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What Is The West Coast Offense? Explained With Pictures

The West Coast offense was one of the most revolutionary offenses when it first hit the scene. Bill Walsh helped changed the offensive playing field with his West Coast offensive system.

The West Coast Offense is an innovative horizontal passing offense based on timing and route running. Bill Walsh was the leader in creating the system, which is still used today.

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The Basics Of The West Coast Offense

The West Coast Offense 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.

This style focuses on short-to-intermediate, precise routes run by receivers. Sometimes it is said that this style “nickel and dimes” defense. However, this is an efficient offense that has proven to be more than capable of winning championships.

This contrasts with the “Air Coryell” offense mentioned above, which is known for attacking downfield.

How It Looks On The Field

Walsh’s offense consists of 3, and 5-step drops by the QB with routes that rely on the Tight Ends Running Backs, and 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 the 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 play-action, 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.”
  • Utilizes pre-snap motions to generate match-up issues and confusion with the 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.

Finally, if you have more questions about the West Coast Offense, let us know below!