The WCO Running Attack-
Versatility and athleticism are two words to describe the rushing attack of a WCO. Although a running back’s main job is to… run the ball, in this offense they’re heavily relied upon to be an effective pass catcher as well. Flat routes and screen passes are tasks a RB must be able to handle in this system. As far as actually running the ball goes, the most popular running play in this offense is the “outside zone”.
There’s two main ways to run this play. Either a normal handoff, or with a pitch to hopefully allow the running back to get downhill faster. There’s usually some added motion pre-snap as well. We’ve seen this in several different variations from the 49ers offense with Mike Shannahan. Occasionally their fullback, Kyle Juszczyk would be put in motion, and George Kittle at times as well. A couple of times during the season we even saw star left tackle, Trent Williams being used in this role.
If the defense begins attacking the edge’s more aggressively to try and stop these outside runs, the 49ers were great at utilizing counters to take advantage of that defensive adjustment. A unique thing we saw a lot last season from the 49ers is pitching the ball directly back to the running back. It would confuse the defense and make them shift to the outside, because that’s what they are accustom to when a ball carrier takes a pitch. However, the 49ers would run some inside zones off the pitch, and it would usually work to perfection.
A Zone Blocking Scheme-
Another big difference with the West Coast Offense is the zone blocking scheme. Instead of every linemen finding a man, this type of blocking scheme creates a lot of double teams at the line of scrimmage to gain a good push from the start of the play. It usually consists of the guard and tackle on both sides of the line to double team a defensive linemen, the center takes the nose tackle, and the lead blocker, which is usually a fullback or tight end, takes the last remaining linemen. After the initial push, either the guard or tackle on both sides of the line, will then move to the “second level” of the defense, blocking the linebackers.
The thought process is that the initial double teams should open up better running lanes for running backs. This type of scheme also helps if you don’t have the best talent on the line. Asking players to win a one-on-one matchup every play can be difficult for average to below average players, which is why this blocking scheme is helpful to linemen. Athleticism is a big factor in being a successful linemen in this offense. You must be able to move to the second level of the defense quickly, and also be able to pull as a guard to be a lead blocker on some running plays.
Overall, most of the top rushing teams in the league use this type of blocking scheme. The 49ers, Bears, and Bengals, all use a variation of the zone blocking scheme. It just so happens they all three led the NFL is rush yards last season.