Desert Heat: The Air Raid Invades the NFL – Pt. 2

Part 1 talked roster building. Part 2 talks scheme. What will this look like in the NFL?

In the first part of this series, we explored the Cardinals’ roster, which is the most important part of this Air Raid-to-NFL experiment. There are pieces in place to make the transition to running the Air Raid scheme go relatively smooth in the desert. One main factor will be the initial success of Kyler Murray and keeping continuity along the O-line (something the Cardinals lacked in ’18). The roster is a blend of players that have come from Air Raid schemes or fit the mold of a player needed for the offense to find success.

Many will turn to the lack of success by Chip Kelly and his “spread-to-run” tempo attack. Arizona Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense is a little different. Kingsbury will tempo the ball as much as he can, but it isn’t the focal point of his offense. His pass-first mentality is something of the norm in a QB led league that focuses on breaking down coverages and blitz schemes. The run game will obviously need to become more robust than it was in the Big 12, but the key parts are there. In short, the roster, at least on the offensive side, is built for early success if everyone stays healthy and the young players progress. Again, and this cannot be stressed enough, Kyler Murray has to stay healthy and find success.

Behind Kingsbury is a wealth of success from his Air Raid “family.” You could say, Kingsbury, is the first to get his NFL “shot.” Former Mike Leach QB, Graham Harrell, played four years in the NFL, three under Aaron Rodgers and current Arizona Cardinal Passing Game Coordinator/QB Coach Tom Clements, and replaced Kingsbury’s short tenure as USC’s Offensive Coordinator. The hiring of Clements, who worked 11 seasons in Green Bay, gives a legitimate voice in the meeting room and a proven QB coach.

Washington St. Head Coach Mike Leach has always clamored about the NFL being too stuck-up to run the scheme. In a recent interview for KJR-AM in Seattle, Leach was very clear about his system having success in the league, Any notion that ‘anything you can run in college, you can’t run in the NFL,’ that’s just NFL arrogance and lunacy.” Though Kingsbury is his own man when it comes to ownership of his scheme, there are a lot of eyes around the country betting on Kingsbury to succeed.

Maybe the most important relationship of all will be between QB1 Kyler Murray and Kingsbury himself. The exchanging of ideas will be crucial because Murray also has ties to another elite Air Raid guru from the same tree, Oklahoma Sooner Head Coach Lincoln Riley. In Part 1 I alluded to the meshing of concepts from Riley’s high-powered Sooner attack and Kingsbury’s bombs-away offense. Especially the use (and addition) of TEs into Kingsbury’s scheme. In his last season at Tech, Kingsbury began using more TEs and H-backs for run support in his offense. At the NFL level, he will need to rely on this heavily. It is rare to see a true 10 pers. formation outside of long-yardage or obvious pass situations.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone that would argue Lincoln Riley’s offensive schematics not working in the NFL. Many will argue if Kingsbury has instant success, many in the NFL will be knocking down Riley’s door in 2020. Where Kingsbury is an Air Raid purest, choosing to base out of four WR sets, Riley has transitioned into a 12 pers. based Air Raid onslaught with a power running game to boot. Not ironically though, Kingsbury’s first snap as an NFL Head Coach in practice came from a four-wide 10 pers. set (see below).

Continue reading “Desert Heat: The Air Raid Invades the NFL – Pt. 2”

Desert Heat: The Air Raid Invades the NFL – Pt. 1

What will Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray look like in the NFL? Part 1 explores one of the most critical parts, roster building.

2018 was a breakout year for offenses in the NFL. Teams accumulated 1,371 TDs throughout the season, the most ever in NFL history. Before 2018, there were only three seasons were three offenses averaged over 30+ points a game: 1948, 1949, and 2011 season which saw Green Bay, New Orleans, and New England all scoring over 500+ points. Rushing yards per carry were the highest they have ever been (4.42), and the NFL saw the most players ever record 100 receptions, with 11 doing so. Most notably in 2018 was the offensive prowess of Kansas City and the LA Rams (New Orleans was the third team to average 30+ points in ’18). The Chiefs led by the electric NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes (a Kingsbury product) and the LA Rams with their innovative Head Coach Sean McVay.

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Both the Chiefs and the Rams used “Spread” sets but in different ways. The Chiefs embraced Mahomes freakish athletic abilities and history of working from the shotgun combining this with quick motions and moving their athletes all over the field (shown above). Kansas City finished 2018 with third-best points scored in NFL history, only behind the 2013 Manning-led Broncos (605) and the 2007 Brady-Moss led Patriots (589), both averaging 35+ points a game. Mahomes would finish the year over the 5,000-yard passing mark and the leagues MVP in only his second year.

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The Rams innovative offense chose more or a “Pro-Style” approach to the Spread (above), barely leaving 11 pers. and used a mixture of Zone runs, reduced split formations combined with crossing routes, and play-action passes to destroy defenses all year long (well, until the Super Bowl). Behind a young QB (Jared Goff) and Head Coach, the Rams were able to march through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl where they would eventually lose to the Patriots. Goff would finish the year with over 4,600 yards passing and the Rams’ RB, Todd Gurley, finishing with over 1,400 on the ground while leading the league in total TDs (21).

Alarm bells were ringing all over the NFL. Defensive coaches and pundits alike were looking for ways to stop the never-ending onslaught of offense. By October NFL records were being broken around the league. The topic of defense continued to come up with pundits asking, have NFL defensive schemes become too antiquated, and is there a paradigm shift about to happen? Doug Farrar of USA Today wrote a three-part piece on the topic in November. There has never been a better time for a true Air Raid purest to enter the league. Enter Kliff Kingsbury and the 2019 Arizona Cardinals. Continue reading “Desert Heat: The Air Raid Invades the NFL – Pt. 1”

Steal Coverage to Combat Air Raid Offenses

A “how to” guide to defending the Air Raid’s top pass concepts.

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With the birth of the Air Raid offense under Hal Mumme and its expansion under Leach, the Air Raid concept has flourished alongside the advancement of the spread in modern football. The Air Raid offense, in particular, is married well with the no-huddle concept and can be run out of multiple formations even with the added effect of tempo. True Air Raid offenses base out of 20, 10, and 11 personnel sets. Many of the concepts needed to run the offense utilize 2×2 and 2×1 sets to put pressure on the defense’s back seven.

The Air Raid offense and its vast offshoots still boil down to several basic concepts. The key to any Air Raid offense is the use of “triangle” and simple high-low reads. The offense has been used to rewrite many record books and its concepts are present in most modern spread offenses. The main way Air Raid teams attack a defense is the soft middle of the field left by vertical pushing routes with the outside wide receivers. This vertical push forces the safeties in a two-high look to climb with the outside WRs. The zone dropping linebackers are left to defend WRs coming from the opposite way behind their view. These simple crossing routes are deadly to a defense that cannot get support from the backside safety or simply spot drop. One way a defense can counteract the Air Raids propensity to attack the soft middle vacated by the boundary safety is to run “Steal” coverage.

Steal Coverage

Unlike “Read” Coverage that takes advantage of the offense attacking the front side triangle (think pick/flat/corner), “Steal” coverage uses the boundary safety as a “robber” for the crossing routes. Much like its sister versus Trips coverage “Solo,” Steal uses the boundary safety as a spy on a front side WR. The main objective of the DS in Steal is to read the crossing route and hold his ground in the window vacated by the Will LB. The diagram below demonstrates Steal Coverage:  Continue reading “Steal Coverage to Combat Air Raid Offenses”