WCO: Learning from Bill Walsh

Otto Greule Jr Getty Images Sport

From the FanPosts -Joel

Good football is like pornography: you know it when you see it. Bad football is like emotional water-boarding: you want something to stop so bad it hurts but it keeps going, and every now and then you get a small glimpse of good football only to once again be drowned with a flood of bad. It's past time for a breath of fresh air. Welcome, Andy!

I'll be honest, other than my occasional obsession with Madden NFL 12, I've never been a big student of the game. Sure, I know more than the basics, but I had to do research to learn what the heck a "5 Tech" player or a 2-Gap system is (Thanks for the articles, Kalo!). AP has always been where I go for detailed information in understandable articles. With the arrival of Andy Reid, I've decided to break out my thinking cap and educate myself a bit on exactly what kind of system KC fans have been drafted into.

Related: The Chiefs in the WCO | The guide to Andy Reid

In my research I've come across a small mountain of information written by Bill Walsh, one of the more famous proponents of the WCO and sensei to Andy Reid, Mike Holmgren, and Mike Shanahan to name a few. You might recognize those names. I'll post some links to that mountain of info at the end, but make sure you've got the time to invest. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. It was truly fascinating to peek behind the scenes to developing an offensive philosophy. The amount of dense information also covered a great deal of nuts and bolts regarding the development of QBs and receivers. Anyway, back to Bill.

The basic philosophy of the WCO is to use the pass 65-80% of the time rather than run. The objective is to go over a defense with the pass rather than trying to beat your way through with the run. To paraphrase Bill, "I'd much rather have the defense chasing me into the end zone than to run through them to get there." This system puts a lot of pressure on a defense's ability to repeatedly cover five receiving threats. A completed pass often means a 1st down, and a missed tackle can often mean six points. By utilizing timed patterns and accurate passing, the WCO tries to get ahead early, forcing the opponent to play catch-up. Another paraphrase is, "score with the pass, win with the run", denoting the ability to milk the clock with the run at the end of a game once a good lead is established (I'm trying not to think of Martyball there). Of course, that was then and this is now. Does it still work? Defensive coordinators adapt. Defenders get smarter, faster, and bigger. Timing is disrupted. Before answering that vital question, let's look at what it would take to succeed.

Quarterback. Much like the NT is the lynch pin of the 3-4 defense, the QB is the focal point of every offensive play. Without the right person in place, this could be a disaster. Successful QBs in this system all had two attributes in common: near instantaneous read and react skill, and a high degree of throwing accuracy. Other helpful attributes would be mobility, unflappability, intelligence, and leadership to name an additional few.

With the basic philosophy in mind, it's kind of obvious what you'd need from your QB. A player that can lead a huddle, approach the line and make accurate pre-snap reads of defensive alignment, have a command of the playbook so he can make adjustments to the play at the line, footwork and timing to take a controlled snap where it needs to go (3, 5, 7-step drop, roll-out), ability to see how the defense is reacting and know where the open receiver is going to be, pocket awareness to sense and adjust to pressure, ability to throw the ball accurately to the spot the receiver will be when the ball arrives, and the knowledge that throwing the ball away is better than being sacked and fumbling. Interceptions ARE going to happen in a pass heavy offense, but the accuracy of the passer to place the ball where only the receiver can make a play is what helps limit their frequency.

Having the right kind of receiver for this system obviously improves the effectiveness of the QB. In the WCO, RBs and TEs are just as likely to receive a pass as a WR. The attributes they should all have in common are: release (avoiding being thrown off a route by being bumped at the LOS), route running (able to identify a defense and run appropriate patterns, creating separation from coverage on breaks), hands (ability to catch the ball under duress), YAC (able to maneuver for additional yards after catching the ball). Think Jerry Rice-type guys. Dropping a catchable ball will not be tolerated long. If you are not a threat to reliably catch the ball, you won't be in this offense.

Now that we've got a feel for what's required and desired from the QB and the receivers, which players on the current roster have those attributes and/or where can the Chiefs acquire those types of players?

The current roster has numerous receiver options that seem malnourished with our recent QB troubles. Without someone getting them the ball, there isn't a lot a receiver can do other than become a RB a la Percy Harvin. Charles, McCluster, and Wylie coyote seem to be ideal candidates for this offense because of their ability to create yards. A couple of them may not be able to break a tackle to get those yards, but the difficulty they create in tackling them helps make up for it. It's like playing tag with a gnat. Sure, you tag him really hard, but getting the tag is hard as hell. All it takes is one missed tackle and they're in for six.

Moeaki and Boss both have receiving skills, but Boss' concussion issues means additional depth would be prudent.

Bowe, Baldwin, Breaston, Copper, and Hemmingway? Ah...I'll admit I'm not sold on any of them. Bowe can catch the dropsies (ha, pun fun...that sounds like a Tai meal), but he's the only elite receiver in the group. Baldwin seems like he's still a lump of clay and going through another OC already. The rest have at least got the mystery of either not playing or not playing much. Is there untapped potential left there? I doubt it, but I just don't know. I do know that draft day should see one or two new faces in their crowd to amp up the competition for PT in a pass heavy scheme. It shouldn't take long to find out who can run a crisp route and catch the ball in traffic. Which leads us to draft day.

I fully expect the draft hype machine to go into overdrive between now and the moment the pick is called, and rightly so. It's what's so fun about football that we can enjoy the Superbowl and move right into two months of draft coverage. The football season never ends. At the end of all the hype, however, I expect the Chiefs to draft Geno Smith. From what I've been able to glean, he has the attributes the position needs. Does he have weaknesses? Yes, he does. Footwork would be my biggest concern, but it's only one of them. I expect the Chiefs will also pick up a veteran QB to help mentor Smith and possibly even start the season while Smith works out some kinks in his game. I won't presume to guess which FA that might be.

Once the QB has been picked I expect (hope) the picks are BPA with favor given to position of need (ILB, CB, WR, S). If Arthur Brown (LB Kansas St) is there at #34, I'd snap him up. I expect him to be gone, leaving the choice between CBs Millner, Trufant, and Rhodes (all currently projected as 1st round talent). After that, WR Da'Rick Rogers (Tennessee Tech) is my early favorite for 3rd round pick A or Stedman Bailey (West Virginia) with 3B or 4A. It is widely thought that the Chiefs will be awarded a late 3rd or early 4th round compensatory pick as a result of Carr heading to Dallas. After that I'll wait to see.

It's highly likely that my entire scenario is blown up after the Chiefs enter the FA market, but I'm of the opinion that you pay to keep your good players and build through the draft. Rewards come from excelling within a team framework and FA acquisitions excelled in someone else's team framework with no guarantee that they'll be able to do it in yours. My only exception to FA signings would be the "prove-it" type contracts that give a former star a chance at regaining their form at a supreme discount. As long as they know that PT is not guaranteed, there's little risk and potentially great reward.

I've gotten off topic a bit there. The point is that there are players on the roster and in the upcoming draft that fit the ideal of what the WCO tries to do. Returning to my previous point; Does it still work? Yes, but it has evolved with the changes in rules and defenses. Offensive plays can be called to negate the press coverage or just about any other defensive modification. As long as you've got the right tools for the system, the system can adapt to effectively execute the philosophy.

Here are two YouTube links to an NFL Films QB clinic with Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, and Roger Craig. I love how YouTube makes this possible!

Part 1

Part 2

Here are the links to the deep reading. Literally hundreds of pages of reading and the most fun studying you'll ever have. Since some of the terminology was new to me, it forced me to make copious notes for even more studying.

Bill Walsh QB Manual

1982 49ers Bill Walsh Offense

1985 49ers Bill Walsh Offense

Watching and reading these things has reinvigorated my hope for where this franchise can go.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.

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