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The Flaw in the Shanahan Offensive Scheme

One of many experimental iterations ...

Oldfan

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If we were choosing up sides to play an NFL game, I'd pick Jay Cutler first because he doesn't need as much help as the other QBs do to win a football game and he's smart enough to run an offense as designed.

Mike Shanahan was fired after his 2008 team blew a three-game division lead with three games to play. Yet, in my opinion, Mike's 2008 season was one of the greatest offensive coaching jobs in NFL history. Mike the GM had given Mike the coach only three good players: Cutler, Marshall and Royal and he won eight games with them with no help from a putrid defense and without a healthy RB.

The 2008 Broncos offense allowed an NFL low 11 sacks with an O-line just about as good as the current Skins O-line. Rookie Ryan Clady allowed only 1.5 sacks that year, but he was near the top in the NFL in QB pressures (almost sacks). Clady hasn't come close to that low sacks number since. Credit Mike Shanahan's intelligent use of Cutler's mobility in the protection scheme for a big assist in Ryan Clady's great rookie reputation.

Using Cutler's mobility, Mike was able to record the lowest sack total in the NFL and run the signature boot off the zone stretch as a potent weapon. Using Cutler's strong arm, Mike could make defenses cover the entire field and make Eddie Royal's rookie season the best of his career.

With a QB like Jay Cutler running it, the Shanahan offense is the most dynamic in the NFL. The problem is that QBs with Cutler's talent are rare while pocket passers are in abudance.

In the Kubiak/ Shanahan offense, pocket passer Matt Schaub has the support of an outstanding O-line. That's the thing about pocket passers, they need solid O-line protection to give them time to throw. Ryan Clady's sacks against number ballooned from 1.5 in 2008 to 8.5 in 2009 while protecting pocket passer Kyle Orton.

After much thought, I think the Shanahan scheme is flawed because, while it is the most potentially dynamic in the NFL, the QB skill set required to run it well is too high and thus too rare.

I think it would be smarter to design a passing game for a pocket passer since his kind is in plentiful supply. The Patriots scheme and the Colts scheme are both good models, both very friendly to QBs who can throw very well if they don't have to move their feet much.

The ZBS would not work well with a scheme designed for pocket passers. Not only would the boot-action be rendered impotent, but the smaller, more athletic O-line would not fare as well in pass-pro for the pocket passer. Moreover, the bulkier, power-blocking O-lineman would help more in short-yardage, RZ and goal-line situations.
 

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servumtuum

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If we were choosing up sides to play an NFL game, I'd pick Jay Cutler first because he doesn't need as much help as the other QBs do to win a football game and he's smart enough to run an offense as designed.

Mike Shanahan was fired after his 2008 team blew a three-game division lead with three games to play. Yet, in my opinion, Mike's 2008 season was one of the greatest offensive coaching jobs in NFL history. Mike the GM had given Mike the coach only three good players: Cutler, Marshall and Royal and he won eight games with them with no help from a putrid defense and without a healthy RB.

The 2008 Broncos offense allowed an NFL low 11 sacks with an O-line just about as good as the current Skins O-line. Rookie Ryan Clady allowed only 1.5 sacks that year, but he was near the top in the NFL in QB pressures (almost sacks). Clady hasn't come close to that low sacks number since. Credit Mike Shanahan's intelligent use of Cutler's mobility in the protection scheme for a big assist in Ryan Clady's great rookie reputation.

Using Cutler's mobility, Mike was able to record the lowest sack total in the NFL and run the signature boot off the zone stretch as a potent weapon. Using Cutler's strong arm, Mike could make defenses cover the entire field and make Eddie Royal's rookie season the best of his career.

With a QB like Jay Cutler running it, the Shanahan offense is the most dynamic in the NFL. The problem is that QBs with Cutler's talent are rare while pocket passers are in abudance.

In the Kubiak/ Shanahan offense, pocket passer Matt Schaub has the support of an outstanding O-line. That's the thing about pocket passers, they need solid O-line protection to give them time to throw. Ryan Clady's sacks against number ballooned from 1.5 in 2008 to 8.5 in 2009 while protecting pocket passer Kyle Orton.

After much thought, I think the Shanahan scheme is flawed because, while it is the most potentially dynamic in the NFL, the QB skill set required to run it well is too high and thus too rare.

I think it would be smarter to design a passing game for a pocket passer since his kind is in plentiful supply. The Patriots scheme and the Colts scheme are both good models, both very friendly to QBs who can throw very well if they don't have to move their feet much.

The ZBS would not work well with a scheme designed for pocket passers. Not only would the boot-action be rendered impotent, but the smaller, more athletic O-line would not fare as well in pass-pro for the pocket passer. Moreover, the bulkier, power-blocking O-lineman would help more in short-yardage, RZ and goal-line situations.
Oldfan, I'm curious about your opinion on something. Given this paragraph;


"With a QB like Jay Cutler running it, the Shanahan offense is the most dynamic in the NFL. The problem is that QBs with Cutler's talent are rare while pocket passers are in abudance."

Do you think that might be an indicator that a QB like RG3, whose style has been likened to Cutler's, would be a good fit for the Shanahan system, or perhaps, maybe a better fit than a more traditional pocket-passer without having to revamp things too much?
 

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Oldfan, I'm curious about your opinion on something. Given this paragraph;


"With a QB like Jay Cutler running it, the Shanahan offense is the most dynamic in the NFL. The problem is that QBs with Cutler's talent are rare while pocket passers are in abudance."

Do you think that might be an indicator that a QB like RG3, whose style has been likened to Cutler's, would be a good fit for the Shanahan system, or perhaps, maybe a better fit than a more traditional pocket-passer without having to revamp things too much?
Andrew Luck will make an excellent pocket passer. He's not a good fit for us, in my opinion.

RG3 might be a better fit. I haven't seen enough of him to feel confident in an opinion. He definitely has the physical tools.
 

Om

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Question that springs to mind....would Peyton Manning be considered a "pocket passer?"
 

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In a word Om...yes.
 

Om

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Agreed. It was a leading question. :)

Point being ... I would also define Manning as "mobile."

No one avoids sacks more adeptly and with less apparent effort (quick release coupled with knack for the timely step/slide coupled with "feel" for the rush) than The Forehead. But I don't think anyone on the planet would describe him as particularly "athletic."

To me, "mobile" is simply the ability to avoid sacks in order to turn potential broken/negative plays into positive ones, either with the arm or legs.
 

Ax

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Well just remember, if you can't be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.
 

Hog Fever

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Nice write up and I agree for the most part. Every offensive scheme has inherent flaws, but the Shanahan system has advantages for the very reasons you outlined.

Smaller, quicker O-linemen are far easier to find and generally much cheaper than the dominant Hog type guys we're so familiar with. It's also far easier to find effective RBs for this system. The other essential ingredient you need for this offense is is pass catching TE.

The QB becomes the big question as you stated. I don't think it's harder to find guys with the skill set to run the Shanahan offense but I will agree that it takes a specific set of skills to run it well. Guys who work well in this system may not work well in other systems for that reason. What we need is a West Coast Offense type QB.

The top three traits I would want for this system is intelligence, mobility and they must be a good passer (accuracy over pure arm strength). The guys who did well in his system were Elway (duuh), Plummer and Cutler. The guy who did so-so was Brian Griese. With those traits in mind it's easy to see why John Beck looked like he would fit their system well.

The good thing for us going into this draft is the three guys at the top have all of the traits you want for this offense. Luck has very good mobility and rushed for more than 1000 yards in his time at Stanford. RGIII and Tannenhill are both a cut above that level.
 
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Oldfan

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Agreed. It was a leading question. :)

Point being ... I would also define Manning as "mobile."

No one avoids sacks more adeptly and with less apparent effort (quick release coupled with knack for the timely step/slide coupled with "feel" for the rush) than The Forehead. But I don't think anyone on the planet would describe him as particularly "athletic."

To me, "mobile" is simply the ability to avoid sacks in order to turn potential broken/negative plays into positive ones, either with the arm or legs.
Each of us can define a word any way we choose. But, when we use it in an uncommon way, we'd better explain it if we want to be understood.

If you simply said, "Peyton is a mobile quarterback," without the explanation you gave, people would laugh at you.
 

servumtuum

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Agreed. It was a leading question. :)

Point being ... I would also define Manning as "mobile."

No one avoids sacks more adeptly and with less apparent effort (quick release coupled with knack for the timely step/slide coupled with "feel" for the rush) than The Forehead. But I don't think anyone on the planet would describe him as particularly "athletic."

To me, "mobile" is simply the ability to avoid sacks in order to turn potential broken/negative plays into positive ones, either with the arm or legs.
In that case, you-like myself-would probably class Luck as "mobile" as opposed to "athletic" like Tebow, Newton, and RG3. Unless I'm misunderstanding you.
 

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The genius of Joe Gibbs was continually re-inventing the offense to accentuate the talent of the qb.

Too many coaches today simply plug and play with new players as if they are always interchangeable with their predecessors.

Gibbs featured the moving pocket for a mobile Joe Theismann and ran a max pro set for the deep throwing but unathletic Mark Rypien.

In between he ran a 3 wide receiver set for Jay Schroeder who passed for a team record 4,109 in 1986.

If Gibbs had to go with Rex Grossman you can bet he would have featured the runniing game more early in the season and provide more backside support for the OTs in pass protection given Rex's penchant for the strip/fumble.

Most importantly Joe as with Schroeder would have had Rex throw downfield to the outside and eliminate those deep middle passes that were consistently picked or defended.

Why is Shanahan that inflexible?

In my mind it is that aspect to his character that has made him less effective as a coach here in DC.

Kyle can install an offense Matt Schaub ran to the Pro Bowl, but anyone can see Rex is not in that league.
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Om

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Each of us can define a word any way we choose. But, when we use it in an uncommon way, we'd better explain it if we want to be understood.

If you simply said, "Peyton is a mobile quarterback," without the explanation you gave, people would laugh at you.
Yeah, generally statements devoid of context, explanation or pertinence are pretty useless.

Any thoughts on how the broad interpretations possible of the term "mobile" as it pertains to modern NFL quarterbacks might relate to the original post?

In that case, you-like myself-would probably class Luck as "mobile" as opposed to "athletic" like Tebow, Newton, and RG3. Unless I'm misunderstanding you.
With the caveat that I've not had the opportunity to see enough of Luck to draw any real conclusions....I'd say that's a fair distinction.
 

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The genius of Joe Gibbs was continually re-inventing the offense to accentuate the talent of the qb.

Too many coaches today simply plug and play with new players as if they are always interchangeable with their predecessors.

Gibbs featured the moving pocket for a mobile Joe Theismann and ran a max pro set for the deep throwing but unathletic Mark Rypien.

In between he ran a 3 wide receiver set for Jay Schroeder who passed for a team record 4,109 in 1986.

If Gibbs had to go with Rex Grossman you can bet he would have featured the runniing game more early in the season and provide more backside support for the OTs in pass protection given Rex's penchant for the strip/fumble.

Most importantly Joe as with Schroeder would have had Rex throw downfield to the outside and eliminate those deep middle passes that were consistently picked or defended.

Why is Shanahan that inflexible?

In my mind it is that aspect to his character that has made him less effective as a coach here in DC.

Kyle can install an offense Matt Schaub ran to the Pro Bowl, but anyone can see Rex is not in that league.
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I think you're being too kind to Gibbs and too hard on Shanahan, Dog.

When it comes to making a passing game work with an untalented group of players. I give the Shanahans a big edge over Gibbs Two.

The playcalling was modified for McNabb and it was modified for Rex. Could it have been done better? Who really knows?
 

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Why is Shanahan that inflexible?

In my mind it is that aspect to his character that has made him less effective as a coach here in DC.

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It isn't just Shanahan, BD. It is most coaches in the league. Norv is famous in DC for the "What we do works" statement but I promise you most coaches believe that. Rarely do they take into account what a player does well but rather try to make the player do what their "system" requires.

Gibbs is in the HoF because he was the opposite of this and not just with his QB.

I think you're being too kind to Gibbs and too hard on Shanahan, Dog.

When it comes to making a passing game work with an untalented group of players. I give the Shanahans a big edge over Gibbs Two.

The playcalling was modified for McNabb and it was modified for Rex. Could it have been done better? Who really knows?
Over Gibbs Two - yes. Over Gibbs One - no. Over his first 12 years in Washington, I think Gibbs adjusted for his player personnel better than any coach before or since.
 

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...Any thoughts on how the broad interpretations possible of the term "mobile" as it pertains to modern NFL quarterbacks might relate to the original post?...
There's no dictionary to report the common word usage in scouting reports, but it's my impression that the term "pocket passer" infers that the QB is not an exceptional athlete, compared to other QBs, and lacks the kind of mobility and athleticism that would make him a weapon outside the pocket.
 

Om

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I guess what I'm getting at is that you seem to imply in the OP that a guy traditionally (to broaden the definition back out) considered a "pocket passer" would be ill-fitted to the Shanahan offense. If I'm reading that right, would it follow that you don't think a Manning, Brady, even an Eli Manning---all guys I believe fit the "pocket passer" label, and would argue are exceptional at finding space and buying time---could make this offense as dynamic as a guy like Cutler?

Just so no one thinks I'm sandbagging here....my ideal QB for today's NFL is a guy like Brees. He can stand in the pocket and go downfield, he feels the rush and can slide to buy the extra second, he can break out and run when necessary, and most importantly, he processes information and gets the ball out, accurately, as fast as anyone I can recall.

I haven't seen enough of Luck and RGIII to form an educated opinion on which would be the better fit in this system or have the greater upside overall....but I do feel pretty certain that Luck, certainly the less "athletic" of the two, would be fully capable of running the rollout plays in this offense. Once there, being a weapon outside the pocket becomes about downfield vision, reading coverages, accuracy and arm strength.

I don't care if my QB is capable of breaking off a 50 yard run--though obviously all things being equal it's an attractive quality. All I do ask in that regard is the ability to recognize and take the occasional 3rd-down coversion run up to 10-15 yards at crucial times. I'm far more interested in his ability to move behind the line of scrimmage when called upon, and then accurately deliver the ball when an option presents itself or get rid of it when it does not.
 

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I'm not given to speculate on trades, but I would not be shocked if Mike Shanahan tested the trade waters for Cutler or Romo. Both would do better in Mike's scheme than the schemes they've been trying to run.
 

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I'm not given to speculate on trades, but I would not be shocked if Mike Shanahan tested the trade waters for Cutler or Romo. Both would do better in Mike's scheme than the schemes they've been trying to run.
No chance Cutler is traded. He was lighting it up, CHI was thrilled before injury.

Romo might be available, but I'm not sure Shanny understands the ****storm that would follow amongst fans if he brought on a Dallas QB. Allen would, and very well might veto that trade option because of the potential fans reactions.
 

Ax

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One problem with this theory is, Rex Grossman runs the system very well. I don't think the system dictates he throw the ball to the other team. Or, fumble it every other time someone touches him. Granted, the roll outs aren't happening, but if not for the turnovers, and better play from the other 10 guys, they wouldn't be missed that much.
 

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