Football 101: The West Coast Offense

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Skill Position Duties and Ideal scheme fit:

While as a whole, the offense was a big oiled machine, but if one cog in the machine starts to fail, it all trickles down, and sooner or later – everything fails with it.

Walsh made every sure every one of his cogs (players, even coaches included) were properly maintained, and oiled to ensure a smooth operation. Thus everyone—especially those playing in skill positions—were under a microscope .

So what did Walsh constantly made sure was happening?

The QB:

Well, as far as the QBs job went, it was to get the ball and release it within seconds. For the most part, the QB would work entirely from three-step drops (takes three steps back), check his progressions, and throw the ball, if all primary receiving options were not open; the QB dumps the ball off to his running back and picks up a few yards. That helped keep sacks at a minimum and the QB’s accuracy percentages went up for it.

Speaking of accuracy, for a QB to succeed in this system, he must be able to deliver the ball quickly, but with touch and pin-point accuracy. If he cannot, he’ll fail.

One last thing on the QB’s job; the second most important thing that I’ve learned while compiling research for this offense is a QB’s footwork is the only thing standing between a sack, an interception; a competition, and more importantly – scoring.

Bill Walsh’s offense is based completing on timing; footwork is the one thing that makes everything go in motion. If the play calls for a five-step drop, you do a five-step drop, not 4 long steps back, and a little step back—that’ll ruin the entire flow of the offense. Because what you were looking for wasn’t given enough the time to build up, or you took too long with your steps, and what was supposed to happen, had already happened. Everything hinges on doing exactly what you’re told.

Note: Walsh did want athletic QBs—those who could run for yards, or extend plays if need be were sought out. It would add another level of unpredictability. Something he clearly loves.

(While Seattle’s current offense is a WCO-varient, it could never thrive under Walsh’s system; we thrive under chaos.)

The WRs:

The WR’s had a huge reasonability as a majority of the success of the offense fell on their shoulders—anywhere from 65 to 80 percent of the offense scheme directly involves them. Walsh required his WRs to run extremely precise routes, expected to have extremely good hands, and be willing to catch the ball in traffic…often. The offense also favors “smart” football players (not just WR, but all players for that matter), as opposed to the Air Coryell system, that required athletes with good measurable. Walsh required his players to know the offense inside out, which meant more to him than physical traits like speed; he knew those fade over time.

With that said, there is an upside to being a part of the West Coast Offense as a WR it’s the longevity that usually follows WR in that system. The greatest example is Jerry Rice – played for what for seemed like forever (20 years). The reason behind the longevity is because the system doesn’t need the biggest, or the fastest WRs to run its system. It just needs someone with good hands and decent agility.

One last and important thing a WR has to be able to do:

The WRs has to be able to actively read the defense, and adjust their route accordingly to what is be shown; depending on what is shown, the WR has three option: a slant, a fly, and a hitch route. The QB also has to be able to anticipate what route the WR will run if he needs to adjust his route. That’s one of the reasons this offense is hard to master, it requires real chemistry with receiver and QB.

As a side note for measurable: by the design, the offense almost completely ignores bigger, speedy WRs; those are the WRs that are usually neutralized as most of them are not built for lateral movements, but vertical ones.

The Rbs:

As a running back, under Walsh, you’re expected to catch the balls as much as you carry it. Your job is to usually give a safety blanket for the QB when all other options are taken away. Meaning that the QB dumps off the ball to the RB and gets whatever yards are open.  Aside from being a key part of the passing game, their job also requires to provide pass protection for their QB. The “WCO” is known for having two back sets, precisely why there’s a back in there for no other purpose than blocking.

For the most part, Walsh (and other people running the system) generally look for (a) receiver(s) out of the backfield than in other systems. They’ll also need exceptional hands, and great route-running skills. Matt Forte is the perfect example of an ideal “WCO” running back.

The TEs:

Thanks to this offense, and a few others, it actively involved the tight ends as a receiving option, just as much as they used them as blockers.

Their main purpose as receiving option, though, was to be possession receivers—the “move the chains” guy; a go to guy. Aside from being more involved in passing games, they’re still very traditional in their sets.

They’re also check down guys, shares a similar role to the backs in that way, he becomes a safety blanket.

They’re usually at 6’3 or taller, and have decent weight of 230s or more.

Putting it all together

The West Coast Offense is one of the most interesting, and complicated offenses I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. It changed the game as we know it, and it happened out of desperation. If Virgil Carter never had to step in for the injured Greg Cook – who knows what would’ve happened? For all we know, the Niners Dynasty may have never started.

While I know this article won’t do this offense justice, it’s a start. I hope after reading this, that you, the reader, hopefully does your own research and learn more about the game we all love and cherish.

I hope you enjoy the read.

Next: Jon Ryan might have the most interesting twitter feed in Seattle

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