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GGN Chalkboard:The West Coast Offense

Add the Jets to the list of teams using The West Coast Offense. I'll try to dissect what exactly it means for us and also what it is designed to do.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Due to popular demand I will be forgoing the single wing offense in order to focus on the West Coast Offense because A: The single wing isn't used much anymore B: Because we just signed a coach who uses it and C: because of the demand.

So let's start off with the basics and with that a quote from Bill Walsh:

"(The WCO).... is a umbrella term for precision-timed passing and variable formations"

Basically the WCO at it's core is a passing based offense. Ground and pound is based off the philosophy that the running game should set up the pass. The WCO flips this and uses the quick passing game to set up the running and deep attack. The main idea is to keep control of the ball by moving it incrementally through the air, while setting up the defense for the big play, and after you have a lead, to pound the ball on a worn out defense.

Interestingly, the WCO isn't just a playbook it's a complete package and philosophy. The offense is by design very complicated. It took a lot to master it as a player, but if the players do master it, it became very tough to stop it. The WCO preaches situational awareness (time, down and distance, and field position), multiple reads and progressions, and lots of line blocking schemes. Practices with the WCO are demanding, there is little wasted time, lots of situational practices, and reading and throwing hot routes. For all the talk of Schotty's offense being complicated, this could be even worse. When it was devised, it led to the 49'ers incredible run and domination as defenses had to learn how to shut it down.

So let's get a little more advanced and really dive into the WCO.

Once again, it is a passing first offense. This can not be understated. The idea is to move the ball and "nickel and dime" a defense to death. To run this you need a lot of smart, athletic players at each position.

The offensive line is key. They must be able to run zone and man schemes as well as change on the fly depending on the defense. The protections are very diverse too (I'll diagram a few later) The lineman must be able to pass protect first and also be able to open holes while running. They must be able to handle one on one matchups frequently and be able to read blitz schemes while setting up pass protection.

The WR is also very specialized. They must be quick, smart, and excellent route runners. Jerry Rice is the ultimate WCO WR. They don't need to be blazing fast or overly tall to succeed (not that it hurts). The WR must also be able to read and react to a defense and determine which route option they must run. They must also have the ability to break a short play into a huge play. This is probably the biggest requirement of the WR, besides sure hands which is 1A. Sure handed receivers are a must because of the nature of the passing game, which is quick accurate throws and lots of completions for short gains. IMO Stephen Hill is going to be the big question mark with this offense. Holmes and Edwards in 2010 were excellent in this regard. Proof you ask? Well here you go:

Notice a few things: One the defender dropping back (probably in cover 3). Holmes cuts the route short, Sanchez throws a bullet in between two defenders and Holmes breaks a 10 yard play into 7 points. That ladies and gentleman is a hall mark of the WCO philosophy from the WR standpoint: good hot read, good route, sure hands, and the ability to make men miss.

Edwards runs the same route; again the quick throw and a TD.

So after we talk about the WR, we need to focus on the other skill positions mainly the TE and RB/FB. The TE must be a pass catcher. The TE is another critical piece to the WCO. Even though they are sometimes the forgotten men on the WCO, they must be able to catch the ball and once in awhile provide extra blocking. Interesting though Walsh used TE's in his scheme, it seems the TE doesn't need to be a great player for him to succeed, just a good enough player to catch the ball or create a mismatch against an ILB.

A common misconception about the WCO is the use of the RB and FB. Many think that they must be pass blockers first and all other skills second. Actually though, the most successful running backs are excellent pass catchers coming out of the backfield. Backs like Curtis Martin are an excellent example. He was great in pass blocking but very dangerous coming out of the backfield. The backs must also be able to carry the ball, but are more utilized in the passing game. Small agile backs are preferred to big backs because they must be quick enough to block, but also turn upfield in the passing game. It will be interesting to see how Joe McKnight fares in this offense, as he may be better suited for it than the other backs on the roster.

The gorilla in the room is the QB. Interesting that two completely opposite types of QB's are excellent in the WCO. Starting off with the most obvious is a QB who can throw accurate, make good reads (both of coverage and protection) and find the hot receiver. Joe Montana excelled at this, (never was intercepted in the Super Bowls). The QB doesn't need to have a laser arm to succeed, but must have a strong enough arm to fit it into tight spots. Chad Pennington for instance was excellent in this role.The other type of QB that excels is (believe it or not) a mobile first QB. Because the routes are short and the protection is often minimum, if the routes get covered a QB must be able to make something happen with his feet. Montana could do this in a pinch but players like Michael Vick and Jake Plummer (circa Arizona Cardinals and Denver) are adept at extending the play or getting the first down the hard way.

Let's talk about one of the most frequently used formation now that we have the personnel profiles figured out:

One of the most frequently used formations is spilt backs in the WCO. This allows for one side to have 5 guys and an overload. Here is a basic 21 personnel (2 backs 1 TE 2 WR) Ggn_offense_medium

The original WCO used this formation extensively trying to create a mismatch by having 5 people (WR TE T G RB) to one side.

(However the WCO has been expanded and moved upon. Each coach brings there own little schemes and changes. But for the purposes of this, I'm outlining general WCO stuff.)

Another personnel grouping and package favored by the WCO is to use split backs and split out a TE or WR into the slot like this. Once again it creates issues for defenses with overloads, but also provides another quick weapon out of the backfield. One of the other good things is you can have two RB's instead of the traditional FB in the backfield to create more mismatches against LB'ers.


Formation wise the WCO is the most diverse. They use all matters of personnel groupings including 2 back, 1 back, 3-4-5 wide and multiple tight ends. It depends on the roster, the opponent's strengths and the game plan week to week. The idea was by using so many formations it would provide a mismatch in personnel the QB would be able to take advantage of. However, the plays themselves are simple, but often because of the formations look different.

The next step is of course outlining the protection for the passing game. Don't worry about the routes I just drew them to show the guys in the pattern.

I'm going to start with protection first because that's really the key to the passing game. The WCO uses backs and not TE's to block predominately, and features a lot of backfield routes with one man picking up any blitzer. For instance. This is the different ways to block a simple passing play in the WCO scheme.

The first is a weakside RB block with slide protection to the right of the formation. The RB will pick up the end with no LB blitz or the OLB if one ILB blitzes too. He could also end up picking up anyone else coming in from the inside. The strong side guard can double down or protect and swing block the OLB. This is a man scheme.


Now to change things up: This time the RB is looking for the inside blitz. If no inside blitz comes he chips and can go out into a route. The rest of the line forms a cup, and picks up a zone. If both ILBs come on a blitz the guard who would be helping with a double team, would end up picking up the extra guy (not pictured) The T's are faced with the ends or picking up the OLB on a blitz. Again this is a zone scheme.

The hall mark of the WCO is the ability to call many different protection calls based on the look given by the defense. It's up to either the center or the QB to make the call how to do the protection. This is just two basic examples, there are several others that can be done without changing the amount of blockers or the formation. Add in a different formation or personnel and you can have literally dozens of potential schemes for people to look out for.

So up until now we've covered everything from formations, personnel, and protection schemes.

So let's take a look at some route concepts we should expect to see.


This is known as the levels or HI-Lo concept, which has many variations but resembles this. (It's called that because of the flooding of the middle of the field at different depths. The idea is you have quick windows to throw but take whatever one comes first. The two WR's are the first looks. The WR that is on the weakside will be the hot receiver who if the CB plays off can run a quick screen or a step and slant. Otherwise he is the last option outside of the RB who can run into the flat as a emergency valve.

In order of a typical read/progression:

1) 5 yard crossing route. (good against man and cover 3)

2) 12-15 yard In route. (good against man or any deep zone)

3) The running back running the angle (primarily a man beater)

4) A check for the WR running across the formation (maybe he got free or the LB jumped on the angle route?)

5) 15-`18 deep post route (man or cover cover 3) This route can be the option route meaning having 3 different options based on what the WR reads as he hits the route. For example at the point marked 5 the WR could run a post corner or comback route depending on where the CB and safeties are covering.

6) RB out of the backfield

This play is usually run out of bunch or tighter formation but figured it would be easier to diagram this way. Again this is just the concept, this passing play can be run out of any number of schemes including the I formation and with a TE next to the tackle.

Another concept of the WCO is the curl flat scheme. I drew up another scheme on the other side which is the WR flag and RB out route. The curl-flat is pure WCO at it's heart. The other concept I drew was a more general concept that can be combined with the curl-flat to really cause some issues. To the diagram we go.


Here we have multiple things. The WR on the strong side runs a 12-15 yard comeback or curl route. The TE runs a seam route trying to take safeties or LB's with him. The FB runs a flat route right where the CB would be in cover 2. On the opposite side we have the WR running a corner and the RB running an out route. (the weakside is the out and corner concept.) More than likely the FB running into the flat would be the hot man for a blitz or the strongside WR.

So reads would looks something like this:

1) FB on the flat (Great against cover 3)

2) WR running the deep curl (good against man or cover 3)

3) TE running the seam Cover 2 beater

4) WR running the corner or flag route. (cover two or man beater)

5) RB running against the out (Blitz or man beater) In this example the RB could be the option route. He could find a whole in the zone and stick, go out to the flat or if he sees everyone bail out run and in route.

Once again the core WCO play is the Curl flat which requires the QB to read the LB who must choose between the flat and the curl route. Add in the TE into the seam and it causes havoc for the safety and corners. On the other side is a more general route concept.

Here is a video of the concept. Notice the back coming out of the backfield late as the camera pans, Holmes running a deep middle route and Plaxico catching the ball on a comback route 15 yards downfield. This is the concept you would see on Sunday. (sorry for the quality)

The main thing to take away from the routes here are they stretch the field horizontally not vertically. Most of the routes tend to be in the shorter variety or based off of timing such as slants and In routes. Most of the concepts draw from the idea that you quick pass and take what you can get.

The other thing to note is the option routes. I didn't diagram them for fear of confusion but one or two routes could be designated as the option route. As a player runs downfield he can have 3 options depending on what he's seen or encountered he chooses the one he runs. This is the other hallmark of the WCO, the ability to change routes on the fly by design. This requires not only the WR reading the defense but the QB knowing what the receiver is going to do after reading the defense.

So I think that's a lot of the basics and some more advanced concepts for you to digest in one sitting. I hope this at least gives you an idea what the WCO is all about.

Brief summation of notables:

Who came up with it: Bill Walsh in considered the innovator

Strengths: Quick passing game, ball control offense. Great against blitzes

Weaknesses: Need an accurate QB or a mobile QB. Need excellent catching WR's.

Coaches who use it: Mornhinweg, Reid, McCarthy

Uses: Offensive philosophy

Beaten by: Good defensive schemes tricking QB's, very smart defenders

Useless trivia to impress your date with: The term west coast offense was popularized by Bill Parcells. There are actually two west coach offenses. Bill Walsh's (described here) and the Air Coryell system (vertical timing). The Air Coryell system is actually the first WCO, but the least popular of the two.