How the Chiefs and Patriots have brought college offenses to the NFL

Washington State head coach Mike Leach watches as much pro football as he can. And Leach can’t remember the last time he failed to see a team using concepts and sometimes exact plays from the Air Raid offensive system he became famous for first at Texas Tech and then at Washington State, a system he has used even before that when he was an offensive coordinator.

“I’m watching a game and all of a sudden I see something we ran just the other day,” Leach said. “It’s every team and every game now.”

Two of the biggest practitioners of the college concepts meet Sunday night, when the New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs. Expect a lot of shotgun formations, spread fields, option plays and other college concepts.

It hasn’t always been that way across the league, though, with coaches criticizing quarterbacks from college spread offenses.

But while others complained about the difficulty of teaching a spread quarterback an NFL offense, Chiefs coach Andy Reid embraced it. Last year in the first round the Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes, a spread quarterback in college at Texas Tech who rarely took a snap from under center.

“I think the one great thing about college football today is that these kids are throwing the ball,” Reid said. “So it used to be you’re getting kids that weren’t throwing the ball, and we complained about that as coaches. Heck, now they’re throwing the ball and we’re still complaining. I’m going, ‘Hey, bring it on.’

“We went through the option phase and then the I‐formation phase. Now guys are spreading them out and they’re throwing it. That to me is a positive. They’re having to read things, get the ball out of their hand, move in the pocket a little bit and learn things they would have otherwise had to learn here. I think they’re a step ahead, although it’s a different system.”

The Patriots have been using the spread for years as well. Last year’s Super Bowl between the Patriots and Eagles featured two teams heavy into college concepts.

The fast pace, as the teams ran 143 plays and totaled more than 1,151 yards, and the final score — 41-33 in favor of the Eagles — showed it.

“We’ve done it here off and on for a long time,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “Honestly, I think every game is its own game and every opponent, as you study and prepare to play against the next opponent, you’re really looking at the best ways you can to try to move the football and be productive on offense and score. And so, some weeks, that may or may not be the best thing to do.