Paul Brown is often credited as the pioneer of the West Coast offense, so it is only fitting that the Bengals continue to develop it.
While it was a brand new system in the 1940s and 1950s, every offense in the NFL today resembles the West Coast system in one way or another.
So the new offensive brain trust in Cincinnati is going to develop their own iteration of the system Paul Brown developed nearly three quarters of a century ago.
Both head coach Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan have served under Jon Gruden, who took his offensive concepts to a Super Bowl XXXVII victory.
“I think there are some core fundamentals and beliefs in how he wants to run the offense,” said Callahan, via the team’s website. “[They] will always be there and will always be a part of what you see when you turn on Jon Gruden film. And I do believe he has adapted. Play calls might have been shortened, we might have changed how we called formations. We might be doing more no-huddle than he did in 2008. All those things as you study the game and it changes, you start to implement those parts of your offense.”
Callahan and Taylor both want to be a part of the way the game changes. As two young men in their mid-thirties, they have a chance to be at the forefront of the development of tomorrow’s NFL.
“A lot of times you are going to find as guys branch away from wherever they started,” said Callahan. “They put their own spin on it. And, they get around other coaches that have been other places and there’s new ideas and injection of what they’ve done before, and you go, ‘OK, I like that. Let’s incorporate that in what we do,’ and it starts to change as you get further along in your career and it starts to become yours.”
As Taylor and Callahan create the playbook, there will be hints of other great offensive minds that came before them, such as Gary Kubiak and Mike Holmgren, who are branches in the same coaching tree.
“He’s been around a prolific offense in Denver and operated in similar systems that we did in L.A, so I think it will be a great blend of ideas and cohesion,” said Taylor. “It’s important to hire people challenging you.”
Learning to evolve is the key to longevity and success. Coaches like Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, and Andy Reid have been around for a long time, but have learned what parts of their schemes they need to change and which parts stay the same.
“I think just the idea of putting people in space and isolation and getting as many matchups as you can get one on one or your better athletes against their worst athletes in space,” Callahan said. “I think that’s what you see in college a bunch. I do think that the precision of the passing game in the NFL has only gotten better and better as the years have gone on, both because the players have gotten better and also because people are doing a lot more of it all throughout the game.
“Passing almost used to be situational, drop back passing. And now you look at the analytics of throwing on the first down and doing all those things, the numbers support why it’s effective.”
With the explosion of passing in the NFL over the last few years (which has never been more evident than this year), ground-and-pound offenses are practically extinct. Very few teams, if any, are run-first anymore.
Even though Callahan will have a lot of input into the playbook, Taylor will be the one calling plays on Sundays. The relationship will be reminiscent of Sam Wyche and Bruce Coslett, back when Paul Brown was still the owner of the Bengals.
So just like that, the Bengals’ offense is in the hands of two youngsters with 20 combined years of experience in the NFL. In fact, Andy Dalton, who Taylor has been following since his TCU days, will be implementing an offense created by two former quarterbacks that only have two more years of NFL experience each.
Mike Brown is taking a chance by letting go of his former 60-year-old mainstay in Marvin Lewis in favor of a new 35-year-old head coach and a 34-year-old offensive coordinator.
Whatever playbook Taylor and Callahan come up with, it probably won’t be anywhere near the final product when all is said and done.