This post is intended to show some very basic differences between the Erhardt - Perkins offensive philosophy base that Josh McDaniels used in New England and compare it what we are familiar with in Denver. It is important to note that the original Erhardt - Perkins scheme isn't quite the same as the variation that Bill Belichick currently uses. The Erhardt - Perkins system was named for Ron Erhardt and Ray Perkins. The Broncos meanwhile used their own variation of the West Coast offense originally created by Bill Walsh. In this post I am going to share some basic differences between the two philosophies.
The Denver Broncos used to run a variation of the West Coast offense, not exactly Bill Walsh's system but similar. Often times you hear players and coaches say "it takes time to learn the new terminology" when they change teams or systems. Well in the West Coast system started by Bill Walsh, formations are commonly named after colors. The basic premise of the passing game in the West Coast offense is to use short slanting pass routes while often using Running Backs as receivers. A QB with mobility is preferred with the belief that the smaller, receiving back may not be well suited for pass blocking. The West Coast system under Mike Shanahan utilized different offensive sets that often saw potential pass blockers sneak out for passing routes. A mobile QB for Shanahan's system was also important as the coach liked to run a lot of bootlegs where mobility and accuracy are needed. The West Coast also tends to prefer bigger receivers who run well after the catch. The short slants and quick routes mean big plays come after the catch. With a good QB, the Broncos were never afraid to throw downfield from a pocket. With a less talented QB at the helm the system would only throw downfield on a play action pass or bootleg trying to fool the defense to help the deficiencies of the QB.
As for the running game, the Broncos used the vaunted Zone Blocking scheme that was installed by Alex Gibbs. In the Denver scheme the offensive line works in unison off the snap to get the defense flowing in one direction. The key is for all the lineman to move together and use their mobility to slide down the line of scrimmage. The running back is responsible for finding the proper lane then making one cut and then head down hill. Meanwhile, the backside (away from the direction of the flow) of the offensive line "cuts" (meaning bring to the ground) the defensive linemen opening an opportunity if the original running lane is clogged. One of the many geniuses of this system is that often times the offensive line would get to the "second level", meaning a Center or Guard on a Linebacker or Safety. If the Running Back hit the hole at the proper time he only had one or two guys left to beat. When the Wide Receivers blocked well the result was a big play. It is a running system that proved a one cut style runner who could hit the hole hard could do well. If the Running Back had great vision, cutting abilities and patience he could become elite.
The next system starts with Bill Parcells who worked with Ray Perkins in 1979 with the NY Giants. The following year Parcells was the linebackers coach for the New England Patriots under Ron Erhardt. The very next year, Bill returned to NY and became the Defensive coordinator again reunited with Perkins. When Perkins went on to the University of Alabama, Parcells was named Head Coach of the Giants. This brings us to Charlie Weis. Weis worked with Parcells with the Giants in 1990. When Parcells left the Giants in 1991, Weis stayed with NY as the Running Backs coach for two seaons. Later in his career after stints with the Patriots, Jets and finally back to the Patriots where in 2000 was hired as Offensive Coordinator. Weis installed the Erhardt-Perkins system with the Patriots that Josh McDaniels is familiar.
The first obvious difference when learning the new system is in the aforementioned terminology. The Erhardt - Perkins system uses terminology in a number system instead of colors. In Charlie Weis' book "No Excuses" he shares the first play he called in the Super Bowl, "Zero Flood Slot Hat, Seventy-eight Shout Tosser." Zero is the base formation. Flood Slot Hat further modifies this formation to a set with one back in motion, two tight ends and two wide receivers (which is to say five potential receivers in total). Seventy-eight is the base play number, a three step drop play. Shout tells the three potential receivers on one side of the quarterback what routes they should run, while Tosser tells the other two potential receivers their patterns. (1) In that play Tom Brady hit Troy Brown for a 21 yard pick up, 17 of it coming after the catch.
The Erhardt - Perkins system is historically known as "tradition smash mouth football". As SlowWhiteGuy recently reminded me the Erhardt's adage is, "pass to score, run to win". The run was often used to set up the passing game but the system in New England has now evolved into more of a passing system that uses many 5 WR packages.
The first theory was basically bigger running backs, pound the football and control the clock. These are things that were considered important to the bad weather conditions in the Northeast. The "run to set up the pass" theory in this system made play-action the main weapon to pass the ball downfield. Trying to create bad match ups for the defense by using the running game as a constant threat. The Patriots have taken the match up game to a new level. They create receivers from almost every position as evident in the play called by Weis in the Super Bowl. The Patriots also employ a "Gap" blocking system for running the ball that it isn't quite the same as Denver's Zone Blocking scheme. In a recent post by MHR member Super 7, he specifically asks what the differences are in the two schemes. SlowWhiteGuy had a great response...
"The short version...
Gap blocking assigns each blocker to block a specific gap; sort of the converse of a 1-gap defense. Zone blocking requires groups of blockers to team together to block a certain zone."
One arrow in the quiver of Coach McDaniels was the success the Patriots enjoyed in their 2007 season. The question becomes how did the historic 16-0 Patriots work their magic? Gary Horton from Scouts Inc. breaks down the Pats offense after the 2007 season:
Offensive scheme: QB Tom Brady's near-flawless execution has helped make a star out of young coordinator Josh McDaniels. The Patriots liberally (and effectively) throw deep, but they have the athletic receivers to also move the offense with the short passing game. Roughly 75 percent of the plays are run out of a spread formation, featuring screens, gadget plays and new wrinkles every week. The Pats force defenses to prepare for everything and expect anything. They run out of empty formations and slip in and out of no-huddle. They call unorthodox plays with odd personnel groupings from unusual alignments. The bad news for opponents: the run game may be a bigger part of New England's offense in 2008, providing better balance that could make the offense even more dangerous.
It seems as if the Patriots system is based off an Erhardt - Perkins but under McDaniels has now grown into a more diverse, complex scheme designed for the modern game. To gain some insight on how McDaniels will approach his new job, lets look at Belichick's philosophies that are evident in this interview. (2)
COACH: What are the keys to game planning and strategizing an opponent? In short, how do you break down an offense?
BELICHICK: Preparation consists of two things: No. 1, have a complete understanding of what your opponent does and is capable of doing and No. 2, realistically evaluate your team's strengths, weaknesses, and playing style. Game planning is the merger of these two factors.
Coach Belichick also preaches about situational football. On an episode of NFL Films, I recall seeing Belichick during a Pats practice, swinging his whistle and calling out different game situations. He was going through specific situations like 2nd and goal, 15 seconds left in the game ball is on the 7 yard line we're down by 4. In this interview he touches on that.
COACH: Since you began winning Super Bowls, coaches want to know how you do it. The consensus is that you are a marvel at organization, that you tackle each game situation as if it were a research project, dissecting every detail. Would you concur?
BELICHICK: We try to be as prepared as we possibly can. But in the NFL, there are a lot of smart, experienced, and organized people. Ultimately, success comes down to the players' ability to execute at the critical time in the most pressurized situations and games. The more you can practice and rehearse these situations, the better chance you have to execute them when it counts.
The Denver Broncos at this juncture are a question mark as to what exact system they will run. Josh McDaniels has admitted that it will be a mixture of running schemes and will likely be an eclectic gumbo of styles, constantly keeping opposing coaches on their toes. We may see a re-dedication to the run or perhaps a more "spread" offense. MHR Staff member Broncobear also points out in the magic H back post that Peyton Hillis opens up all kind of options for the new staff and reminds us that "versatility is indeed the name of the game". The 2009 Denver Broncos will have nice blend of the greatest minds in football from Gibbs to Weis to Belichick, opposing coaches will have a lot to think about.
1 - The information used in this post was found at http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/New_England_Patriots_strategy . The italics portion from the playcall was quoted verbatim from the website.
2 - Quotes from Belichick were in an article named "Super coach: not only is New England's Bill Belichick the preeminent defensive mind in football; he is the best coach in the game" by Kevin Newell