In previous classroom series about the West Coast Offense (WCO), I mentioned that one of the numerous protections is the 60-series. While gathering notes for this article, I noticed that Bill Walsh’s 1982 and 1985 playbooks he has the 60-series as running plays.
However, as stated in previous disclaimers, the WCO has evolved since Walsh with each coach making changes to the original system. Also, Walsh updated his playbooks during his tenure, so what's floating around the internet may show slight differences.
Again, I can’t stress enough the evolution of the WCO since it made its debut in professional football.
Therefore, we need to bring order to our lecture series. Going forward, I’ll use the 1985 49ers offensive playbook as my Rosetta Stone, and discuss variations on plays or series as I know them.
Great Series, But I Still Am Confused By the Numbers.
Thus far, we’ve introduced the 20-series and 50-series to Hub readers, but I wanted to provide further explanation on what the digits mean. The first digit represents the series and the protection, while the second has multiple meanings for different players.
Like in other offenses, the position of the tight end determines the strength of the formation. In the WCO, the second number positions the Y-receiver. If it’s even, he lines up on the right. If it’s odd, he lines up left. Further, the tight end has a free release in the 20, 50 and 80 series with few exceptions. He is supposed to check on plays ending in 8 or 9, and then slow release into the field.
The backs have to think a lot more than the tight end in the WCO. As we learned in the 20 and 50-series, the backs divide to help block. If the second digit is 0-3, both backs check with their own outside linebackers and then release if the OLB does not blitz.
In plays ending 4 or 5, the uncovered back away from the call has a free release, while the back to the call must block first then release. Because 4 places the Y-receiver on the right, the halfback is away from the call, and the fullback is toward the call.
Plays ending in 6 or 7 are the reverse: the fullback is toward the call and therefore has a free release. The halfback must block first and then release into the play if there is no blitzing opponent to pick up.
Finally, plays ending in 8 or 9 create seven-man protection for the quarterback. The Y-receiver is always a slow release into the play, often working with his tackle on zone stunts in the area.
Walsh crafted various changes in the 8 and 9 plays which I’ve listed below:
28/29: Halfback has a free release; fullback is checking the Mike and working inside to outside. He’s searching for anyone coming his way.
58/59: Halfback is checking outside linebacker or looking for a safety coming off the weak edge. The fullback is looking for the strong safety, but working inside-out. Both backs can release if there is no blitz.
78/79: Both backs flow to the weak side (away from the tight end); the halfback is looking for anyone outside, and the fullback picks up the inside blitz.
88/89: Both backs are instructed to run the pattern called. Neither back has a blitz pick-up.
What About the Offensive Line?
The offensive line protection for each series changes slightly depending on the defensive front. Breaking down each offensive lineman’s responsibility for each protection for a multitude of fronts could be year-long series. So, maybe that’s something to explore next offseason.
In short, the line uses pocket protection in the 20 and 50 series. There are different combination blocks linemen may use depending on the placement of the defensive line. 20/21 protections remind the tackles they may have to use fan blocking against an overstack.
When the play call is a 26/27 protection, the right guard has a dual-read when the call is to his side. He picks up the most dangerous man (MDM). If the call is away from his side, the right guard is in pocket protection.
Further, as we discussed last week, 54/55 protection 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.
Bottom line: Dumb offensive linemen in the WCO as mythical as dragons and unicorns.
Okay. Why is the 60-Series Mysterious?
The 60-series isn’t mysterious, but it’s proof of the evolution of the WCO. Walsh listed the 60-series as runs in the 1985 playbook, as did Mike Holmgren in his 1997 Packers offense. Most of Holmgren’s 60-schemes were runs like traps and counters; it does, appear that the 69-series were the play action off of the runs. (Pg. 136 – pass; run pg. 177).
Mike Shanahan, who served as the 49ers offensive coordinator from 1992-1994, changed the 60-series from runs to passes.
As Denver’s head coach, he also included a 60-series and instructed the offensive line to turn away from the call and use gap protection; the whole offensive line all blocked to the left or right.
In Dan Gonzalez’s book Concept Passing: Teaching the Modern Passing Game, he describes 60 protection as a “the first protection scheme installed…” and as “… a six-man scheme, that in its most basic form, handles three rushers to either side of the ball: 60 represents the frontside of the protection to be the right…” According to Gonzalez, the 60 series sends the running back to the left while the offensive line heads to the right.
Indeed, the 60-series probably exists in NFL playbooks today, but I am not in a position to try and guess what the scheme is. Unlike the 20-series, today’s 60-series is probably a combination of ideas and schemes from a full shift in one direction to a zone-blocking scheme.
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