Friday, October 03, 2008

Football terminology

This week's question is "What's the West Coast Offense?"
 
Back in the early 80's, Bill Walsh wsa coaching the San Francisco 49ers.  He was a bit of an innovator, and was trying to make use of a relatively mobile QB (Joe Montana), a couple of smallish running backs with good hands (most notably Roger Craig), a tight end who could get open (Dwight Clark), and receivers with good hands.
 
What he created was a short-pass-oriented offense that relies on a lot of motion - before and after the snap - to create confusion and mismatches between the pass catchers and defenders.
 
A typical play would have two running backs in the backfield, one of whom would go in motion to the right side of the field.  Then, at the snap, Montana would roll right and the line blocking would also move that way to create more of a passing pocket in a different position.  The d-line has to react by trying to get upfield at an angle, giving Montana more time.
 
The tight end might run a short curl to the inside, one running back might go toward the sideline short, while the other might go further up the field, and the receiver goes deeper still.  The pass would go to the running back near the sideline who is likely to be lined up against a linebacker, and a quick move might elude the guy, while the other receivers start blocking, to create a lane.  The key was that the players had a specific place to be on the field, and the "progression" (which receiver to look at first, second, etc) was easy, because they were all in a specific position.
 
The objective was to gain short yardage on every play, not to create any knockout punches.  It was typical grind it out, but with passing instead of rushing.  They used the pass to setup the run, which was counter to "conventional wisdom."
 
Believe it or not, this hadn't been done much before that point, and like the shotgun spread today or the wildcat the Dolphins ran recently, it surprised a lot of teams....but Don Coryell did provide a bit of a framework for it in the late 70s and into the 80s with a quick passing offense that Dan Fouts ran in San Diego.  It relied on getting a passing game going that made a lot of teams struggle and scored a lot of points.
 
Walsh really was able to perfect it, partly because of innovation, partly because of the players he selected.  You can still see variations of it in use today, most notably by the Eagles under Andy Reid (a protege of Walsh).  McNabb is the mobile QB, and Westbrook is the good receiving running back.
 
Yeah....but....how did it get that name?  Well, the legend is that a San Francisco reporter asked New York Giants coach Bill Parcells how he liked "that west coast offense"  after a 17-3 loss in the 1985 playoffs.  Parcells mocked him, and it made the highlights, and the name stuck.

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