OT: spread influences in the NFL

Submitted by Eye of the Tiger on January 12th, 2012 at 5:06 PM

Sorry if this has already been posted...not being able to search beyond the first 14 items on the board makes it difficult to check.  

But assuming it hasn't, there's an interesting article in today's NYT on discussions Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels had with Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen back in 2005/6 concerning the spread offense, and how to integrate it into their NFL pro-style offense.  

A selection:


 “We never discussed anything with the run game,” said Dan Mullen, the Mississippi State head coach, who was Meyer’s offensive coordinator and who spent two days watching film with McDaniels.

Instead, McDaniels was focused on the passing elements of the spread option, particularly the empty backfield and how to create mismatches for receivers.

“They wanted to go to an all-out passing attack with Tom Brady,” Mullen said. “A lot of their interests were in the slot receivers — how do you get the Wes Welkers matched up on a linebacker? In 2007 they had a Randy Moss, who we knew if they get one-on-one we know what we could do. Once they start zone defense, if there is zone coverage, a good slot receiver will be working on linebackers. Josh was never afraid to fit the offense around the players he had.”

The tutorial took place before the Patriots had Moss or Welker, though, and Belichick, trying to stay several steps ahead of N.F.L. trends but also loath to tip his hand, played down the significance of that meeting.

“It’s not like we’re going to do a wholesale change to that system,” Belichick said late in 2005, more than six months after McDaniels and Mullen met. “Are there plays we might use? Sure.”

They used plenty of them in 2007 when the Patriots, with McDaniels calling the plays, acquired Moss and Welker and, often employing empty backfields and shotgun snaps, shattered offensive records. The Patriots overwhelmed defenses unaccustomed to the spread-out style of play for much of that season. Because of Brady’s accuracy (he completed 68.9 percent of his passes in 2007 and 65.6 percent this season), the Patriots have been able to run plays like the ones Mullen and Meyer used at Utah with Alex Smith, now the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who was also extremely accurate in college.


I'm still skeptical about a true spread-option or air raid offense working in the NFL, where QBs are precious commodities and the DEs and LBs are all big, smart and fast.  But it's equally clear that elements of the spread philosophy are transforming the NFL, albeit in a more piecemeal fashion.  (Right now, the Patriots' offense looks like something inbetween an Air Raid offense and Harbaugh's tight-end crazy offense at Stanford.)

However, with more and more colleges utilizing a version of the spread, and by extension producing more and more high quality players proficient in running it, isn't it just a matter of time before more plays/formations/ideas make their way into the pro-style offenses of the professionals?

Though I'm not too inclined towards the Marxism it inspired, I'm a big believer in Hegel's dialectic as a way to understand the spread (no pun intended) of ideas.

Stage 1: Thesis (pro-style)

Stage 2: Antithesis (spread)

Stage 3: Synthesis (hybrid/flexible system)

...this--as well as the offense we ran this year--appears to fall under "Stage 3," does it not?



January 12th, 2012 at 5:42 PM ^

programs (college and NFL) are going to start moving towards your "synthesis" idea.  Some old school coaches are probably set in their ways, but I am sure many younger coaches are gonna say, "if it works, let's do it".  Plus, as you mentioned it is going to ease transitions to the pros, and even from high school.

I think what I am trying to say is that if "synthesis" works it leads to:

Stage 4: profit


January 12th, 2012 at 6:10 PM ^


You've got to do what's best to fit your talent and there's a lot of offenses out there. You're going to invest a lot probably in your quarterback, so you need to do the best to get the most out of him. I think the Patriots actually did use a lot of shorter routes to play ball control football. However, they weren't as efficient or effective as they are now. I think it also helped them immensely when they got Wes Welker who is probably the best route runner in the league. Now with Gronk and Hernandez, we're seeing the evolve to the point where the Pats can still spread them out in terms of having passing options, but still have the blockers to run the football. It's been great to see what has happened with this offense (as a Pats fan). 

Coaches have to find the right personnel, but if they have certain players, they need to fit the system to the talent. To bring it to Michigan, it seems like Borges has a vision of what he wants out of his offense, but he also sees his talent and is trying to get the most out of what he has as well. Or at least enough to win football games. It'll be interesting to see how Michigan's offense evolves as he gets the tight ends and he gets Sugar Shane.



January 13th, 2012 at 12:56 AM ^

... more or less signalled he'll go "synthesis" with OSU as an accomodation to the Big 10 style of play.  I thought Wisconsin's style this year with Wilson was in the direction of a hybrid power/spread synthesis.  My fervent hope is Al Borges does as well after Robinson leaves.


January 12th, 2012 at 7:43 PM ^

sorry. But I'd be interested to see someone TRY it by recruiting some of those tweener types left behind by the manball squads. Maybe you could do it on the cheap.