Last week, we opened our West Coast Offense (WCO) protection terminology with the 20-series. Today, we’ll review the 50-series, which is six- to seven-man protection.
As a reminder, Gentle Reader, I’m breaking down protections as I’ve learned them from the resources I have in my collection. It's also good to know that pass protections are always evolving and probably differ from team to team. I do not claim that each one is 100% accurate for the 49ers or any current NFL offense. Even two teams using the WCO may have different terminology, and I’ve included a few examples in today’s classroom article.
50 Protection: The Basics
The 50-series is closely related to the 20-series, as we see divide-action blocking for the running backs. Both 50/51 and 52/53 calls ask the halfback and fullback to first check the inside linebacker before releasing into the play.
54/55 protection changes slightly and instructs the halfback to work a Rip/Liz call with the weakside guard. The halfback checks the inside linebacker, and if there is no blitz, he can release from the backfield. The scheme flips in 56/57, and the fullback works a Rip/Liz call with the strongside guard; the halfback checks the inside linebacker and then can release if there is no blitz.
In most 50 schemes, the Y-receiver has a free release; however he is instructed to stay in to block on the 58/59 plays, which are 7-man maximum protection. The Y’s primary block is the man over him; if there is no blitz, he can release into the play on the assigned pass pattern. Often, you’ll see the Y-receiver on a late drag route in a 58/59 if he has nobody to block.
The fullback seeks the extra rusher, and like the Y-receiver, he can release into the pass play if there is no extra rusher. You can usually see him split the protection and sit where the inside linebackers use to be. The halfback also is picking up any extra rushers and can release into the flat if he does not have anyone to block.
In Bill Walsh’s 1985 playbook, he describes 58/59 as pocket protection for the offensive line and halfback. Pocket protection is simple: the tackles block the ends, the guards and center take the three interior defenders, and the backs pick up the outside linebackers.
As noted earlier, pass protection schemes vary from coach to coach. In Jon Gruden’s 1998 playbook, he altered 58/59 protection to slide protection away from the call. As you can see below, the halfback has a free release while the fullback checks the middle linebacker and outside linebacker and works with the playside guard.
Passes From the 50-Series
The 50 series allows the quarterback to take five- to seven-step drops with the hope of driving the ball further downfield.
It’s easier to see the protection in an actual play, so here is Red Right, 52 Ricky, Y-Seam from Walsh’s 1985 playbook.
Red is the backfield formation (halfback lined up on the inside foot of the left tackle; fullback lined up directly behind the right tackle)
52 Ricky is the protection. Remember, the back to the call is working with his guard. In this case, the call is Ricky – to the right. So, the fullback and right guard work together to pick up any pesky linebackers. If nobody shows up, the fullback can head into the flat.
Y-Seam is the tag added to the play specifically for the tight end. Again, he has a free release in the 50-series. He’s ready to challenge the free safety on a seam route and is the primary receiver on the play.
How do the X and Z-receivers know what to do? That’s the insanity of the WCO; it’s all memorization. They have to know on this play they both have outside releases and are running go routes.
Not surprisingly, the quarterback has a lot to do on this play. His first job is to make a pre-snap read of the defense. If he can determine the coverage before receiving the snap, he can look at a single receiver. (Writer’s Note: Yes friends, there are many single-read plays in the NFL.) If he’s not sure, for example, it’s a disguised Cover 3, or he’s just flat out confused, he’ll focus first on the Y-receiver’s seam route.
The 50-Series Today
From the resources I have, it appears that offensive coordinators have primarily abandoned the 50-series. Again, I want to stress that it could exist in playbooks that I have never seen or in books I have yet to read.
Two former 49er offensive coordinators – Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan – mostly ignored the 50-series when they were head coaches. When Shanahan served as the 49ers’ offensive coordinator, he altered the 50-series to a handful of play-passes. Holmgren, on the other hand, used a different formation and offensive line protection, and slightly altered the backfield scheme from Walsh’s original concept.
Six- and seven-man protections are still prevalent in today’s NFL, and unless defenses abandon the rush completely, you’ll still be able to spot them a little easier this fall.
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