New York Jets West Coast Offense Primer

A primer on how the New York Jets offense will need to change next season


The New York Jets have made a fairly radical shift in their offensive scheme by hiring Marty Mornhigweg as their new coordinator. Mornhigweg brings his unique brand of the “West Coast Offense” with him from Philadelphia, which will be quite a departure from Tony Sparano’s “Ground and Pound, JV High School Playbook.”

Over the next few weeks, we are going to do a number of pieces covering different aspects of the offense. Obviously “West Coast Offense” is a large umbrella term. Yes, Mornhigweg is a disciple of the system and will bring many elements of it with him but the offense he ran in Philadelphia is far from a carbon copy of what Bill Walsh ran in the 1980s or the systems that Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren or Steve Mariucci used, among others.

To help focus on Mornhigweg’s specific offense, we are going to have Michael Nolan write a piece for us in the coming week. Nolan is a previous NFL Films and NBC Sports employee who is also a die-hard Eagles fan that has seen every game Mornhigweg called for them and he will speak to how he changed the play-calling from Andy Reid and how he varied it from Donovan McNabb to Michael Vick to Nick Foles quarterbacking.

In the meantime, we are going to provide a general overview of the West Coast system and what is required out of the various offensive positions in it, along with how the Jets personnel fits.

A Little History – Bill Walsh is considered “The Godfather” of the system, which he developed as an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals and saw perfected as a Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers with Joe Montana under center, en route to three Super Bowl titles. Since then many coaches from the “Walsh Tree” have ran derivatives of the offense to varying degrees of success and with their own unique spin on it. A few recent examples would be by the offense Mike Holmgren ran in Seattle with Matt Hasselbeck, what Jon Gruden ran during his time with Oakland and Tampa Bay and the Andy Reid/Marty Mornhigweg’s offense in Philadelphia with Donovan McNabb, Mike Vick and then Nick Foles.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s you had quarterbacks like Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas calling their own plays, based off whatever had been repped for certain situations in practice during the week. Walsh’s system gave the play-calling responsibilities to him or the offensive coordinator over the quarterback and frequently worked off a script early in the game that wasn’t altered, regardless of the game situation. Over time more responsibility has been shifted back to the quarterback in terms of having the freedom to audible and avoid working off such a specific script.

General Principles – The WCO looks to spread the defense out and attack heavily in a horizontal, quick-hitting passing game. Generally, it is pass heavy with the short passing game, replacing many elements of the running game. Three-step and five-step drops are frequently used, making the timing between the quarterback and receiver even more critical than usual. Due to the spread formations, versatility and speed are key traits of running backs and tight ends. In the running game, a zone scheme is usually used more heavily than a gap blocking scheme, although Marty Mornhigweg loves to run sprint draw which uses man or gap blocking.


Quarterback – Accuracy in the short to intermediate passing is crucial, along with the ability to make quick reads. Mobility is a plus because rollouts could frequently be used. Looking at Mark Sanchez (because whether you want to admit it or not there is a decent chance he starts next year), Mornhigweg could run a simplified version of the offense like he did for Michael Vick. Basically, he could cut the field in half and have Sanchez work on 1-2 read route combinations. Sanchez has shown an ability to throw the slant route and quick in-cut well (both critical routes in this system) and has also been productive on rollouts. Of course 2012 Mark Sanchez can’t do anything that resembles NFL quarterbacking in any system. However, 2010 Mark Sanchez? The West Coast offense could be an interesting fit for him.

Wide Receiver/Tight End – Receivers need to run precise routes and be smart enough to read a defense on a high number of option routes, making the proper break that is in sync with the quarterback. They also must be able to consistently catch the football in traffic and create yards after the catch. The three main positions are split end (Braylon Edwards/Stephen Hill), a larger receiver who will line up predominantly on the weak side, work mostly as a possession receiver but can get off press releases and take advantage of the defense with an occasional deep post when the coverage is rolled away from him. The flanker (Santonio Holmes/Jeremy Kerley) is usually the primary play-maker and can move all over the formation. The slot (Jeremy Kerley/Santonio Holmes/Jordan White) works tighter to the formation and is a quicker player who is adept at reading defenses and finding the soft spot in zones or beating linebackers/safeties in coverage.

2010 Santonio Holmes could be a beast in this offense because of his quickness and run after the catch ability, not the more recent version of Holmes who has been lazy on his routes and completely out of sync with the rest of the offense. Jeremy Kerley should also flourish because of his route running ability and ability to make people miss in space. Stephen Hill has an uphill battle because he doesn’t run precise routes at all and struggles to catch the ball in traffic, which makes keeping Braylon Edwards on the cheap that much more important.

At tight end, the ability to flex out and be a pass catching option is critical. Dustin Keller’s likelihood of coming back increased substantially with the Mornhigweg hiring. Keller should catch plenty of passes in this system, both in the intermediate passing game and as a checkdown option. If the Jets get some kind of consistency at quarterback, a 4 wide set with Keller and Kerley working in the slot, with Holmes and Edwards/Hill on the outside will create plenty of match-up problems for a defense.

Running Back – Good-bye Shonn Greene. Running backs in this system must be versatile and strong pass catchers with the ability to split out and run crisp routes. They also need speed to take advantage of the lanes created in spread formations and to run sprint draws. Greene’s chances of returning went from 5% to 0% with the Mornhigweg hiring. On paper, Joe McKnight’s skill set is a terrific fit but can he stay healthy and can he protect the football? Bilal Powell should also be a decent fit but only as a secondary option. Look for the Jets to address running back in the first three rounds of the draft, with a player like Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor being a potential target.

Offensive Line – Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson shouldn’t have problems in this system and right tackle Austin Howard should also be a good fit. Howard is a strong run blocker who will be able to get out in front on sprint draw, while the three steps and rollouts should help mask his deficiencies in pass protection. The Jets still need to figure out guard with both Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore free agents, but theoretically either would be solid enough fits in a predominantly zone blocking scheme.

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the EVP of Content at Whistle Sports