mechanics of the west coast offense -topic bill walsh 1983 49ers offense
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DESCRIPTIONThe West Coast offense (WCO) is a difficult philosophy for any defense to contend against. Over time this offensive system, and it’s creator, has become part of football lore. Innovation has built upon Walsh’s most basic principles of the WCO. The system ran today, only reflects the 49er’s of yesteryear in base applications. No matter how different today’s formations may be in this system (i.e. Jon Gruden’s I-Formation based WCO or Andy Reid’s Spread based WCO), the principles of the WCO stay the same. Defending the WCO can be challenging for someone that does not know or understand what the WCO sets out to accomplish. This guide is meant to present those basic philosophies and how to best defend against them.
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Mechanics Of The West Coast Offense By J.A. Polk Topic: Bill Walsh 1983 49ers OffenseJanuary 10, 1982, The NFC Championship Game: Down 21-27 with 58 Seconds left in the Fourth Quarter, San Francisco faces a 3 rd and 3 on the Dallas 6th yard line. Joe Montana enters the huddle and gives the play call; Red Right Tight, Sprint Option Right. The huddle breaks, the men line up, and the Catch becomes part of football history.
The West Coast offense (WCO) is a difficult philosophy for any defense to contend against. Over time this offensive system, and its creator, has become part of football lore. Innovation has built upon Walshs most basic principles of the WCO. The system ran today, only reflects the 49ers of yesteryear in base applications. No matter how different todays formations may be in this syste m (i.e. Jon Grudens I-Formation based WCO or Andy Reids Spread based WCO), the principles of the WCO stay the same. Defending the WCO can be challenging for someone that does not know or understand what the WCO sets out to accomplish. This guide is meant to present those basic philosophies and how to best defend against them.
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How do you defend an offense that In principle, the WCO attacked Defending the WCO is just like holds the ball, throws it around, and defenses in many new ways. These defending any other offensive system; pulls tricks out of its sleeve? That was included: by knowing and defending the the question many defensive Spreading the defense horizontally principles. How can a team use its coordinators were faced with in the and vertically. bread and butter, after the defense early 1980s. Bill Walsh was the Creating mismatches between slammed the bread box closed? brainchild of such a system. One that receivers and defenders. attacked, for the times, in such an Passing the ball, instead of running That is what the essentials of WCO unconventional way. it to maintain possession. defense comes to, taking those While using all 5 receivers. principles away. While saying that is a The WCO set out to accomplish a great Other principles, contributed to why lot easier then doing it, it is possible; if feat in football; controlling possession defending the WCO was/is difficult. planned for correctly. Remember, and scoring the ball through the air. Quick, timed passes caught defenses football requires proper planning Today, the principles of the WCO are off guard, while sound pass today, for accurate execution time honored, and have been protections and formations warded off tomorrow. incorporated into other offensive blitzing defenders. Receiver systems, but way back then it was a mismatches wrecked havoc on M2M, beast of its own. as great QBs picked apart zones.
The play below emphasizes many of the WCOs most basic principles. Before reading further, can you spot them?
X,Z, and R executes, what Walsh Defending this type of play, was best referred to as, a takeoff route. By served using a mixture of man and design, these routes stretch the zone coverage. For instance, Cover 2 secondary deeper down the field. As Man assigns a defender for each the secondary stretches back, Fs route receiver while making two deep Walsh wanted to attack defenses by (a swing route) is used to stretch the defenders each responsible for one stretching them. Forcing Defenders to intermediate defensive personnel half of the field. This allowed for cover more of the field helped create towards the sideline. This executes tough defense on receivers with help space. This formed open pockets in the Walshs first concept, space. The prior from over the top. Tighter defense and defensive field, that Walsh attacked four routes helped to create space, route disruption helped to throw off using timed pass routes. Most of while the route ran by Y is designed to the timing of the pass. Walshs quarterbacks worked for a 3 take advantage of that space, using or 5 step drop, allowing the pass to Walshs second concept ; Timed pass Using this type of defense lead to leave the QBs pocket routes. creating stops, but it was far from quicker. perfect. Man Coverage allowed for Route combinations such as these personnel mismatches . It was only a These two principles can be seen in made defending the WCO difficult, matter of downs, before someone the play below. when using zone coverage. This play would make a play. can successfully beat a Cover 2 and Cover 3 zone down the field.
When attacking with the pass in the The play diagramed below is similar to Press coverage proved to be effective WCO, most plays utilized 5 receivers. a Curl/Flat route combo. Can you see against types of plays. Using corners to The invent of the Zone blitz helped to why? The similarity is that the press X and Z off the LOS helped to defend areas of the field while quarterback is only reading one half of disrupt the timing of the pass . After providing a pass rush. Most times, this the field. However, we can still see the all, route disruption is one of the most would create a M2M pass block; space concept at work. Instead of important aspects of WCO defense. allowing athletic pass rushers the having X run a Curl at 12 yards, the chance to make a play (with both sacks player works downfield, taking the Man Cover 2 Press is a pretty good and delivery sacks.) To combat this, defender(s) with them. As X works the option to defend this play with. Both Walsh would often supply an extra lane down the field, Z is used to fill the Z and X are covered by corners, while blocker, against pass rush happy alley, left in the flats. As stated, most the SC has over the top help from the teams. QBs will execute a traditional deep Safety. Although M2M coverage High/Low read. In this play, that read could create mismatches between the Designed plays that attacked with four can be taken from the Strong Side running backs and linebackers, the receivers could, at times, behave corner. If the corner plays a short plays # 1 and #2 receiving options are differently. The play shown below is a zone, X will become open in the well defended. great example. Unlike most WCO intermediate area, under the Safety. If plays, that supply a number of the corner played a soft zone, the flat different reads for the QB, the play could open up for Z. below works off the basic high/low read.
Bill Walshs idea was to throw now and What was different is how Walsh used Most interior defensive personnel were run later. Walshs objective was to pass his play action. Any coach will tell taught different keys to read the for points early in the game, while you to run the ball, until the offense with. One important key then running on a tired defense later in the linebackers crept up. When this (and now) were the offensive guards. game. BUT WAIT! If Roger Craig was occurred you hit them with the play Walsh knew that when defenders saw your back, would you wait till the third action pass down field. What set Walsh the guards clearing to one side, that quarter to hand him the ball? apart was his belief that establishing linebackers typically followed, the run was not needed to perform a expecting a running play. Other coaches didnt think so either. successful play action pass, the threat Walsh would incorporate split back was good enough. Walsh relied on these tendencies to running plays to add some ground form his theory of play action passing. game to the WCO. But, sometimes the This is how the WCO (or Walshs style When teams did not fall for this trick presence of a great runner is threat of the WCO) would trick defenders and he simply ran the ball in the space they enough. Walsh proved to be a master frustrate DCs. To understand how this gave up. of trickery, showing a defense one play executed, you had to know how a thing, while delivering another. Play defense thought. At the time, ground Defending Walshs play action plays Action passing, in all its various forms, oriented offenses ruled the NFL. were just like defending anybody was not a new topic at the time. It was Running teams like the Redskins elses. They were just harder to predict. ran by many different teams for dominated the league. (with a few decades. exceptions)
Closing NotesWalsh was indeed an offensive genius. The amount of time the WCO has lived is a testament to that. However, defending this great coach was not about defending his xs and os alone. Walsh originated many other techniques that helped him get ahead in the game. Predictability- Because Walsh was open to throwing the ball in any situation, this made predicting his plays harder. Defensive Coordinators would scramble to find systems that covered both run and pass defense, especially on 3rd and short. Play scripting- Walsh was a master scripter. Where most teams scripted their first 15 offensive plays, Walsh scripted 25. Every Week the script was practiced and executed, in order. This lead to a higher level of comprehension and execution for his players. Walsh was also one of the greatest talent assessors in football. I could easily see him and John Camp standing on a sideline and discussing this topic. Walsh knew the secret, make the offense work for the players, not the other way around. The WCO oozes this belief. Montana was no Marino, but finished on top. Craig didnt look like Sweetness, but they both averaged 4 yards a carry. Walsh knew what his players could do well, and adjusted his offense to fit their talents. Although he was not part of the 1982-83 team, I am always reminded of a quote from a Dallas Defensive coach. Its frustrating, you plan and practice all week to defend this thing called the West Coast Offense. You believe you dotted all the Is and crossed all the ts, and you say to yourself we got a real shot at beating these guys. Then come Sunday afternoon, the sun is on your back, the crowd is cheering and Jerry Rice is running away.