"The East Coast Offense" - Packaged Plays, Unpredictability and Poise

John Madden: “He (RG3) has a tendency to freeze the defense. If he fakes inside, you don’t want to collapse, because he may keep it and run outside. And when he runs outside, he may run or he may throw it. And then throughout all that stuff, he didn’t have any turnovers. He played a clean game. That was the thing. You know rookie quarterbacks. They (defensive coordinators) are gonna show him a lot on defense, and I don’t know that they CAN [rattle] him. They (defenses) are gonna [try to] confuse him, they’re gonna go after him, they’re gonna (try to) force him to make turnovers. And he didn’t do that. And that was one of the most impressive parts of the game to me.

So what's responsible for RG3's poise, command of the offense and seeming command over the opposing defense? Is it really nothing more than feints and misdirection combined with a mobile quarterback with a cannon for an arm? Does it really involve nothing more than running Mike's old plays, stretching the defense laterally and vertically plus allowing your quarterbacks, such as Elway or RG3, to scramble, buy more time and improvise?

The answer is it does involve more than this, far more. What we're seeing is Kyle's evolutionary offense built around the concept and implementation of "packaged plays." Packaging plays means doing something far different than having RG3 perform checks and call audibles. A packaged play creates a new play that seamlessly blends multiple time-tested plays from the Shanahi's playbook into a single play that offers the post-snap option to run any play from that group, resulting in not just disguised plays, but entirely new plays that combine options that were never before combined into one play.

Yea, yea, I know. This sounds like it might be nothing more than running multiple plays from the same formation, running play action, the run/ pass option and hot reads with a few new plays mixed in, none of which are new strategies. But what is new is:

  • Combining (packaging) entirely different categories of plays, such as runs and screens into one play.
  • The QB determines each play's actions. The QB isn't choosing what to do based on a predesignated rhythm or a progression of receiver reads. Instead, the quarterback chooses post-snap which of three (or more) very different plays to execute. For example, he can throw a screen pass out to the perimeter, drop back in the pocket and throw a deep ball down field, run a keeper wide to the strongside, run a keeper inside to the weakside, run a shallow bootleg to he left or a deep bootleg to the right, or allow his running back to take it inside and find a nice seam. He could conceivably have ALL these options on a single packaged play.

The basic premise is you take advantage of what the defense guessed your offense would run, then allow your quarterback to respond post-snap, exposing the defense's weakness, thus always putting the D in a position where it's impossible to be in the correct alignment. It's impossible for the defense to correctly guess what play (or even category of play) the offense will run. The QB reads the D and runs whichever of the packaged-play's options the defense is least prepared to defend. (And that's just one "packaged-play!" Next snap the offense can run a different packaged-play, if they so choose, though there's often little reason to do so. ...more on that later.)

This packaging without the need of audibles is what allowed the Redskins offense to thrive in the Superdome where the deafening crowd prevents visiting teams' offenses from calling any audibles. Packaged plays don't rely on audibles. Packaged plays are what allowed the Redskins to be successful despite repeatedly running what appeared to be the same play. But it wasn't the same play. It was a package of plays all rolled up into one play. And that one packaged play is only one of many different kinds of "packaged plays" RG3 will execute this season.

On each packaged play the QB keys on a particular defender, typically the guy the defense relies on to be their "extra man. " (This "extra man" advantage is based on the fact defenses normally don't assign a player to specifically defend the quarterback.) Wherever this key defender places himself he ends up being out of position since the QB chooses post-snap the option that negates that defender. The defender has been eliminated without the need to block him. This results in other defenders having to fill in by abandoning their man/zone or, at a minimum, being a couple steps behind the play that unfolds. Here's how Mike Shanahan and football insiders Chris Brown and Graziano describe it:

Graziano: "I asked Shanahan if this had been by design — if he'd set up that first drive with those quick passes to help his rookie get into the rhythm of the game without facing pressure from the Saints' defense or pressure to go through progressions while he got his feet under him. Because I figured, if it had been, it was a pretty smart idea."

Shanahan: "No, he has options on those plays. He decided to run it that way."

Brown: "This idea, known in coaching circles as "packaging plays," is the newest and most effective development in football. By blending passes and screens with running plays, the quarterback can decide who gets the ball based on what the defense does, and in turn, turn the defense’s own decision into its own fatal mistake. It's a credit to Griffin that although he may not be ready to be Tom Brady on a drop-back pass, his coaches trusted him to be the point guard of his offense. It's triple-option football, translated and transmuted into something palatable for the pros, and it worked. The credit goes to Shanahan for evolving with the times and embracing a style his young quarterback is comfortable with."

So what's going to happen during this season as RG3 and the offensive talent around him vastly improve their proficiency in this new Redskins offense? Are these packaged plays nothing more than a "gimmick?"

Update per GrimSkins, 09/14/2012:

Rick Reilly: "When's the last time, for instance, you saw somebody run the shotgun wishbone? That's essentially what The Shanahans (Mike and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle) are throwing at the league with RG3."

Mike Shanahan: "I like to call it The East Coast Offense." (Note: I give you my word Mike Shanahan labelled their new offense today.)

Rick Reilly: "In it, Griffin catches the snap and then has a Chinese menu of choices. He can hand off to a back. He can yank it out and then throw a screen pass to a wideout. He can turn the other way and hit the slant. Or he can decide to use his national-class hurdler speed and go leap some tall buildings."

Mike Shanahan: "And he can throw a 40-yard sideline route like it's a 10-yard square-in."

Kyle spent this off-season implementing the latest evolution in offensive strategy and play design. Kyle took the well calculated gamble that RG3 would be able to execute this new offense. I expect it may take defenses multiple seasons to find an effective response. It's a constant game of cat and mouse played out by ingenious college offensive and defensive coaches whose innovations make it into NFL playbooks.

We've all heard of "Pop" Warner. What made him famous was the triple option, single wing offense he designed. What made that offense fly was the special skills of athletic freak Jim Thorpe, who was the motivation behind Warner designing that offense. Jim Thorpe had a way of always keeping the defense guessing. (The single wing's feints and misdirections leveraged Thorpe's speed and elusiveness of course.)

For now it appears NFL offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan may well be on his way to gaining the upper hand in the NFL's offensive/ defensive game of cat and mouse, having designed an offense around his own freakishly talented quarterback, who can't help but appear poised around all those confused, frustrated defenders. (...and this frustration is before we even mention what those defenders are going to be experiencing in the midst of a hurry up offensive series where they're chasing a scrambling RG3 out to the edges. Ha ha.)

What no one but the Redskins knows is how much did Kyle design this off-season? Granted, each packaged play was designed to optimize a few options, resulting in a play that can be run over and over again, always exposing the defense in a different way. But is it possible Kyle and staff designed a plethora of packaged plays this off-season? How cool would it be to see the Skins offense repeatedly run a completely different package play against the Rams, say one emphasizing Helu coming out of the backfield for catch after catch and lots of YAC, as one example.

Kyle and company already are intimately familiar with our divisional opponents defenses' strengths, weaknesses, favored blitzes, favored zone coverages, common formations and other tendencies. What if this coaching staff didn't just design a number of generic packaged plays, but designed specific packaged plays targeting each team's defense? Will this prove to be unnecessary in this game of cat and mouse unfolding between Kyle/ RG3 and NFL defenses?

I can't wait to see Kyle's designs and RG3's execution against the Rams and other upcoming opponents. But what I really can't wait to see is what this offense will look like against each of our divisional opponents come mid-season.

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