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Brett Kollmann: History of the Spread Offense

St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Head coach Don “Air” Coryell of the St. Louis Cardinals talks with players prior to the start of an NFL football game circa 1973. Coryell coached the Cardinals from 1973-77.

In the comments section of my plea on the Red Rain Episode 3 podcast for Kliff Kingsbury to open up the Cardinals’ offense, ROTB stalwart UACardinalsFan, posed this outstanding question:

“Walter, I just watched Kollmann’s video on the evolution of the spread. Do you think Kugs and Keim are forcing KK to merge a more old style NFL run game with spread passing? Wouldn’t a spread run game like the Rams or Niners work better?”

To know the video that UACF was referring to and to garner a more insightful view of the spread offense that Kliff Kingsbury is famous for, here is Brett Kollmann’s brilliant tracing of three of the most trendy and ever-evolving offensive trends in the NFL:

As a Cardinals’ fan, I feel so very proud to know that my all-time favorite Cardinals’ head coach, Don Coryell, is a key figure in the NFL’s evolution of the spread offense —- and to see that 50 years later, the Cardinals have a head coach in Kliff Kingsbury who is so well versed in the history, the play designs and the concepts of spread offense.

My quick answer to UACF’s question was:

UACF, I fear that Keim and Kugler are trying to stress the running game more than they should. There were times last year when it looked like Mike McCoy was calling the running plays. So many wasted downs and scoring chances, imo.

To which UCFA wrote:

Agreed. Drake didn’t look dynamic last year. There seemed to be a lot of slamming him straight up the middle into the DL. He also didn’t seem fast enough to get to the outside. Although maybe it was just difficult to judge because Kyler is so quick and would regularly get 10 yards on his runs.

To which FriarFan32 added:

Walter, it could just be me making things up but it felt like the running game last season was much more boring than 2019. It felt like almost all of our runs were between the tackles. In 2019 I remember there being more options and sweeps. Would like to see a return of that as I feel those runs benefit the running style of Edmonds. I have no problem with allowing Conner to run it up the gut but you can get creative with him too.

I think UCFA and FF32 are right on the money. With Sean Kugler being promoted to running game coordinator this season, I wonder just how much that could affect Kliff Kingsbury’s play calling and his overall offensive approach on game days.

I believe in the Chip Kelly/Ryan Day (former QB for Kelly at UNH, BC OC and now Ohio St. HC/OC) philosophy that running the ball out of a spread can actually increase the offense’s running game efficiency. Like I mentioned about Kelly on the podcast —- it’s all about running the ball to areas of the field where you can have a numbers advantage.

When I met John Madden and studied his playbook, his favorite play of all-time was a weak side off-tackle play where he was able to out-number the defenders. See the first play off this video, where Madden runs the weak side off tackle play to Bo Jackson and sells it even better on a counter spin move by Jackson:

UACF makes a great point in referencing how Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan tend to run the ball, mostly out of 11 personnel —- where every running playing has multiple play action wrinkles via fake handoff drop backs, bootlegs, waggles or sprint out RPOs.

UACF, imo, is 100% correct. Kyler Murray would be outstanding at running that style of offense —- that is, if he would line up over center more frequently the way the Rams’ and 49ers’ QBs do. That kind of offense would create such a frenzied haboob that it would put enormous pressure on defenses just to try to locate Kyler Murray and the football.

Now that the Cardinals’ players know what a haboob is, let’s see if they can create one!