American Football Database

The New England Patriots employ a variety of strategies during play. Since the arrival of head coach Bill Belichick in 2000, the Patriots have utilized an "Erhardt-Perkins" offense and a "Fairbanks-Bullough" 3-4 defense, referred to commonly as a 2-gap 3-4 defensive system.[citation needed]

Erhardt-Perkins offensive system

The Patriots run a modified "Ron Erhardt - Ray Perkins" offensive system[1] installed by Charlie Weis under Bill Belichick. Both Ron Erhardt and Ray Perkins served as offensive assistant coaches under the defensive minded Chuck Fairbanks while he was head coach of the Patriots in the 1970s.[1] This system is noted for its multiple formation and personnel grouping variations on a core number of base plays. Under this system, each formation and each play are separately numbered. Additional word descriptions further modify each play (see below for examples).

Running game

The Erhardt - Perkins system has at times had a reputation (whether or not earned) of being a traditional smash mouth offense that maximizes a team's time of possession and does not as frequently call upon its running backs to serve as receivers.[2] Erhardt was famous for his adage, "throw to score, run to win."[3] This may have been especially true during the years Bill Parcells ran this system as the head coach of the New York Giants.[4] This system is thought to be particularly well suited for teams playing in harsh outdoor weather conditions of the northeast of the United States.[citation needed]

An example of a running play under this system is Zero, Ride Thirty-six. Zero sets the formation. Thirty indicates who will be the ball carrier running with the ball. Six indicates which hole between the offensive linemen the ball carrier will attempt to run through (see Offensive Nomenclature).[citation needed]

Passing game

This offense often uses "the run to set up the pass" via play-action passing, faking the run in order to throw deep downfield when the defense is least expecting it. Despite its reputation, this system is not always a run first offense. Erhardt commonly ran the system in his later years spread wide open with multiple receivers (earning the moniker "Air Erhardt"), as NFL rules evolved to benefit the passing game. As a result of this influence, the Patriots will frequently run this offense with five potential receivers and an empty backfield should a favorable matchup present itself or as a function of available personnel. With the addition of Randy Moss and Wes Welker to the Patriots offense in 2007, the Patriots placed an emphasis on a wide open passing attack (with record setting results).[5] As rules of the NFL have loosened to favor the offense, the Patriots have increasingly adopted a wide open approach, to the point that they are often now thought of as a short pass first team. The Patriots have also made good extensive use of the non huddle offense to tire out defensive personnel and to disallow substitutions.

Weis states in his autobiography "No Excuses" that the first play that he called in Super Bowl XXXVI was: Zero Flood Slot Hat, Seventy-eight Shout Tosser. Zero is the base formation. Flood Slot Hat further modifies this formation to a set with one back in motion, two tight ends and two wide receivers (which is to say five potential receivers in total). Seventy-eight is the base play number, a three step drop play. Shout tells the three potential receivers on one side of the quarterback what routes they should run, while Tosser tells the other two potential receivers their patterns. During the actual game, Tom Brady threw the ball to Troy Brown for a twenty-one yard gain, seventeen of it after the catch.

Option Anxiety:

Other teams running similar offensive systems

Parcells ran the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system during his pro coaching years, which is where Weis originally learned it.[citation needed] Many teams coached by members of the Parcells-Belichick coaching tree currently use this system, such as Notre Dame during Weis' tenure. The Pittsburgh Steelers also continued to run this system during the Bill Cowher years, from when Ron Erhardt was their offensive coordinator.[6] The Carolina Panthers run this system as well, under Jeff Davidson, a former Belichick assistant. The Kansas City Chiefs adopted this system with the 2007 hiring of Chan Gailey as offensive coordinator.[7] The Denver Broncos adopted this system with the 2009 hiring of Josh McDaniels, who served as offensive coordinator under Belichick from 2006 through 2008.

Streak and Read Principle Offense

The New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars with Coughlin and Gilbride from 1995–present known as a Streak and Read Principle Offense. Which was coined by Jim Miller (New York Giants back up Quarterback in 2005) in Ralph Vacchiano's book

"It's different than it was at Michigan," Manningham said. "At Michigan, it was man or zone. That's all you needed to know. Now you need to know what the backside corners are doing, what the water boy is doing and everybody else."

That's because the Giants have an offense that employs a "streak-read principle" for its receivers. The routes don't just depend on the play that's called in the huddle. They have to make sight adjustments when they get to their spot in the formation based on where the cornerbacks and safeties are aligned.

"You've got to look at DBs and (middle) linebackers. You've got to look at the whole defense," Manningham said. "The routes depend on what the coverage is. You come out and you know what you've got to do, but it may change the whole thing after you get done looking at the coverage."



"I can't cover option routes all day!" Carlos Rogers 2012 NFC Championship game vs. Victor Cruz.

"West Coast Offense Much Simpler" Manningham on Niners West Coast Offense.

"Read what you see in front of you" 1:55-2:58 Cruz game winning TD Redskins 10/21/12.

"All the Option Routes" Marshall Faulk 3:49:

Kevin Gilbride on 2011 Giants WR & TE (O.C. 2006-present):

"I’d rather let you answer that than me,” Gilbride says. “Let me just say that I’m very proud of the guys that I work with. We started with five new guys and then we had all of the injuries and the youth and the guys who haven’t played and some of the things that we ask them to do. You don’t just, in our offense, go out and run a 12-yard curl or a 10-yard in-cut. We ask them to read a lot of things. We put a lot of pressure on receivers to see things as a quarterback would. It’s very difficult as a coach to get those things coordinated." "Explained very simply, Manning has the ability to change the play to almost anything in that week’s game plan, based on what he sees in the defensive alignment. And when he calls a pass play, the receivers have several options to change their routes on each play, depending on what the defense does. It’s complicated and hard to learn, and it can be very tricky for the quarterback and receiver to make sure they’re seeing exactly the same thing out of each defender."

Play Clock Ticks Down: 12 seconds

When center Kevin Boothe approaches the line of scrimmage, he’s never caught off-guard by the opposing personnel facing him. Offensive linemen are on the field for every play, so Boothe uses the time the Giants change players to turn around and see how the defense reacts. “Is it three down (linemen) or four down?” said Boothe, the Giants’ center since the injured David Baas has been out. “Just to get a head start on what we’ll be facing.” Manning now takes a look. This is when he can be heard yelling a few checks:

• “Four down, set!” (Four down linemen. This determines how a play is blocked.)

• “Fifty-nine’s the Mike!” (No. 59 is identified by Manning as the middle linebacker. This also determines how a running play or blitz pickup is blocked and which receivers must run “hot” routes.)

• “Opposite!” (Run the play the other way than what was called.)

• “Easy, easy.” Like a military order, that last one means everybody relax, the snap count is stopping so Manning can call an audible. The original play isn’t going to work. So it’s on to the next one. 08 secs

This is where Manning is at his best. Gilbride says all the time that Manning gets the Giants into the right plays based on what he sees from the defense.

Case in point: the successful 2-point conversions in each of the past two games that were changed from passes to runs. The Packers left the middle of the line uncovered, while the Cowboys had five defensive backs on three receivers, leaving only six players in the box.

Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride Connection:

Mike Sullivan Offensive Coordinator of Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2012 who served as an assisant to Tom Coughlin.

Article: Learning an Offense:

"Surely, there's a lot of stuff in this offense that is on-the-fly and conversion-type of stuff," Bucs backup quarterback Dan Orlov¬sky said.

Receivers and quarterbacks have to be on the same page in any offense. But at times for the Bucs this season, it might look as though they're not working from the same playbook.

"In this system, they probably put a lot on the receivers to read the routes on the fly," Brad Johnson said. "Is it a curl? Does it adjust to a corner route? Is it a hitch? Or does it convert to a fade? Is it a square-in? Does it convert to a square-in and go?"

Here's why progress takes time in the Bucs' new offense

"What’s also obvious is that there have been some head-scratching throws from Freeman in recent weeks, ones where it seems he’s throwing to an opponent or no one at all. At times, it’s a matter of inaccuracy. But in some instances, it’s a product of the quarterback and receiver making slightly different reads."

Vincent Jackson (Sirius) compares Coryell/West Coast vs. Streak and Read: from a scheme standpoint its torture right now. Whether that does seem to be a little more flexibility in this offense of course every offense has rules and you -- think you got to stick with him. Those are pretty common but, we have more options in this offense you know with different receivers of positions and you know quarterback seeing what the receivers are seeing just being definitive of making good decisions a quarterback it's gonna read that. And through that make him make the choice though before he goes with the ball. Instead of you know more in a West Coast offense where you know where you will be, everything has this depth that you break here, it's nice in this offense to have a little more off flexibility within the system. Sirius Transcript

Dallas Clark compares Indy Offense to Bucs New Offense (mike sullivan): "It's different, but it's fun, Clark said after Tuesday's practice. "There's absolutely no carryover from what I dealt with in Indy – and I didn't think that was possible. It's all fresh and it's all new, which makes this camp pretty important for me." Article

Chris Palmer Offensive Coordinator of the Tennessee Titans 2011-present who served as an assistant to Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin. New York Giants' offense takes note of Tennessee Titans.

Comparison to "West Coast" and "Air Coryell" offenses

In the view of some experts, there are only approximately five or six major offensive systems run in the NFL today.[1]

The nomenclature of the Erhardt-Perkins system is very different from the Bill Walsh west coast offense. Formations under the West Coast Offense are commonly named after colors (i.e., Green Right).[8] The west coast offense commonly utilizes high percentage, short slanting passes and running backs as receivers. It prefers to have mobile quarterbacks (since its running backs may not be available to block) and large receivers who are able to gain additional yards after the catch.[9]

The nomenclature of the Erhardt-Perkins system is also very different from the Ernie Zampese-Don Coryell "Air Coryell" timed system. Route patterns of the receivers are numbered instead of named in the Air Coryell system (thereby making memorization easier).[10] For example, an Air Coryell play such as "924 F stop swing" indicates that the primary wide receiver (X) should run a 9 pattern (a go), the tight end (Y) should run a 2 pattern (a slant), the secondary wide receiver (Z) should run a 4 pattern (a deep in) and the F-back should go out for a swing pass (see Offensive nomenclature). Timing and precision are extremely important under the Air Coryell system, as the routes are intended to run like successive clockwork in order to be successful. The Air Coryell offense was used successfully by several coaches. Its history includes Jimmy Johnson's tenure as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Johnson's offensive coordinator, Norv Turner implemented the system when he became head coach of the San Diego Chargers in 2007. The St. Louis Rams ran the Coryell system successfully under coordinator and then head coach Mike Martz; earlier still, Joe Gibbs won several Super Bowls running his version of the Coryell offense. At present (2013), Cam Cameron, the former offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, ran the Coryell system.

Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4 defensive system

The New England Patriots run a modified base 3-4 Chuck Fairbanks-Hank Bullough system[11] installed by Bill Belichick. The term 3-4 means that their base formation consists of 3 defensive linemen (defensive end, nose tackle, and defensive end), 4 linebackers (outside "Will" weak side linebacker, middle "Jack" weak side linebacker, middle "Mike" strong side linebacker, and outside "Sam" strong side linebacker), and 4 defensive backs (cornerback, free safety, strong safety, and cornerback).[12] It is believed that this 3-4 structure gives the defense the greatest amount of flexibility because the linebackers are among the most versatile players on the defense, capable of rushing the quarterback, tackling runners or dropping into coverage. By mixing the roles of their linebackers from play to play, the Patriots defense seeks to cause confusion on the part of opposing offenses. At times the Patriots will also shade their defensive linemen different ways, creating "over" or "under" defenses. "Over" and "under" defenses simply refer to the shift of the defensive linemen to the strong or weak side of the offense, respectively, and the rotation of the linebackers in the opposite direction.

The "Fairbanks-Bullough" 3-4 system is known as a two gap system, because each of the defensive linemen are required to cover the gaps to both sides of the offensive lineman that try to block them.[13] Defensive linemen in this system tend to be stouter, as they need to be able to hold their place without being overwhelmed in order to allow the linebackers behind them to make plays. This is the reason that defensive linemen such as Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork do not always rack up sack and tackle statistics despite their critical importance to the team.[14]

The system is at times more conservative than certain other defenses currently in vogue in the league,[15] despite the constant threat of its potent linebacker blitz.[citation needed] The Patriots defensive system generally places an emphasis on physicality and discipline over mobility and risk taking[citation needed] and is sometimes characterized as a "bend but do not break defense".[16] The Patriots are also known for putting a great deal of emphasis on the front seven (defensive line and linebackers) but less so on the secondary.


The 3-4 defense was originally devised by Bud Wilkinson at the University of Oklahoma in the late 1940s.[17] Former Patriots and Oklahoma coach Chuck Fairbanks is credited with being a major figure in first bringing the 3-4 defense to the NFL in 1974.[18] It is unclear if the Patriots under Fairbanks or the Houston Oilers under Bum Phillips were the first team to bring the 3-4 defense to the NFL.

Patriots defensive coordinator Hank Bullough made significant further innovations to the system.[19] Parcells was linebackers coach under Ron Erhardt as head coach of the Patriots in 1980 (after Fairbanks left for Colorado in 1978 and Bullough lost out on the head coaching position). When Parcells returned to the Giants as defensive coordinator under Ray Perkins in 1981, he brought the 3-4 defense with him.

Bill Belichick was initially exposed to the 3-4 defense while working as an assistant under Red Miller, head coach of the Denver Broncos and a former Patriots offensive coordinator under Fairbanks. Joe Collier was the defensive coordinator under Red Miller at the time,[20] and his orange crush defense was very successful at stifling opposing offenses. The Broncos had decided to adopt the 3-4 in 1977. Bill Belichick subsequently refined his understanding of the 3-4 as a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator under Parcells with the Giants. Belichick returned the 3-4 defense back to New England when he become coach of the team in 2000.[19] Romeo Crennel subsequently became defensive coordinator for the team.

In a 2007 press conference Belichick said the following of Fairbanks: "I think Chuck has had a tremendous influence on the league as well as this organization in terms of nomenclature and terminology and those kinds of things. I'm sure Chuck could walk in and look at our playbook and probably 80 percent of the plays are the same terminology that he used - whether it be formations or coverages or pass protections. We were sitting there talking yesterday and he was saying, 'How much 60 protection are you guys using? How much 80 are you using?' All of the stuff that was really the fundamentals of his system are still in place here even, again, to the way we call formations and plays and coverages and some of our individual calls within a call, a certain adjustment or things that Red (Miller) and Hank (Bullough) and Ron (Erhardt) and those guys used when they were here".[21]

Other teams running similar defensive systems

Bill Parcells ran the Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4 defensive system during his coaching years.[22] Many teams coached by members of the Parcells-Belichick coaching tree currently run similar defensive systems,[citation needed] such as the University of Alabama under Nick Saban and the Cleveland Browns under Eric Mangini.

Comparison to other 3-4 systems

The "Phillips 3-4", a one-gap version of the 3-4, was also brought into the league by Bum Phillips, head coach of the Houston Oilers in the 1970s. The Phillips 3-4 defense is currently run by the San Diego Chargers as well as the Dallas Cowboys formerly coached by Wade Phillips, the son of Bum Phillips. Wade Phillips replaced Joe Collier as defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos in 1989. The modern Phillips 3-4 is largely a one gap 3-4 system, meaning that the defensive linemen are often only responsible for one gap between the offensive linemen. The linemen can afford to be more aggressive because they receive more support from the linebackers in performing their roles. This system generally prefers relatively lighter, more agile lineman better able to perform aggressive slants, loops and gap charges in order to directly attempt to sack the quarterback and make tackles.[citation needed]

The 3-4 zone blitz defense was developed by Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals. Prior to becoming defensive coordinator of the Bengals, LeBeau was tutored by Bengals defensive coordinator Hank Bullough. LeBeau's system commonly calls upon linemen to be mobile enough to drop back into zone coverage in place of blitzing linebackers.[23] Elements of the 3-4 zone blitz defense have been incorporated over time into the modern Phillips 3-4.


The New England Patriots are noted for the following characteristics:

  • Their self-critical, perfectionist, and militaristic approach;[24]
  • Their emphasis on team,[25] equality among players and lack of individual ego;[citation needed]
  • Their strong work ethic, intelligence and high level of focus and preparation for each individual game;[26]
  • Their multiple schemes intended to take advantage of their opponent's weaknesses.[28][29]

For example, in Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots defense used an aggressive bump and run nickel and dime package instead of their base 3-4 to disrupt the timing of the highly touted Air Coryell system employed by the Rams under Mike Martz (also known as "The Greatest Show on Turf"). This modifiable aspect of the Patriots system is in stark contrast to simpler systems like the Tampa 2 defense, in which the same scheme is often run repeatedly with the emphasis being on execution rather than on flexibility.[citation needed]

In his book "How Football Explains America", Sal Paolantonio noted the many parallels between the Patriots philosophy and military training taught at West Point. This is likely the result of Bill Parcells' having coached at Army for four years and Bill Belichick's close ties with the Naval Academy.[30]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Borges, Ron (2000-09-01). "Coming to terms with the system". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  2. Eskenzai, Gerald (1992-08-28). "Steelers Are Happy to Hand Offense Off to Erhardt". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  3. Rasizer, Lee and Jeff Legwold (2007-10-03). "Looking for the Delivery of Something Special". Rocky Mountain News. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  4. "Parcells protege Coughlin rejoins Giants as coach". St. Petersburg Times. 2004-01-07. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  5. "Patriots' Brady, Moss set records". Yahoo! Sports. 2007-12-29. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
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  10. Magee, Jerry (2002-02-01). "Martz tunes up tried-and-true engine to drive Rams' flying circus". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
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  13. Benjamin, Amalie (2006-12-15). "Wright up to tackle challenge". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  14. Smith, Kelsie (2006-08-25). "He now knows nose". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  15. Martin, Bryan (2004-06-15). "Understanding the Chargers 3-4 defense part II". Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  16. Borges, Ron (2007-03-04). "More of the same?". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  17. Alder, James. "Football 101 - Understanding the Basics of the 3-4 Defense". Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  18. "No. 2: Pro Football Weekly NFL Preview". Cold Hard Football Facts. 2005-06-30. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Cafardo, Nick (2003-09-05). "Recurring scheme". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  20. "Q & A with Patriots coach Bill Belichick". Sporting News. 2005-02-04. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
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  22. Puma, Mike. "Parcells made struggling franchises into winners". ESPN. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
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  24. Gasper, Christoper L, and Mike Reiss (2007-10-05). "Humble pie always on menu". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
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  26. Bell, Jarrett (2005-01-24). "Patriots all about the rings". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  27. Long, Mark (2005-02-06). "Versatile Vrabel vaults into Super Bowl lore". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  28. Pasquarelli, Len (2002-08-28). "Patriots used game plan to stymie St. Louis". ESPN. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  29. Grotz, Dave (2011-01-15). "Eric Mangini Shares His Secrets on How to Beat the Patriots". NESN. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
  30. Syken, Bill (2006-06-29). "West Pointers overtaking West Coasters". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2009-10-06.

See also