[dt_divider style=”thick” /]“When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun, you can do amazing things.” — Joe Namath
Baker Mayfield possesses many of the intangible traits NFL teams desire when fervently scouring for their next franchise quarterback. The Oklahoma walk-on has a distinct personality in the way he attacks the game with an enthusiastic competitiveness. He’s used the title of walk-on as an eternal chip on his shoulder to motivate him to overcome adversity at any level he’s played at thus far. The bravado, confidence and swagger he exudes on and off the field are an integral part of what made him a highly successful college quarterback and a Heisman Trophy winner. Those same character traits should do the same for him at the next level.
Many evaluators, including myself, expect Mayfield to be a high pick in the up and coming NFL Draft. Assuming Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen are off the board – Mayfield shouldn’t be selected later than the 3rd overall pick currently held by the New York Jets. Mayfield’s fiery personality combined with the circus-like atmosphere that is the New York press would be extremely entertaining and perhaps reminiscent of the days when Joe Namath was donning the green and white. Though, on a much more magnified scale.
While the parallels between the two quarterbacks in terms of confidence and swagger conjure up ideas of fascinating post-game press conferences and backpage tabloids, the more compelling element of a potential Mayfield-Jets marriage is how well he would fit in new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates’ iteration of the West Coast scheme.
Bates has deep roots in the West Coast offense, beginning his career working for Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay as an Offensive Quality Control Coach in 2002. Gruden worked for both George Seifert and Mike Holmgren, who studied the West Coast system from the legendary Head Coach Bill Walsh. Bates was promoted to Assistant Quarterbacks Coach for the Buccaneers in 2004 prior to being hired as the Jets Quarterbacks Coach in 2005. The young coach then spent the 2006-2008 seasons under the tutelage of Mike Shanahan, another brilliant West Coast mind from the Seifert tree, as an Offensive Assistant, Wide Receivers and Quarterbacks Coach for three seasons in Denver.
Soon after – Bates left the pro game to work with Pete Carroll at the University of Southern California as the Trojans’ Assistant Head Coach/Quarterbacks Coach. When Carroll left USC to become the Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Bates followed him along becoming Seattle’s Offensive Coordinator for 2010 season. After a gap year in 2011, Bates returned to coaching as the Quarterbacks Coach for the Chicago Bears in 2012, but took a four-year hiatus before returning to the NFL in 2017 as the Jets Quarterbacks Coach for offensive coordinator John Morton’s offense.
Morton is a disciple of Sean Payton, having worked for the New Orleans Saints organization in two different stints. He worked as an Offensive Assistant in 2006 and then returned to the organization in 2015 as Payton’s Wide Receiver Coach prior to earning the opportunity to call plays on Todd Bowles’ staff with the Jets. The first time NFL offensive coordinator’s system combined a mixture of West Coast and Air Raid concepts similar to his mentor in New Orleans. With Morton calling the plays for the offense, the Jets exceeded expectations by winning five games in lieu of the zero many cynical analysts anticipated prior to the regular season. Despite crafting a solid offense around pedestrian talent; Morton was canned by Jets brass following the 2017 season. While Morton will no longer design plays for the Jets, elements of his offense should live on in East Rutherford, New Jersey through Jeremy Bates.
The perfect quarterback for the scheme is none other than Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. Mayfield would thrive in a West Coast scheme that includes Air Raid concepts to accommodate his excellent short to intermediate accuracy in the quick game. Air Raid concepts are creatively aggressive by nature and are strenuous on a defense using vertical as well as horizontal stretches. At Oklahoma, Mayfield ran similar Air Raid concepts the Jets used a season ago. Oklahoma’s Head Coach, Lincoln Riley, is presently one of the most innovative coaches in the college game. Riley was mentored by one of the architects of the Air Raid offense, Washington State Head Coach Mike Leach. Riley played quarterback and worked as an assistant coach for Leach while at Texas Tech at the age of 23. It would not be surprising if the team that drafts Mayfield incorporates some calls from the Sooners’ playbook to suit the rookie quarterbacks strengths. Much like Doug Pederson has done in Philadelphia with Carson Wentz by taking concepts from the North Dakota State playbook and installing it into their offense.
Here are some fundamental Air Raid concepts that the Jets ran a season ago alongside similar concepts ran by Mayfield and the Sooners that make the Oklahoma quarterback the perfect fit for Bates’ system.
[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Mesh
The Jets offense line up in a two tight end set to the right with two backs in an i-formation. Jermaine Kearse (#10), the lone wide receiver on the play, is aligned to the left of the formation. As the play begins to develop Kearse breaks inside on a shallow crossing route to the right side of the field. On the two tight end side, Austin Seferian-Jenkins (#88) runs a vertical route as a way to set a pick on the defender responsible for Eric Tomlinson (#83). Tomlinson is the second crosser in the mesh design on this play, running to the right side of the field.
Seferian-Jenkins does a good job executing the “rub” on his assignment to not draw the offensive pass interference foul. Josh McCown (#15) recognizes his tight end is crossing with no defender nearby and throws Tomlinson’s way before taking a hit. Tomlinson adjusts to the pass thrown slightly behind him and then runs for a good chunk of yards after the catch to get the Jets to midfield.
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At its core, the Jets’ Mesh example is similar to Oklahoma’s Mesh. Here’s the play design of Blue Right 92 (Mesh) from the Oklahoma Sooners’ 1999 playbook.
The following play called by Riley is the same in principle despite minor differences in personnel and alignment.
The Oklahoma offense aligns in a trips left formation in 12 personnel with tight end Mark Andrews (#81) playing the slot position and the H-Back Dimitri Flowers (#36) playing as the left wing. Post snap, wide receiver Jeff Badet (#2) and Andrews run shallow crossing patterns. A tell for the mesh concept is how the two receivers executing the meshing crossing routes work together. Notice how Badet and Andrews reach out to “slap” each others hands. This is a coaching point to limit the space between the receivers to pick each other’s defender in man coverage. It’s also evident in the Jets example when Kearse crosses Tomlinson.
The Iowa State defense, however, looks to be playing a sort of zone coverage. Mayfield recognizes this by keying in on the right outside cornerback showing a zone look pre-snap. According to Smart Football’s Chris Brown, a pivotal innovation of the mesh concept was altering the Z receiver’s original route assignment from a post route to a corner route. The wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (#9) does a good job of maintaining vertical integrity running a straight line at the defender to hold the cornerbacks hips until his break to the outside. Mayfield throws a dart to Lamb once he gets out of his break and completes the pass for an Oklahoma first down.
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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Y Cross
The Y Cross concept is another core concept pertaining to the Air Raid offense. On this play the Jets run the Cross, but out of a slot alignment. This particular play features two deep vertical routes by the outside wide receivers complimented by a deep cross from the slot receiver, a shallow cross by the tight end and a check down route by the running back. The check down creates a three-level flood concept to the strength side of the play.
The New England Patriots are playing Cover 2 Man with their cornerbacks in a press alignment across from each wide receiver. Focusing on the play-side part of the field, the vertical “go” route stretches the safety downfield and to the sideline to force the defense to prevent a big play from happening over the top. This allows the slot receiver, Kearse, to run underneath the safety after creating inside leverage by faking the slot cornerback to the outside on his release. Kearse does a nice job of staying flat to maintain the separation he created and not allowing any angles for the cornerback to cut underneath to break up the pass. McCown sees his receiver streaking open across the middle of the field toward the boundary and makes a good throw for a completion.
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On this play Oklahoma runs a textbook example of the Y Cross concept. The Y Cross usually features a go route, the cross and a dig or curl route. That’s exactly what the Sooners run here.
At the start of the play, Mayfield looks to his left and attempts to manipulate the secondary with a shoulder pump before reading through the rest of his progressions. The Oklahoma State defense does an excellent job of blanketing the Oklahoma receivers while backed up against their own end zone. The strong safety to the top of the screen takes on the responsibility of covering over the top while the middle linebacker takes the underneath to bracket Andrews running the cross.
This forces Mayfield to improvise and create with his feet while flushing out to his right. The redshirt senior orchestrates his receiver through traffic in addition to maneuvering to avoid a sack. Mayfield steps up and throws to an open Marquise Brown (#5) who never gave up on the play. Brown secures the catch and makes a man miss to keep his offense on schedule with a manageable 2nd and short coming up.
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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Switch/Sail
The Switch concept can also commonly referred to as the Scissors concept. The terms will be used interchangeably in this piece.
The Jets run a switch concept here backed up inside their part of the field with a bunch formation at the bottom of the screen. On this play the outermost receiver, Robbie Anderson (#11), is going to run a post route while the tight end, Seferian-Jenkins runs a corner route to create the switch. The Jets also have wide receiver Neal Sterling (#85) running to the flat to create a three-level Sail concept.
McCown throws the deep post to Anderson hoping his receiver is able to outrun the cornerback, Brent Grimes (#24), to the ball. However, Anderson is unable to stack Grimes and the ball sails over Anderson and into Grimes’ bread basket for an interception. In hindsight McCown might have been better off throwing the corner to Seferian-Jenkins against this defensive look.
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Oklahoma ran the Switch concept successfully against Oklahoma State though, using the post to create a pocket along the boundary for the corner route.
The Sooners offense align in a trips left formation with Lamb as the outer wide receiver, Andrews the outer slot receiver and Brown as the inner slot receiver. Lamb and Andrews are tasked with running the post and corner, respectively while Brown runs to the flat. The outside cornerback takes a zone turn as Lamb releases into his stem and carries him all the way up the field. The inside slot defender takes a man turn on Andrews, but stops and turns back to play zone coverage underneath the post. With two defenders covering the post route it allows the Andrews to be unattended near the boundary on the corner route. Mayfield processes this immediately once the inside slot defender turns his back to the play and throws a dart to the open Andrews who gains a good amount of yards after the catch.
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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Hitch/Seam
The Jets used the hitch/seam combination to take advantage of all sorts of different coverages. On this play against the Buccaneers, Morton dials up a hitch/seam concept on the right side of the formation.
The Tampa Bay defense blitzes seven defenders and plays Cover 0, leaving four defensive backs for four potential receiving targets. McCown could theoretically throw the quick hitch, but that would take a strong throw from the opposite hash. Instead, knowing there is no help over the top, the Jets quarterback throws the seam hoping his receiver can make a play on the ball in a one on one matchup. Kearse has positioning relative to his defender by stacking him over the top, but McCown’s throw is slightly out of reach for the veteran wide receiver, resulting an incomplete pass.
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An interesting twist on the hitch/seam concept comes from Mike Leach’s Texas Tech playbook. The play designs calls for a hitch seam combination on both sides of the formation with the back running a streak down the middle of the field.
The two seams on the opposite sides of the field stretch the safeties out towards the boundaries while the back has only the linebacker playing man coverage to beat.
Lincoln Riley adopted this play call from his time at Texas Tech and used it in his Oklahoma offense last season.
The play works to perfection against TCU as Mayfield uses his mobility to create a throwing lane and drops a well placed pass over the linebacker to his running back for six.
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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Conclusion/Projection
Any offense that drafts Mayfield should be prepared to run Air Raid concepts to ease his transition into the NFL. The Jets and their offensive coordinator’s familiarity with the notorious scheme after learning from Morton for a season would be Mayfield’s ideal landing spot. Additionally, Bates’ offense should include play action rollouts, RPOs, stick concepts, QB draws, H-Wheel, four verticals and tunnel screens to emphasize Baker’s strengths in a West Coast-Air Raid scheme should he be drafted by the Jets this April.
Playbooks courtesy of Footballxos