PHILADELPHIA -- The West Coast offense doesn’t really exist anymore. At the same time, it is everywhere.
When Andy Reid got to Philadelphia in 1999, he implemented his version of the West Coast offense. He had learned it directly from Mike Holmgren, who had worked directly with Bill Walsh in San Francisco.
As Doug Pederson arrives in Philadelphia, after years spent playing for and coaching with Holmgren and Reid, he will run an offense that is directly descended from theirs. But calling it the West Coast offense isn’t really accurate.
“You say `West Coast’ -- I think that has kind of gone by the wayside just a touch,” Pederson said Tuesday. “I’ll tell you this: the core values of the offense, the core principles, some of the core plays are West Coast-ish. We have developed a hybrid-type system. We utilize our players' and quarterback's strengths with the offensive system.”
Walsh’s original West Coast offense was built around Joe Montana’s specific strengths and the players he had to work with. It emphasized the short passing game, although the system has always been able to accommodate the occasional long pass.
Just as Chip Kelly described his offense as a “Sea Coast offense” -- when he sees something he likes, he uses it -- most NFL coaches borrow and steal ideas from their peers. Bill Belichick is the most successful head coach of this century so far, but he famously brought Kelly in to talk about offensive concepts. The Patriots have used elements of Kelly’s spread offense and uptempo approach, along with other ideas cribbed from other pro and college coaches.
“There’s 32 teams in the league that are West Coast offenses,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “Everybody uses some of those principles.”
When he was head coach of the Eagles, Reid was sometimes criticized for neglecting his running game. In 2008, the Eagles called pass plays 62 percent of the time. They went 9-6-1 that season, but made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to Arizona.
Last season in Kansas City, the Chiefs called pass plays 59 percent of the time. That’s not a huge difference, but some of those pass plays turned into runs because quarterback Alex Smith was able to use his legs to avoid pressure.
“Today's game has changed offensively,” Pederson said. “You're seeing more spread-style offenses in the National Football League. You're seeing more of the run/pass options that the quarterbacks have at the line of scrimmage. Quarterbacks today have the ability to think with their brain and I want to tap into that, too, and put the offense into ... a better play in any situation.”
One thing seems certain. Kelly’s preference for not huddling and going uptempo will be a thing of the past. That approach forced Kelly to scale down his playbook and limited the options his quarterbacks had for changing plays at the line of scrimmage.
Pederson plans to have a bigger volume of plays and to give the quarterback the freedom to audible when necessary. Going uptempo will be used when appropriate, but it will be a tool rather than a guiding principle.
“I think there's a place for tempo,” Pederson said. “We love tempo. We used it in Kansas City where I just came from, and it's a good changeup.
“I think that's the biggest thing that you're seeing today in the spread style of offenses, particularly in your short-yardage situations, even some of your goal line situations, where you're not just packing the box with 11 big bodies. You're spreading the field and giving your quarterback and your offense a favorable chance to make those downs.”