Monday, January 23, 2012

Ernest Givens Lives

For an old Houston Oiler's fan, this article on the team's notorious "Run and Shoot" offense is irresistible. It name-checks Haywood Jeffries, for God's sakes. How can it not be worth your time?

A sample:
The run-and-shoot was supposed to be dead, at least in the NFL. The offense (at least one form of it) was conceived by Glenn "Tiger" Ellison back in the 1950s, while Darrel "Mouse" Davis developed its modern form throughout a four-decade coaching career that has touched nearly every level of football imaginable. The offense had its moment of glory in the NFL in the early 1990s. Back then, the Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, and Houston Oilers (and the Seattle Seahawks, extremely briefly) ran the 'shoot, which featured four wide receivers and one running back on every snap. The offense used no fullbacks and no tight ends.1 These teams had mixed success. The Lions won 12 games in 1991; the Falcons won 10 and made the playoffs twice during their 'shoot days. But the NFL team that most exemplified the run-and-shoot, in both its glory and its shame, was the Houston Oilers. The Oilers made the playoffs in seven straight years with the run-and-shoot (and fielded a top-10 offense in each season), and quarterback Warren Moon blitzkrieged defenses with his four-receiver aerial assault. But the Oilers never reached the Super Bowl, and they managed to be on the wrong end of the greatest playoff comeback in NFL history. Against the Buffalo Bills in the 1993 wild-card round, Moon threw four first-half touchdowns, but he wasn't able to burn the clock and the defense collapsed in the second half of a 41-38 loss. The Oilers became part of an even more ignominious moment the following year, when Buddy Ryan, Houston's defensive coordinator, punched the team's offensive coordinator in the face.  Ryan was no fan of the run-and-shoot, which he called the "chuck-and-duck." 
Eventually, a consensus formed around the league that a team couldn't win championships with the run-and-shoot, and teams abandoned the offense. Without a tight end or fullback, they said, the 'shoot was "finesse only" and lacked the physical element necessary to win.3 But not everyone agreed. When Hall of Fame safety Rod Woodson heard Houston had given up on the offense, he said: "Tell the owner thank you, and tell the front office thank you. The run-and-shoot got the Oilers where they are, and I think defenses all over the league are going to be very relieved when they hear about it." 
But the run-and-shoot went out of fashion for a reason. In a modern NFL full of tight ends and multiple formations, an offense that limits itself to one personnel grouping — whether it's four receivers and one running back or two running backs and a tight end — can't be successful. The run-and-shoot forced the Oilers, Lions, and Falcons to protect their quarterback with six players; without multiple looks, today's defenses would develop schemes to destroy those protections. Indeed, what killed the run-and-shoot wasn't the playoff failures or the perceived lack of physicality, but rather the zone blitz, which was designed to defuse the kind of six-man protection schemes that run-and-shoot teams used on every down. For a while, at least, everyone around football seemed to agree that the run-and-shoot had died and would never come back. 
But the run-and-shoot never left.

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