Breaking Down Ben McAdoo And The West Coast Offense


It is no secret that Ben McAdoo is a West Coast guy who was the quarterbacks coach for the Green Bay Packers in his previous job. The West Coast offense is one of those little terms that gets a lot of talk but many fans have no clue what its all truly about. As a West Coast guy, I will give you a quick clinic on it.

This style of offense is beautifully simple. The goal is to stretch the field horizontally instead of vertically. This makes the defense defend the entire width of the field. When defenders get cocky and begin to jump the short routes, that’s when Eli Manning will burn the defense deep.

The West Coast offense is generally thought of as the brain child of the late and great Bill Walsh, but many versions of it have originated from great coaches like Don Coryell and Bud Grant. It was conceived out of necessity.

Dec 20, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; General view of statues of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback

Joe Montana

(left) and coach Bill Walsh at the 49ers museum before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Levi

When Walsh was the offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals he had Virgil Carter as his quarterback. He was an accurate passer but he did not have the greatest arm.

Walsh did not think he was revolutionizing football at the time, he just was doing what it took to win with Carter under center. A huge coaching tactic that is used over and over is the idea of using the strengths of players over plays.

The 46 bear defense put a choke hold on offensive football in the 1980’s. The quick passing of the West Coast attack was a new way to beat run oriented defenses. When you load the tackle box to stop the run or to rush the passer, you often create 1 on 1 match ups with receivers. This made the quick slant the signature play of this offensive mindset. Why run into a wall when you can pass your way around it?

The passing routes in the West Coast offense work in perfect harmony with the quarterback’s drop back from center. If the quarterback throws a quick slant, a pass that uses a 3 step drop back the receiver should take about six strides to be in position. If the quarterback throws a deep post on a7 step drop, the receiver will have taken about 14 strides before he gets the football. You get the basic idea, its just simple arithmetic.

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The West Coast offense often includes the running back as a receiving option. There are several reasons for this. The quick passing relieves much of the need to keep the back in for pass protection. Secondly, the running back is another option in the passing game that stretches the defense out the way it simply does not want to stretch.

A key concept in the West Coast system is a Texas route. The running back runs diagonally out towards the offensive tackle than cuts sharply into the middle of the field.

The linebacker responsible for the back runs out with the quicker running back. The running back now has leverage and a step or two on the linebacker for an easy completion. The Texas route is often run with a tight end out route, creating conflict for linebackers in coverage.

The idea of scripting the beginning plays of a game may not be exclusive to the West Coast offense, but it is a principle. There are a couple of reasons why this is so important. Firstly this style of offense is so predicated on timing and execution; the receivers have to be where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be. The offense needs to get clicking right away.

The next part of the scripting plays component is that the play caller wants to gather information on how the defense is going to play them. The offense might shuffle personnel packages on the field to get a feel for how the defense prepared for each unit.

The play caller may also want to set up plays for later. If they hit a few slants early in the game then it could open the door for a big play off the Sluggo-Seam route combination. A sluggo is a slant and go, the receiver runs a slant and when the defensive back jumps on it he turns up field for deep. The seam route goes well with it because it puts so much pressure on the safeties.

The West Coast offense is just a collection of concepts that have been found to work well together. It is not overly complicated its just a type of offense. Its a type of offense that works and that most every team integrates parts of it into their game planning. It essentially boils down to taking what the defense will give you.

Dec 14, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo before a game against the Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

McAdoo comes from the Mike McCarthy’s Packers. It’s an offense that is engrained into his play calling DNA. This does not mean that he is some rocket scientist, it just means that he is well schooled in the concepts of it to the point of execution.

So here is the deal, the next time you’re in the bar and some liquid courage aided guy starts bad mouthing McAdoo simply because of one play in one game, you know what to do.

You simply explain to him what he is doing and why he is doing it. Its an offense that has been tested and developed over generations of football.