Home > NFL > Spread Offenses are all the Rage…in the NFL?

Spread Offenses are all the Rage…in the NFL?

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One of the many things that has gone largely unrecognized in the NFL through four weeks is just how strong of a defensive year many teams are having.  This has gone unrecognized because, according to traditional statistics, offenses are inflating their numbers even more over last year.  What the traditional numbers aren’t accounting for is the number of offenses who are running college-style spread offenses, making defenses commit to their coverages before the snap, and then running up gaudy offensive totals on the opponent.

Four teams are running shotgun style spreads as a primary formation: the Green Bay Packers, the New England Patriots, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Denver Broncos.  Those teams are a combined 10-6 this year.  Two more teams, Dallas and New Orleans, are struggling through some player personnel issues right now, but have shown a desire to pull out the spread in the past.  3-0 Kansas City and 3-1 Chicago are doing a lot of conceptual spread things in their offenses, as are Houston and Washington who run schemes based around using the entire field even though they line up in two back pro-style offenses.  When Ben Roethlisberger returns to the Pittsburgh Steelers in two weeks, the Steelers might go right back to the spread-style stuff they adopted last season.

That’s 1/3 of the NFL that already is forcing defenses to cover the whole field to stop the passing game.  Prior to this model becoming popular, it was the timing and precision of the west coast offense that ruled the passing game in pro-football.  The problem with the west coast is that it took a very long time to develop the precision necessary to run the offense to it’s highest level.  One thing you may notice about the examples above is that a lot of the coaches of those teams have backgrounds in the west coast offense.  Mike McCarthy of Green Bay, Mike Shanahan of Washington (though, it’s specifically his son Kyle who implemented spread concepts at Houston and now Washington), Andy Reid of Philadelphia, Charlie Weis of Kansas City, and Josh McDaniels of Denver are all from the coaching tree of west coast offenses, created by gurus of offense such as Paul Brown, Bill Walsh, and Mike Holmgren.  While Holmgren has stayed true to his west coast principles, the spread appears to be a natural evolution from a pass happy timing offense to a more inclusive offense built around the quarterback.

More to the point, teams that haven’t adopted spread concepts are really struggling on offense — which includes teams that had strong offenses as recently as last season.  The Giants and Chargers have strong quarterbacks in established offensive systems and can run the ball to take pressure off of their pass protection units — and are a combined 4-4 with various successes and failures on offense.  The Arizona Cardinals had a spread offense (and a spread quarterback in Kurt Warner), now they have no quarterback and no offense.  The Cincinnati Bengals have Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, and not much to show for it.  Heck, look at the Minnesota Vikings this year.

Jon Gruden, another branch of the west coast offense coaching tree, has talked openly (since being relieved of his duties with the Buccaneers) about implementing a spread offense — and how Tim Tebow, a college spread QB, could be the centerpiece of that offense.  Tebow eventually would get drafted in the first round by the Denver Broncos, a team running the spread.  That team’s current QB, Kyle Orton, is second in the NFL in DYAR after three weeks.  If you’re going to buy some stock in an NFL player, now would be the time to get in on Tebow (assuming you aren’t one of the millions who already own the rookie’s jersey).

It’s not that you need to run the spread to win in the current NFL climate: Indianapolis and Miami are doing just fine offensively with their unique offensive approaches.  But if your team’s offensive philosophy is actively resisting spread principles, it’s probably not as good as it could be.  This has been a banner year for defenses on the pass rush and in pass coverage, which is what the offenses which are using playbooks from 2003 are finding out.  But for the 1/3 of the league that is forcing defenses to cover the whole field and show them what they are running before the snap, well, those offenses might not have noticed the kind of successes defenses are having league wide in their individual match-ups.

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