What is OC Musgrave’s Erhardt-Perkins Scheme and What to Expect
Scheming the Dream Cal football offense
When OC Bill Musgrave was hired I immediately looked into his coaching roots and his previous play experience to see what we can expect from the 2020 Cal offense. The work under Gary Kubiak/Mike Shannahan suggested a west-coast scheme with zone-runs as its run concept. However, after reading more about him he stated that Erhardt-Perkins system is his roots.
Today, I will do a quick review of the concepts of the system and how it differs from the Air Raid, West Coast, and Coryell. First and foremost, the differences come down to the philosophy of what each offense tries to achieve and how it tries to achieve it in the pursuit of scoring and winning.
To take it simply:
Air Raid : High paced system that uses repetition and execution to score points. There aren’t many plays in each play book so practices are based on executing on the plays whether or not the defense knows what is coming. Verbiage can be quite simple since whole plays can be conveyed using simple terms since there aren’t many plays to describe.
West Coast (WCO): Timing based attacked developed in the NFL by Bill Walsh with the Bengals and Niners. It uses the horizontal space to stretch the defense, with the idea that a short completed pass is as good as a short run and has greater potential to score. It uses complicated verbiage to conveys the play and it can be quite cumbersome (see below).
Air Coryell : If WCO stretches the defense horizontally, then Air Coryell stretches them vertically. Similar to Air Raid it moves the ball deep and tries to hit the deep play with power runs being its core running concept. What Air Coryell brought to the game of football is the famed route tree where play-calls can be conveyed with a simple numerical system.
“863 H-Texas F-Curl” would be a play-call that tells all 3 receivers (X, Y, Z) their route tree routes, and tells the H/F receivers verbally their routes. Technically this is a condensed way of conveying complex information and has a night inexhaustible amount of route combinations that can be run, but as Bill Connely noted as a whole they may have a lot of combinations, but each receiver only has 10 routes—and there are more routes than that in football.
What is Erhardt-Perkins ?
Where Erhardt-Perkins differs from each of the approaches above is :
Lack of adherence to a philosophy, initially E-P was a “pass to score, run to win” philosophy; however, the recent developments in the systems (see Patriots during the Brady era) have shown that the system can function as a basis for an up-tempo spread attack as well.
Pass routes are bundled into concepts rather than into individual routes like in the Coryell system or with long-winded calls line in the WCO. See below to OC Charlie Weiss’ playbook that introduced the E-P system to the Patriots.
By condensing pass plays into bundled concepts (both two and three man routes) the same pair of concepts can be run from any formation since at all times there are 5 eligible receivers on the field.
Example here is the Utah/Bow concepts out of singleback ace from the 2004 Charlie Weiss Patriots Playbook.
Now we see below for the same two passing concepts played out of different formations.
We can see here the fact that a staple 11 personnel from the center can be run out of a 12 personnel package from the “0 FLOOD SLOT” formation where the “Utah” concept can be run from 2 TE set on the RHS of the formation, or from the F receiver motion or the “Bow” concept can be run from a “0 OUT FAC” where there are 3 receivers on the RHS and the F receiver motion to the LHS slot to run the deep out.
What it can do for Cal is that it can run the same way as the Patriots ran it in the early 2010s.
From the Chris B. Brown breakdown of the system. Do read it for further, very in-depth understanding :
It’s late in the first quarter. A play ends, and seconds later Tom Brady has his team back at the line. He gives a hand signal to his receiver, a tap to his offensive linemen. “Alabama! Alabama!” The ball is snapped. An outlet pass goes to Stevan Ridley, who rumbles to the Houston 40-yard line, another first down. Subs run in. Soon, the Patriots are back at the line. Except now, running back Shane Vereen is lined up out wide. The Texans are scrambling. Brady takes the snap and hits Vereen on a quick hitch. Vereen dips around linebacker Bradie James and then spins back inside, gaining 25 yards before he’s done.
The next play is the same play, with the same personnel, with zero time for the defense to recover. The three receivers to Brady’s left crisscross around defenders while Aaron Hernandez, who was lined up as a back to Brady’s left, dashes to the flat. He makes the catch and takes it to Houston’s 1-yard line. The same 11 Patriots sprint to the line, but Vereen is now in the backfield. The play is a run to the left, and he’s into the end zone untouched. Touchdown, New England.
However, as it was specified in the various discussions of the system (here and here) this is a QB-centric system. If Chase Garbers is given the freedom to run the passing offense with the speed and variety of the Erhardt-Perkins pass concepts, then we can see some quick striking drives.
Using the above example, if the playcall calls for the “Utah/Bow” concept if Chase pre-snap sees that the Utah concept is countered by the defensive formation he can quickly audible two/three whole routes to a “Poker” concept by yelling “UTAH KILL KILL KILL, POKER POKER, POKER BOW”. Which is easier to do than a new WCO playcall and doesn’t betray the route number to the defense by shouting the route tree numbers.
Furthermore, the same concepts from formation varying from having 5 wide outs on the field as we would with 13 personnel. Allowing the offense to basically run the same play, with the same reads but dressed up with different formations and motions. Making it easier on the offense and harder on the defense to defend.
And vice versa, we can run different up-tempo passing concepts by having having Chase say 2 words “TOUT TOSSER” or “OREGON PAR” and have the whole skill player team crew be on the same page.