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NFC West: Nuances of “Hog Ball” Offenses

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NFL: DEC 29 Cardinals at Rams

In Tuesday’s article about the “Hog Ball” offenses in the NFC West, I asked my ROTB members to describe each of the 4 offenses. Plus, I asked you which offense, as a Cardinals’ fan, do you fear the most?

Well, much to my delight, the response that Josh_4291 wrote was extremely accurate—-so much so that I would like to paste it here so that I can get right to what I perceive are the nuances of each offense. Thank you, Josh! What he wrote is in italics:

Seattle: West Coast System (?) with boots and waggles for Russell and beautiful tear drop deep passes(Russ imo throws the league’s best deep ball 2nd to P.Mahomes. Russell’s look prettier though. Their running game sets up Russel throwing deep.

49ers: Exotic ground and pound to try and exert their will. One of the most extensive and creative uses of I-formation and zone running schemes in the league. Absolutely love how Shanahan uses his full backs and RB’s in the receiving creative. Liken this offensive scheme to Stefansky’s scheme. Tons of I Formation.

LA Rams: 3WR, bunch formations with extensive use of play action and bootlegs/rollouts for Jared Goff. Great downfield throwing system with wide open receivers frequently. McVay loves to use his 11 and 12 personnel. Tons of misdirection in this offense. Playaction, Playaction, Playaction.

Cardinals: Precision and accuracy within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Extensive use of behind line of scrimmage throws and screens. Although, is this why perhaps Kyler is INT prone this year where he is testing defenses more downfield compared to last season where it was very safe?

Most feared NFC West offense: Rams (Maybe this is because we have not beaten more badly than any team in the league besides the Rams. The Rams I feel have a great downfield throwing system and an incredible coach. I was really interested to see how the Bills defense attacked the Rams last week with their quarters Cover 4. (I think this might be the one zone defense that gives Kyler the most trouble).

Offensive Nuances:

Seahawks: OC Brian Schottenheimer

Coaching Influences: Marty Schottenheimer (dad, whom Brian credits for his knowledge of running attack schemes and principles), Steve Spurrier, Dick Vermeil, Paul Hackett and Mike McCarthy (West Coast offense principles).

Core Plays: “Drive”, “Shallow”, “Play Action Spear”, “Play Action Slide and “Double China 7”

This SI article by Matty F. Brown (Nov. 9, 2019) is a brilliant breakdown of Shotty’s concepts:

Profile: Schotty’s offense features a power running game with combo power and zone blocking principles, that is designed to ensure ball control, shorter downs and distances which facilitates a robust, dynamic play action menu for QB Russell Wilson. Schotty always has RPO and speed option wrinkles to turn to when he feels that Wilson can highlight his QB as one of the best and cagiest QB running threats in the NFL.

Most Recent Game Changer: WR D.K. Metcalf.

In the past the Seahawks’ passing offense consisted of Russell and the Smurfs (diminutive, quick WRs like Tyler Lockett, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse)—-and so much of the passing offense was predicated on short to intermediate passes that Schotty hoped would lead to chunk yard RACs.

But ever since D.K. Metcalf (6-4, 229) was added to the mix, Schotty has turned his focus into employing a more vertical passing game—-and with great success. Here Metcalf is beating All Pro CB Stephan Gilmore of the Patriots on a 54 yard bomb:

The Key for Opposing DCs: getting to Russell Wilson on the pass rush before he can uncork his deep passes—-which he routinely drops in the bucket. Plus, containing Wilson as often as possible.

49ers: HC/OC Kyle Shanahan

Coaching Influences: Mike Shanahan (dad), Jon Gruden, Gary Kubiak

Core Plays: “Power O Run”, “Crack Toss Seeep”, “RB circle/out Option Pass”, “Yankee Route” “Hi-Lo Mesh”, “RPO Slant.

15 of his core plays are diagrammed and discussed here:

Greg Bishop of SI (January 31, 2020) wrote a compelling piece about Kyle Shanahan’s offensive philosophy—-starting with the fact that he prefers OL who are athletic, RBs who have sprinter’s speed and TEs who can block, but strike for 80 yard TDs when the moment is just right. This is a great read—-worth every minute of it.

Most Recent Game Changer: Deebo Samuel

When Kyle Shanahan drafted South Carolina WR Deebo Samuel in the 2nd round of the 2019 NFL Draft, he may have been taking a page out of Sean McVay’s book of trying to find possession WRs who can run like RBs when bread loose for RACs (runs after catches).

Immediately last season on their run to the Super Bowl, Deebo Samuel made Shanny’s staple “RPO Slant” pass an almost impossible play to defend—-plus having to chase down Samuel once the catch is made. When the QB puts the ball in the belly of a RB like Rakeem Mostert, the ILB has a major decision to make—-does he step up to take away the run, or does he guess it’s a pass and fan out to his hook zone, so as to cut off Deebo Samuel?

What Shanny has learned, much to his delight, is that even some of the best ILBers freeze in their tracks on the RPO and, as a result, BOTH the run and the pass could go for a big gain.

Here is Samuel scoring on a 42 yard “Slant Pass” TD. It wasn’t off of an RPO, but this is the classic route that Shanny hopes can turn his WR into a RAC dynamo:

The Key for Opposing DCs: Finding athletic, aggressive ways to get to Shanahan’s array of fast RBs and WRs before they can break loose on chunk yard runs and RACs. Oh, and, while they are at it—-keeping consistently tight coverage on All Pro TE george Kittle and, let’s not forget Shanny’s secret short yardage, red zone blocking and receiving weapon, FB Kyle Jusczcyk.

Rams: HC/OC Sean McVay

Coaching Influences: Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan, Jay Gruden

Here is a fresh off the press article of McVay’s offense written by Ted Nguyen of The Athletic. Ted is a masterful film analyst—-and he shows here how and why McVay is so successful in employing stack formations, jet motions and elaborate screen pass schemes in order to get the defense to move one way and then have to redirect in order to defend the play.

When you watch the Rams’ offense, aren’t you often amazed at how easy it is for QB Jared Goff to bootleg off of play action and have no defender near him as he rolls to his right or left to complete easy passes on crossing routes and on out and sideline passes?

Dominique Foxworth of The Undefeated has the perfect explanations as to why McVay and Goff pull off their misdirection plays with such stunning success, practically week after week. Foxworth attributes this success to the Rams’ condensed formations:

Condensed formations benefit the Rams in several ways. They shorten the edge of the defense for outside runs. They also allow receivers to block in the running game. On bootlegs and waggles, they allow receivers to down-block on the defensive end, ensuring that the quarterback can roll out of the pocket and have more time to throw. And when teams have adjusted by putting the defensive end outside of the receiver, they’ve left a large running gap for the offense.

Condensed formations also facilitate picks and crossing routes that can’t be stopped in press man coverage. So teams don’t press the Rams, giving their receivers free releases off the line. And teams will play a lot more zone against the Rams, which is weak against the flood concepts that the Rams run most often. Zone coverages also give defenders more rules and responsibilities, which means there are more opportunities for McVay to create mismatches and contradictions that can result in blown coverages.

After the first 3 games of this season, the Rams are averaging 449.7 yards per game (#3 in NFL) with 287.7 ypg passing and 170.3 ypg rushing, while putting up 29.7 points per game—-versus the Cowboys (20-17 W at home), Eagles (37-19 W on the road) and Bills (35-32 L on the road). They gave those traditionally strong defenses fits.

Most Recent Game Changer: RB Darrell Henderson, Jr.

Some fans and pundits expected a drop-off in the Rams’ running game after they moved on from All Pro Todd Gurley. Not so fast. Enter their 2019 3rd round pick from Memphis, Darrell Henderson Jr. who is a compact, powerful runner with 4.49 speed. In three games this season, Henderson has accumulated 201 yards (114 versus the Bills) at 5.7 yards per carry and 2 TDs. He also has 3 receptions for 46 yards (15.3 ave.) and is already showing he’s ideal for their screen and swing pass schemes.

The Rams thrive in the passing game with their dynamic duo at WR in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp (421 receiving yards combined, plus 82 yards combined rushing on jet sweeps and reverses, a staple of the McVay offense—-led NFL with 30 WR carries in 2019) and talented duo at TE in Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. Here is Woods on an easy end-around TD:

The Key for Opposing DCs:

Contain, contain, contain. Defenses have to find a way for their edge defenders to stay at home and contain McVay’s misdirection schemes via bootlegs, end-arounds and screens. The edges have to slip past or fight their way out of crack-back blocks in order to turn these plays into the inside help/pursuit. Hemming Jared Goff and the wide runs inside the tackle box is of utmost priority—-if you give Goff the RBs and WRs easy access to the edge—-you are likely in for a long afternoon.

Cardinals: Kliff Kingsbury

Coaching influences: Hal Mumme, Mike Leach, Bill Belichick, Dana Holgorsen

When Kliff Kingsbury arrived in Arizona with his Air Raid offense, the first thing he vowed was to cater the NFL version of his offense to the strengths of the personnel. We know that Kingsbury would prefer to run a steady diet of 10 personnel (4 WR spread)—-which is predicated on WRs becoming runners on quick hitch and bubble screens and gaining quick separation via “mesh” and rub concepts so that the QB can get the ball out quickly.

What Kingsbury quickly learned was that his WRs were not quite as adept as RAC runners on the quick hitch screens and were not quite as sudden in their breaks so as to gain consistent separation—-so what he did was to switch over to 11 and 12 personnel in order to add an extra blocker (TE) or two in order to establish a power running attack, which would then open up a variety of RPOs and play action passes.

With the addition of WR DeAndre Hopkins, Kingsbury now has a nifty, slippery press overage breaker who has outstanding instincts and moves as a separator and in creating RAC yards off of bubble screens and quick passes. Thus far, Kingsbury’s tendency has been to isolate Hopkins to the left side of offense, thus forcing opponents to shade their FS to Hopkins’ side, which helps to create better downfield opportunities for the bunch receivers to the right side.

Adding to Kingsbury’s Air Raid schemes and Sean Kugler’s power running game, QB Kyler Murray is a dynamic threat to run off of a variety of designed runs or on scrambles when the pocket breaks down.

This article and video analysis from For the Win’s Steven Ruiz is a very good depiction of how quickly Kingsbury adapted his offense to the strengths of his personnel—-and this article was written before Kingsbury landed RB Kenyan Drake in a trade.

A good companion video to Ruiz’s article of Kingsbury’s innovative offense is from viQtory Sports:

Most Recent Game Changer: DeAndre Hopkins

Kliff Kingsbury has made it his mission this season for the offense to play faster and at a higher tempo, thus the addition of DeAndre Hopkins is tailor made for this purpose, as evidenced by this highlight video of his Cardinals’ debut:

My hunch is that as this seasons evolves, Kingsbury is going to try to take advantage of the speed and quickness that Chase Edmonds, Andy Isabella and Christian Kirk offer, so as to create chunk yard RAC scenarios that will make it even more difficult for defense to contend with, in addition to trying to contain Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins and their chemistry.

The Key for Opposing DCs:

The biggest question for DCs is how they will try to defend Kyler Murray and the pressure he puts on them with his arm and his feet. The safest way to ensure help on Murray is to run zone defenses, but that can lead to some easy pitches and catches into the gray areas of those zones which can allow the Cardinals to sustain drives. DCs may hope that taking a more “bend but don’t break” approach will help them contain Murray as best they can with the hope that the Cardinals continue to incur drive stalling penalties and turnovers. DCs are apt to believe that if they can keep the Cardinals’ offense in the low 20s as the Lions did, then they could have a decent chance of winning the game.

The NFC West is the Wild Wild West of NFL offenses—-the kind of which that would make a passing game innovator like Don “Air” Coryell very proud while at the same time pleasing the likes of the legendary “Ground” Chuck Noll. In the NFC West—-these offenses attempt to do it all.

Obviously the last thing you would want is to give Russell Wilson the ball with enough time on the clock to win a close game—-but aside from that—-I tend to agree with Josh that the Rams’ offense is the most difficult to defend on the whole.

What do you think and how would you rank these high scoring offenses?