NFL Play Call Explained

In Football Content, General, History by vIQtoryLeave a Comment

Green Right X Shift to Viper Right 382 X Stick Lookie. Got it? You know what it means? Now try running it with 11 guys trying to tackle you.

What does an NFL play call sound like? Depending on the coach, calls can get quite complex. We’re going to dive into all the different types of systems and terminology from professional coaches!

Play Call

Hearing an NFL play call may put your brain in a pretzel. Just ask any quarterback that has played for Jon Gruden.

(Watch on Youtube)

West Coast play calls are designed to detail what every player on the field is doing. Here is an example of a play call from Jon Gruden

Green Right X Shift to Viper Right 382 X Stick Lookie

These play calls are often called in a “West Coast System” where things can get pretty complex. These complex systems however, were used to beat certain pass defenses from different coverage looks.

How did play calls get this far? Let’s take a look back in time and understand the history of play calling

West Coast

As heard in the video, the west coast system is the more complex and precise out of all the ones we’re going to list. It references the X Y Z receivers (if you’re not sure what this means, read our blog here to better understand) to direct which route they’re going to run. It gives the play-caller flexibility to adjust routes on the fly.

Follow this blog for our full West Coast Offense breakdown.

Here is an example of a west coast play call:

Scatter to West Right Tight F Left 372 Y Stick Z Spot

The West Coast Offense, or WCO, is a philosophy that remains relevant at every level of competition. Coach Bill Walsh is credited with inventing this system as a Quarterbacks Coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. This “Air Coryell” offense was originally called the West Coast Offense, but when one player mistakenly called Coach Walsh’s system “The West Coast Offense” the name stuck. The Play call can be complex.

This style focuses on short-to-intermediate, precise routes run by receivers. Sometimes it is said that this style “nickel and dimes” defenses. However, this is an efficient offense that has proven to be more than capable of winning championships. This is in stark contrast to the “Air Coryell” offense mentioned above that is known for attacking downfield.

via the Wall Street Journal

What Does An NFL Play Look Like?

Walsh’s offense consists of 3 and 5 step drops by the QB with routes that rely on the Tight Ends and Running Backs, as well as Receivers. This includes swing passes to the Running Backs and hitches to the Tight End with a regular route tree for receivers. The essence of the West Coast system is rhythm & timing and ball protection. With a passing attack based on short throws, there is a smaller chance of homerun-type plays. Consequently, higher completion percentages are expected and with that, fewer turnovers. Below is an example of the type of formation and play Coach Walsh would run:

via KansasCityStarVideo on YouTube

It is important to note that Coach Walsh won three Super Bowls with this offense. Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jerry Rice are all now in the Hall of Fame. Additionally, Roger Craig, Dwight Clark and Tom Rathman were among many Pro-Bowl caliber players on offense during this era. Watching their highlights from with the 49ers almost certainly means you are watching the WCO. Lastly, this means that “The Catch” came from this philosophy as well…

via Brian Blase on YouTube

Below are some more features of the system:

    • Features a well balanced attack of pass and run
    • Originally the system called for a zone run scheme
    • In the decades since its inception, power running schemes have also shown success
    • Bill Walsh loved the “Play-Pass”, also known as a playaction, where the run fake is meant to open up the passing lanes for his QB. Coach Walsh went on to say, “I truly believe it is the single best tool available to take advantage of a disciplined defense”
    • Due to innovations in offenses, the WCO has also been implemented for shotgun-based offenses.
  • The WCO can be installed at a lower level of football with 10-15 core pass plays and 5-6 core running plays
  • His philosophy is in NFL offenses today

Air Coryell System

The “Air Coryell System” (Learn More Here), made famous by former San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator (and Hall of Famer) Don Coryell. Don Coryell created a system of using numbers for routes instead of terminology, which introduced what we know now as the “route tree”. Here is an example of the route tree:

Image result for route tree football

via Nation Football Post

All the in-breaking routes are labeled with even numbers. Odd numbers are for out-breaking routes. Coaches may change the numbers to mean the opposite or add 0’s to the end to add more complex routes (Example: 20 may be a whip route).

An extremely simple play call in the Coryell system would be “Trips Left, Slippy 951 Fade”. Breaking down the play call:

Trips Left – This identifies the formation – 3 receivers spaced evenly apart from each other.

Slippy – Sprint Left series for the line and running back to identify who they’re blocking.

951 Fade – The 9 route is a streak, 5 is an out, 1 is a flat route. The “Fade” is for the backside receiver

Erdhart – Perkins

The Erdhart – Perkins model deals with one or 2 word concepts as opposed to lengthy precise terms or numbered routes.

Named after former New England Patriots Offensive Coordinators Rod Erdhart and Ray Perkins, the Erdhart – Perkins model is one of the more popular ways of calling plays by both the youth and NFL.

The Erdhart – Perkins model focuses on one or two word concepts that can be called in a fast paced offense.  For example:

Deuce Left Mesh

mesh route

Deuce Left – The formation signifies that they’re 2 receivers in a 2×2 look. The “left” signifies where to align the running back.

Mesh – The Mesh concept is when the 2 inside receivers run drag routes and the 2 outside receivers run Go routes. The running back will settle in the middle of the defense. The 5 routes called by the Quarterback by simply saying the word “Mesh”. Blocking schemes are implemented in each formation, depending on if the coach wants the running back to stay and help protect or run a route.

These systems all attributed to the Nickel, Dime, and Quarter defenses we’ve been accustomed to seeing on Sunday’s!

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Resources

https://www.bloggingtheboys.com/2014/8/11/5965033/football-101-understanding-basic-nfl-offensive-concepts

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