With all reports pointing to Josh McDaniels becoming the Colts new head coach after the Patriots season ends, all the talk centers around the wonders his system will do for Andrew Luck and the Colts offense, but what is that system?
To start, let’s go over the three primary offensive systems in the NFL, the Air Coryell, West Coast, and McDaniels’/Patriots’ system, the Erhardt-Perkins system. The first two are the ones that Luck has been played with during various parts of his career. Air Coryell was seen in Bruce Arians and Rob Chudzinski, and the West Coast used by Pep Hamilton and at Stanford. The Coryell verbiage uses a three-digit route tree system based on the number of receivers running routes. This style causes issues in today’s game with the increase in passing, as there is often more than three receivers running routes in a given play. While the West Coast system, famously known for its short quick passing routes created by Bill Walsh, uses long and complicated names for their plays that let each player know their role on a given play.
Now the Erhardt-Perkins system originally was installed in New England when Charlie Weis became offensive coordinator under Bill Belichick. The verbiage of the system, as described in an excellent article from Chris B. Brown from Grantland, uses concepts instead of routes to describe the play. This style lets the offenses use “images,” of the play, giving them a better understanding of what is expected of each. This system provides the quarterback with the most significant boost as the play calling caters to their perspective. This method also lets the offense run different plays from same formation and looks, which makes diagnosing the play from the defensive side incredibly tricky. There will be a transition period for the offense as most, if not all of them, have never played in the system, but with a quarterback as intelligent and studious as Andrew Luck, there is little to be worried.
If this system was just a New England system, what makes Josh McDaniels an excellent offense mind by himself? Well, just like other systems, some coaches are better using that system than others, and Josh McDaniels is one of the best in that regard. A great example of McDaniels genius is a Belichick staple, the unpredictability, diversity, and ability to adapt to his offense. With all the injuries occurring during McDaniels tenure in New England, the young offensive coordinator was able to rise to the occasion, consistently producing a top offense yearly.
What about some trends about his play calling specifically? His use of running backs should be an exciting possibility for Colts fans. McDaniels has succeeded with multiple different backs of various skill sets, and receive a healthy amount of the touches and yards in the offense, totaling an average of two-thirds of the offensive touches and 40% of the yards from scrimmage. Using the running backs in the passing game as much the running game creates plenty of opportunity for a multitude of backs on the Patriots roster, and the Colts will likely see a similar trend. This news is music to Marlon Mack’s ears, as his new head coach will use him in a multitude of ways. McDaniels has used wide receivers for around 30% of the offensive touches and tight ends for less than 10%. What does this mean for the Colts? Not much, as a lot of those numbers swayed based on the season and roster strength of the team, so Jack Doyle fans do not need to worry; the Colts’ tight end will likely be used heavily under the new system.
In a surprisingly lengthy interview from the usually stoic Bill Belichick, he shows McDaniels in-game adjustment abilities. During this five minute interview, Belichick points out a series of plays against the Houston Texans in which McDaniels uses his knowledge from a previous preseason game that resulted in a near interception to take advantage of a similar defensive look to score a touchdown in their regular season matchup. The second play analyzed shows incredible attention to detail by their star offensive coordinator. After a short gain on an out route by Chris Hogan, McDaniels noticed the Texans defenders discussing the play directly after, and took advantage of their “adjustment,” burning them on a 48-yard touchdown pass. This sequence is an example in-game adjustment that was sorely lacking in the Chuck Pagano years.
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McDaniels also loves his slot receivers, whether its Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, or Danny Amendola, the Patriots has succeeded using the slot receiver. One could imagine the new Colts will likely use T.Y. Hilton more from the slot, where he thrived in the Pep Hamilton years, but also look for Chris Ballard to give McDaniels more weapons at wide receiver, which will make a particular quarterback very happy.
Now we can’t forget about tight ends in the Patriot system, which are historically effective in New England. Although they might not get a considerable amount of volume if they are not named Gronk, when the ends are used, they are effective. Since the system focuses a lot of similar looks for run and pass plays, a tight end is critical, as they will likely be the wrinkle that defense doesn’t recognize until it is too late. Imagine Jack Doyle and a healthy Erik Swoope used to like Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett were used in the Patriots 2016-2017 Super Bowl run.
The most prominent thing Colts’ fans should be excited for in this new offense is the increase in quick passing routes without sacrificing the big splash plays. Tom Brady averages over a half second less from time to throw than Luck and Jacoby Brissett did in Indy, which is mostly contributed to the success of the quick one to two-second throws. These fast plays not only keep the quarterback clean, but it also forces the defense to adjust to the shorter throws, allowing the offense to run the ball and throw the ball deep with better efficiency. This system will take advantage of Luck’s two most useful traits, his pre-snap reads, and arm talent while keeping him upright as often as possible.
What is relatively unknown is how McDaniels will use Luck’s athleticism to his advantage. Brady is an all-time great, but he is no SPARQ all-time great. This news doesn’t mean McDaniels will use Luck like the Panthers use Cam Newton, but Luck’s ability to escape or move the pocket will let McDaniels incorporate some RPO packages and rollouts he probably had planned for Tim Tebow in Denver.
McDaniels may not be a perfect candidate, but let’s take a look at some of his most prominent critiques. First off, the curse of the Bill Belichick assistants, which states that any success under Belichick and Brady is the doing of them and not the coordinator. This criticism is fair since so many have failed outside of Foxborough but look at the 2008 Patriots where McDaniels offense ranked eighth in the NFL with Matt Cassel leading the way, an impressive feat even with the roster he had.
Next is his non-Patriot resume, which consists of a horrific two year stint in Denver and an underwhelming single season in St.Louis, but looking at those rosters, its easy to see why that may have occurred, with a quarterback such as Kyle Orton and skill position group like the 2011 Rams doesn’t give the greatest chance of success. What does this mean for the potential head coach, that he cannot succeed without a great quarterback or at least some talented skill players? Possibly but who cares, the Colts have all the above with Andrew Luck, Marlon Mack, T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle, and a surplus of draft capital and cap space for general manager Chris Ballard to add to the roster.
As for his reported attitude issues in Denver, you could contribute it to a young coach growing pains. If you don’t believe that and think McDaniels still has some confrontational tendencies, great, the Colts need someone who demands perfection from his team, like Colts dream candidate Jim Harbaugh has from his teams. These are grown men in a high-stress atmosphere, it’s not always pretty, and it’s not always comfortable. The Colts need some tough love ASAP, and McDaniels could be precisely the man for the job.
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