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09 Dec 2005

Giants Try "East Coast" Offense

by Michael David Smith

For the last two decades, many NFL teams have attempted to emulate the West Coast Offense, the short-passing system pioneered in San Francisco by Bill Walsh, who led the 49ers to three Super Bowl titles. The West Coast Offense works because short passes are easier for quarterbacks to throw accurately, easier for receivers to catch, and harder for opposing defensive backs to get their hands on. But this year, Giants offensive coordinator John Hufnagel has employed a passing attack that couldn't be more different.

When Walsh won his first Super Bowl in 1981, his quarterback, Joe Montana, threw so many short passes that the 49ers led the league in completion percentage (63.4%) but finished dead last in yards per completion (11.5). This year, Hufnagel has Eli Manning throwing so many long balls that the Giants are the statistical opposites of those 49ers - first in the NFL with 13.2 yards per completion, and last in the NFL with a 51.4% completion rate.

The biggest difference between Hufnagel's offense and most other schemes is the way he uses running backs and tight ends as deep threats rather than simple dump-off options when the quarterback doesn't have a wide receiver open downfield. With two more deep threats than most defenses are accustomed to seeing on the field for each play, the Giants stretch opposing secondaries and throw long passes down the middle effectively.

Jeremy Shockey catches long passes more consistently than any other tight end in the league. Shockey's average of 14.7 yards a catch exceeds the league's other top receiving tight ends: San Diego's Antonio Gates averages 13.9, Baltimore's Todd Heap averages 11.4, Dallas's Jason Witten averages 11.3, Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez averages 10.9, and Pittsburgh's Heath Miller averages 9.6. Although the Giants drafted Shockey in 2002, before Hufnagel joined the staff, he's a perfect fit in the offense and is on pace for career highs in receiving yards and yards per catch and has already set a career high for touchdowns.

Shockey runs the curl routes that every team asks its tight end to run, but he usually goes deeper into the secondary before turning around and finding open space. That makes him more of a threat to safeties covering the deep middle of the field, drawing them away from the Giants' wide receivers.

Running back Tiki Barber has always figured prominently in the Giants' passing offense, but before Hufnagel arrived, he caught shorter passes, mostly when his quarterbacks couldn't find a receiver downfield. Now he runs longer pass routes. In his first seven seasons, Barber averaged 8.6 yards a catch; in two seasons in Hufnagel's offense, Barber has averaged 10.7 yards a catch.

Barber's ability to adjust his routes on the fly separates him from most running backs. He has an excellent sense for finding voids in the middle of the defense, and Hufnagel's offense allows him to find those voids behind linebackers.

Deep passes also open up the Giants' running game, since opposing defensive backs have to play farther off the line of scrimmage to avoid being beaten for long gains. Little wonder, then, that Barber is on pace to set a career high in rushing yards this season.

Most West Coast Offense coaches are either former Walsh assistants, like Seattle's Mike Holmgren,or assistants who learned from one of Walsh's assistants, like Philadelphia's Andy Reid, who coached under Holmgren in Green Bay. Hufnagel isn't known as a disciple of any one coach, but he spent a year working with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis (now the Notre Dame head coach) in New England and another year working with offensive coordinator Tom Moore in Indianapolis, and the aggressive schemes those coaches employ clearly rubbed off on him.

Hufnagel was a quarterback for 12 years and a coach for eight more in the Canadian Football League, then spent two years coaching in Arena Football before becoming an NFL assistant. His style shows those roots: The long-ball approach he favors is common to the Canadian and Arena games. Giants quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride, another believer in the importance of long passes, spent two years coaching in Canada.

Ultimately, offensive systems succeed or fail based less on how coaches draw them up than on how players execute, and the Giants have yet to prove they can turn this passing philosophy into one of the league's elite. Amani Toomer, 31, has lost his speed. Plaxico Burress and Tim Carter have the kind of speed needed for Hufnagel's offense, but they drop too many passes. And Manning still misses too many open receivers.

But Hufnagel's system can work if Manning and his younger receivers can develop into reliable NFL players. Either way, the Giants will likely look to add another receiver who can line up on the opposite side from Burress and stretch the field.

With the team in first place, a strong showing by the offense in December and January will lead other teams to start copying their philosophy, which will come with a readymade label: East Coast Offense.

"West Coast" coaches

Team Coach Yd/Catch Comp %
Packers Mike Sherman 10.4 62.6%
Broncos Mike Shanahan 11.9 62.0%
Seahawks Mike Holmgren 11.9 62.0%
Buccaneers Jon Gruden 11.1 61.6%

"East Coast" coaches

Team Coach Yd/Catch Comp %
Giants John Hufnagel (OC) 13.2 51.4%
Panthers Dan Hening (OC) 12.9 60.5%
Raiders Norv Turner 12.7 54.9%
Saints Mike Sheppard (OC) 12.4 54.8%

This article originally appeared in Thursday's edition of the New York Sun.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 09 Dec 2005

69 comments, Last at 12 Oct 2006, 11:04am by Dave


by Jay (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:14pm

Wouldn't yards/attempt encompass both of these statistics? I realize that "East Coast" vs "West Coast" offenses have different strategies, and you're showing the difference, but using simple statistics as we are, shouldn't we use yards/attempt to compare the two systems?

by VarlosZ (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:15pm

Deep passes also open up the Giants’ running game, since opposing defensive backs have to play farther off the line of scrimmage to avoid being beaten for long gains. Little wonder, then, that Barber is on pace to set a career high in rushing yards this season.

I don't doubt that the Giants' vertical passing game opens things up for Barber, but it doesn't seem to be the cause of his excellent production. Barber does get consistent yardage (he's 7th in success rate), but an unusually large percentage of his yardage this year has come on huge runs of 30 or more yards. In theory, keeping the DBs deep would make it harder for him to break off these big gains.

by Chris (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:18pm

I've always liked the Panthers offensive philosophy. Run, throw deep when you do off of the run.

At least this seems to support the fact that Delhomme has a great deep ball with a completion percentage that high.

by JonL (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:21pm

Interesting article.

It brings up something only slightly related, but does FO (or anyone else) compute yards per completion differently from the NFL? For quarterbacks, at least, a more accurate way might be [(pass yards - receiver YAC)/no. of completions]. But it seems simple enough to me that someone probably already does it that way.

by Zac (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:27pm

Re 4: It's simple in theory, but the NFL doesn't list stats that way. FO bases its numbers off of the NFL play-by-play (at least until they get really good at that game charting thing), so it can't be done right now. Maybe Stats Inc. or someone does it, but I've never seen it.

by Scott C. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:29pm

San Francisco, Bill Walsh, West Coast Offense?

Football history says the West Coast Offense was Sid Gillman, Don Coryell, and today Norv Turner, Mike Martz, and Cam Cameron (each with their own variations).

Labelling West Coast Offense to the S.F. attack in the 80's was a misnomer that spread unfortunately through the ignorance of the media.


by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:30pm

"an unusually large percentage of his yardage this year has come on huge runs of 30 or more yards."

What is that percentage, and what was it in the years before Hufnagel arrived?

by JonL (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:30pm

I'm pretty sure Stats or Elias or someone keeps YAC numbers, though, since announcers periodically mention it during games.

by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:31pm

Scott C, you and Dr. Z are both wrong on the origins of the phrase "West Coast Offense". I plan to write about this a little more at some point, possibly in Pro Football Prospectus 2006.

by VarlosZ (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:32pm

Plaxico Burress and Tim Carter have the kind of speed needed for Hufnagel’s offense, but they drop too many passes.

After seeing him drop that perfect 52-yard bomb vs. Dallas last week, I've given up on Tim Carter for good. However, I disagree that Burress drops too many passes. I see that his Catch% is a sub-par 47%, but that's really the fault of Manning and the Giants' game plan. Eli's very inaccurate, so lots of passes are either difficult or impossible to catch, while a large percentage of passes intended for Burress are basically jump balls deep downfield. I think he does a pretty good job in both areas.

The one bad thing I have noticed is that Plaxico doesn't always lay himself out for balls that he might be able to make a play on. Also, while he has surprisingly good speed and moves in the open field, he goes down so easy that my grandma could take him down if she got a hit on him. And she's been dead for 18 years.

by VarlosZ (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:35pm

“an unusually large percentage of his yardage this year has come on huge runs of 30 or more yards.�

What is that percentage, and what was it in the years before Hufnagel arrived?

Sorry, I haven't any proof. It's just a subjective impression, albeit one from a guy who's seen virtually every carry of Barber's career.

by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:40pm

an interesting comparison would with be the other jersey team. last year the jets ran an incredibly efficient west coast offence, and they fired hackett and brought in heimerdinger to install a vertical passing game.
hmmm, lets have a fragile weak-armed quarterback stand in the pocket and wait for the recievers to get open. how could it possibly go wrong?

by JG (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:49pm

I think fragile, weak-armed quarterbacks are probably the biggest selling point for West Coast schemes. With the appearent trouble many teams in the league are having finding quality QBs, short passing games should be easier for a sub par QB to manage.

by ABW (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:54pm

Re: #1

Here are yds/attempt for the coaches listed above.

Mike Sherman 6.51
Mike Shanahan 7.38
Mike Holmgren 7.38
Jon Gruden 6.84
John Hufnagel (OC) 6.79
Dan Hening (OC) 7.80
Norv Turner 6.97
Mike Sheppard (OC) 6.80

I don't really see a difference between these numbers with the exception of Hening. And the interesting thing about Henning is that his QB is completing a larger percentage of his passes while still throwing deep, which you can only find out by looking at the completion percentage, not yds/attempt. You certainly can't tell the difference between these two types of offenseive style by looking at yds/attempt.

yds/attempt isn't a very useful statistic except in very limited circumstances, because either completing lots of short passes or fewer deep passes will result in the same yds/attempt. It's hard to draw any conclusions from it.

by Bowman (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:56pm


Dr. Z can be wrong???

by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:57pm

I think when you look at a quarterback and see that he has a high yards per attempt, you can conclude that he's playing well, but you can't conclude HOW he's playing well -- like ABW said, it could be that he's throwing only short passes but completing three-fourths of them, or it could be that he's throwing longer passes and completing only half of them. The combination of yards per completion and completion percentage gives a much better look at what type of passing game a team runs.

by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:58pm

Bowman, it's very, very rare that I would say Dr. Z is wrong about anything -- he's one of the people I try to emulate. But in this case he is.

by Todd S. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 5:59pm

#4 The problem with not crediting YAC to QBs is that it penalizes QBs who hit the receiver in stride versus those who are less accurate and cause receivers to adjust their routes more just to catch the ball in the first place. I'd prefer the status quo in this situation.

by Joel D-P (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 6:11pm

MDS, the 'West Coast Offense" wasn't pioneered by Walsh in SF, but rather in Cinncinati in the late 80s, by Walsh and Paul Brown, with Ken Anderson as the QB.

by Joel D-P (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 6:17pm

Sorry, Virgil Carter was the QB and it was the late 60s and early 70s, Walsh of course was in SF in the 80s.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 6:20pm

Didn't Madden's Raider teams base their offense around opening up the run with the deep ball? Is there a ready-made name for their offense?

by Boots Day (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 6:22pm

I'm reasonably certain that the term West Coast Offense was applied to Bill Walsh's teams only in retrospect. It wasn't till other clubs picked up on it that the short passing game was termed the WCO.

MDS, if you have found any contemporaneous references to Walsh's West Coast Offense in San Francisco, I'd love to see them.

by JonL (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 6:24pm

RE: #18

That makes some sense, but my contention is that even if the QB overthrows the route and the receiver has to adjust (say from a 10 yard route to a 15 yard route), then runs for 45 more yards, it's more accurate to credit the QB with a 15 yard pass than with a 60 yarder.

by Vince (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 6:45pm

Remember the 1998 Super Bowl Falcons? They were running a 1950s offense in the 1990s: Run the ball over and over again (410 carries for Jamal Anderson, a record at the time, has it been broken?), but when they did throw, they went deep, to the tune of 15.8 yards per completion. Both starting wideouts (Tony Martin, Terrance Mathis) went more than 17.0 ypc.

by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 6:50pm

That's a great comment, Vince. Maybe if I expand this for the book, I'll talk about Dan Reeves and how his offense was very different from the West Coast, and how I think Vick was more suited to that offense than the one Mora brought in.

by Scott C. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 7:05pm

All contemporary references to WCO are to Bill Walsh's branch of the Sid Gillman passing game tree. His is the most distinct branch because the play naming is significantly different. This WCO originated in Cincinati, when Walsh was coaching offense there and had to come up with a scheme that relied on a short-armed, mobile, smart QB.

I can't find ANY references to the origination of the term "West Coast Offense" that is specific to Walsh. Several seem to be generic for the time period, and include the Coryel chargers.

This article comes close, but is not specific. It is also a decent short summary of Walsh's WCO:

But Its not just Dr. Z who says that WCO was a term used for other offenses on the west coast, not just Walsh's. See Wikipedia:
Feel free to update Wikipedia yourself and see if your evidence stands up to the masses. When did the term originate? Was it a term used to describe only the 49ers?

note at bottom:
"Note: although this is the current usage of the term, the actual West Coast Offense was a term applied to the Don Coryell/Bill Walsh offense run by the San Diego Chargers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. More properly, the above should be called the Walsh offense, as it was perfected under Walsh in San Francisco. The actual San Diego West Coast offense involved much longer timing routes and bore little resemblance to the above."

Aikman also has some decent history in this article, but no explanation of the origins of the phrase.
A nice note in here is the reference to how the terminology is different between Gillman passing offense terminology and Walsh.

by EorrFU (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 7:13pm

This makes me want a statistic like effective completion yards or something that can incorporate the two parts of the passing game. Like basketball's effective FG% accounts for the higher value of 3 point shots so can a statistic adjust for the length of a completion.

If you adjusted the value of each pass for a specific length and then divided by the average length of pass then divided by attempts you could do something like this.

Just a quick thought

by Todd S. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 7:35pm

#23 There certainly is merit to your idea. I'm not as concerned with overthrows as I am with passes behind the receiver on a slant, for instance, when a pass in stride allows the receiver to get past the defender and gain extra yards. It really gets down to trying to measure who has more impact in YAC: the receiver or the QB. On a short hitch route, it's probably more to the receiver; on a quick slant I think it's more to the QB. But either way, there's nothing wrong with recording it (other than it's hard to do right now).

So, never mind my objection...I'm in.

by Luz (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 8:49pm


i haven't watched burress much in NY but based on his career as a steeler i think your analysis is accurate.

i would also add that his body control and sight adjustments aren't that great, so he often makes catches harder than they should be because he wasn't in the right position and then has to twist/jump ackwardly.

by tim (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 10:07pm

kind of an unrelated question but why would you want a larger running back in goal line situations? the ideal seems to be an average size guy with a lower center of gravity that can generate more momentum quicker than a larger back, so why are the giants pushing brandon jacobs in these scenarios? also, anecdotally it seems that smaller ruunning backs have more success at the goaline ( faulk, smith, holmes ), besides maybe john riggins?

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2005 - 11:57pm

#30: That's based on the assumption that bigger guys have worse acceleration (first step) than bigger guys, which I'm pretty sure isn't true. They might not have as good top speed, and their acceleration might be a tad lower, but the extra mass from their body gives you more force, and there's not enough room between the handoff and the LOS to get up to speed anyway.

Of course, it all depends on the talent you have.

by Joel D-P (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 3:33am

re#9 Hey MDS, Dr Z has some pretty convincing folks who agree to his version of what is the real WCO, like Bill Walsh himself. This is from his 99 article [At first Walsh was quite upset by the misnomer. "Call it the Walsh Offense, or the Cincinnati Offense," he said, "but not the West Coast Offense. That's something completely different."]

by Michael David Smith :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 9:15am

I think Dr. Z is misunderstanding Walsh's quote. What Walsh is saying is that he doesn't like the generic term for the offense. What Joe Montana calls the West Coast Offense is what I call the West Coast Offense. This comes from a book about quarterbacking written by Joe Montana:

With Bill Walsh's “West Coast Offense,� we wanted to apply constant pressure on
the defense.

by Michael David Smith :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 9:44am

Also, the book Tales from the San Francisco 49ers Sideline is a collection of stories from former 49ers players and coaches, including Walsh himself. I found 14 references in the book to the West Coast Offense, and none of them suggest that it's anything other than the offense Walsh developed.

by masocc (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 12:04pm

RE: Length of Tiki Barber's Runs

Just looking at his Longest carries from the game longs over the last few years (so I might miss a game with a couple multiple 30+ yards runs, I can't find a breakdown that shows his runs broken down by distance):

30+ Yard Runs
2005: 4 for 16.0% of total yards (Pretty sure he had another here against Washington)
2004: 5 for 16.5%
2003: 0 (!!!)
2002: 7 for 23.7% (Wow!)
2001: 2 for 7.6%

Not quite sure what this means... apart from 2003 was a rather odd year for Barber, and VarlosZ' argument doesn't appear to hold up too well. I'm just assuming VarlosZ is remembering 2003 a little too well, lol.

by Paul (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 12:16pm

It seems to me that a huge amount of the credit for the Giant's offensive successes have been given to Plaxico. (At least by the NY Media) FO would disagree, ranking him the 38th WR. I think McKenzie has made much more of an impact. Any thoughts?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 1:18pm

The best goal line runner I ever saw was Walter Payton. Of course, he was the best running back I ever saw as well, being totally dominant in every aspect of the position.

by Michael David Smith :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 1:32pm

I always thought Marcus Allen was phenomenal at the goal line, although I watched him through a child's eyes and haven't really done any statistical analysis of how well he played there. But regarding the Giants, I agree with those who think Coughlin is wrong to assume Jacobs will be better than Barber at the goal line just because Jacobs is bigger. I like the potential Jacobs has to develop into a very good player, but right now I think it's a mistake to take away carries from Barber and give them to Jacobs.

by wyote (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 1:38pm

This issue comes up all the time and it's one of my pet peeves.

Words mean today what people today think they mean--not what they once meant. "West Coast Offense" doesn't "really mean" anything except what people think it means.

So the meaning of "West Coast Offense" may have changed as a result of a reporter's mistake. Or whatever.

Regardless, today it means Walsh's offense and its heirs; while Gillman/Coryell's offense will just have to get its own name.

The same thing has happened with many, many other words, and like it or not, that's how it goes. Arguing that the words "really" mean what they used to mean is simply ignorant; or, less charitably, it's both ignorant and a transparent attempt to demonstrate superior intelligence.

Everyone uses many of these words without realizing it.

Like "football."

by Joel D-P (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 3:01pm

#39 I'm not disputing that the term WCO is currently used to mean Walsh's system, I'm disputing MDS statement that Dr Z is wrong. As near as i can tell, the term WCO was first used in the national media in an article by Dr Z himself, in a quote from Bernie Kosar, who was referring to the Gillman Offense. Football people, coaches and scouts used the phrase WCO to refer to Gillman influenced systems. It was not used in the popular media until after Z's article, when a SF beat writer used it to mistakenly refer to Walsh's Sysytem. When Walsh asked that his system not be called the WCO, it was because he knew that among football people the phrase referred to the Gillman system. This is what MDS is disputing, but I think he's wrong. If MDS has evidence of the phrase WCO being used to refer to Walsh's system before Z's 93 Kosar quote, then he should present it.

by Michael David Smith :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 3:12pm

"As near as i can tell, the term WCO was first used in the national media in an article by Dr Z himself, in a quote from Bernie Kosar, who was referring to the Gillman Offense."

When and where did that article appear?

by Joel D-P (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 3:13pm

#33 MDS your Montana quote helps to prove our point, in it JM qualifies his use of the phrase, he says Bill Walsh's WCO, to differentiate it from the other (Gillman) WCO. Also it's pretty strong to say that Dr Z misunderstood a quote that he collected himself and heard in context and with its corresponding vocal inflections, when you weren't even there. Also Walsh himself has never subsequently disagreed with Z's contention.

by Michael David Smith :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 3:19pm

"Football people, coaches and scouts used the phrase WCO to refer to Gillman influenced systems."

Who are these people, and when did they use this phrase?

by Joel D-P (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 3:20pm

#41 in 93, in SI

by Michael David Smith :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 3:21pm

Then why doesn't a computer database search of every SI article from 1993 include that quote?

by Joel D-P (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 3:29pm

Kosar, Walsh, Norv Turner, Mike Martz, Ernie Zampese, and Joe Gibbs among others used the phrase from the late 70s on. All u have to do is interview any of them, or any other coach or scout who was active in the NFL in the 80s. The Gillman system was called the WCO because he used it in SD and LA with the Chargers, Coryell used it at SD State and it was used by the Raiders (all AFL)

by Joel D-P (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 3:45pm

#45 I'm not sure but in his 99 article Z references the Kosar quote. There is a link to this article in the Wiki article above #26

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 3:47pm

I don't want to get hung up on etymology, but Denny Green would be an interesting guy to inquire with, in that he was a Walsh apprentice, but deliberately decided to emulate a Gibbs approach to offense, which continues to this day in Minnesota, when he became head coach of the Vikings.

by Reinhard (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 4:28pm

Is DVOA biased against a reciever who plays Burress' role in an offence? He has to try to beat db's deep, which means that it is hard to be very isolated (because a safety on the defense usually stays deep for that specific reason) and when he does make a catch, the big chunk of yards he gets don't rack up a lot of VOA points. (Third down machines are more likely to rack them up.)

I haven't seen these recievers play enough to be able to compare them well. I live in Chicago, so I can only see two games every Sunday in which there is any passing...

by admin :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 4:32pm

Yes, to be honest, it is. If we had attempted yardage on passes, we could fix that, but we don't, at least not until we add up all the charting data. I've played around with a way to adjust DVOA for receivers to take into account the fact that catch percentage generally declines as average yds/reception increases.

by Paul (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 4:42pm

Just for fun, why not just try Catch% * YPC and see how they rank?

by stan (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 6:54pm

Two points of clarification -- one deals with pass patterns and the other with the development of the short passing game.

1) Pass plays quite often do not have an intended target or intended depth. In fact, most plays have a variety of conversion routes which require the receiver to change his route in a certain way depending on the type of coverage (man, two deep zone, three deep zone, rotation, etc.) and the type of technique employed by the defender.

Not only are the routes dependent on the coverage, but the appropriate target for the QB will also depend on the coverage. For example, a three level zone combo route may ususally end up going to the intermediate route because of natural defensive tendencies, but the QB still reads and throws to the open receiver.

So a team may throw more balls deep or short due to what the defense dictates. That may be due to the defensive philosophy or a conscious choice based on matchups. It may have absolutely nothing to do with a conscious effort by the offensive coaches to throw long or short.

2) Any understanding of the development on the short passing game (WCO) has to take into account defensive tendencies of the day. The 70s and 80s saw defenses play zone far more often than we see today. And the zones were played differently. Man to man became far more prevalent to combat the offenses which took advantage of the easy underneath zones.

Football strategy is a constant chess match of defenses and offenses adapting to each other's new developments. To understand how we got to the offenses of today, you have to go back and look at how defenses and offenses attacked each other over the last 3 or 4 decades.

Homer Smith (a brilliant offensive coach in the college game) has done this with a history of the college game. If you read his work and see how offenses and defenses were constantly causing the evolution of the other, it can help see how the same process works in the pros.

NOTE -- those who have paid attention to the Colts over the last 3 years can see how an offense was built to hide weaknesses and exploit strengths. The Colts came up with a unique running system. Defenses this year have adapted by changing their run support methods on the corners. The Colts have reacted by changing their point of attack.

Another development is the impact of the no huddle and watching how teams are changing their defensive personnel packages in response.

Bottom Line -- you can't just look at one side of the ball on this type of thing.

by Jim L (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 7:29pm

Re #50:

Wow, am I correct in interpreting this comment to mean that Chad Johnson is even better than his DVOA suggests since he is the Bengals deep man?

by GBS (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2005 - 8:33pm

When the Colts first hired Tony Dungy, some of the more pessimistic fans feared he would rein in the offense, referring to Dungy's TB days as the "Gulf Coast Offense." Obviously, they were wrong, but the term cracked me up.

by Catfish (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 10:52pm

Re: 51

Wouldn't that just be yards/attempt for a specific receiver?

by dan (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 3:10am

Just to throw this out for the WCO usage debate.

A quick Lexis search of sports news finds the first reference to be the May 17, 1993 issue of The Sporting News. In the "AFC Notes" section (page 34), the final note reads:

Denver installed its new "West Coast" offense at its minicamp, and quarterback John Elway can hardly wait to put it into practice. "The thing I like best about it, is that there's always somewhere to go with the ball," he says.

The next reference is a similar note in the May 31 issue, and then the third a full article in the July 12 issue on Wade Phillips and his new scheme. From there it spreads to, among others, the AP and the NYT.

Unfortunately, SI, as a "Time Incorporated Publication," only has a rolling two year archive on Lexis. I suppose it's likely that someone else has a full archive, but 1am isn't exactly the time I prefer to start delving into such matters.

I'm sure I've done more harm than good as it is.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 12:46pm

Colts fans should be happy that Mora didn't bring Carl Smith...

by princeton73 (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 2:10pm

so Dr. Z is certainly wrong--look at the dates: first use found on Nexus--May 17, 1993;

then from the DrZ article:
"From Bernie Kosar, when he was a backup quarterback with Dallas in '93."

BK didn't become a backup QB for the Cowboys until November 1993

do Dr Z didn't first write it and have it picked up and misunderstood by other writers

hey dan--you should e-mail #56 to the not-so-good doctor

by Brad (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 2:45pm

I find it interesting that football fans and analysts are constantly talking abotu the WCO when my general impression is that the teams which have been most consuistently at the top of the offensive rankings in the past few years haven't been teams which belong to the Walsh family tree. For instance, neither St. Louis, Indianapolis, San Diego, nor KC have ever been associated with that system, yet each has been a consistent offensive force in the last few years.

I'm not familiar enough with these teams to compare and contrast their offensive philosphies (and think this would be a great topic for the FO folks) but it doesn't appear, based on the chart at the end of the article, that these teams are adherents of the ECO either. Do these teams have share offensive philosphies which fall into a different category or are we all so enamored with the Walsh-coaching tree that we are labelling everything in sight, even when those labels fit badly?

by Ryan (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 6:05pm

If I'm not mistaken, Bill Parcells either coined the "WCO" phrase or (more probably) helped popularize it when talking about Walsh's Niner teams in press conferences in the 1980s.

by Michael David Smith :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 7:00pm

Well, in comment No. 9 I said I was going to lay all this out in PFP 2006, but since you guys have done such a great job finding all these articles, I guess I'll just reveal now that the reason I knew when I posted comment No. 9 that Dr. Z was wrong was exactly what Princeton73 just told us: I've seen articles that refer to the West Coast Offense as the Bill Walsh offense, and those articles date to before Bernie Kosar ever signed with Dallas. So when Zimmerman writes this:

How did the term get its name? From Bernie Kosar, when he was a backup quarterback with Dallas in '93.

I know he's wrong because I've seen the term used to describe the Walsh offense in articles written before Kosar was ever with Dallas. I still plan to write more about this at a later date, but I hope this clears up some confusion. (Note: It also doesn't help Dr. Z's case that a computer database search of SI articles reveals that the first time the phrase "West Coast Offense" appeared under Paul Zimmerman's byline, it was describing the Walsh offense that Ray Rhodes was importing in Philadelphia.)

Thanks to masocc, wyote, dan and princeton73 for your great comments.

by Paytonrules (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 10:19pm

I thought it was popularized by Mike Ditka - deriding it, although maybe I'm thinking of the Genius tag for Bill Walsh.

It's ironic how that system was developed. Walsh decides to customize a new offense based on his player's skill-set, and a legion of people force-feed it regardless of skills.

Honestly if a young Bill Walsh was coaching Michael Vick today would he be force-feeding him short timing passes based on drop backs and accuracy, emphasizing his weeknesses and eliminating his strengths.

Entire defensive gameplans are devoted to shutting down Vick running the ball, and Mora Jr. says, "That's okay I'll do it for you."

by emcee fleshy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 12:04am

This year, there appears to be no correlation with Yards per completion and completion percentage. Indeed, there might be a slightly positive correlation. If shorter routes were easier to complete, there should be a negative correlation.

This implies that throwing the ball farther doesn't cost completion percentage.

by Bax (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 4:42pm

Mouse Davis, Neil Lomax, Portland State? Isn't this where the "West Coast" Offense really got its start?

by Jerry (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 6:50pm

re #64:

That was the run-and-shoot.

by Josh (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 1:29pm

This article could not be more wrong if it tried. I've watched the Giants every snap this season and last and the writer is just plain wrong. Tiki's yds per catch is up bc he is doing more after he catched the ball. In fact, I don't think I have seen him catch the ball more than 7 yds down the field once this entire season. Shockey is the same thing. The only deep balls go to Plax, Carter (rarely plays) and sometimes Toomer. The Giants don't play the "West Cost" offense but they sure as hell don't play the "East Coast" offense that this writer has made up.

by Jay (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 2:57pm

Josh...I have to agree with you. I've watched every snap of Giants football this year. Tiki's big gains come on hb screens that have been very effective. If anything, we haven't featured Tiki out of the backfield as much this year as in recent years because Eli misses him almost every time hes open. This leads to a higher ypc as well, because he rarely catches the 4 and 5 yard dumps. Additionally, the comment above about Burress is right on...his bread and butter play is the deep lob which has a low success rate but is almost always a game changing play when successful. As for Shockey, he has been finding holes a bit deeper down the field than last year (based on what I see), routinely catching 9, 10, and 11 yard curls on 3rd and 7 or 8. This article is manipulating statistics to fit the arguement. I dont buy it.

by Mike (not verified) :: Mon, 12/19/2005 - 2:38am

#66 & #67 - Really?

The Giants throw a lot of passes in the 12-25 yard range, and not a lot of passes in the 0-8 yard range. Do you disagree with this? This is coroborated by a F article from a couple weeks ago, showing how the Giants complete (as a percentage of total passes) about 30% fewer 0-5 yard passes than any other team in football.

The Giants run a passing game focused on completing the ball in the medium and deep ranges, especially the medium range. This is undeniable.

by Dave (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 11:04am

Why dont teams run a cover two d instead of a 5-2 d against the west coast?