Fundamentals : Five Common Offensive Schemes

football, basics, scheme, farm

For the next few weeks we are going to be all about offense. Specifically, we’re going to be talking about schemes, formations, and plays.

It wasn’t that long ago when all of the above sounded interchangeable to me. Isn’t a scheme the same as a formation the same as a play? Nope! Here’s how it all breaks down:

football, basics, schemes

So first comes scheme, then comes formation, then comes plays. Got it? Let’s move on!

Today, we’re going to be focusing on defining a few of the most common offensive schemes. Just as a note – a team’s scheme isn’t like a team’s name: it’s transient. Just because a team runs one scheme primarily doesn’t mean they only run that scheme – most teams run a combination of schemes throughout the course of one game. We’ll spend more time in the next few weeks going over specifics, but for today, here’s a general introduction to five schemes you are guaranteed to see in the NFL:

Pro Set (or Pro Style) Offense

It won’t come as a huge surprise, given the name, that this is the offensive scheme most pro teams run. Even if they don’t exclusively operate out of a pro style offense, they usually run at least some plays out of the pro set. In this scheme, the offense has the option to run or pass. The QB takes the snap from under center and can either hand the ball off to a running back or drop back and pass to a receiver. You’ll recognize it instantly on the field and on paper because it’s a very classic offense in the NFL – QB under center, RB’s in the backfield, WR’s split outside. Here’s what it typically looks like:

Pro Set formation

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West Coast Offense

The West Coast Offense, pioneered by Bill Walsh back in the glory days of San Francisco, isn’t so much an alignment of players as it is an offensive strategy. Teams running this offense use a combination of short-yardage passing plays to open up the opportunity for longer-yardage running and passing plays. Instead of advancing the ball by running first, as in the traditional model, the West Coast Offense utilizes short-yardage passing plays to advance the ball.

Option Offense (Spread, Read/Zone, Pistol)

This is the talk of the town in the NFL right now. The Option Offenses, which until quite recently were regarded as college, not pro, offenses, made quite a splash in the NFL this season. Rookie QB’s Russell Wilson and RG3 along with first-year and Super Bowl starter Colin Kaepernick all run option style offenses, and they all had phenomenal seasons. Is the option here to stay or is just a fad, like the short-lived success of the Wildcat? Only time will tell, but until then, we’ll have a lot of exciting games to watch.

So, what is an option offense? We’ll be talking much (MUCH) more about this in weeks to come; there’s just too much to dissect in a single blog post. In short, Option Offenses do exactly as their name suggests: they give the QB several options of plays to run – plays which he decides on both prior to the snap and during the course of the play. It’s a complex system and necessitates a savvy, athletic quarterback who is quick to make sound decisions and able to run or pass on the fly.

No Huddle Offense

This style of offense, like the West Coast Offense, isn’t so much about alignment as it is about execution. In the No Huddle, teams do just that: they don’t huddle up before the play. Instead, they rely on the quarterback to disseminate information about the play while the team is on their way to the line of scrimmage or they can also go with a predefined combination of plays in succession. The advantage of the No Huddle is to never give the defense a chance to catch their breath. Not only will they tire more quickly, they’ll also have far less time to make adjustments and run their preferred defensive schemes. The New England Patriots are the best in the biz at executing a No Huddle offense effectively.

Hurry Up Offense

While similar to the No Huddle, the Hurry Up Offense is different in that it is usually run in the final minutes of the half, not regularly throughout the course of the game. Teams often go into Hurry Up mode when they need to preserve time on the clock and get down the field as fast as possible.

While this is certainly not a definitive list of NFL schemes, you’re more likely to see these than most. Next week, we’ll dive a little further into the option schemes and see what all the commotion is about!

Personal Quiz: now that you are more familiar with these schemes, can you pick the one your favorite team uses the most? If you’re not sure, look it up and learn more about it! You’ll appreciate the offense in a whole new way!

Author: Beka

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