With the announcement of the Mike Holmgren in Cleveland, there's been much talk about the offense that will be run. Holmgren has always ran the Walsh West Coast Offense, while at Green Bay with Brett Favre, and Seattle with Matt Hasselbeck. What does all of this mean though? What is the West Coast Offense, and what's the difference between what we run now and what we will be running?
The West Coast Offense (WCO) is an offensive system not to be confused with the Air Coryell system established by the Hall of Fame coach Don Coryell. Before I go into the specifics, I do want to clear up any confusion with that. Bill Walsh perfected an offensive system that exposed teams through horizontal passing and passing to set up the run.
Originated in the 1960's by teams like the Chargers, Raiders, and even Coryell's own Cardinals (St. Louis at the time), the Air Coryell is a system that has been greatly used by teams more and more each season by exposing defenses through the vertical game. They often run to set up the pass. The systems are completely different. In an interview with Bernie Kosar in 1993, a reporter mistook Bernie Kosar's use of "What do you think of the West Coast Offense now?" for referring to the Air Coryell, which is a big reason why there is such confusion.
What Personnel is Required for the WCO?
Quarterback: A quarterback in the WCO is supposed to be an efficient passer. A guy that can complete 60-62% of his passes or better, that specializes in throwing the short-intermediate routes, and can get the ball out quickly after the snap. He needs to be an accurate passer that's also very smart and can make quick reads. In the WCO, the 3-step and 5-step drops are heavily utilized in a quick striking passing game that keeps the defense on it's heels, constantly forcing them to make quick adjustments at the line.
A 7-step drop is also something that has to be utilized occasionally to keep the defense honest. Faster linebackers and safeties make it nearly impossible to stick with 5-step drops for an entire game, so often hitch routes, hitch and go's along with crossing patterns are utilized in a 7-step drop. When a defense begins playing up, and compensating for the short patterns over the middle,the offense can catch the defense sleeping and hit a deep route. Scrambling ability for a quarterback is also a plus.
Runningback: A runningback in the WCO needs to be a guy that can catch the ball out of the backfield, and is more a speed runner. A guy that can also hit the hole quickly and be effective between the tackles. Pass blocking isn't as big of a need because of how quickly the QB should be getting the ball out, but it's still something that'd be a bit of a luxury.
Wide Receivers: This is a position just as important as the quarterback. Possession receivers are crucial in the WCO. The WCO requires wide receivers that can catch the ball in traffic, over the middle while having a run after catch (RAC) ability. On the other spectrum, it's crucial to have a deep ball receiver so that the defense can't creep up and shut down the short game. So speed on the outside is a big plus to keep a safety over the top of a WR, and open up the middle of the field. Finally, perfected route running. If the receivers aren't on the same page with the QB and doesn't run crisp routes, then you can kiss any sort of efficiency out the window.
Tight Ends: Another crucial position of the offense, just like the wide receiver position, you need a tight end that can be physical and fight for the ball over the middle. Guys like Jason Witten, Jeremy Shockey (NYG days), Antonio Gates, etc. are all perfect WCO tight ends. Blocking isn't always a strong suit, more just a luxury, as well. RAC ability is nice to have, but glue fingers is the most important part. A TE that can catch everything thrown his way is a HUGE weapon in the WCO.
Offensive Line: The offensive line isn't as complex as the rest of the offense. Agility is the key. Finesse blockers, usually quicker, and a bit lighter are what makes a WCO offense line great. Think Zone Blocking Scheme, but simplified.
Do the current Browns have the personnel for this?
This is yet to be decided. The WCO offense isn't an easy offense to run. However, many people proclaimed that Brady Quinn would be an ideal candidate for a WCO, coming out of Notre Dame. Quinn was very efficient at Notre Dame, and had physical wide receivers and tight ends in a quick striking offense. He flourished with those weapons, while having quicker running backs at Notre Dame. Can he be successful at the NFL level? It is yet to be determined, but he definitely has the skill set to be successful. Quick slants, crossing patterns, flag patterns, etc. over the middle of the field is something that Quinn really did well with in college, and he definitely has the ability. However, he can't be expected to be perfect in his first season running it, as it is a big change in what he's doing right now (assuming he's the QB in 2010). As of now, I'm saying that we have the QB for the WCO. I don't see any options in the draft that would be better than Quinn.
At the running back position, we are finally finding out what Jerome Harrison is capable of. Harrison is a runner who hits the hole very quickly, can turn a play to the outside and burn linebackers with his speed. He's also very effective out of the backfield as a pass catcher. As of now, I'm saying that we could have a runningback for this system. However, don't rule out C.J. Spiller as he is a game changing RB, and would be available in the first round.
At wide receiver, we have Mohammed Massoquoi, Brian Robiskie, Josh Cribbs, and Chansi Stuckey, along with Mike Furrey (who's seen time at safety as of late). This is the scary part. Massoquoi is not a physical receiver. Often in one onone coverage, he struggles to make a play on the ball. To add to that,his route running is piss poor. Brian Robiskie is still to be decided. He hasn't seen much playing time as his practices have been terrible, and he is struggling to pick up the current offense. He is a more physical receiver, that offers limited RAC ability, but could be a guy that would be utilized heavily in slants and crossing patterns. His route running was very solid at Ohio State, however. Cribbs is just not a wide receiver that can be counted on. He's very special for the Wildcat, reverses and on screen plays, but his forte is special teams,and most likely always will be. Stuckey is a quicker receiver that I cannot see as being a reliable option. This is a big no for having personnel.
At tight end the Browns have had a revolving door. Starting the season Robert Royal was the tight end, followed by a bit of Steve Heiden. Following him was Greg Estandia, then Michael Gaines,and finally Evan Moore. Royal is not an option for the WCO. He's strictly a blocking tight end, with very unreliable hands. Steve Heiden is at the end of his career. While he has excellent hands, it's going to be more of a question as to whether or not he can stay healthy. Estandia and Gaines most likely won't be on the roster next season. The big story here is Evan Moore who just became a Brown in the last 5 weeks or so. His hands have showed quite a bit of promise. Consistency is going to be the question. If Moore can keep it up, he may be able to develop into a nice TE for the Browns. But for now, I'm going to say that we do NOT have the personnel.
Our best offensive linemanin Joe Thomas fits perfectly into this system, protecting the blindside, as does the aging Eric Steinbach. Rookie Alex Mack is also a finesse blocker who's quite athletic as well. The biggest question is the right side. Floyd "Porkchop" Womack is a big question mark, and John St. Clair isn't worth a ham sandwich. The most important part of the offensive line is in place and ready to go. We just need to find aright side to complete this line and make it a top 5 offensive line in the NFL. We're 3/5 of the way there on the offensive line.
This could be a move in the right direction for the Browns. A quicker offense that is also quick hitting would be a very efficient offense that could keep the defense off the field and eat up time of possession. We have a RB that can excel in counters and traps, and I believe we have a QB that can make the quick throws, and has the intangibles to make smart decisions for us. It's all about execution.
The biggest thing to understand is that this young offense will need time.We also need to hope that we can finally have an off-season with zero QB controversy. We need a QB that can take all the reps in training camp, and learn this offense as quickly as possible for the best success.