Hello my fellow fans. With the recent criticism our offense has seen over the past days, weeks, months, I thought it would be a good idea to look a little more in depth at what we’re seeing on Sundays and decided to write this, my first ever FanPost on Baltimore Beatdown. So, if you decide to take the time to read all of it, I want you to know that I greatly, greatly appreciate it and I hope you enjoy it.
The Air Coryell offense, or the"vertical offense", is an offensive scheme designed by one time San Diego coach, Don Coryell, in the 1970s-1980s. The basics of this offense include:
- An emphasis on down field, vertical passing that features most or all WRs and TEs running deep or mid-range routes with at least two deep targets on any given play
- Timing routes, where the QB is to throw to a pre-determined "spot" where the receiver will "meet" the ball
- Sometimes having no set formations to allow receivers to move about freely in motion for a variety of reasons such as: reading the defense, creating mis-matches, and most importantly, putting the defensive back that is shadowing the receiver off balance, so that the receiver has an easier time beating an attempted jam by the DB off of the line
- Strong and steady pass protection so that the receivers may complete their routes
- A power inside running game with an emphasis on having a big, tall, strong armed "pocket" Quarterback
Again, these are just some of the basic principles of an offense that, quite honestly, is very intricate, and delicate, requiring the utmost precision to meet its full potential. I’m not saying that all of these principles apply to the particular variation that Baltimore runs.
While Baltimore has addressed its need for bigger, faster receivers, the Coryell offense, in its most simple form, requires that each receiver have speed and size. While several of Baltimore’s WRs and TEs have the size advantage (Boldin, Dickson, Pitta), others have the speed factor (T. Smith, Evans), but Baltimore doesn’t really have one receiver that combines both attributes with the exception of perhaps T. Smith and Dickson. Remember, this offense requires rare human beings that fit a very specific mold.
Recently Baltimore’s offense has been criticized by fans, players and coaches alike for being very vanilla, with our own Offensive Coordinator saying that, "there’s probably some predictability to it." Since this offensive scheme is based on a lot of deep timing routes that are thrown to a particular spot, I’d imagine that it would be a pretty easy read for a solid secondary to know that when Torrey takes off, you better bring safety help over the top. I think that this has been a key issue for our offense this season. Once Torrey had his break out game in St. Louis, teams knew that they had to stop him - usually by putting their best DBs on him and bringing safety help. Because Smith has been our only real and consistent deep threat this season, it has hindered the offenses overall production in a system that requires several burners.
Another factor that has hindered our version of the Coryell offense has been our overall pass protection. Deep routes being called with much frequency means that the protection the QB receives must be ample. This isn't always the case, especially against very good pass rushing teams like Houston. Instead of neutralizing the pass rush with quick slants and shorter patterns, we tend to stay true to the ways of going for the long ball. If we’re so committed to hitting big plays all the while having shaky O-Line play, why not add new wrinkles to the overall system? For example, Joe rolling to his right where he has shown to be effective, the shotgun formation, or even adding extra blockers like a TE. Any of these are small and easy adjustments that wouldn’t have to stop our endless propensity to go deep, and would make a big difference.
In general, a main goal of the Coryell offense is to spread out a defense, forcing the opposition to have to cover as much of the field as possible by repeatedly sending multiple targets deep. The best example I can think of that demonstrates an Air Coryell system working up to its potential would be our very own Baltimore v San Diego game this season. It was clear that our secondary was over matched and we were constantly being beat deep by bigger, faster receivers.
As a whole, I don’t hate the Air Coryell offense as far as how it pertains to our team. I’ve said this many times and it’s the only way I can easily describe our offensive system and our current personnel: square peg, round hole. There is something that just doesn’t quite fit and doesn’t seem to come naturally, but instead feels forced. I do, however, think that with some of the minor tweaks I’ve mentioned our offense could at least survive, even produce much better results. If we are going to continue running this offense I think it would be wise to start disguising routes using bunch formations so DBs can’t always key in on our deep threat guys and hope that said DBs get "lost in traffic" a bit. It would be great to mix in some shorter quick stuff to keep the defense honest and most of all, pick our spots better when it comes to going for those homeruns. If Cameron stays around a while to continue his "reign of terror", we need to get some more pieces in place, because it seems to me that we’re only halfway there under the Air Coryell from both a pure personnel and schematic view.