OT ESPN Article on the Growth of the Spread Offense

Submitted by bluebyyou on January 11th, 2012 at 9:13 AM

An article on ESPN about the proliferation of the spread offense in the NFL.


And now the children of the shotgun and seven-on-seven are graduating to the pros. About five seasons ago, Indianapolis and New England went shotgun spread and rang up victory after victory. Now players arriving in the NFL don't consider the shotgun an innovation, they consider it standard tactics. Players who were raised on high school seven-on-seven have spent far more hours practicing passing than any other aspect of the game. It's what they are good at. This year Cam Newton and Tim Tebow brought the zone-read variation to the NFL. Most young offensive players are already familiar with it.



January 11th, 2012 at 9:17 AM ^

Gary Danielson said 3-4 years ago that "the spread was dead."  So, ESPN is rumermongering more unintelligible lies.  Don't believe everything you hear.

Except that there is NO TRUTH to the rumor that CRAIG JAMES KILLED FIVE HOOKERS while he was at SMU.  You can believe that because it is on the Internets, which where invented by Al Gore.


January 11th, 2012 at 9:37 AM ^

Meh, i think there is something to the idea that the running spread only works in college. NFL defenders are just too fast and too disciplined. You see some of it now (Tebow) but even then it doesn't work terribly well. The shotgun spread works great for passing, which the NFL is now focusing on. QBs in the NFL are good enough to tear up defenses from the gun (like Tom Brady), but this doesn't always work in college.


January 11th, 2012 at 9:43 AM ^

they need OL that pull, WR's that block every single play, specific slot WR's. After getting all of these players, they need to begin adjustments/ variations on the spread. It will come to the NFL soon, and why not? In 2 or 3 draft classes, you can have an entire (strong) team, supplemented with existing NFL players and not trade your soul for a guy like Andrew Luck.


January 11th, 2012 at 9:57 AM ^

Not to bog you down with facts or anything but in the NFL this year the top 3 rushing offenses were.

1. Denver-Tebow Run Spread

2.  Houston- Traditional Zone Running

3. Carolina-Cam Newton shotgun spread with a mix of run and passing.

You kinda sound like Danielson here.   The running spread works at any level.  PERIOD.  The reason I am so sure of this is something called  MATH.   If you remove a guy from the run defense because he has to account for the chance the qb can run that helps your run game.   The equation that teams struggle with is can this player pass well enough(Tebow), read the defenses well enough (Young, Vick) to operate the offense effectively when the NFL team forces them to pass and guys aren't wide open like they were in college because corners can defend a little.

The other factor is salary cap.  Despite the facts laid out here about injury to QB's running option or drop back in college that proved there was little difference I think you see how important a QB is to your success in the NFL because of the NFL's complexity and the fear from the NFL that that player gets hurt.   If Cam Newton goes down to injury Carolina's offense is toast.   It will be interesting to see how teams play this out over the next few years, but these kids keep coming.  RG III is next up.


January 11th, 2012 at 10:56 AM ^

Team rushing totals is one of those stats that can be very misleading.  It is often the result of a winning team protecting a lead and running clock, an inability to pass effectively, or any number of other reasons.  Not saying it applies to any of these teams but taking that stat in isolation is dangerous.

The NFL is now a passing league and the best teams currently, e.g. Saints, Packers, Ravens, Patriots, do not use anything like a college zone read.  Overall, the most important success indicators in the NFL are probably offensive line stability and consistency, QB play (read-ability, accuracy, and durability), and defensive line pass rush.  If you rate well in those areas you should be at least pretty good.

MI Expat NY

January 11th, 2012 at 11:00 AM ^

Denver has been far more successful running traditional run plays than they have been out of any form of option look.  

On a similar note, traditional zone running has been a standard NFL concept since the mid to late 90's, about the same time the read-option came into existance, they are hardly connected.

I didn't watch Carolina to know how much they're actually running read-option spread and shred systems.

A running spread system most likely won't work in the NFL.  While injuries to running QBs and Passing QBs may be similar in college, it's a huge leap of faith to assume those statistics will translate to the NFL.  Based on observation alone, I'd say that NFL RBs get injured far more than college backs.  If you treat your NFL QB like a RB, he's going to get hurt.  So you need two or three guys that can do all those things you mention.  It's just not likely that a team will build its system when considering those factors.

I do think we will see more running out of the QB position than we have for the last 20 years, but QBs are going to continue to be passers first, and if they can't get that done, they won't see the field.

M - Flightsci

January 11th, 2012 at 7:03 PM ^

Just did an article on this very thing.  Their take was that defenses have had to get smaller and faster over the past few years in order to deal with the proliferation of the spread passing game, and are having trouble dealing with a power option attack a la Tebow


January 11th, 2012 at 9:42 AM ^

I don't think it could ever work as consistently in the NFL as in college.  I remember in "Three and Out" when RR talked about his version of the spread and stated that the offense was built around making defenders tackle in space, and if the defense could tackle in space then it was going to be a long day for the offense.  The defenses are just to good in the NFL.


January 11th, 2012 at 9:56 AM ^

LSU has a pretty damn good defense, but even they aren't at the level of a decent NFL defense I think.  Bama would be closer.  I would have like to see them take on Oregon and see how they handled that.  I'm pretty sure that this Bama D would be able to tackle in space pretty well.

I think the real key to succeding in the NFL is being able to throw the ball.  If you can throw the ball effectively, then everything else is gravy.  I think that's why Newton will succeed in ways that neither Tebow or even Vick will/have been able to.  He's just a much better passer. 


January 11th, 2012 at 10:02 AM ^

I like the spread, but prefer a QB with a better arm than legs.   QB's with better legs than arms don't do so well in the NFL.  A QB must throw the ball with accuracy to succeed in the NFL.  I love Denard Robinson, but he'll never play QB in the NFL.  I loved it when Carr ran the spread against Florida.  It's to bad that he didn't do that more often.


oriental andrew

January 11th, 2012 at 1:08 PM ^

Seriously.  That guy sure knows how to write a lot of words in a row, interspersed with random pictures of cheerleaders, politicians, and girls in bikinis.  If ever there was an article which truly deserved the "tl;dr" tag, that was it.  My finger got tired after about a minute of paging down, and I was only halfway down the page at that point.

St Pete Schembechler

January 11th, 2012 at 10:25 AM ^

Spread offenses have more room to operate in college because of the extra space created by the difference in hash mark spacing. The NFL pushes everything to the center of the field, creating a lot of congestion that backs and receivers have to navigate. The tight hashes make the spread a difficult proposition at the pro level.

Personally, I'd love to see the NFL move the hash marks out; less congestion means more explosive plays and fewer serious injuries. Not likely to happen though.

micheal honcho

January 11th, 2012 at 10:59 AM ^

1. As mentioned before, elite defensive lineman/linebackers/secondary all make the whole "tackling in space" advantage pretty null. They can tackle in space or they wouldnt be there.

2. Just like baseball pitchers, guys with elite arms tend to be taller, lankier guys with less natural agility and footspeed(of course there are exceptions like Cam, Vince etc.) and the trade off is not worth it. Given a choice you NEED the elite arm in the NFL.

3. 16 game + playoffs schedule in the NFL means that even a QB who can run is going to take a lot more hits from alot harder hitting players week in and week out. This will shorten the career of your most important player(see NFL RB's career expectancy for details)

4. Elite WR's(Divas) in the NFL are not going to block for a living and forego the numbers(TD's, yards) that land them the big contracts, endorsements, hall of fame etc.

That all considered, I'd love to see Chip Kelly take a middling NFL team with an ownership who would buy in and do the following.

1. Sign 4 or 5 QB's that are perrenial backups or have washed out of the NFL(Troy Smith, Pat White etc.) and pay them each 2 million a year rather than one "stud" getting 10 million. Put these guys in a rotation to keep them healthy and fresh and make them essentially interchangable.

2. Sign all the WR's that know they are not and will never be Calvin Johnson and get them bought into blocking like mules.

3. Draft the O-lineman with the speed to get in space(this also saves $$$ since the top guys are all hogs) and get a deep lineup of them ready to commit to the system 100%.

4. Take the extra $$$ and invest in 2 stud running backs.

5. Let someone else build and coach the defense independent of the offense, if your D is developed to stop the spread it will get plowed to death by the hogs and killed by the 6'4" recievers & Tom Brady's of the NFL.


January 11th, 2012 at 11:34 AM ^

I think NFL is alot faster and harder hitting leuge than it was during barry's hayday.

would be interesting to see denver try to make the spread thign work though.  seems to be you can pickup alot of great college players who don't project well to the pro system pretty easily in the middle to late rounds. and shouldn't be that hard to get 3 running QBs for depth since no one really wants them other than a "project" unless there a true freak of nature.  I could see denard backing up tebow or sharing time with him as a "change of pace" guy.


January 11th, 2012 at 11:58 AM ^

Mobile Qbs are somewhat in demand right now as almost every team at least has a "wildcat" formation or occasionally runs option or some sort of wishbone type play as a wrinkle in the system.  But I do like the idea of acquiring talent by taking overlooked players that don't fit in other systems.  I'm also interested to see how a true spread-option blocking system would actually work out in the NFL i.e smaller faster lineman.


January 11th, 2012 at 12:15 PM ^

Any franchise that moved to a true spread would be a risky project.  I don't think too many GM's in the NFL would want to put their jobs on the line for such a drastic change.  You would have to hire a spread coach from college and then give him a 3-4 year grace period.  I just don't think there is enough patience at the pro level from fans and owners to see it through.  However, any kind of offense could probably work in the NFL if you had a premier defense that was constantly keeping you in games.