American Football Database

A pro-style offense is a broad term in American football that means any offensive scheme that resembles those predominantly used at the professional level of play in the NFL, in contrast to those typically used at the collegiate or high school level. Pro-style offenses are only run by a few college teams and virtually never run at the high school level. The term should not be confused with a pro set, which is a specific formation that is used by some offenses at the professional level.

Generally, pro-style offenses are more complex than typical college or high school offenses. They are balanced, requiring offensive lines that are adept at both pass and run blocking, quarterbacks with good decision-making abilities, and running backs who are capable of running between the tackles. Offenses that fall under the pro-style category include the West Coast offense, the Air Coryell offense, and the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system.

Oftentimes, Pro Style offenses utilize certain formations much more commonly than the Air Raid, Run and Shoot, Flexbone, Spread, Pistol, or Option offenses. Pro Style offenses typically utilize the FB and TEs much more commonly than offenses used at the collegiate or high school levels.

Such formations usually include the following

  • Ace: A standard formation with 2 or 3 WRs outside and a RB lined up behind the QB who is under center. This formation often eschews a FB for a 3rd WR or a 2nd TE.
  • I Formation: Another standard formation with 2 WRs on the outside and a RB lined up behind a FB and the QB who is under center. Tweaks including shifting the FB to the left or right side behind the Guard.
  • Shotgun: One difference is that often the Shotgun is used as a 3 WR formation with a TE lined up inside to help block in pass protection. RBs can also line up next to the QB to help pick up blitzes.

Part of the complexity of the offense is that teams at the professional level often employ multiple formations and are willing to utilize them at any point during an actual game. One example might be that a team uses a Strong I Formation run (FB lined up where the TE is located on the line of scrimmage) on 1st Down followed up by a running play out of the Ace formation on 2nd down before attempting a pass on 3rd down out of a 2 WR Shotgun formation.

Another aspect of the complexity is that the running game is primarily built off Zone Blocking or involves a Power Run scheme. The passing game as a result often employs play-action, often with the QB dropping back from under center, as a means of passing the ball while building off the running game.

Coaches who make the transition from the NFL to the NCAA as head coaches often bring with them their Pro Style offenses. Such examples include Charlie Weis (HC at Kansas), Dave Wannstedt (former HC at Pittsburgh), Bill O'Brien (HC at Penn State). One positive aspect of employing a Pro Style offense is that it can help players make transitions from the college level to the professional level quicker as a result of their familiarity with the system's complexity.