West-Coast Offense Will Kick-Start the Miami Dolphins

By Craig Ballard

Under new Head Coach Joe Philbin, and new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, the Miami Dolphins will implement a new system in 2012. The west-coast offense.

In the 2000’s Miami averages just over 60 plays-per-game. The west-coast offense is a significantly faster-paced offense than Miami has ever run, and Sherman is looking to average around 90 plays-per-game. Anything even approaching that number will put Miami as the #1 offense for plays run this season.

Lofty goals for Sherman, who last coached in the NFL 5 years ago, but he has a history of running offenses that move the football and produce. Let’s take a look at what it means to be a west-coast offense.

Traditionally, most O’s have a “run to set up the pass” mentality, but Miami’s new offense is the opposite.

Hall Of Fame coach Bill Walsh created the west-coast offense decades ago, many have used it since then even adding a few wrinkles over time to adapt to the ever-increasing speed of the game. The pass-heavy system features horizontal passing plays which are used to set up vertical pass plays, and run plays, to keep the defense neutral/guessing rather than being able to commit a blitz, or commit to a run-stop.

Traditional formations use a 5 or 7 yard drop by the QB. The west-coast offense is much more quick-hitting, and the QB will often take a 3 step drop. There are still 5 and 7 yard drops, and there are still elements of “traditional” pocket-passing, but the routes that the QB has to read can be much more intricate. On any given play the wide receivers have different choices to make depending on how they read what the defense is trying to do. Hitch, fly, slant, find a spot in the zone, for examples. Not only do you require the WR to make the correct read, but the QB needs to be on that correct page too (easier said than done with the massive & athletic NFL defenders trying to eat you on every play). This is an area that could produce growing pains for Sherman and the Dolphins as A) he is introducing new offense to this group and B) QB David Garrard threw as many passes to Miami Dolphins last season as you or I did, so getting everyone on the same (somewhat complicated) page could be a challenge. (currently it looks like Garrard will start the PreSeason as #1)

The skill-set for a WR in this offense is different. Other offensive-styles require fast, maybe even tall WR’s. The west-coast offense uses quick passes so guys who can be physical and win 1-on-1, and win in traffic are needed. Currently on this roster Davone Bess, perhaps also Reggie Bush fit the bill. Certainly deep routes will be called, but the majority of the WR action in a west-coast offense takes place 10-15 yards (or shorter) down-field. The main point of passes in a west-coast offense is to show the defense there are no “running down” and no “passing downs”. Any down-and-distance situation can produce any play call, which deters defenses from being too aggressive in their attack.

Pass to set up the run. Pass early to score and get in the game, run late on the defense you have tuckered out to secure your victory. West-coast offense.

As we see the pass strategy is different, so too is the run strategy. The ability to beat a linebacker or defensive-back out of the backfield and make a catch is every bit as important to a west-coast running back as the ability to rush for a tough 4-6 yards. RB’s will see zone blocking in front of them, which will be an adjustment, but can be very effective. Bush, Charles Clay, and rookie Lamar Miller should all benefit from both the rush, and pass opportunities this west-coast offense will give them. We will see several formations where 2, or all 3 of those guys will be on the field. Bush and Clay in particular are guys that Sherman can be creative with, and move to different positions to create one-on-one match-ups for Garrard and/or Matt Moore to exploit.

Another factor of the west-coast offense is you need a QB who can scramble with success. Especially in short-yardage situations. This is an area where David Garrard is excellent, Matt Moore not so much.

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