The Ubiquitous Pro-style NFL Offense

After our great discussion in the comment section of Thursday's links, I ventured far from our wonderful internet community to Chris Brown's (not that one, or that one) excellent blog Smart Football. I found an article in his archives from July 2009, where he discusses the same things that came up in the comment thread here. Some juicy bits after the jump.

Brown does a lot to explain the environmental differences that distinguish the college and pro games. He invokes a variation of the 80/20 Rule to explain NFL offenses (and defenses, for that matter). 

. . . 80% of what NFL teams do on offense (or defense, really too) is extremely straightforward to the point where every team runs the same stuff. And the list is not that long. . . . [T]he whole NFL's entire run game amounts to about four or five plays: the inside zone (also known as the "tight zone"), the outside zone (also known as the "stretch play" or the "wide zone"), power, counter, and some kind of draw, particularly the lead draw.

He rhetorically asks, "Why so simple?" After dispelling the usual explanations offered, he lists three reasons:

The three are:

  • Coaching incest. The NFL fraternity is too incestuous, and thus they don't get out of their comfort zone enough and don't seriously engage with what is going on elsewhere.
  • Lack of incentive to experiment.Related to above, but the idea is that, post free-agency, there is little reason for NFL coaches to "think outside the box," and when they do and fail, they will be ridiculed and fired. For example, Marv Levy famously went to the Wing-T offense with the Kansas City Chiefs in the late 70s and early 80s, and was promptly fired.)
  • The quarterback obsession. The money and necessity involved with NFL quarterbacks has so come to dominate the thinking and strategy behind the sport that it hampers both experimentation but literally what they have time to do. If you ask an NFL coach what he spends his time on, or why they don't use more run plays, and he will likely tell you that they spend all their time on pass protection and protection schemes, and this cuts down on what else they can do.

He expands on those thoughts, before offering a forecast for the life of the Wildcat (remember, this was writing in the offseason following the birth of Wildcat into the NFL). The Appendix to the article has some great diagrams of the "80%" that makes up NFL offenses.

Do check out the whole thing. Here's the link again in case you missed it up top: link.

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