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The Offensive System We Need To Run!


Sidecar Falcon
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The NFL’s top two quarterbacks over the last decade plus will square off this Sunday in the AFC title game. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Both of these QBs run an offensive system called The Erhardt-Perkins system.  No matter who you surround your quarterback with, it may be the smartest way to run an offense for long term success

In part one of this series, I looked at the Ravens offense under CamCameron and Jim Caldwell, the Air Coryell scheme. A favorite of candidate for Ravens Offensive Coordinator, Norv Turner. Now lets take a look at Erhardt-Perkins.

Discuss your thoughts on this topic over on our message board.

Erhardt-Perkins is named after two men. Ron Erhardt and Ray Perkins, who ran the offense under Patriots head coach, Chuck Fairbanks in the 1970’s. The object of the system was to maximize efficiency in cold weather. They placed emphasis on the run game and the short passing game by showing the defense multiple looks, formations, and combinations of personnel while running simple plays found in all playbooks. Simple to learn, simple to run, easy to call on the fly, hard to defend.  It has evolved over the years from coaches Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer, Bill Cowher, Bill Belichick and all his disciples. Consider the fact that Charlie Weis turned Brady Quinn and Jimmy Claussen into 1stand 2nd round picks with this system at Notre Dame.

The E-P system is currently run by six NFL teams: Broncos, Patriots, Chargers, Panthers, Steelers and Giants. In other words, Erhardt-Perkins has won seven of the last 12 Super Bowls with a chance to make it eight as the Broncos or Patriots will be representing the AFC this year.

This article on Grantland from Chris Brown of Smart Football goes into more detail about how the Patriots of today utilize the E-P system.

“With the help of his assistants, Belichick’s primary innovation was to go from an Erhardt-Perkins offense to an Erhardt-Perkins system, built on its method of organizing and naming plays. The offense itself would be philosophically neutral. This is how, using the terminology and framework of what was once thought to be the league’s least progressive offensive system, Brady and Belichick built one of the most consistently dynamic and explosive offenses in NFL history. From conservative to spread to blistering no-huddle, the tactics — and players — have changed while the underlying approach has not.”

That’s what resonates with me (in bold). Flexibility and taking what defenses will give you. Being neutral and not committing to just one theory to make the offense go. There isn’t a set of definitive traits of the E-P system, which is why the Broncos and Pats look different than the Giants and Panthers. The Patriots are known as a spread it out and pick you apart, up-tempo, throw it around all day long team. However, they just eviscerated the Colts defense in a divisional playoff game by running the ball 46 times against just 25 Brady pass attempts.

“The backbone of the Erhardt-Perkins system is that plays — pass plays in particular — are not organized by a route tree or by calling a single receiver’s route, but by what coaches refer to as “concepts.” Each play has a name, and that name conjures up an image for both the quarterback and the other players on offense. And, most importantly, the concept can be called from almost any formation or set. Who does what changes, but the theory and tactics driving the play do not. “In essence, you’re running the same play,” said Perkins. “You’re just giving them some window-dressing to make it look different.”

The biggest advantage of the concept-based system is that it operates from the perspective of the most critical player on offense: the quarterback. In other systems, even if the underlying principles are the exact same, the play and its name might be very different. Rather than juggling all this information in real time, an Erhardt-Perkins quarterback only has to read a given arrangement of receivers.” – Chris Brown

The Patriots have gone through different strengths on their offense from a balanced attack in Brady’s early days, to the record setting Randy Moss era. They had lean on slot guys like Wes Welker and now Julian Edelman, now focus on a duel tight end threat with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez that has become a red zone defenses nightmare. No matter the strengths surrounding the quarterback, the offense works as long as the QB is competent.

Fast forward to 2013. New England loses Welker to free agency, Hernandez for being an idiot, Gronkowski to injury, Shane Vereen for most of the season with injury. Musical chairs at running back until they land on one that won’t fumble. They had an offensive line that was below average and without right tackle, Sebastian Vollmer, for half the season. Despite all of the issues, the Patriots offense doesn’t miss a beat. They finish seventh in the NFL in overall offense and third in scoring.  Sure, there’s some times you could pick out where Brady could have benefited from more time to gel with the new players. But they are few and far between because the E-P playbook is simplified. It doesn’t take long for everyone to get on the same page. More on that later.

Tom Brady didn’t even have a great year in 2013. 25 TDs, 11 INTs, 87.3 rating. Pretty pedestrian by Brady’s standards. Yet the system still produced the third best scoring offense.

The Baltimore Ravens faced that same adversity in 2013. Anquan Boldin was traded, Dennis Pitta injured, Jacoby Jones missed some games with injury, poor offensive line play, running backs with different problems but still problems nonetheless. In the Ravens scheme, Air Coryell, it’s very specific pertaining to the guys you need to make it work. So it became no surprise that the Ravens offense fell off the map when the right pieces weren’t in place.

Would things have been different if Baltimore ran a simpler offense with some new faces in the mix across the O-line, at tight end, and new receivers? Even in the West Coast offense run by some other guys the Ravens have interviewed, like Gary Kubiak, it’s pretty specific what you need to make it work including a stout O-line because running backs are used primarily as pass catchers instead of extra blockers.

In the E-P system, there are no requirements, except for a competent quarterback. Any team in any system will take that. Joe Flacco is certainly a competent QB. You don’t have to worry about missing one guy and the system failing because of it.

The E-P simplicity

You can’t help but shake your head in awe at times when watching guys like Manning and Brady operate. They make it look so easy. They make it look easy because apparently, it is easier in their systems. Brown made mention in his article that a play-call in the Air Coryell system the Ravens run might sound like, “Scatter-Two Bunch-Right-Zip-Fire 2 Jet Texas Right-F Flat X-Q.” In the EP system, one word the Patriots use is “ghost” which a two man route combination, or “tosser” which is a three man route combination. That’s how these up tempo offense operate so smoothly. Brady is coming to the line shouting just two words, and everyone knows what they’re doing. It’s so much easier for the players to memorize, enabling them to get on the same page faster if unexpectedly called upon. The few times Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense were actually clicking like a well-oiled machine was when they had to go up tempo and a little no huddle. When Flacco was basically calling the shots likely in one or two word play calls. Entering his seventh year, you have to wonder if the Ravens can give the guy the keys. Give Flacco full autonomy of the offense. 

It’s a system that is made to be easier for the offense to understand and confusing for the defense on the other side to figure out. In an up-tempo style the defense is on its heels the whole time as the offense runs practically the same plays from a number of formations and looks with the same 11 guys on the field. The Ravens did a little of this under Cam Cameron in 2012, calling it the “Sugar Huddle”, but were afraid to really commit to it. Why? Defenses were calling out the Ravens plays by seasons end in 2013. Wouldn’t a little element of surprise or window-dressing be a good thing?

Who runs the E-P system that could be in line for an OC job?

I mentioned before that six teams currently employ this offense according to Pro Football Reference.

New England and Denver – Josh McDaniels in New England and Adam Gase in Denver are two guys who have been linked to the Cleveland Browns HC position. If they don’t take the Browns job, these are the top two names to look at. Although I doubt either one leaves for the same job in Baltimore. McDaniels has a long relationship with Belichick, and Gase has Peyton Manning. They would likely stay put until more HC positions open up next year. Why leave unless they are looking to prove that they can build a great offense without one of the best QBs ever. (No offense, Joe).

Pittsburgh – Todd Haley’s job is safe in Pittsburgh after allowing Roethlisberger to be in more control, utilizing the no-huddle in the E-P system more, en route to an 8-4 finish to the season. However, his QB coach, Randy Ficthner could be a target. He was the OC for a Memphis team in 2003-2004 that set some offensive school records. He replaced Bruce Arians as the Steelers WR coach in 2007 and has done good things for Mike Wallace, Emanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. He’s been the QB coach since 2010.

New York Giants – Kevin Gilbride has retired from the Giants and Ben McAdoo takes his place. QB coach Sean Ryan could promote. Gilbride used E-P as a base, but incorporated some “run and shoot” from his days with the Houston Oilers. Run and shoot is very dangerous because the QB and receivers have to be on the same page every single time without communicating it. When they’re not, you get 27 INTs like Eli Manning had this year. No telling if Ryan is hired somewhere if he will keep some of the run and shoot trends in his playbook.

Carolina – Ron Rivera “expects all his coaches to be back” including OC Mike Shula. However, Ken Dorsey would be a name worth exploring. Panthers QB coach after spending two seasons in their scouting department. So he’s already got a leg up on watching tape of some other team’s players. Dorsey still holds plenty of QB records at “The U”.

San Diego – Mike McCoy made former Terps QB, Frank Reich, his new OC. His former OC, Ken Whisenhunt, has taken the Titans HC job and will likely be the play caller down there meaning seven teams could be running this offense next year.

McDaniels and Gase would be longshots, but it’s no secret that the Ravens are one of the best organizations to work for which could sway some people. Fichtner would be a realistic hire. Dorsey is probably staying put, but maybe a name down the road.

Summary

The E-P system is a simple one. Take what the defense will give you. You can be a power running team one week, a spread out air raid offense the next, a balanced attack that keeps teams guessing the week after that.  You can put up points in a hurry, or slow the pace down to a crawl. It doesn’t need specific personnel. Since specific types of players aren’t required, it opens up more possibilities when drafting players or signing free agents. For a team that drafts best player available and not necessarily positional need, like the Ravens, this is a great fit. In fact, in the modern NFL where players are changing teams all the time, and some guys are fits at multiple positions, it’s anyone’s best guess why teams would still chose to run offenses with little wiggle room for personnel changes.  

https://www.baltimoresportsandlife.com/erhardt-perkins-system-part-2/
 

Concepts: https://www.cover1.net/inside-the-playbook-the-erhardt-perkins-play-structure-and-terminology/

 

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13 minutes ago, fuego said:

You sure killed this thread quick. :lol:

:lol: Wasn’t my intention. I always loved the system, but we’re in that part of the season where everyone is searching for a fix. It usually involves a system change thats gonna correct what ailes.

I remember when the Harbaugh 49ers were hot and people where clamoring to run the 3-4 as if it was magically gonna turn Kroy Biermann into something he wasn’t and the D was gonna be reborn. Nevermind that what Fangio was doing schematically was as straightforward and vanilla as what Smitty was trying to doing (pre-Nolan).

 

EDIT: Great read in the OP btw. 

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7 minutes ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

:lol: Wasn’t my intention. I always loved the system, but we’re in that part of the season where everyone is searching for a fix. It usually involves a system change thats gonna correct what ailes.

I remember when the Harbaugh 49ers were hot and people where clamoring to run the 3-4 as if it was magically gonna turn Kroy Biermann into something he wasn’t and the D was gonna be reborn. Nevermind that what Fangio was doing schematically was as straightforward and vanilla as what Smitty was trying to doing (pre-Nolan).

 

EDIT: Great read in the OP btw. 

Thanks. I was looking more toward a modified version. Similar to the type run by the Colts/Patriots. Not exactly like three, but one more tuned to our players skill sets.  

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5 minutes ago, Flyin' In DC said:

Would you do something like Stefanski/Kubiak are doing in Minnesota? Or would that be your preferred scheme with Ryan

I think the stefanski/Kubiak scheme fits our Current OL the best except Brown and Carpenter, which is one reason I would lean toward going back to the zone block scheme but that’s just my opinion. 

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3 minutes ago, Flyin' In DC said:

Would you do something like Stefanski/Kubiak are doing in Minnesota? Or would that be your preferred scheme with Ryan

I don’t get too caught up in schemes. Everyone copies everyone else’s stuff so much as it is that all these schemes are really melding into one another. Just looking at the 49ers the past few weeks, I see whole entire plays copied right out of New England’s playbook. Kyle even went so far as to tweak their 2 minute system to one word plays, which is straight out of NE.

The scheme isn’t nearly as important as the coach running and teaching it and the players. That’s where the separation really comes.

I look at it like ice cream. It’s all ice cream. Who doesn’t love ice cream? Just a matter of what flavor you like.

I’m not sold on Stefanski as a head coach yet, but I’d be all in on any offense involving Kubiak.

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@PeytonMannings Forehead I still think we’ve got OL more geared for pure ZBS than trying to go inside zone and power/man blocking hybrid...plus, it forces the defense to read and respect the lateral OL vs just blitzing be it pass or run like Tampa did last week.

It’s fine if you can do it all, but I hated abandoning much of the wide zone and being relegated to tosses or end arounds. At the same time, maybe if they were coached up and executed better...regardless of blocking system. Therein-lies the Playcaller working with what he has and still trying to keep defenses on their heels vs attacking you 24/7.

Edited by Ergo Proxy
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8 minutes ago, Sidecar Falcon said:

Thanks. I was looking more toward a modified version. Similar to the type run by the Colts/Patriots. Not exactly like three, but one more tuned to our players skill sets.  

 

4 minutes ago, Sidecar Falcon said:

In concept yes. I do believe we ran more power concepts than anything. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of variety. But I could be wrong. 

Variety is more a function of the coach than the system itself.

Indy’s system believe it or not had no variety. They had literally like 4 running plays and a handful of passing concepts and they didn’t even bother to dress it up with a plethora of personnel groupings and formations. Marvin Harris played on the same side of the field every down. There was little to no motion. It was all Peyton looking over the defense and deciding what concept he liked and they they ran the same handful of ‘em over and over again. 
 

New England by contrast threw the kitchen sink at you. They’d open up in 5 wides, then by the middle of the 2nd quarter they were pounding you with three tight end sets. They made you plan for everything.

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2 minutes ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

 

Variety is more a function of the coach than the system itself.

Indy’s system believe it or not had no variety. They had literally like 4 running plays and a handful of passing concepts and they didn’t even bother to dress it up with a plethora of personnel groupings and formations. Marvin Harris played on the same side of the field every down. There was little to no motion. It was all Peyton looking over the defense and deciding what concept he liked and they they ran the same handful of ‘em over and over again. 
 

New England by contrast threw the kitchen sink at you. They’d open up in 5 wides, then by the middle of the 2nd quarter they were pounding you with three tight end sets. They made you plan for everything.

I meant Frank Reich’s system for the Colts. Sorry I should have specified. 

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6 minutes ago, Ergo Proxy said:

@PeytonMannings Forehead I still think we’ve got OL more geared for pure ZBS than trying to go inside zone and power/man blocking hybrid...plus, it forces the defense to read and respect the lateral OL vs just blitzing be it pass or run like Tampa did last week.

It’s fine if you can do it all, but I hated abandoning much of the wide zone and being relegated to tosses or end arounds. At the same time, maybe if they were coached up and executed better...regardless of blocking system. Therein-lies the Playcaller working with what he has and still trying to keep defenses on their heels vs attacking you 24/7.

Yeah that’s why I say coaches and players not necessarily the system is where the separation. You first need a coach with a clear vision. We got a whole bunch of competing ideologies right now. 
 

Organization keeps talking about this mythical 2016 scheme, draft two offensive linemen projected to best fit in zone systems, then seemingly run something completely different when the season starts.

I don’t have a problem with the Air Coryell system. I got a problem with Dirk’s version of it. But irregardless, pick a lane and stop trying to do everything.

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5 minutes ago, Sidecar Falcon said:

I meant Frank Reich’s system for the Colts. Sorry I should have specified. 

Oh ok. Gotcha. Reich comes out of that West Coast tree though— Doug Peterson/AndyReid etc. Guess that’s why I didn’t make the connection.

But yeah, I love Frank Reich. They actually believe in running the ball in Indy and have actually built an offensive line to do it. And he’s freely tweaked his system around what he has to work with.

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1 hour ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

I don’t get too caught up in schemes. Everyone copies everyone else’s stuff so much as it is that all these schemes are really melding into one another. Just looking at the 49ers the past few weeks, I see whole entire plays copied right out of New England’s playbook. Kyle even went so far as to tweak their 2 minute system to one word plays, which is straight out of NE.

The scheme isn’t nearly as important as the coach running and teaching it and the players. That’s where the separation really comes.

I look at it like ice cream. It’s all ice cream. Who doesn’t love ice cream? Just a matter of what flavor you like.

I’m not sold on Stefanski as a head coach yet, but I’d be all in on any offense involving Kubiak.

unpopular opinion: Chocolate ice cream is just straight up bad. I will die on that hill.

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1 hour ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

I don’t get too caught up in schemes. Everyone copies everyone else’s stuff so much as it is that all these schemes are really melding into one another. Just looking at the 49ers the past few weeks, I see whole entire plays copied right out of New England’s playbook. Kyle even went so far as to tweak their 2 minute system to one word plays, which is straight out of NE.

The scheme isn’t nearly as important as the coach running and teaching it and the players. That’s where the separation really comes.

I look at it like ice cream. It’s all ice cream. Who doesn’t love ice cream? Just a matter of what flavor you like.

I’m not sold on Stefanski as a head coach yet, but I’d be all in on any offense involving Kubiak.

I guess that’s why I’m kinda sold on what a Kubiak brings he’ll see our weakness straight away and fix it.

I was sceptical when they changed to WCO but seeing the results of what it could be with alot of pieces in place already per Ergos post I’m inclined to favour that system.

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6 minutes ago, Knight of God said:

You know, I loved Mularkey. I just didn’t think Matt had the proper tools at that time. I was more critical of the defense 

Yea, Ryan is a significantly smarter player today. Plays with more “moxie” if that makes sense? Mularkey offense with another star back like Turner would be pretty amazing

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