On the West Coast, the offense started by Sid Gillman in the 1960s grew into an NFL legend. The defense still waits for the bell to toll.
On this day in February, 2010, the coming vote on the 6th for inducting Don Coryell into the Pro Football Hall of Fame reminds fans that the three decades since “Air Coryell” arrived on the field have been a long unforgiving wait for a defense with game. This could be the time for a brave builder to act. Defensive players have undergone enough stubborn adversity.
The Legend of Offense
As long as the guards in football settle for second best, the legend of the West Coast Offense will never lose strength, never fail to impress, and never get stopped short of final victory. A passing offense that can average above 300 yards a game can make defensive players run with no hope of a tackle, or worse, stop dead in their tracks without an instinct for what can be done. The spread attack covers the whole field with versatile players before the safety can judge the right defense. That is why the players can pride themselves in saying, “They can’t stop what they can’t catch.”
The Cover 2
Cover the field, if you can. The response has not been fierce. Instead, defensive coaches have chosen the Cover 2. Tony Dungy’s Tampa 2, dependent on the one of a kind middle linebacker that drops into pass coverage like a strong safety, has already suffered losses to the run game of the West. Speedy players and quick team coverage of any place in the field lacks too much defensive assertiveness and toughness for a relentless pass rush to make the difference. The free safety, always the telling man on the field when the offense is in the stadium, bears the coverage burden without the range to win.
Movement, Air and High Command
The West Coast Offense overcomes the mightiest and most able of opponents with a first class passing approach that towers high in the air above all others. Its not lightning speed that makes the defense often look like its standing still. Defensive players can run faster, physically. The key to victory is how the field general commands the team movement over the field. On the other side, no general and movement six tenths as good.
Defense can overcome inferiority by covering the whole field, not by speed alone, but by three things greater. In the blue field in the air, look like a man always ready to move. True, defensive players love the ground far more than the offensive players, and this they ought never forget. But, air defense must match air offense.
The first call is for movement so good the free safety can say to the general, ‘Throw that ball anywhere on the field.’ He will know he will make it there. Go ahead and cut the defensive play time to less than four fifths. The offensive players are way ahead of you. The second is to master the air, at all times. Third, raise the free safety’s role to one for a player given a full command to move the defense. A match to the field general who needs a name.
Is the AFC West set for the next great invention? No defensive signal yet.
Ed Gruver, When Defense Ruled the Day: Before the West Coast Offense, Great Defenses Dominated the NFL (1998)
Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense