Tom Brady? Air Raid?…. Very Similar. Improvise, Adapt, Overcome
I recently saw this slogan on a Facebook post that referenced the United States Marines. It is a mantra they use to attack situations, and one I believe the Air Raid offense uses to even the score with their opponents and personnel changes. These teams are able to sustain for the very reason the New England Patriots have over the past 15 years. I have always said that Tom Brady is probably the best Air Raid quarterback, never to play in a complete Air Raid system. He is the supreme executor of a system offense, and there is nothing lacking in his ability because of this.
For a long time now the New England Patriots have been at the top of the NFL in offensive categories. Doing this with a long-shot draft pick at quarterback selected in the 6th round of the NFL Draft. Since that selection Tom Brady has started 15 season, made 6 trips to Superbowl (winning 4), 10 AFC Championship visits, while posting a 22-9 post season record. Sounds incredible, but how has an offense been so dominant for over a decade, when not even the past greats could sustain that success. How could he sustain this over the years with a revolving door of skill athletes?
Lets look at the Patriots Draft pick since 2000:
2002 Rd 1 21st Daniel Graham TE
Rd 2 65th Deion Branch WR
2004 Rd 1 32nd Ben Watson TE
2006 Rd 1 21st Laurence Maroney RB
Rd 2 36th Chad Jackson WR
Rd 3 83rd David Thomas TE
2009 Rd 3 83rd Brandon Tate WR
2010 Rd 2 42nd Rob Gronkowski TE
2011 Rd 2 56th Shane Vereen RB
2013 Rd 2 59th Aaron Dobson WR
2014 Rd 2 62nd Jimmy Garoppolo QB
2015 Rd 4 130th James White RB
Only 3 skill position players selected in the first round in the last 13 years. Only a handful that really would make the ESPN highlight reel. Despite losing players such as Welker, Moss, Hernandez, and injuries to Gronk, Vereen, and a number of different running backs, the Patriots have not dropped off. Is the system really that important? I say YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They have been able to improvise, adapt and overcome, without changing what they do.
The Patriots are a part of the Erhardt-Perkins system. It was invented by Ray Perkins and Ron Erhardt in the 1970’s. The object of the system was to maximize efficiency. A special note, this offensive system has won 8 of last 13 Super Bowls. The idea behind this system was complex simplicity. Show multiple
formations, looks and combination of personnel while running the same simple plays. Simple to learn, Simple to run, Easy to call, Hard to defend.The flexibility of taking what the defense will give you being neutral and not committing to just one theory to make the offense go. The pass plays are not organized by a route tree, or by calling a single receiver route, but by what coaches call concepts. This offense is built on the organization and naming of plays. The plays are one word, and can be given rapidly. These type of offenses can be dominant, if the quarterback is competent. Notice I did not say they have to be dominant, a superstar, or any other name we give professional athletes, just looking for competence.
ESPN recently did a chart on the success of Air Raid quarterbacks in the NFL. Some were drafted by some really bad teams, others have fallen to off the field issues. The ideal behind the chart was to show the lack of success in the NFL. This was all due to the drafting of Cal quarterback Jared Goff. I have often thought that this was due to the fact that only 6 teams in the NFL use the New England approach to offense. While no team runs the Air Raid exclusively, many of the concepts are found on the field each Sunday. The Broncos, Patriots, Chargers, Panthers, Steelers, and Giants all employ this type of offense. The Chargers are the only team that has not had recent success typically because they are rebuilding.
I have long pondered the secret to unlocking the Air Raid treasure. It really is found in the philosophy is somewhat neutral. The neutral aspect allows teams to adapt to what they have each year. In an early blog post I explained how the Air Raid is adaptable, and showed how I used the pistol set to compliment my personnel.
Teams can go from Conservative to Speed to fast tempo no huddle, from one back to two, pro tight end or flex. You can move these players all around to fit your yearly personnel and not have to teach any new concepts, or plays. It also allows your players to get great at what they are being coached, and it allows your staff to get really great at what they coach. Wes Welker was an undrated player from Texas Tech, who ran a mere 4.65, and was laughed at by his college quarterback when then Assistant Coach Art Briles, said they were recruiting him. Julian Eldeman was a quarterback from Kent State who ran a 4.52 and was a 7th round draft pick. Both of these guys were not tops on the draft board, but were able to fit the Air Raid slot position to become dominant players in the NFL. The Patriots staff did a great job of adapting the system formations to their personnel. The adaptability of your system to your players is the key. The New England Patriots have proved this to be true at the highest level of football. The play book does not change, just the arrangement of the players.
This adaptability allows for everyone to get on the same page fast and overcome many obstacles. This past season we had our leading receiver go down during our conference season, did we change how we attacked? No. We were able to connect with double digit receivers for touchdowns and receptions. Because everyone practiced each day the plays we ran and this did not change from spring through the season.
Our players do not have to learn a “Jon Gruden” type sentence: right zip fire texas right f flex xa 2 jet scatter. Why not just call that Cadillac? Or Bert? I can tell a kid to run Cadillac real easily, but that sentence up there wow, I am lost. Barking one word makes me go faster on offense, but it also allows less room for error with other players. We keep it simple and allow our players to associate words with a visual reference of the play. Note: Many of Tom Brady’s calls are one or two words.
Taking all of this in allows us to improvise. We do not mean “trick” plays, or unpracticed plays (although they do come around), they merely become adjustments or tags to our regular plays we run. We are feasting on taking what the defense is willing to give us. We do not force anything by design, we simply take what is give and try to exploit it. We are more than willing to run the ball if you allow us, and will do the same if you allow the pass. The ability to simply tag one route on one of our concepts enables us to defeat a coverage that was designed to hinder our progress. We are able to improvise with confidence.
The ability to adapt and improvise allows us also to change our game plan without teaching something new. Like a big board of chess, the placement of the pieces is more important than their restriction of moves. We can overcome larger obstacles with a greater percentage of efficiency. We are not asking our players to execute anything out of their comfort zone.
No matter your personnel, it is more important to realize the system is greater than the offense. Make no mistake about it, the Air Raid can be ran as a system with any personnel grouping, just as the New England Patriots approach to the system instead of an offense. Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.