New Grantland: How the Erhardt-Perkins System Drives the Success of Brady, Belichick and the New England Patriots

It’s now up over at Grantland:

New England’s offense is a member of the NFL’s third offensive family, the Erhardt-Perkins system. The offense was named after the two men, Ron Erhardt and Ray Perkins, who developed it while working for the Patriots under head coach Chuck Fairbanks in the 1970s. According to Perkins, it was assembled in the same way most such systems are developed. “I don’t look at it as us inventing it,” he explained. “I look at it as a bunch of coaches sitting in rooms late at night organizing and getting things together to help players be successful.”

The backbone of the Erhardt-Perkins system is that plays — pass plays in particular — are not organized by a route tree or by calling a single receiver’s route, but by what coaches refer to as “concepts.” Each play has a name, and that name conjures up an image for both the quarterback and the other players on offense. And, most importantly, the concept can be called from almost any formation or set. Who does what changes, but the theory and tactics driving the play do not. “In essence, you’re running the same play,” said Perkins. “You’re just giving them some window-dressing to make it look different.”

Read the whole thing.

  • BullChip

    This is a terrific article and will greatly enhance my football experience. To think that it has evolved from two coaching minds from the mid-seventies Patriots staff that had some limited successes. They were the first relevant football teams of my youth not located in New York.

  • Zennie Abraham

    Hey Chris. The Bill Walsh Offense terminology didn’t come from him – and I call it “Bill Walsh Offense” because he created the concepts that form what others call The West Coast Offense, but I junked to honor the late Coach Walsh – it came from his time with Paul Brown. Coach Brown’s terminology informed not just Walsh, who was his offensive coordinator, but Tom Landry of The Dallas Cowboys. It’s worth reading the 1968 Dallas Cowboys Playbook. Formations were colors, like “Red” for split backs, fullback on the right. “Brown” was the fullback behind the QB, with the halfback on the weakside. And so on. That language used by both Landry and Brown made its way into Coach Walsh’s playbook, and survives today. I think this is the missing part of your article.

  • MC

    Chris wrote: “a three-digit tree gives an offense 59,049 different possible route combinations. That’s absurd.” Yes it is. The correct number is not 3^10 (your number) but 10^3 = 1000. After all there are only 1000 3-digit numbers. Learning a bit of math may be useful in “smart football”.

  • Rob Azarcon

    Between this article and the Peyton Manning article, I think you’re getting at that simplicity and playing fast is what’s most successful in the NFL these days. Any chance we’ll see the Air Raid at the top level since it’s based on players being able to play fast? Or does it lack the complexity needed to succeed in the NFL?

  • MacKenzie Pantoja

    I’ve got to ask… with regard to Air Coryell, couldn’t the 10 routes isn’t enough thing be fixed by using a letter system? An A route is a bubble screen, a Z route is a vertical route, with 24 other letters/routes in between? Of course, if you have that many letters, you could always use a couple letters to represent certain pass blocking assignments (you would still easily have 20 routes), which would eliminate the difficulty of 4 receiver looks. Let’s say A represented slide protection left, with the person who is assigned to “A” obviously blocking the strongside end (probably a running back). You could call a play like “JHAKV,” out of a balanced 4 receiver look with one back. The split end would run an “J” route, whatever that may be, the weakside slot receiver would run an “H” route, the running back would block toward the strongside as the line slide protects toward the weakside, the strongside slot receiver would run a “K” route, and the flanker would run a “V” route. Very simple. Better yet, have all pass blocking assignments represented by a number, with all routes being represented by particular letters. Something like “JH2KV,” would be even easier. No pass play would require more than 5 numbers or letters to be shouted out, you can choose from as many as 26 routes to have a receiver run, and you have the option of giving backs and tight ends up to 10 possible blocking assignments.