The passing game and the vertical offense Part I
So exactly what is a vertical offense? What's the big deal?
The vertical offense is one which emphasizes attacking the defense in ways that forces it to defend the entire field. The best way I know how to start explaining the vertical offense is to give you a history of the pro offense.
The forward pass was used experimentally at times in the late 1800s and in 1876 a forward pass in the Yale-Princeton game was allowed to stand after the referee tossed a coin to decide if it was a legal play.
In 1905 there were 18 deaths and 159 serious injuries in college ball and there were calls to disband the game. President Roosevelt intervened and in late 1905 the rules were changed to allow the forward pass and decrease the number of mass plays thereby opening up the game. In the early 50s the pass began to resemble today’s game.
Paul Brown is the father of the modern passing game despite those who claim it is Sid Gillman who however was still incredibly influential. More on Sid later.
Paul played a preseason game against the Brooklyn Dodgers which ran an offense developed by Dr. Mal Stevens. Brown was so impressed he began to integrate some of the concepts of that offense into his own offensive philosophy.
Most teams of that time ran out of a tight T formation. Brown modified this formation into the pro set where the fullback lined up behind the QB and the halfback beside the fullback or both behind the tackles. He also developed the flanker position putting speedy halfbacks outside the tight end and used them in the passing game. He split the end wide to allow them to get into their patterns more quickly and used motion as well.
Passes were thrown to receivers after they became open in the early passing game. Brown saw the need for more intricate patterns and developed the first timing patterns. He was a strict disciplinarian and his players were meticulously practiced down to the steps they took on each play. From here it was a natural consequence to develop not only precise patterns or routes but also to have the players read and react to the defender. The first timing and reactive tree routes were invented. Both QB and receiver had to be on the same page. Brown had long ago used playbooks which each player was required to memorize and be tested on. He was the first to do so. He also was the first to test players' intelligence. From here it was easy for him to incorporate a read and react tree and timing offense.
Over a 16 season span, Brown led his teams to 12 championships including the AAFC and NFL. He was the first coach to win a NCAA and NFL championship; a feat later duplicated by Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer.
Sid Gillman who played at Ohio State before Brown coached there jumped from the collegiate ranks at the University of Cincinnati to the NFL's LA Rams where he went to the NFL championship game then the AFL's Chargers winning five West titles and one AFC championship. Gillman took the innovations of Brown to the next level by stretching the field with long passes instead of short passes to the wide receivers and running backs. He used timing patterns behind the passing of John Hadl and receiving of Lance Alworth then pounded the ball with the running of Keith Lincoln who was also a big part of the passing game as well. Many attribute today's passing game to Sid but Brown had already developed the early version of the vertical offense and had passed that on to many coaches in the country through his clinics. Sid expanded the vertical offense and began to stretch the field with it. He deserves his part in the development of the modern pro offense.
Enter Don Coryell who used the I formation early in his career including as an assistant under John McKay at USC. When he moved to San Diego State he had to compete with USC, UCLA and other PAC ten teams and had trouble recruiting running backs. But he had an abundance of strong armed quarterbacks and receivers to pick from particularly from the junior college ranks. He moved to the passing game and won big. He jumped to the St Louis Cardinals and won division titles in 1974 and 1975 then became the head coach of the Chargers. It was here he had some of the most prolific passing offenses to ever play in the NFL.
Coryell inherited a strong armed QB in Dan Fouts and Charlie Joiner came on board his first year there. Kellen Winslow arrived in 1979 and they traded for Chuck Muncie in 1980. The most prolific offense in NFL history had arrived. That offense led the NFL in passing for six consecutive years from 1979-1983 and again in 1985.
The pro set was the default NFL scheme but that changed when Coryell obtained Muncie. While it is more of a formation, the underlying philosophy of the pro set was based on becoming more successful when a team was forced to pass by providing 1 or even 2 backs to help protect the QB. Prior to Coryell, the pro set was generally a running offense that used play action fakes to set up deep passing attempts. When Muncie arrived Coryell began using a one back set and used him out of the backfield.
Fouts gave him the strong armed QB he needed to make all the throws particularly deep passes. Muncie afforded protection for him, strong inside and outside running, and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and get yards after catch with the mismatch on LBs. Winslow was the first modern day TE. Mackey was as fast and a better blocker but the offenses of his day weren't set up to deliver the ball as much to the TE. Winslow was a big WR in a TE body. The defenses of the day were not set up to cover this type of WR. He could split wide and create mismatches against the LB's and safeties of the day. Jefferson and Joiner had the speed to stretch the defense and the quickness and intelligence to run the proper routes. And they had a pretty good OL. They were a nightmare of DC's.
I'm going to stop there. I really wanted to spend another week or so on this and add and polish as there is a lot more . But there is so much confusion about the offense that I'm going to just throw this up with this disclaimer and the right to modify as necessary. Please, feel free to add to or disagree. I'll follow this up with a more parts as I have time in the next couple of weeks if possible. I'll try to get another one up today actually.
Did you know there are only 5000 Snow Leopards in the wild now and they are confined to Central Asia? However, the effective global population (those likely to reproduce) is less than half that number.