Understanding The West Coast Offense Part I: The Theory

The Redskins and Mike Shanahan run a relative version of the West Coast Offense.

For those that don't understand the ‘West-Coast' terminology, think of it as more of a theory than a style. There is no East/West coast offensive breakdown; the West-Coast term actually comes from Former Giants Head Coach Bill Parcells:

After a playoff victory over the San Francisco 49'ers on 1985, Parcells made the statement "What do you think of that West-Coast offense, now?"

The system is designed to counter the idea of establishing the run first in order to open up vertical passing lanes. In a ‘WCO', the idea is to spread a defense using horizontal passing routes to open up longer runs or vertical passes. Bill Walsh's idea when designing the WCO featured quick slants, crossing patterns, pick plays, five yard dumps to the fullback in the flat, 10 yarders to the Tight End over the middle, and then of course the big shot downfield once the defense starts to cheat up to stop the shorter plays.

A WCO requires smaller, agile receivers as opposed to large deep threat receivers who have trouble getting open in short range. Smaller, more agile linemen are also required in Mike Shanahan's WCO in order to properly execute his zone-blocking scheme.

Though not required, a mobile quarterback is considered a plus in West-Coast offenses to counter the short time alotted for the quarterback to make his decision. In a WCO, the receiving routes are generally much shorter and take considerably less time than traditional routes. With that being said, the QB must be intelligent and often anticipate more than usual when making his decisions. A mobile quarterback is able to buy more time with his legs, and even make a play with them if needed. Some comparisons would be Mike Vick, Randall Cunningham, and Donovan McNabb (in his prime) to name a few.

Every team has their own version of whatever scheme they are running. Mike Shanahan, for instance, incorporates a more run-heavy WCO, utilizing play action and boots to exploit a defense, or keep them "honest".

Shanahan & Co. absolutely love to send the runningback and linemen in one direction on play action, drawing the defense, while sending the quarterback on a boot to the opposite with 2-3 progressions to choose from. This was usually Rex Grossman, who runs about as fast as a drunk hippopotamus.-Welcome to Washington, Robert-

As far as wide receivers go, Santana Moss, Pierre Garcon, and Josh Morgan fit this role perfectly. All three run very crisp routes and aren't scared of catching a ball in traffic.

Incorporating Mike Shanahan's WCO might still not be finished, but it's definitely making progress.

Read Understanding The West Coast Offense Part II: The Playbook

(Originally written and posted at

Follow us on Twitter: @BurgundyWarpath

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Hogs Haven

You must be a member of Hogs Haven to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Hogs Haven. You should read them.

Join Hogs Haven

You must be a member of Hogs Haven to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Hogs Haven. You should read them.




Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.