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MHR University - The Amoeba Offense


Some of my best ideas for MHR stories aren't my own ideas.  Once again, a sharp reader of has sent me an e-mail with a series of questions worth bumping my own idea for a story this week.

From MHR member BornOrange comes this:

1) What, exactly, is the NE "amoeba" offense, and how does it differ from the Shannahan WC we've become so familiar with?

2) How will the Denver ZB system affect this new offense differently from how they do it in NE?

3) In light of the new system, do we have all the appropriate personnel, or are we now missing any key pieces?

Great questions Born, and worth a special look...

(2) Is the Zone Block going to affect the Amoeba? 

Let's answer #2 first, since it takes the least explanation.  The Zone Block running system is a sub-system that can be plugged into any offensive program.  It is simply a type of blocking that is used by offensive linemen.  There are several variations of zone blocking, both in terms of how it is applied on the line, as well as how the RBs are used.  But to answer the question simply, the ZB is likely here to stay for awhile and won't be affected by the Amoeba or vice-versa.

I predict that the ZB is safe in Denver because two key ingredients have survived the purges in the Broncos organization.  The RB coach and OL coach have kept their jobs.

(3) Do we have the personnel to run the Amoeba?

Question #3 is answered with the answer to question #1 (below).  The Amoeba is adaptive and flexible.  It doesn't stress player "types" so much, so personnel shouldn't be a concern.  We'll see this in our treatment of the Amoeba below.

(1) Alright, what is the Amoeba?

The Amoeba is actually a system of thought more than a pure on-field system.  In fact, "Amoeba" is a term that can be applied to defensive theory, too.  Let me explain.

In my humble opinion, the Patriots have been known for their offense for a long time, but they ought to be recognized for their defensive innovations.  Going back to their win over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots have featured a defense that (more than anything) adapts to the opponent.  While most systems are more or less rigid, the Amoeba stresses more than just "tweaks" from week to week, and places an emphasis on major shifts in formations, player assignments, and plays from week to week.

For example, NE runs the Fairbanks-Bullough defense and the Erhardt-Perkins offense.  Each of those systems has an approach to the game, but within those approaches the Patriots make major changes from week to week that other teams can't.  They do this because their Amoeba System requires three key parts:

  1. Players who are smart, more so than being fast, big or any other trait. 
  2. Players who are willing take small roles without glory to serve the greater good (no "me-first" types).
  3. A nomenclature system that is adapted to allow for massive shifts in a playbook from week to week without being beyond the capabilities of players and coaches alike.

These are not easy points to come by.  Players are raised from a young age to say, "Put me in Coach!".  But the Patriots want a player that says...nothing.  Players are raised to hit the weight room, tackle the dummies, and date the cheerleaders.  But the Patriots want a player that watches film and hits the playbook.  Playbooks and drills are meant to be rehearsed and perfected, but the Patriots want playbooks and practices that can bend (like a spoon).  The Amoeba is a mentality more than just a system.

On defense, it is easier to run a 3-4 as the base formation because of the flexibility of the 3-4.  On offense, the sky is the limit (as can be seen in the 3-TE sets run here and there).  While NE isn't a "pass to the TE" happy team, they DO choose to use 2- and 3-TE sets, and have a history of better than average TEs in depth (lack of TE receptions is likely a product of excellent QB / WR options that don't require the TEs to be used).

The Ameoba is a fairly unique program (run by NE and by CAR to a lesser extent) that works hand in hand within an existing system.  Like a white blood cell, it shifts shapes to adapt to a bad-guy cell, then eats it.  I know I'll be looking forward to seeing how the great experiment works out in Denver.