Playing West Coast football is a game of gauging time. With the right amount of time, any player can get set for a play and execute. The march down the field moves fast, unless the defense shows no mercy and stops it short.
The Charger game with the Eagles in October 2005 proved something both offenses already knew. When a West Coast offense gets into a rhythm and controls the ball all the time, they win. Drew Brees’ 23 completions for 299 yards lost to Donovan McNabb’s 35 for 287 because the defense could not stop Philadelphia’s offense when it counted. San Diego too often did not have the ball.
Forward Progress Depends On a Fast Pace
Facing front, ready to battle the opposing team, the quarterback and his players easily seize each moment of opportunity to make 2 yards, 10 yards, or 40 or more. Each play builds quickly and fast breaks into a yard gainer. The planned times, however, are neat and orderly. For play execution, the seconds are precious.
The Fourth Fundamental
The offense has demonstrated excellence with rhythm and precise timing, but there might be a fourth fundamental in the game that no coach has fully developed. Football, as the name tells you, is a ball game. The ball is always number one. Players match up and go man to man. And, controlling grass acreage is a main goal in every game.
But, what about time. Who takes the time like they take the grass? It is fair to say, ‘The team who takes the most time for their side wins.’ When the free safety looks at the quarterback from down the field, there are a few moments for the safety to make the quarterback lose their strong sense for time. If he does, the play is doomed to a slow build, an off rhythm or a halt.
The quarterback can not beat the defense without most their planned seconds. In the West Coast offense, the seconds are more precious. One or two lost can cut the play short.
When the Time Wears Away, the Defense Wins
The dedication to taking the time has to be part of a player’s character every down. A few plays do not decide the game. A defense that can constantly take away solid chunks of time, 2 seconds, 5 seconds and 15, from the kickoff to the final call, will beat the fast paced offense. In turn, the offense can respond by commanding time for their side, denying the defense the time to catch them as they go the distance. But, when time runs out without a score, the defense wins.
Maybe the game of football still has not reached its peak. No player dominates time like they do the ball and men. The NFL awaits the player whose pulse beats to take the time from all men.
Casey Pearce, Philly Heartbreak (Chargers.com, October 23, 2005)
Barry Svrluga, Taming the Wild West (The Washington Post, October 11, 2009)
Anthony Stalter, Ranking the NFL: Top NFL Offenses (Scores Report, September 10, 2006)