The Spread Offense: Coming to an NFL Franchise Near You?

Ben SpicerCorrespondent INovember 16, 2008

What is the Spread Offense?

The spread offense is a rapidly growing offensive scheme all around various football leagues, specifically in college football.

Adapted by several elite programs, including, but not limited to, schools such as Florida, Oregon, Texas Tech, and so forth, the spread offense has taken over college football and is becoming almost impossible to stop along the way.

A spread offense usually consists of the quarterback coming from the shotgun formation, with four or five-wide-receiver sets, if it's being ran correctly. The objective of the spread offense is to spread the length of the football field horizontally and to distribute the ball to the wide receivers via the flats or by way of a screen pass.

Several teams in the National Football League have already adapted and used the spread to full effect, most notably last season's New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers.

New England had, historically, what might have been the best offense of all-time, or at least the best of this millennium. The attack featured Tom Brady, who broke several records at his position at quarterback, and record-breaking wide receiver Randy Moss, who set a new single-season record for touchdown catches.

However, with the exception of the "Wildcat Formation", (A formation in which the running back primarily lines up at quarterback) we haven't seen the basic principles of the spread designed for running the football.

At least we've yet to see it.

The Spread in College

With upcoming draft classes showcasing quarterbacks fully capable of running AND throwing the football, we should see the league taking notice to this and adapting to their capabilities.

Of these "dual-threat" quarterbacks that are currently in college, we've got guys such as Florida's Tim Tebow, West Virginia's Pat White, Appalachian State's Armanti Edwards, Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, and Illinois' Juice Williams, to name a few.

All of the players mentioned above are able to run the ball effectively and throw the ball with efficiency. Of the players I've mentioned above, they've all combined to throw for 91 touchdowns and only 26 interceptions (Juice Williams had 15 interceptions), which isn't bad considering the fact that these guys are projected as run-first type quarterbacks.

Not to mention, we've yet to begin on those in college football that are already garnering National Football League spread-style experience with the pass-first spread formations, like Graham Harrell of Texas Tech, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Chase Daniel of Missouri, and David Johnson of Tulsa.

Again, these four had a combined passing touchdown number of 141 already this season, and that's with one less player mentioned than the five listed above that run first, pass second in their respective spreads. However, these players are NOT as consistent as the run-first players, as they have 33 interceptions on the season.

But there's probably some reasoning behind that, correct? Absolutely. The pass-first spread quarterbacks have had a total of 1,480 combined passing attempts on the year, while the run-first spread quarters have had a total of 1,102 (plus they had an extra player listed).

That makes the pass-first spread quarterbacks bound to struggle a little bit, don't you think?

Draft Selections on Spread Quarterbacks

In the 2008 NFL Draft, two dominant spread-running quarterbacks were selected, those being Oregon's Dennis Dixon with the 156th pick in the draft by the Steelers, and Hawaii's Colt Brennan with the 186th pick in the draft by the Redskins. Paul Smith, Tulsa's quarterback, which ran the spread, went undrafted.

Dennis Dixon was injured and durability was a question. Thus far, he's yet to play in any regular-season games for Pittsburgh.

Colt Brennan shined in the Hall of Fame Game during the preseason, throwing for two touchdown passes. However, Brennan has yet to play in the regular season for Washington.

It's clear that these two have yet to be given any real shots, so it's hard to see how the more recent spread-based quarterbacks are doing in the National Football League. However, we can see how Troy Smith and Vince Young, who ran certain variations of the spread at Ohio State and Texas respectively, are doing.

Troy Smith has thrown three career touchdowns with the Baltimore Ravens and ran for a touchdown. However, he's only accounted for one touchdown this season and has only attempted two passes all season. He's a backup to rookie Joe Flacco.

Vince Young has had some crazy games as Tennessee quarterback, and isn't starting this season. Kerry Collins has taken over Young's starting role, but as a starter over a three-year period, Young totalled 951 rushing yards and 22 passing touchdowns (compared to 32 interceptions).

Is the Spread Being Properly Executed?

Passing wise, yes, it's worked out very nicely for some teams. It seems as though the pass-type spread will be a nice and consistent offense down the road if a team has the given players to execute it properly. The prototypical spread offense in the National Football League today can be seen in the New England Patriots.

As for the spread-option offense, no. It hasn't been ran effectively and won't until people figure out the concept. Most quarterbacks in this offense will NOT succeed unless given a powerful, quick offensive line and wide receivers capable of blocking defensive backs and safeties.

With the Wildcat Formation being ran properly, it's only a short while before I see the spread-option being branched out across the National Football League, however.

Arguments Against a NFL Spread Attack

Many critics of the spread-option offense in the NFL state that the linebackers and defensive backs are too smart and fast for quarterbacks and running backs to execute the spread like it's drawn up to be executed.

Well, if that's the case, then wouldn't NFL offensive linemen, tight ends, and wide receivers be better at reading plays as they happen, moving where they need to go, and blocking?

It makes perfect sense, it just needs to be designed flawlessly or else it could backfire with aimless, haunting results.

Another argument is that quarterbacks will get tossed around like rag dolls and injured, week in and week out.

Again, all signs are pointing to the last argument. If the quarterback was durable enough in college, I'm sure he'll become even more durable as he endures NFL hits in practice and gets stronger.

I've seen linebackers hit Florida quarterback Tim Tebow with all their body frame, hits that look like they really rattle the guy, and he just gets right back up.

The final argument people always bring up is that the speed of linebackers and defensive backs are a lot higher than that of college defensive backs.

It's like the previous two statements, one improves once making the National Football League. If guys can't stop Chris Johnson's 4.4 speed this season, and are giving up runs straight up the middle by guys like Jonathon Stewart (Oregon spread product at half-back) then how can they stop quarterbacks with the same speed and athletic ability?

Most arguments against the spread-option seem logical at first, but upon second thought, it doesn't make total sense.

If Michael Vick Succeeded, so can Other Quarterbacks

Michael Vick, who was widely considered as one of the founders of scrambling, especially in the National Football League, wasn't the best of the best when looking at statistics.

A 75.7 career passing rating isn't great, nor is a completion percentage of 53.8.

However, one thing he was good at doing is running the football. He racked up 3,859 career rushing yards at the quarterback position, accounting for 21 rushing touchdowns. Vick battled some injuries throughout his career, but on field he was able to stay away from fumbling the football.

Through six seasons, he fumbled the ball 19 times, losing only nine fumbles.

If a mediocre quarterback like Michael Vick succeeded just because of his legs, then why doesn't the NFL adapt to a spread-option? With some of these newer athletes, you've got much more efficient throwing accuracy and throwing power, something Vick never consistently possessed.

When To Expect the Launch of the Spread Offense

It's bound to happen somewhere. Just face the facts, the spread offense is loved by many in college football because it's an array of offensive explosions all across the football field.

Offense puts people into the seats, so I'm expecting a team such as Dallas, who's always looking for something to draw attention, to become the first to launch a full-scale spread option attack.

If the athletes set themselves in place, there could easily be a system of spread-option offense in the league by 2010, especially considering the talent emerging in upcoming drafts.

Where Spread Offenses Rank in College Football Now

Total Offense

Top 10 in total offense features a variety of the spread offense attack, including Tulsa, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Nevada (Pistol Set is a branch of spread offense), Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas. Oregon is ranked 13th in total offense, Illinois is 16th, and Penn State is 18th. Florida rounds at the top 25.

Scoring Offense

The entire top five of scoring offense features a spread running team. The top five goes: Oklahoma, Tulsa, Texas Tech, Missouri, Florida. Texas, Oklahoma State, Rice and Oregon are also in the top ten overall. Arizona State, Penn State and Nevada follow shortly there after.

Rushing Offense

The top five features four teams which fully execute a branch of the spread, including Nevada at No. 1 in the nation, Navy second, Air Force fourth (Air Force features a spread-flex offense, or an offense with both passing and running mechanisms mixed in) and Oregon fifth.

Oklahoma State is sixth, while Georgia Tech comes in at eighth with their new triple option offense. Tulsa is ninth overall nationally.

Passing Offense

We see some usual teams around here once more, with Texas Tech at No. 1, Oklahoma third, Missouri fourth and Tulsa fifth. Texas, Kansas, Illinois and South Florida are also all in this mix.

Why I Expect the Spread to Succeed in the NFL

If the "Wildcat Formation" is succeeding with such frequency, then by no means can the spread-option attack, which is fundamentally and preparation-wise executed better by a long shot in comparison to the Wildcat.

There isn't anyone out there that wouldn't agree that the spread is a better designed, more effective, and harder to stop offensive attack than what the Wildcat is; just look at the success it's had so far in this NFL season.

Given the correct personnel, I expect the spread to become as mainstream to NFL franchises as what it is in college.

If not, someone better find a home for all these quarterbacks.


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