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Chicago Bears

The West Coast Offense: A beautifully designed machine, that is if you’re the 1980’s 49ers.


So, here is a picture of me with Matt Nagy. I drove an hour and a half on a Sunday afternoon in summer 2019, and things with the Bears after 2018 looking fantastic.

Narrator: “But things would not be fantastic….

The whole time in line, I thought of what to ask this guy. Right before the picture I ask what offense he runs. He says, “West Coast.” I says to myself, “Took you a half hour to ask that question Dundas, good job.”

Bill Walsh and his “System”

The West Coast was made famous by Bill Walsh with the 1980’s 49ers. It had been used as a system during his time with the Bengals during the 1970’s. It is an offense heavily based on precision and timing, but also for throwing an unpredictable amount of concepts at a defense. In general, Walsh’s West Coast Offense attempts to open up running and passing lanes for the backs and receivers to exploit, by causing the defense to concentrate on short passes. So, it’s not so much deep passes setting up runs, but short passes functioning ad “wide tosses” or runs. Absolutely their are deep shots made available in each play, that is of course if the defense leaves them available, which usually they don’t.

If it doesn’t work, just google the title on You Tube. “Bill Walsh: A Football Life – The West Coast Offense” It’s the first thing that pops up. Best 8 minutes of your life. Wait a second, that could be misconstrued….eh, forget it. It very well may be your best 8 minutes.

(also as you read a quick description, think about how none of this fits Mitch Trubisky. Like, at all.)

Another key element in Walsh’s attack was the three step dropback, which helped the quarterback get the ball out faster resulting in far fewer sacks. It also requires a quarterback who throws extremely accurately, and often blindly, very close to opposing players. It’s a progression, 1st guy, then second then third, and your feet determine when to throw, hence why Bill Walsh was beyond anal retentive about proper pocket footwork. In addition, it requires the quarterback to be able to quickly pick the best one of five receivers to throw to, certainly much more quickly than in previously used systems. 

Speaking of other systems, there are three overall systems that all teams use, and they create their own internal design from them. There is the aforementioned West Coast, the “Erhardt-Perkins”, which uses a numbering system that tells each each receiver which route to run within the play call, and the “Air Coryell” which prided itself on deep shots. If you have watched ball the past few decades, your 90’s Dallas Cowboys ran by Norv Turner would be an example of “Erhardt-Perkins”, and the the Greatest Show on Turf Rams would be a descendent of Air Coryell.

A West Coast coaching tree.

***You may be familiar with some of these famous and or infamous coaching stalwarts from the 2000s. Some of them adhere to West Coast principles, some others have mixed other concepts in to stay fresh.

As you noted, Matt Nagy is connected to Reid through being on the Chiefs staff in the mid 2010’s. Many moons ago in the 1990’s, Reid worked under Packers head coach Mike Holmgren. Holmgren was the OC for the late 80’s 49ers under Bill Walsh. I bet, running arguably the best offense in football catapulted Holmgren into the Packers job? I wonder……

Here’s the deal. Andy Reid in his 20 years of calling plays, has started accruing plays from everywhere, college included. It’s kind of like the English language, where 40% of the words have a Latin base, but we have other historical groups and cultures contributing to it. Just because Reid is a West coast guy, doesn’t mean he is going to replicate Bill Walsh’s playbook and do nothing else. I have watched the Arizona Cardinals, whose head coach and QB played in Air Raid systems in college. Are there some Air Raid pass plays, and concepts by staying spread out, staying in shotgun? Sure. Is it every damn play? Hell no. It wasn’t straight 2×2 and run mesh crossers all day like a Texas tech game.  It’s called adapting because you are in the NFL.

***Side Note: Also, Reid’s offenses haven’t started to explode scoreboards until he got some immensely talented skill players, BUT it takes two to tango. It is a coach player match made in heaven. Credit where credit is due. Maybe Nagy saw this and said, I am NOT going to deviate from the West Coast, if I had my chance to run it, I want to show that it works.

Narrator: “But it would not work…..”

Enough of the history that has literally shaped the game forever…..what about my darned Bears!!

So Matt Nagy has said every week, “we just need to get the details down”, so you can tell he is a West Coast acolyte. Bill Walsh had Jerry Rice and that Joey Montana guy, but they also had Bill Walsh. Matt Nagy doesn’t have the luxury. He keeps preaching his system. You may have seen this quote on local Bears media coverage. The Bears TE coach Clancy Barone said:

LIKE I HAVE SAID BEFORE, WE DON’T HAVE A LOT OF ‘HIM’ ROUTES. WE HAVE VERY FEW PLAYS THAT WE TRY TO GAME PLAN TO SCHEME TO GET SOMEBODY OPEN,” “OFTEN TIMES IT GOES WITH OUR QUARTERBACKS READ. IF IT’S MAN, HE’S LOOKING TO GO ON THIS SIDE, AND IF IT’S ZONE HE’S LOOKING TO GO ON THAT SIDE.

To quote a millennial girl making a blog…..”So basicallyyyyyy”…… Coach Nagy does not “tag” or make a player the first one in a progression. With the West Coast, everyone works together, and whatever and whoever is open, is open. Bruh!? We tag dudes down at high school, so they can get touches with some of the adopted Air Raid passing concepts we do. How is this not difficult? The lack of adaptability is appalling.

As much as the O line has been a massive tire fire thanks to Ryan Pace not throwing a first round pick at it, like the previous paragraph said, people adapt. I know our giant playbook at my school, but down at JV, where you can’t pick and choose your dudes all the time, I wouldn’t try to run power behind a crappy guard who can’t down block, or attempt to run stretch zone behind a tackle who can’t move their feet. I can glean that Nagy is an above average play designer, but does not take into account personnel, or even perhaps defensive calls and fronts. Again, that’s like me calling fast screens to the perimeter, with the opposing corner already sitting down there in cover 2 blowing it up, and then me getting mad cause the receivers didn’t block. Fair to a point, but probably something that should be scrapped for that that day.

***This stubborn attitude is blatantly akin to Mike Martz trying to run his early 2000’s Rams offense with the 2010 Bears, except he was missing 4 Hall of Fame players. Also, Mike Martz hasn’t seen an NFL sideline since 2011. So there’s that.***

So here we are

I’ll leave it at this….. As I was making this, a comrade of mine posted on the Twitters: “I wish the Bears would have hired Frank Reich…..”

I responded so eloquently: “Maybe that decade and a half of being in NFL meeting rooms and practices two plus decades ago helped Reich adapt to the ever changing NFL, game to game and week to week. It’s almost like his players like him, he’s adaptable, and not trying to stubbornly make a name for himself. ;)”

The old Arena League QB in Nagy needs to prove to everyone what a Kanye level genius he is. The best thing a genius can do is read the room. Put down the call sheet. Tag guys in plays that work. The rest of your team likes you. For now.

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