The air raid offense is becoming one of the biggest buzzwords in football. The old-school style of ground and pound is slowly fading out, and the air raid is taking over. What is the new style of air raid offense?
The Air Raid offense has 4-5 receivers on the field at all times. The offense focuses primarily on throwing the football rather than running it. It uses the entire width of the field to get the best athletes in the football in space.
In this article, we will show you exactly what the Air Raid offense is and how it came to be.
Who Invented The Air Raid Offense?
The Air raid offense was started by offensive coordinators Mike Leach and head coach Hal Mumme. At both Iowa Wesleyan College and Valdosta State University, these men started to craft this revolutionary offense.
The shortened story goes that they both traveled to Florida for a coaches clinic when they talked to a coach who was running his two-minute offense with a high tempo and high speed. The two coaches looked at each other and asked, “Why can’t we do this full time?”.
Taking influence from LaVell Edwards at BYU, Leach and Mumme designed the offense to throw the football 80-85% of the time. This offense put the best athletes on the field and used spacing to get players open. No longer could teams sit in zone coverage, as concepts were implemented to take advantage of it.
Once Leach and Mumme launched the offense at the Division 1 level at Kentucky, the offense has never been the same.
After the first year at Kentucky, sophomore quarterback started to attract some eyeballs with his arm talent and the Air Raid offense was born on a mainstream platform.
How Does The Air Raid Offense Work?
The Air Raid offense works by having 4 or 5 wide receivers on the field. The quarterback is responsible for throwing the ball to these receivers.
Coaches have designed route concepts and patterns to take advantage of defenses playing both man and zone coverage.
The offense will run a shotgun formation, with 2 or 3 receivers to one side and 2 receivers to the other side. The whole point of the Air Raid offense is to stretch the field horizontally and vertically, making the defense cover all areas.
Teams that run the Air Raid offense often have superior athletic talent and a smart quarterback who can process reads quickly. Also, teams that run the Air Raid offense tend to score a lot of points quickly, as they often have to catch the football and make only 1 or 2 people miss. Deep throws and crossing patterns are a staple in the Air Raid offense.
The one downside of running the Air Raid offense is the time of possession. Teams that throw the football often score quickly, or can’t control the clock. This means that the defense is on the field longer and will tire out more quickly.
Air Raid Offense Formations
The air raid offense uses a variety of formations. The key to the Air Raid offense is the simplicity in the play calls, formations, and communication system.
Offensive coordinators will often tag their plays with one word for simplistic purposes. Below, we’ll cover some of the more popular formations and the common name for them.
Early / Late
The Early and Late formations are a 3×1 set that has the inside receiver on the line of scrimmage and the other 2 receivers off the line of scrimmage. Early means the 3 receivers go to the right and Late means the receivers go to the left.
As simple as it is, the coach just needs to yell out the word early or late and their entire offense is set in formation.
One of the more common formations in the Air Raid is the empty formation. Empty means that there is an empty backfield, and 5 receivers are in position to run routes. With 5 receivers, the defense must account for the entire field.
5 receiver empty sets do limit the amount of run potential. Coaches can design quarterback runs to keep the defense honest, but the coach will pass the football out of empty setsl.
Run Plays In The Air Raid Offense
The Air Raid offense does have some run plays, although it’s rare to see true Air Raid teams run the football.
The most common play is the Inside Zone. Inside zone is a simple play that allows the offensive line to displace the defensive lineman vertically and run the ball between the tackles.
This play is often coupled with an RPO to keep a linebacker from committing to the box.
RPO’s are now more common in the Air Raid system, as coaches are starting to see more odd fronts and need to hold players outside of the box. If you’re an Air Raid team or are thinking about starting the system, we recommend installing counter, power or outside zone to have an efficient run game.
Pass Plays In The Air Raid Offense
One of the most recognizable plays in the Air Raid offense is the mesh play. The play gets its name from the two receivers who are crossing over the middle.
They will meet at a “mesh” point ( also known as a high five-point). The mesh point is a landmark in the middle of the field where they will almost touch shoulder to shoulder, and continue to run across the field.
This play is effective because if the team wants to play man coverage, they must follow a receiver across the field, which they will get naturally “picked” by the other receiver.
The mesh concept is one of the top pass plays in the Air Raid offense because other routes can be added to the concept to beat both man and zone.
Y Cross gets its name because the Y receiver (typically a slot receiver) will cross through the middle of the defense.
This play is effective because it gets a speedy receiver across the field, and allows the coach to manipulate the front end of the coverage with other receivers.
One of the hardest things for a defense to stop is a crossing receiver. Coaches have used posts and clear out routes to eliminate defensive backs from their zones, which they will then fill the void with the cross.
The Mills play isn’t necessarily a play, but rather a concept that a lot of Air Raid teams will use on the backside of their plays.
The Mills concept is great because it helps beat any two high coverage such as cover 2 or cover 4.
The two players on the backside of the concept will run a dis roughly 8-10 yards down the field. The X receiver will then run a skinny inside post.
This stresses the corner back and the safety who needs to decide to help on the dig or the backside post. The read is easy for the quarterback, who simply needs to read the safety. If he goes low, throw the post; if he stays high, throw the dig.
Shallow is another concept that takes advantage of teams that try to play 2-high safeties against the Air Raid Offense. The goal of the offense is to make the safety, and the outside backer chooses wrong.
The Y receiver will run a dig concept, and the underneath receiver will run a shallow cross. The linebacker on defense needs to make the decision if they should attack the shallow cross, or deepen up and play the dig behind them.
This concept is often paired with the Mills concept, which stresses the defense to cover the entire width as well as the length of the field for the deep post.
The Air Raid system has completely revolutionized how the game is played. Teams are now throwing the football 40-50 times a game, in hopes of big-play opportunities. The old school ground and pound slowly is fading out, and the new backyard game is taking over.
Defenses now have to worry about tackling in the open field, rather than spilling offensive lineman or attempting to redirect running backs. Athletes are harder to cover in space, and the Air Raid offense takes advantage of that.
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If you run any other versions of the plays listed above, we’d love to hear it. Tweet us @vIQtorysports and let us know!