What is a System?

In preparation for an upcoming leadership retreat, I was tasked to “bring three artifacts–images, headlines, etc. that represent a “system.” My assumption is we will be using each person’s examples of systems to glean insights into how our own system works (and might work more effectively and efficiently in the future), visa vie the Innovator’s DNA skill of ‘associating’┬áseemingly unrelated ideas. I have posted artifacts here from 3 systems:

  • Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense
  • A Musician’s Sound System
  • The Chongqing Transit Rail

What is a System?

“A system is a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole.

Every system is delineated by its spatial and temporal boundaries, surrounded and influenced by its environment, described by its structure and purpose and expressed in its functioning.” (wikipedia)

Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense

Joe Montana operates a system known as the "West Coast Offense."
Joe Montana operates a system known as the “West Coast Offense.”

From Wikipedia…

In American football, the “West Coast offense” is┬áthe offensive system popularized by Bill Walsh, characterized by short, horizontal passing routes in lieu of running plays to “stretch out” defenses, opening up the potential for long runs or long passes. It places a greater emphasis on passing than running. The “West Coast Offense” is more of a philosophy and an approach to the game than it is a set of plays or formations. With the defense stretched out, the offense is then free to focus the remaining plays on longer throws of more than 14 yards and mid to long yard rushes.

49ers using the West Coast Offense
49ers using the West Coast Offense

Walsh’s West Coast Offense attempts to open up running and passing lanes for the backs and receivers to exploit, by causing the defense to concentrate on short passes. Since most down and distance situations can be attacked with a pass or a run, the intent is to make offensive play calling unpredictable and thus keep the defense’s play “honest”, forcing defenders to be prepared for a multitude of possible offensive plays rather than focusing aggressively on one likely play from the offense.

A key part of the Walsh implementation was “pass first, run later”, It was Walsh’s intention to gain an early lead by passing the ball, then run the ball on a tired defense late in the game, wearing them down further and running down the clock.

West Coast Offense Formations
West Coast Offense Formations

Another key element in Walsh’s attack was the three step dropback instead of traditional seven step drops or shotgun formations. The three step drop helped the quarterback get the ball out faster resulting in far fewer sacks. “WCO” plays unfold quicker than in traditional offenses and are usually based on timing routes by the receivers. In this offense the receivers also have reads and change their routes based on the coverages presented to them. The quarterback makes three reads and if no opportunity is available after three reads, the QB will then check off to a back or tight end.

The majority of West Coast Offense routes occur within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. 3-step and 5-step drops by the quarterback take the place of the run and force the opposing defense to commit their focus solely on those intermediate routes.

Another aspect that makes the West Coast offense one of the most difficult to master is that it requires a deeper connection between quarterback and receiver, and an ability to communicate mid-play. On any given route, a receiver has as many as three options; a hitch, a slant and a fly, depending on what the defense is showing. The quarterback is responsible for recognizing the defense and the reaction of the receiver to it and adjusting the route if needed. This explains the communication mistakes that commonly occur on West Coast offensive plays where the quarterback throws to a spot that the receiver is running away from.

A Walsh innovation was scripting the first 15 offensive plays of the game. Walsh went as far as to script the first 25 plays but most teams stop at 15. Since the offensive team knew that the first 15 plays would be run as scripted no matter what, they could practice those plays to perfection, minimizing mistakes and penalties. By ignoring situational play-calling and increasing the game tempo, scripted plays also served to confuse the defense and induce early penalties. Executing these plays successfully could establish momentum and dictate the flow of the game. It also gave the coaching staff an opportunity to run test plays against the defense to gauge their reactions in game situations. Later in the game, an observed tendency in a certain situation by the opposing defense could be exploited.

bill-walsJoe Montana was the perfect quarterback to execute Bill Walsh's West Coast Offense System.h-joe-montana-800
Joe Montana was the perfect quarterback to execute Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense System.

The West Coast offense requires a quarterback who throws extremely accurately, and often blindly, very close to opposing players. In addition, it requires the quarterback to be able to quickly pick the best one of five receivers to throw to, certainly much more quickly than in previously used systems. Often, the quarterback has no time to think about the play and must act robotically, executing the play exactly as instructed by the offensive coordinator, who calls the plays for him.

The West Coast offense requires sure-handed receivers who are comfortable catching in heavy traffic, and the system downplays speedy, larger receivers who are covered easily in short yardage situation. One result has been the longevity of receivers in the West Coast system such as Jerry Rice, because familiarity with the system and clear signaling is of greater importance than systems that require a receiver to “stretch the field” where any loss of speed is a major liability. “WCO” systems also rely on agile running backs that catch the ball as often as they run. Roger Craig was a leading receiver for the 49ers for many years and was a 1,000 yard rusher and 1,000 yard receiver in the 1985 season. Finally, receivers must follow precise, complicated routes as opposed to improvisation, making meticulous, intelligent players more valued than independent, pure athletes. Jerry Rice’s unique skill-set made him a reliable and durable asset in both Walsh’s and Seifert’s versions of the West Coast Offense, and hewas able to break numerous NFL receiving records over the course of his career. Rice, who earned induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010, recorded 1,549 receptions, 22,895 receiving yards, and 208 total touchdowns, more than any other NFL player in all three categories.

Another aspect of the West Coast offense is the use of fast running quarterbacks. In blitz or short-yardage situations, many of the West Coast offense’s strengths are negated by defenses blocking running and passing lanes. A running quarterback can compensate by acting as a runner himself, paralyzing an overly aggressive defense.

A Musician’s Sound System

sound system
Sound System
Audio System Flow Chart
Audio System Flow Chart
Audio System
Audio System

The Chongqing Transit Rail
website

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