we want the football to go based on what the defense is and then you always factor in matchups, and we don't bog them down with a lot of silly things," Shurmur said. "So the ball can come out quickly."

Kelly, though, is behind the curtain, pressing the buttons and relaying plays to the quarterback at a breakneck speed to either push the tempo or give both him and the quarterback time to read the defense.

"It's such an up-tempo pace that he's talking to you pretty quick, and you get a lot of airtime. . . . There's still 30-plus seconds on the clock when he's calling the play," Sanchez said. "You never run into that situation where it hits 15-18 seconds and [the headset] cuts out."

Sanchez thrived in no-huddle situations in New York. But the Jets often didn't go up-tempo unless it was necessary. In his first three seasons, Sanchez directed 11 fourth-quarter game-winning drives. Two were in the playoffs.

"I've always enjoyed no-huddle tempo, and I think some of my best play in New York was that format," Sanchez said. "Just get the next play and go. It feels like a fastbreak in basketball. You're the point guard and just dish it to the open guy."

Works itself out

A high school basketball player at Mission Viejo (Calif.), Sanchez often likes to use the point guard analogy when talking about distributing the football in Kelly's offense. And like many basketball coaches, Kelly uses one word to call plays.

The main function is to allow the offense to move up-tempo and catch defenses in the wrong personnel or eventually wear them down. But the one-word calls also simplify the quarterback's pre-snap responsibilities. All the players look to the sideline for the signal. The quarterback isn't barking out various calls or going through different cadences pre-snap.

There is the opportunity for an audible, but a play change often will come from the sideline after Kelly and his coaches have had time to look at the defensive alignment.

"It gives you a chance to diagnose what you're seeing, what you're facing," Sanchez said about Kelly's quick play-calling. "He tries to give us as much information as he can in the headset. If he sees something or somebody goes down or there's a backup cornerback in, or they bring in some personnel that we plan or didn't plan for, he'll let you know."

Fair or not, Sanchez's reputation in New York was that he had trouble reading defenses pre-snap. But the Eagles offense doesn't bog down its quarterbacks in knowing which zone or man-to-man defense they may be seeing. Defensive coordinators have gotten so good at disguising their pre-snap looks that it doesn't matter as much as it may have.

It certainly helps, but at an up-tempo pace, Kelly is going to run his plays and put the defense on the defensive. So sometimes the quarterback's pre-snap responsibilities may just involve simple arithmetic - count the defenders in the box or the safeties deep or the coverage on the outside.

And with several pass or run options post-snap on Kelly's package plays, the quarterback often will make his decision - hand off to the running back, or keep the ball himself and run, or keep it and toss a screen pass or a pop pass, or even throw downfield - based on numbers.

"I love how things stay the same in a generic sense, but we can change up so many little details where one play looks totally different the next week and it might have the same name," Sanchez said. "It might be in the same animal-kingdom family. It might be in the same planet system."

But for the system to work at its optimum, the quarterback must be able to make quick-trigger decisions. And Sanchez, at least in the preseason and three quarters against the Texans, showed that he could move the offense at top speed.

"I'm handing it or I'm taking it or I'm throwing it or this and that," Sanchez said. "It kind of just all works itself out."

There are, of course, basic traits to being a successful NFL quarterback, and Kelly said Sanchez has them.

"I think he obviously has a big-time arm, an NFL arm, he's got NFL feet," Kelly said. "He's really, really smart. He's sharp. Great work ethic, very athletic, all the things you're looking for in a quarterback."

Sanchez's completion percentage and touchdown-to-turnover ratio with the Jets may suggest otherwise, but he never played in a system as suited to his skill set or for a coach as offensively gifted. The anchor's chair is there for his taking. jmclane@phillynews.com