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There's a couple reasons for this. Defenses are regularly categorized by their formation. Offensive formations change play to play, and during the course of the play. Traditionally, offenses are categorized by strategy. We're going to cover the four major strategies currently used in the NFL after the break. Two things to note before reading further. Some offensive strategies were not included for various reasons. Strategies that did not constitute a complete strategy or a portion of a strategy were not considered. This list included option, Wildcat, pistol and A-11 (now illegal). The spread was also not included, since most NFL personnel wouldn't consider the spread a strategy. The spread is a formation, and can be used by any strategy. Second, it's hard to peg most teams as a "this system" team anymore. Teams use strategies more as base offensive philosophies, and incorporate plays that work from the other strategies. The four strategies that we're going to look at are the Erhardt-Perkins, Coryell, West Coast, and the Run 'n' Shoot. Erhardt-Perkins This system's name originates back to the Chuck Fairbanks-coached Patriots of the 1970s, where Ron Erhardt and Ray Perkins coached as offensive assistants. The system has been called "smashmouth" or "ball control" offense. It surely didn't originate with the 1970s Patriots, and, like the defensive trends, this offense comes from an earlier form of offense. Traditional running football of the 1950s and 60s underwent some modifications and was renamed. The Erhardt-Perkins offensive philosophy was summed up with this Erhardt quote: "Pass to score, run to win." The offense has been considered a run first, play-action passing offense. This is really not the case. The Erhardt-Perkins strategy relies on possessing the football. In previous decades, running the ball was the best way to do this. However, as the recent Patriot teams have shown, possession football and passing aren't mutually exclusive. New England regularly runs entire drives from the spread, throwing most of the plays, and progress through 10+ play drives. The strategy's strengths include the ease in finding players to fit the system, since a great quarterback or receivers are not required. The system is relatively easy to learn compared to the complexity ot the other three systems, and the system is the easiest to run in bad weather. Teams using the Erhardt-Perkins strategy often times aren't geared for high scoring games, and don't have consistent comeback ability. While no team exclusively runs the Erhardt-Perkins offensive, many teams use its philosophy as the basis for creating the playbook. Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Charlie Weis, Jeff Davidson, Bill Cowher, Marty Schottenheimer, and Chan Gailey-led teams typically base their attacks on ball control and/or running the ball. Coryell This offensive strategy bears the name of Don Coryell. This offense was initially called the "West Coast" offense, since Coryell ran it in San Diego. After Bill Parcells' famous quote calling San Francisco's offense "west coast," the Coryell offense became best known as the Vertical or Timing offense. The Coryell offense really began conceptually with Sid Gillman in the 1960s. Coryell's offense maintained a basic power running game. Coryell's innovative passing concepts allowed the Cardinals to win two division titles in the 1970s, but most famously, helped make the San Diego Chargers a playoff team. The Coryell offense requires a great offensive line, because the scheme sends all five receivers into
Mike Martz. Coryell simplified pass patterns into a route tree. Al Saunders and coaches from their coaching trees favor this system. West Coast This is really the Bill Walsh offense. and this system can also commonly lull play callers into selecting many more passes than runs. Thanks to Parcells' comments in the 1985 playoffs. and then runs on the spread out defense. the Walsh system will be forever known as the West Coast offense. This system can get extremely complicated. and throws are made to a spot where the receiver will be running to. The basic concept of the West Coast offense is to stretch the defense horizontally by using short passes early in the game. Andy Reid and Sam Wyche lengthened many of the routes. Walsh invented the scheme out of necessity. but still stretch the defense horizontally. Ron Turner. Defenses that stack the line to stop the run are often exposed by deep pass plays. The scheme also sends two or more receivers deep regularly. This system is also known as the Cincinnati offense. . a great quarterback. but his passing game still relies on stretching the defense horizontally. and is the most commonly used system in the NFL. John Madden. The offense scores early. Coryell offenses with the right personnel tend to be the higher scoring offenses in the league.a tall task for any front office. Walsh served as an assistant coach under the Paul Brown coached Cincinnati Bengals from 1968 to 1975. Throws require a QB with a strong arm. Joe Gibbs. Below is "an example" of what this tree could look like: The strengths of the system include the ability to mix a power running game and an explosive passing game. and at least two great wide receivers . There are many adaptations and modifications to the pure West Coast system.pass patterns. The system requires a great offensive line. The Bengals' offensive line could not block long enough for the quarterback to use a seven-step drop. where each route is numbered. Almost every team runs some version of West Coast plays. since the pass rush has no time to get to the quarterback. Mike Shanahan prefers to run and throw play-action passes. The offense can be very easy to learn. depending on the offensive coordinator. and also a huge chunk of a team's salary cap space. but also the critical vulnerability. The offense can also throw deep on a defense that's keyed in on shorter routes. These short passes are difficult for the defense to stop. Keeping the passer upright is not only the key to the offense. so Walsh innovated and developed the short passing attack that we know now.
who originally called the offense "The Lonesome Polecat. A defense that confuses the quarterback has the best chance of succeeding. the middle of the field is considered open. but almost every team has some Walsh plays in their attack. I'm deep. It's been incorporated into other offenses." The sight adjustment offense is very difficult for the defense to stop. I'm in. since the progressions and reads occur very fast in a short passing attack. Mike Shanahan. The Run 'n' Shoot is really a sight adjustment offense. One such example is where the Free Safety is placed. including everyone in the NFL. and defenses have a number of different attack options to counter. Jon Gruden. The shorter routes are less risky than the longer Coryell pass routes. The "site adjustment" route in the Run 'n' Shoot can be characterized by this saying: "If he's up. If he's in. having great skill players is a requirement. I'm short. The quarterback doesn't need to have a rocket arm.Mouse Davis (2004) The Run 'n' Shoot was invented by Tiger Ellison. With four receivers at the line. A portion of all packages has been developed out of it." . or throwing to receivers with defenders in close proximity. If the Free Safety is in Cover 1. If he's out. the run-pass ratio ends up overwhelmingly pass heavy. this becomes problematic for the defense. All of this occurs pre-snap. Run 'n' Shoot "It's just evolved to where everybody in the United States now runs it. and the routes adjust. I'm out. June Jones is also closely linked with the offense. The system is very diverse. The placement of the defenders dictates the pass route and route combinations. . since most of the routes are throws to a spot instead of a receiver. The offense has many counters to any coverage or alignment that the defense uses. Receivers and the quarterback move to the line of scrimmage with many different routes that each receiver can run." Mouse Davis adopted the offense at Portland State in the 1974.The strength of the system is the difficulty for defenses to stop the offense. You don't see the pure Run 'n' Shoot much anymore. the middle of the field is considered closed and the routes adjust. If he's deep. but he needs to be very accurate. The quarterback has to make reads at blindingly fast speeds. The system can be neutralized by defenses that confuse the quarterback. and Andy Reid are the most well-known West Coast offense users. If the West Coast team gets behind early. and in the first seconds of the play's execution. If the Free Safety is in Cover 2. As with the Coryell offense.
and any player in the front seven can drop . The base 3-4 (Bullough-Fairbanks) defense was designed in the ’40s at OU but wasn’t used in the NFL until Miami used in in 1972. Many teams use Run 'n' Shoot variants. the defenses were dominant. our own Buffalo Bills used the Run 'n' Shoot at one point in their history. the Run 'n' Shoot roots of the offense are obvious. evolved. New England also began to dip into Run 'n' Shoot concepts with the arrival of Randy Moss and Wes Welker. but will cover the basics. With four receivers running site adjustment routes. Summary While teams no longer rely solely on one strategy. since they are really the philosophy of the head coach/offensive coordinator. since everyone in the AFC East is grounded in Erhardt-Perkins. The Colts use a blocking TE and Dallas Clark as a WR. The K-Gun was a Run 'n' Shoot. ------------------------------------------------DEFENSIVE SCHEMES I thought that it might be a good idea to talk about each defensive scheme in terms of strengths and weaknesses. if the quarterback and receivers aren't on the same page. but when the Colts use three WRs and Clark. The quarterback not only needs to be accurate and have a good arm. it is important to understand the schemes. each defense has been dominant during a period of NFL history. and re-emerged as a dominant form of defense. with time of possession being a key statistic for Buffalo this season. We'll start with a some history. despite the difficulty in finding true NTs to man the scheme. using Keith McKeller as one of the slot backs. with the Indianapolis Colts running the most famous variant. In the case of the Bullough-Fairbanks 30 Front and the 46 Defense. there is no one scheme that's displayed dominance over another. Kelly's decisions are made almost immediately. Two styles were used: the base defense. Something to consider: Jim Kelly is very underrated in NFL quarterback history. If you re-watch Kelly's games. and site adjustment) dictate how the team is going to approach offense. and to dispel a lot of the rumors about the schemes. vertical stretch. The defense waned in the ’90s. but is was more a hybrid defense than a true 3-4. The 3-4 became the defense of choice in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. The defense re-emerged with use by the Patriots and the ease of finding small college DEs to fill the OLB roles. This won't cover every variation of every defense. Chan Gailey comes from a Erhardt-Perkins background. hence the name. Despite formation and plays. Minnesota. Buffalo fans can expect to see an offense grounded in ball control. horizontal stretch. the philosophies (ball control. The LeBeau or Blitzburgh 3-4 defense is similar in set-up as the Bullough-Fairbanks. Also. but he also needs to be extremely intelligent. I think it's useful to document how each scheme began and evolved. The skill positions also need to be very talented. Very impressive. expect to see a season formed by a great deal of ball control. as teams began to win with fast-flowing 4-3 defenses used by Dallas. disaster occurs. and for those teams that had a pass-rushing OLB. went out of style.Conversely. While the plays that work are almost universally used. the hyprid or "elephant" 3-4. Scheming on defense can't replace good players. the speed that Kelly made his reads is almost unreal. and Tampa Bay. In my opinion. The main difference is that any player in the front seven can blitz. In the late 1990s only two teams ran a 3-4 defense: Pittsburgh and Buffalo. Also. Buffalo can expect to see a lot of the same in their opponents.
The defense re-emerged with the success of Jimmy Johnson. The main reason for the success of this defense is that it offers near-equal blitz variations as a 3-4 defense. It quickly flamed out as the scheme was very vulnerable without a defensive front seven full of stars. Scouts also found it easier to find smaller DTs and LBs who could run and fit the scheme. Many concepts survived: the SLB as a stand-up DE-type. and Lions have run this defense the past decade. as the defense is limited in the amount of variations that it can use during the game. the WDE and SLB are edge rushers. The scheme still requires a space-eating NT but places more emphasis on having good athletes at all four LB positions and both DEs. each one playing over the guard. all of these types of players are common in the college ranks. the two DTs and one DE covering the center and both guards. but was also much simpler.into coverage. This allows for the rest of the team to play a fast flowing attacking style. with Tim Bowens and Darryl Gardener clogging the middle and allowing undersized players like Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas become stars. It was supposedly designed by thendefensive coordinator Tom Landry to stop Jim Brown. Saints. The defense was run exclusively by the Steelers until Dungy took over as the Defensive Coordinator for the Vikings in the early 1990s. The defense waned as passing attacks became more complex and dependant on the spread formation. as the defense played the same way every snap. It was the defense of choice through the 1960s and into the 1970s. it solidified this trend to the point where 30 of 32 NFL teams ran a 4-3 defense in the late 1990s. who used a one-gap fast-flowing 4-3 defense with the Dallas Cowboys. with the Giants’ Super Bowl win being the culmination of the 46 re-emergence. and the SS is a SS-LB hybrid. He brought the defense with him to Tampa Bay and later Indianapolis. The Bates 4-3 defense is similar in design as the Jimmy Johnson fast-flowing defense as well as the Tampa 2. the MLB and WLB are smaller LBs. The 46 defense began with the Bears in the ’80s under Buddy Ryan. and the two DTs playing two-gap instead of one-gap. The Tampa 2 began with the Steelers' Steel Curtain defense in the 1970s. Bates' defense was very good with the Wannstadt-era Dolphins. The scheme began to flame out when Peyton Manning exposed it the year after Tampa’s Super Bowl win. The Eagles. The scheme essentially has two NTs. This form of defense is also more reliant on scheme and less on star players when compared to a Tampa 2 or traditional 4-3 defense. This form of the defense was highly successful in the NFL in the late 1990s and through the past decade. It re-emerged in a different form later in the decade. and faded in the late ’70s and into the 1980s. as a defense that runs a vanilla scheme needs tremendous athletes across its front seven. Bills. The Base 4-3 was designed in the ’50s by the NY Giants. as the 4-3 had lesser blitz variation to confuse an offense. Titans. with the first three teams mentioned having near-NFL best defenses at various points. When Tony Dungy took over the Bucanneers. and it’s easier to draft for than a traditional or Tampa 2 variation of the 4-3. It shared the some of the same principles as Jimmy Johnson’s defense. the SDE is a 5technique DE. the DTs are big space eaters but not NT types. with only the Eagles using the defense by the ’90s. The scheme also became harder to draft for as offenses got more complex. and a SS that plays in the box. Main differences include playing more man defense than zone at the CB positions. Bullough-Fairbanks 3-4 . In this defense.
Used By: New England. The blitz packages are extensive and have been the most successful recently in countering spread and Coryall offenses. Fast TEs give the defense trouble. Bigger bodies needed to play the defense allow the team to be physical with run-oriented offenses. Kansas City. San Francisco Hybrid or Elephant Version of the Bullough-Fairbanks 3-4 ROLB shown as a defensive lineman and designated as "B" since the player mostly rushes. Very good against outside runs with a LB and DE placed at the OT or wider. Denver. leaving only one LB with a gap assignment. Weaknesses: Defense requires three very good defensive linemen to be effective in order to keep the LBs free to make plays. ILBs can be ordinary athletes with good instincts and do well. NY Jets. Slower defense that can be exposed if the offensive line is successful in pass protection. Green Bay. as well as teams that can run with power out of the two-TE.Strengths: 3 down linemen all play two-gap. Cleveland. Miami. one-back set. San Diego . Used By: Baltimore.
one-gap scheme. Nearly impossible to beat wide. Very effective against passing offenses due to confusion created by blitzing combinations. and also effective shooting gaps on run plays. Will give up big plays when the defense doesn't get to the QB.LeBeau 3-4 Strengths: Faster players that can all rush and all drop into cover allows for almost innumerable blitzing combinations. Requires a good coverage SS as the defense's blitzing combinations make the scheme susceptible to pass catching TEs or bigger WRs that use the middle of the field. Best Used By: Pittsburgh 3-4 Over Strengths: Combines strength of a 3-4 hybrid with attacking. Requires a great NT to base the defense and the draft has to bring in a lot of quality athletes at LB. Weaknesses: Can be overwhelmed by a power rushing attack that takes advantage of blitzes and movement. Very fast defense . Effective stunting and looping on pass rushes.
Defense uses smaller players that can be worn down as the game goes on. Used by: Houston.that can disrupt timing of passing attacks and beat blockers to spots in the run game. Blitz combinations can be as varied as the LeBeau defense. Few blitz variations. Requires high quality personnel at almost every position in the front. Hard to run wide against as every player in the front is athletic and can run. Used By: Dallas. Weaknesses: Older defense that has morphed into a couple other defenses. Oakland. Very vanilla. Weaknesses: Can be run against effectively with a power run game. OLBs in position to keep TEs from getting off the ball cleanly. Good with inside runs and OLBs are in position to stack the edge and hold against outside runs. Very good pass rushing defense. Fast flowing and will penetrate against runs and passes. MLB must be a ProBowl level player for the defense to work. Arizona Base 4-3 Strengths: Four down linemen to attack four of the five offensive linemen allows LBs to take advantage of blocking by backs and TEs. Will give up a lot of big play is the pass rush doesn't get to the QB. Atlanta Tampa 2 .
Used by: Indianapolis. Scheme calls for penetration on every play to disrupt pass and run. A bending defense that can be driven on. the entire defense can fail for the play. two very good ends.. Can generate a lot of big plays with the number of athletes on the field.. Seattle 46 Defense The Bear 46. and extremely fast LBs to be truly dominant. Chicago. Can be gashed by running plays for big gains...Strengths: Extremely hard to play against if the defense has all the required personnel. If one gap assignment is missed.. which is all hard to find. . and can generate a solid rush without blitzing. Effective against fast TEs and pass catching RBs. has morphed into this: . Carolina. Tampa Bay. Very fast LBs that don't allow for big plays in the passing game. Hard to run against wide. Minnesota. Weaknesses: The defense requires at least one Pro-Bowl DT.
Bates 4-3 Strengths: A variation of the Jimmy Johnson 4-3 defense that essentially calls for two NTs type players to man the DTs positions. MLB and WLB kept clean to make tackles. Philadelphia. Susceptible to fast TEs and RBs without a very good SS.Strengths: Uses two big DTs and a bigger 5-technique DE on the strong side to overwhelm the GC-G-RT. Used by: Cincinnati. St. Detroit. New Orleans. Tennessee. Weaknesses: Gives up big plays to runners that break through the second level. The two DTs take up the G-C-G in blocking schemes. Giants. Uses an edge rusher as a strong side LB that excels at rushing the passer and stacking the edge. Difficult to run inside against and wide against the strong side. Can be torn apart by a horizontal West Coast system that protects the QB. Louis. Can give up runs to the weak side. Can use a similar blitz package as a 3-4 with two LB's playing inside the tackle box and off the ball. Hard defense to run against because of the containment style the defense plays. allowing the smaller and . Washington.
And because of this. They will evolve and change. Scheme needs two DEs that can get to the passer on their own. None of these defenses will every "die" completely. There are plenty of so-called "bad" schemes that work because of great players. You can already see the vulnerabilities of the Bullough-Fairbanks 3-4 when a Wildcat offense is run at it. who can't get wide and has no hole between the guards. Somewhat inflexible in terms of what type of personnel the scheme requires. RBs and offenses that spread the field. The MLB then cleans up making the tackle agains the runner. I'll start with this statement: my studies of defenses has led me to believe three things: Players dictate success on defense more than scheme. but re-emerged with the Patriots. Just like the Bullough-Fairbanks version of the 3-4 defense "died" in the late 1990’s. Very good against wide plays. Minnesota's Tampa 2 is a great example of this. Chicago plays the Tampa 2 in the cold. Miami plays a Bullough-Fairbanks 3-4 in good weather. 2009 Buccaneers Hopefully this helps us define the conversation about what type of defense that we could or should use. Smaller linebackers and ends are vulnerable if the runner gets past the line of scrimmage.faster DEs and OLBs to funnel plays back inside playing off blocks from TEs and backs. no defensive scheme is ever permanently superior. fast TEs. Schemes aren't successful or unsuccessful because of weather or location alone. I can find few defenses that were great without great players but using a great scheme. . Weaknesses: Hard to find two NTs. Used by: Jacksonville.