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By The Numbers: Dolphins Really a West Coast Offense? Featured

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If there is one thing NFL history has hammered home to me, it's that the West Coast Offense is a winning system. Extraordinarily, the West Coast Offense (WCO) is now roughly 46 years old, has claimed multiple championships, and continues to be a viable and efficient offensive attack. Offensive formations come and go in the NFL (think Wildcat, or the Pistol), as teams both implement their concepts and as defenses find the keystone holding the system together. Due to the WCO's historical success, I first began to study its concepts and truly fell in love with its multi-faceted concept. The WCO is, in fact, my favorite base offense.

Knowing this, imagine my excitement when The Dolphins hired Joe Philbin. He was a seemingly up-and-coming offensive coordinator from Green Bay; a GB team that is almost synonymous with WCO in modern NFL timelines. Now, imagine my disappointment when I failed to see WCO concepts actually implemented? So, what exactly is a WCO and in what way did we not use some of its core concepts? Read on past the break to find out.  

At the most basic level, you could classify football offenses into two categories: Vertical-Power or Precision-Timing. The WCO falls squarely into the latter of the two. 

While the 2012 and 2013 Dolphins claimed to use a WCO, Bill Walsh would probably either laugh hysterically or cry if he witnessed someone call it a WCO. The truth is that they really just borrowed a couple of concepts from the system (such as high-low QB reads, zone blocking and QB drop preferences). Some will argue that the true spirit behind the WCO is simply a heightened attention to detail - an awareness, and an assignment, of every facet of each play. The system does delve deeper than others in the way that a team game plans for opponents and practices. Some will say the WCO is an umbrella term for a philosophy of offensive football, rather than a particular set of formations. This is also truth, but the WCO does have certain recognizable characteristics in play design.  


Underneath Passing Concepts

We often hear that football isnt rocket science. "Football is football," many will say. While true, you know what else is not rocket science? Chess. The point is that you can look at every single passing scheme and find pretty much every route being utilized at some point. The difference is in when and how they are used. Every offensive system tends to have recognizable characteristics, hence the need to differentiate the schemes; making the system more a method of strategy rather than a set of specific plays.

People can call for a "balanced attack", but the WCO should in essence look like a pass heavy attack on paper. This is a technicality. If there is one thing the WCO loves to do, it is pass the ball and target short yardage.  In essence, the WCO uses the pass to set up the run, unlike other systems that use the run to set up the pass. The WCO loves to run screens on its opponents, but there are quite a few types of screens; each having its own depth of target. Take a look at the chart below containing a sampling of teams passing breakdowns.



Player System Attempts Deep Attempts Deep Att. % 1-10 yard targets 1-10 yards
Targets under 1 yard > 1 yard % Play Action Play action % Time Till Throw
Aaron Rodgers WCO 290 36 12.4% 142 49% 42 14.48% 65 22.4% 2.43'
2012 WCO 624 62 9.9% 303 48.5% 85 13.62% 95 15.2% 2.63'
Ryan Tannehill WCO 588 64 10.9% 262 44.6% 59 10.03% 90 15.3% 2.44'
2012 WCO 484 51 10.5% 236 48.8% 46 9.50% 76 15.7% 2.63'
Geno Smith WCO 443 60 13.5% 196 44.2% 56 12.64% 116 26.2% 2.79'
Alex Smith WCO 508 41 8.1% 274 53.9% 92 18.11% 127 25.0% 2.56'
Andy Dalton WCO 586 86 14.7% 297 50.7% 87 14.85% 102 17.4% 2.24'
Peyton Manning No Huddle, Up Tempo Pro-Style 659 83 12.6% 424 64.3% 84 12.75% 168 25.5% 2.33'
Drew Brees WCO/Air Coryell Hybrid 650 77 11.8% 306 47.1% 118 18.15% 165 25.4% 2.62'
Tom Brady Erhardt-Perkins 628 66 10.5% 351 55.9% 73 11.62% 153 24.4% 2.39'
Tony Romo Air Coryell 535 56 10.5% 272 50.8% 66 12.34% 73 13.6% 2.65'
Nick Foles Vertical Spread 317 55 17.4% 129 40.7% 59 18.61% 105 33.1% 2.88'
Eli Manning Run N Shoot 551 70 12.7% 250 45.4% 40 7.26% 74 13.4% 2.65'


Take note of the percentage of targets below 1 yard. With the exception of the New York Giants, whose "run 'n shoot" system does not utilize this area often, the Dolphins are far below even non-WCO teams (such as the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, and Philadelphia Eagles) in the percentage of throws targeted behind the line. I included 2012 for Tannehill, because I wanted to see if we could isolate this to not having a trustworthy receiving weapon at RB, but my findings coincide with my memory of the Dolphins not utilizing Reggie Bush in the pass game until Davone Bess was injured in 2012's week 14. It would be a tough argument to make that Reggie is not a near perfect receiving option on screen plays. This being the case, the Dolphins still only ran these run-supplementing pass plays on 9.5% of all throws. Compare this with the average of the WCO teams 15.5% (including the Saints hybrid), and the Dolphins utilized a core WCO concept a full 6% less in 2012. Even in 2013, they used it 5.2% less.

The Dolphins did however use a WCO concept in the passing game known as High-Low reads. It's essentially self defining. For each progression, a QB should have 2 reads; one high and one low. The high route will typically tend to clear out the under, but when you fail to make a defense scared of the screen pass, you fail to clear the flat and truly spread the defense across the field horizontally (a key desire of the WCO). The linebackers will play back a bit, making sure that they cover crossing routes and make your day tough. What about the deep pass? The WCO does not mandate a low amount of deep passing, but it mandates that the vertical route tree be used once the defense tires of being nickel and dime'd, and then chooses to sit closer to the line of scrimmage. A defense will attempt to disrupt the WCO's effectiveness by rerouting its WR and covering every zone across the field (opposed to down the field). Doing so opens up the opportunity for a WR to perform a well timed double move, or shed press coverage, and get vertical, gaining a explosive play. 


Play Action Passing

Play Action Percentages
Name Team % PA
Russell Wilson SEA 34.1
Nick Foles PHI 32.7
Robert Griffin III WAS 30.2
Cam Newton CAR 29.6
Colin Kaepernick SF 28.1
Chad Henne JAX 26.3
Peyton Manning DEN 25.6
Drew Brees NO 25.2
Alex D. Smith KC 24.6
Tom Brady NE 24.6
Matthew Stafford DET 22.5
Geno Smith NYJ 22.4
Jay Cutler CHI 22
Mike Glennon TB 19.9
Andrew Luck IND 19.5
Andy Dalton CIN 18
Matt Schaub HST 17
E.J. Manuel BUF 17
Eli Manning NYG 15.8
Carson Palmer ARZ 15.4
Ryan Tannehill MIA 14.8
Matt Ryan ATL 14.2
Tony Romo DAL 14
Joe Flacco BLT 13.3
Ryan Fitzpatrick TEN 13.3
Philip Rivers SD 13.1
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 11.6
Stats Provided by Profootballfocus.com

Really, this concept and the next go hand in hand. Looking at the chart above, its easy to see that every other WCO team on the chart is running play action at or over 18% of the snaps. Meanwhile the Dolphins did so on 14.8%. 2012 wasnt much better either at 15.4%. I mention 2012 yet again because it was a year where the Dolphins almost had a 1000 yard rusher in Reggie Bush and Lamar Miller had over 500 yards himself. In 2013 there was a lack of a consistent run game, but in 2012 the same cannot be said, and yet the play action is still down. Wait, can the play action still be effective, if your run game is not? I look to Indy for that answer. As a team Indy had a 4.3 yard average. The Dolphins had a 4.1 yard average. Main difference? The Dolphins had 348 runs while Indy had 408. That is almost 4 more runs a game on average. Enough to remind the defense they are not abandoning the run, like the dolphins pretty much did (all the time). This brings me to my next point.  


The 4-minute offense

We have all heard of the 2 minute offense by now. We have also seen that it is more of a situation (rather than literally being on offense within 2 minutes of the final whistle). The same can be said of the 4 minute offense. It can be defined as a ball control style of offense. The primary goal is to stay on the field and eat the clock. Bill Walsh often employed this when up by double digits in the second half. The 4 minute offense is by no means exclusive to the WCO, but the WCO does tradiationally like to employ it. It is also a concept that Mike Sherman often left home. 

Pass/Run Call Splits 2013
Week Opponent Pass Plays Run Plays 1st Half Passes 1st half runs 1st half pass % Halftime Score 2nd Half Passes 2nd Half runs 2nd Half pass % Final Score
1 Browns 42 18 21 8 72.41% MIA 6-7 CLV 21 10 67.74% MIA 23-10 CLV
2 Colts 39 27 22 8 73.33% MIA 17-17 IND 17 19 47.22% MIA 24-20 IND
3 Falcons 39 13 10 5 66.67% MIA 13-10 ATL 29 8 78.38% MIA 27-23 ATL
4 Saints 39 15 13 13 50.00% MIA 10- 21 NO 26 2 92.86% MIA 17-38 NO
5 Ravens 46 9 23 8 74.19% MIA 13-6 BLT 23 1 95.83% MIA 23-26 BLT
7 Bills 39 22 25 13 65.79% MIA 14-17 BUF 14 9 60.87% MIA 21-23 BUF
8 Patriots 48 30 18 22 45.00% MIA 17-3 NE 30 8 78.95% MIA 17-27 NE
9 Bengals 31 29 14 21 40.00% MIA 10-3 CIN 17 8 68.00% MIA 22-20 CIN*
10 Buccaneers 44 13 19 7 73.08% MIA 7-15 TB 25 6 80.65% MIA 19-22 TB
11 Chargers 39 15 23 8 74.19% MIA 10-10 SD 16 7 69.57% MIA 20-16 SD
12 Panthers 45 13 20 9 68.97% MIA 16-6 CAR 25 4 86.21% MIA 16-20 CAR
13 Jets 44 33 30 17 63.83% MIA 6-0 NYJ 14 16 46.67% MIA 23-3 NYJ
14 Steelers 35 22 16 7 69.57% MIA 10-7 PIT 19 15 55.88% MIA 34-28 PIT
15 Patriots 41 22 22 12 64.71% MIA 7-10 NE 19 10 65.52% MIA 24-20 NE
16 Bills 40 12 21 9 70.00% MIA 0-10 BUF 19 3 86.36% MIA 0-19 BUF
17 Jets 40 20 22 13 62.86% MIA 7-14 NYJ 18 7 72.00% MIA 7-20 NYJ
* CIN went into overtime at 20-20 and the Dolphins ran 4 pass plays and 2 run plays in overtime for a 66.7% pass rate.
Games Sherman properly used 2nd half running. Games Sherman had the lead and abandoned the run at halftime Games where it can be reasoned logical to abandon the run (getting blown out)

**games in white, I considered to be overall pass heavy games and Sherman never really changed either way**

Looking at the chart above should be frustrating to a lot of Dolphins fans. Mike Sherman truly did call one of the pass heaviest seasons I've seen in a while. In fact, 661/970 play calls (that were not stopped pre-snap for penalty) were pass plays. That is 68.14% of Sherman's play calls. Recalling what I said before about the WCO wanting to pass, this number isn't quite as high as it seems. I would be OK with a passing percentage of greater than 55% if WCO concepts were utilized.We already know that less than 10% of  those calls were screens behind the line of scrimmage. In essence, we ran a pass heavy offense (like the WCO is), but without the very reason the WCO is pass heavy to begin with. Defenses could predict that on 68% of our play calls were for a pass and that there was an only less than 10% chance they actually had to cover the backfield. This led to a lot of coverage in the flat and affected the effectiveness of the high-low read.


Moving the Pocket

Another thing the WCO loves to do is roll the QB out. It seems there is no one out there who monitors the frequency of this, but just watch Kansas City, Green Bay, Houston, and Cincinnati and you will notice that the Dolphins do it significantly less. The Dolphins coaches have been quoted as not liking the roll out because it "cuts the field in half". I would love to sit down and ask them why Sherman did it often in TAMU, Green Bay does it often, Houston does as well, and Cincinnati uses it more than us, as all of those teams are linked to the WCO. 


In conclusion, the point of this article is not so much to explain the physics or formations of the WCO, but to take a look at the scheme on paper through detailed research and then apply it to the Dolphins' version. In essence, their version is unlike many that have come before it and I, as a WCO lover, do not consider it to be one. The Dolphins coaches either had no intention of running the WCO in Miami or, more likely, felt that it would be successful due to scheme/personnel fit. Then again, Joe Philbin did once refer to the stystem's lack of formation definition by asking a reporter, "What is the West Coast Offense?". 

Read 163030 times Last modified on Monday, 19 May 2014 19:54
Dustin Godin

Dustin is a co-founder of Findepth.com. A graphic designer by day, but a die-hard Dolphins fan always. Prides himself on objectivity, research and fairness. When it comes to football, he considers himself a student of the game. Never afraid to continue learning. He is also a very big Tech-geek, and enjoys tinkering with new devices and software. He has aspirations to become a software engineer. 


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