I spent the last few weeks studying old gamefilm of Lincoln Riley’s offense at East Carolina in preparation for this upcoming season. Here are some of the things I learned:
1. The key is on executing the pass game, especially by the receivers. The receivers aren’t necessarily open all the time, they just make the catch against tight coverage. It seems the philosophy is “every route is open when it’s against man coverage” when you know how to adjust and execute.
This is very important to realize. This new offense isn’t about using scheme to get guys wide open, it’s about execution and teaching receivers how to use technique to make the catch.
There are two ways to look at this. You can be nervous due to the lack of great WR play we’ve seen at OU the last few years (with exception of only 2 or 3 players). Or, you can be excited that Riley and Simmons, our new WR coach (who has worked with Riley in this capacity before) are finally going to be developing our WRs into great players.
Most of the focus this off-season has been on the QBs, but in this offense the receivers are every bit as critical as the QB. The WRs will be making decisions based on the defense and using technique to go get balls that aren’t thrown directly to their numbers.
We should see a bunch of impressive circus type catches this year, as this system requires them to do this routinely. I know when Leach was at Tech they would structure practice in such a way to get as many reps at these techniques as possible, and I assume Riley does something similar. What seems like circus catches can be taught and learned through muscle memory and proper technique.
2. The QB doesn’t throw to open receivers, he throws them open. One big difference with this offense is that the QB throws AWAY FROM DEFENDERS more than he throws TO THE RECEIVER. The ball is rarely thrown to the receiver’s body, but rather to a spot where the receiver must make a move and use technique to GO AND GET THE BALL!
Whereas before, our offense relied on the QB making perfect passes, now it will be more about passing to a spot where the receiver can make a play.
3. Deep passes are usually purposely underthrown. This is huge, possibly the biggest part of the offense. The vast majority of the big plays are from underthrown deep passes. His receivers routinely caught these passes despite tight coverage. When the defender is in man coverage staying right with the receiver, the pass is thrown deep but short of where the receiver is running to and a bit outside (similar to the back-shoulder throw on a fade stop pattern, but much deeper). Just before the ball gets to the receiver the receiver will buzz his feet almost to a stop and turn back outside and jump up to catch the ball over the defender.
Even if the receiver doesn’t catch it, it often results in pass interference. If the players can’t make this catch routinely, the offense will be pretty ineffective.
4. In addition to the deep underthrown pass, the other “bread and butter” of the offense is the back shoulder pass. I’m not talking about the fade stop pattern (which is what most people are referring to when they say ‘back shoulder pass’), but rather a simple stop pattern. Executed correctly it’s pretty much impossible to stop with man coverage.
The receiver runs upfield, but at a certain point will quickly stop while turning his body toward the QB at the same time and then will lunge back and to the outside where he knows the pass is going to be. It’s a beautiful thing to watch when executed correctly, and it can be run at almost any depth. I’ve even seen them run it at only 3-5 yards past the line of scrimmage in short yardage situations.
It’s really great when a defender is playing off of the receiver (there’s usually at least one defender playing off either because they are in a zone or to prevent rub routes in man coverage), you can pick up some easy 10 yard passes this way.
There are times when the receiver either runs deep or runs the back shoulder stop route depending on how the defender is playing him. Perfecting this pass (which is more about the receiver than the QB) is critical to the offense’s success. But if he could do it at a small school like East Carolina, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to get our players to do it.