NFL Offensive Schemes

Air Coryell Offense

Don Coryell designed the Air Coryell offensive scheme in 1978 and continued to mold it until 1986. Over the nine years as head coach of the San Diego Chargers, Coryell’s offense led the NFL in passing six times. Several offensive minds have morphed the Air Coryell scheme into their own version.

The Air Coryell offense is designed to vertically attack deep down the field. This concept challenges the defense to reach the quarterback before the receiver can clear the defense. The offense requires an outstanding pass blocking offensive line, and a quarterback with a strong arm who is also tough enough to take multiple hits a game. The passing routes are designed for receivers to arrive at a specific spot, in perfect timing with the pass. Power running is typically used in tandem with the downfield passing attack, as the deep threatening routes force safeties to play deep instead of crowding the box.

Pistol Offense

The Pistol offense found its way into the NFL with the adaptation of athletic quarterbacks. Former head coach of the University of Nevada, Chris Ault, is credited by many as the founder of the pistol offense. While it’s not typically a primary scheme for an NFL to run, some offenses do sprinkle it in. The premise of the scheme places the quarterback and running back closer to the line of scrimmage, giving the quarterback an easier read and the defense less time to react. Success of the system requires the quarterback to decisively and correctly read the defense.

Erhardt-Perkins Offense

Ron Erhardt and Ray Perkins designed the Erhardt-Perkins scheme in the 1970s. This is a “Pass to score, run to win” methodology. Bill Parcells used the Erhardt-Perkins scheme throughout his head coaching years with the New York Giants. The Pittsburgh Steelers continued to use the scheme until Bill Cower retired. Charlie Weis further modified the concepts, and the New England Patriots continue to use the scheme. The advantages of the scheme are efficient language, quicker play development so the quarterback is not holding the ball as long, and the ability to use the same personnel in multiple formations.

Smashmouth Offense

Not many modern teams implement a “run first” offensive scheme. Today’s NFL offenses are built to “pass first” and use a complimentary running game. When it’s ran effectively, a smashmouth offense will shorten the game, allowing the opposing offense fewer possessions. This allows the defense to rest while the opposing defensive is worn down. The offense forces the safeties to play closer in the box and opens up play action opportunities. A Smashmouth offense requires an excellent run blocking offensive line. It is very predictable, and very tough to use when trailing by multiple scores.

Spread Offense

The Spread offense is widely used in college football, and therefore has traveled to today’s NFL. It was not long ago when offensive coordinators would force a spread offense quarterback into a pro style system. With so many college quarterbacks entering the NFL from the spread offenses, NFL teams have adapted its offense to fit the quarterback.

The Spread offense is designed to do exactly as it sounds. The scheme spreads out the offense with four or five receivers, which forces the defense to match. The personnel on the field rarely changes so the offense can wear the defense down, especially with no huddle sprinkled in. Blitzing the spread offense with an effective nickel defense can leave the quarterback with no outlet and force him to accept a sack.

West Coast Offense

The West Coast offense is the most popular offense used in the modern NFL. Ever since Bill Walsh made the West Coast offense famous, many have modified their own version of the scheme. The offense is designed to create quick and easy throws for the quarterback. Using the pass as the run, the offense continuously puts pressure on the defense with a high rate of short completions. This wears a defense down allowing the offense to open deep passing routes along with running lanes.

A west Coast quarterback needs to be athletic and must be able to pass effectively while on the run. By design the quarterback will often roll-out of the pocket or bootleg, having the option built in to pass or run. Due to the volume of passes the quarterback must be a very accurate passer.