Observations of a former defensive back on Norm Chow’s West Coast Offense

I belong to a sports site that does a lot of analysis over UCLA sports.  There’s one member that had a post that I thought was particularly insightful because it comes from a player’s experience.  Here it is, paraphrased:

"In Dorrell’s 5 years, we never saw the ‘west coast offense" for two reasons:

1) There is no ONE SINGLE west coast offense.  Any offense that :

  • runs quick slants
  • puts a premium of RBs who can catch
  • "shares the ball" and , to the worst of the "informed", "shares the ball"

…is defined as a WCO.

2) From my experience both playing and picking the brains who played longer and better is, the west coast offense demands:

  • timing
  • the wide receivers reading the defense and making breaks accordingly
  • the quarterback knowing what these breaks will be
  • passing to set up the run
  • Wide Receivers being able to run after the catch.

Additionally, the WCO assumes things in opposite to traditional/old school offensive designs e.g. a pass is as safe as a run; a passing game can control the ball as well as a running game.  The term "WCO" has become everything and therefore, inevitably, nothing.  We never saw a traditional WCO in 5 years with Dorrell.

The WCO is not my favorite offense.  It demands patience and flawless execution.  Most teams will concede staples of the WCO – short slants, check down to Running Backs, because most teams believe, correctly so, that the longer an offense is on the field, the more likely they will self destruct.  There are 3 means of self-destruction that most Defensive Coordinators bank on defending a true WCO:

  • The offense is more apt to turn the ball over the more plays the offense must run.
  • The points the WCO generates are more apt to generate FGs than TDs because the WCO, usually is willing to take shorter successes and once in the red zone, as with all offense, has a difficult time punching the ball in.
  • Most importantly, most coaches and or QBs audible-ing, do not have the wherewithal or patience to nickel and dime.  Invariably, they will go for a big play that may yield a TO, sack, or penalty.
  • The longer an offense is on the field, the more apt it is to commit a penalty. the WCO is not designed to overcome the inevitable 1st and 15s or 20’s that come from penalties.

Whatever Chow calls his offense or whatever the media calls it, rest assured the offense will be creative and trust that if Chow decides to implement a WCO, it will be nothing like the Dorrell imitation that vacillated between 3 yards and a cloud of dust and passing game that did little to free its receivers either via formations, picks, floods or implementing one receiver to clear a zone and having a secondary receiver hesitate to trail into the zone vacated.

In summary, receivers will be open in Chow’s offense and receivers can be open in a WCO, even in college.  I’m a defensive guy, played d-0-1 defense (corner–not at UCLA) and fancy myself knowledgeable.  But even when I watch old USC tapes when Chow coordinated and knew what he was doing in terms of floods and decoys, other than getting to the QB, I saw no way to prevent Wide Receivers from getting open, even knowing where each receiver was going.

Chow is simply a master."

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