49ersHub Classroom: West Coast Offense Pass Protections: The 20 Series
About eleven years ago, during a very late night on Capitol Hill, I typed one of the few West Coast Offense (WCO) plays I knew into Google.
“west coast offense, flanker drive”
Within nanoseconds, a treasure chest of information showed up on the screen. There were pages of breakdowns, PowerPoint presentations and places to download bootlegged NFL playbooks.
Flipping through these Rosetta Stones was a dam break of data. I started with a 49ers’ playbook from 1981 and tried to read it in pieces. The route names, various combinations, formations and running plays were easy to understand, and the fundamentals of the system were also digestible.
Unfortunately, the pass protections were horribly difficult to learn, making the rest of the play a confusing string of words. I was unclear which part of the play told the offensive line how to block, let alone the difference between 22 Scat and 200 Jet.
My confusion multiplied when the defensive front changed, and the grey matter leaked from my ears when I found variations of terminology among the WCO.
Over time, I’ve learned the nuances of pass protection, though these are easier to find when watching the all-22 tape and rewinding the play a few times.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll break down protections as I’ve learned them. Please note these protections have evolved and probably differ slightly from team to team. I do not claim that each one is 100% accurate for the 49ers or any current NFL team. Even two teams using the WCO may have different terminology. However, I’m hopeful you can use the information as a starting point for your football education.
20 Protection: The Basics
In the WCO, passes are broken into an assortment of protection (20s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 2/3 Jet, Fox 2 H2/H3 and Fire 2). Today, we’ll focus on the 20 series, which is six-to-seven man protection. The 20 series allows the Y-receiver to release into a route and asks one or both backs to first block the defensive end (or the Sam/Will linebackers), and then release into the field.
This fall, when you see running back Matt Breida head to the left, fullback Kyle Juszczyk head to the right and tight end Garrett Celek run a hook route, you can shout, “That’s 20 protection!”
Some coaches call the 20 series ‘split-flow’ protection; Bill Walsh described it as ‘divide’ or ‘split’ protection. Don’t worry about the terminology; keep your eyes on the running backs and tight end.
Let’s break this down into a familiar formation. Here is Red Right (Red is the backfield formation, Right tells the strength of the formation):
In Red Right, the fullback protects the strong side of the line, and the halfback is responsible for the weak side.
Depending on the defensive formation, the backs could block the Sam/Will backers, or if weak side guard is covered, the back listens for a ‘Gap’ call and alert to the inside linebacker.
‘Scat’ in 20 Protection
The beauty of the WCO is how it sounds, but that’s also its downfall. There is a multitude of tags and keywords within a play that may only tell one player to execute a job. It sounds like no other offense, making it a laborious exercise in memorizing Every. Last. Detail.
Plays always are said in the following order:
Formation (Far right, Red Right, Near)
Adjustments (Tight, Close)
Motion or shift (Y-motion, Zeb, F Right)
Play number (22, 76, 57)
Terms/Tags (Flanker Drive, Z-In, Y-Shake, F-Texas)
Snap count (On two, three, or snap)
In the 20 series, the back or backs key on the word “scat” which allows them to leave the backfield without any blitz responsibility. Again, depending on the formation, it could leave only five offensive linemen protecting the quarterback.
Here’s how it sounds: Double Wing Right, ‘B’ Right, 322 Scat ‘Y’ Stick Lion
Scat plays develop quickly because only the five offensive linemen are protecting the quarterback. Therefore, the quarterback has a 3-to-5 step drop, and the back or backs move quickly into the flat or on a swing route (see below):
Variations: Where Things Get Wild
Offensive linemen find themselves in a lot of “if-then” situations.
“If we are facing a 3-4 front, then we execute this block.”
It’s no different in the 20-series, and it’s where learning the protection gets very confusing.
Covered/uncovered linemen, stacked linebackers, and/or a blitzing strong safety can completely change the execution of the protection. These nuances are incredibly difficult to spot during a live game, but some are worth pointing out.
In 22/23 Scat, we know the back or backs have a free release, and we know that five men protect the quarterback.
However, what if the weak side guard is covered? What if the front leaves the center uncovered?
Here’s an example of 22/23 Scat against a 3-4 front:
As you can see, the uncovered guards are working dual blocks with their tackle.
In a 4-3 front, the center is uncovered, and he pops out to the weak side to help the tackle and guard (below):
Conclusion: It’s Evolution Baby!
Comparing Walsh’s playbooks to those of today are like comparing an Apple IIe to an iPhone X. The 20 protection has kept some parts of its original DNA; however, Walsh’s disciples have evolved the scheme to make it simpler, fit a team’s needs, or for any reason they saw fit. The core elements remain: splitting backs, a free release for the tight end and 6-to-7 man protection.
22 Z-In, a staple play from the Walsh era, looked like this:
All the essential elements are in this play, including the strong guard with a double read of the strong inside linebacker and the defensive end. Today, 22-Z In could be run from a spread formation, single back or with multiple shifts before the snap.
There are plenty of places to learn the subtler points of a professional offense, but 49ers Hub will provide you with tutorials and guidance this season. Please check back next week as we break down another WCO pass protection.
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