July 18


Air Coryell: Evolution Of The Passing Game In Football

By Steve

July 18, 2018

Air Coryell, Chargers, Charlie Joiner, Coach, coryell, Dan Fouts, Don, Kellen Winslow, Offense, Passing, Rob Gronkowski, Tony Gonzalez

Throwing the football is a part of every offense in the modern-day. Teams began throwing the football down the field once the NFL rules allowed it.

Don Coryell innovated the offensive passing system with the use of a downfield passing attack, named the “Air Coryell” system. Players who excelled in this system are Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, and Kellen Winslow.

This article will detail the evolution of passing football and the influential figures in revolutionizing the passing game.

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The Air Coryell Offense

In 1978 Don Coryell became the Head Coach of the San Diego Chargers. He had incredible talent on his offense with future Hall of Famers Dan Fouts (QB), Charlie Joiner (WR), and Kellen Winslow (TE), along with multiple other Pro Bowl players.

Coach Coryell developed an offense that attacked defenses downfield as he wanted to use the immense talent on his team.

This is a change from the Pro-Style offense that features two running backs and is less aggressive in attacking downfield.

The Air Coryell offense focused on throwing the ball deep downfield to receivers in hopes of creating big plays.

The Air Coryell offense helped the Chargers lead the league in passing yards in 6 of the 9 seasons he was. Focusing more on the downfield throw, this offense has a lower completion percentage by nature (it is riskier to throw the ball further downfield than throw it shorter distances).

With these deeper throws, the offense became more based on timing to increase its effectiveness to compensate for this.

The quarterback concentrated on throwing to an open area where he anticipated the receiver to be. This potent passing attack was balanced with a power running game.

The idea was that the defense could defend the box to stop the run while covering the deep routes downfield.

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How It Changed the Game

When you watch a College or NFL game today, you will see the vast majority of shotgun formations with 3+ Wide Receiver sets.

While it is commonplace today, Coach Coryell put together a scheme to make it work week in and week out, year over year, when no one was doing it. His innovative approach to the way offenses move the ball downfield places him in the highest regard as an offensive mastermind among his peers.

The X-Factor: Kellen Winslow

Before Rob Gronkowski or Tony Gonzalez, a Tight End prototype had the body of an offensive lineman but could move and catch like a Wide Receiver. His name is Kellen Winslow.

The beauty of the “Air Coryell” scheme was that this rare talent was unleashed and defenses were not used to it coming from the middle of the field.

As shown below, the ‘Air Coryell” was the beginning of moving the tight end away from the rest of the offensive line and creating havoc for defenses.

air coryell
via Big Blue View

Defensive coaches had now to change their tactics in response to this new offense. While they were used to a big front 7, they now had to account for these deeper passes.

It is most noteworthy that the Air Coryell is why Nickel and Dime look defenses came to be. This defensive innovation to adjust to an offense is now a mainstay on Sundays and almost every other level of football.

Other Coaches Using The Air Coryell

The Air Coryell offense forever changed the NFL and has had much success since its creation. Coaches Joe Gibbs, and Mike Martz, won Super Bowls running versions of this offense.

Former Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner made a career off of running versions of this offense.

Other coaches have implemented pieces of the offense. Bill Belichick says that the pass-catching tight ends are “all direct descendants of Kellen Winslow.” With all the success he has had with Rob Gronkowski, it is fair to assume he has studied the Air Coryell system.

Marty Schottenheimer says, “putting three receivers on one side and flooding that area” probably originated from the Coryell offense.

Facts About The Air Coryell

This offense was originally called the “West Coast Offense.” Bill Walsh’s offense was running accidentally called the West Coast Offense, and the name carried over to his style.

Do you have any questions about the Air Coryell Offense? Let us know below!

About the author

  • […] A juke is when a ball carrier sets up a defender to make him believe he is going on way, but goes the other. It typically results in the defender missing the tackling, mostly from taking a poor angle or slipping down from being faked out. The art of juking or head faking a defender to make him miss has been implemented in the game of football since it’s inception. Being a descendant of rugby, football was primarily a ground and pound game before it was opened up with the pass game. […]

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