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Arians vs. Shanahan: A contrast in offenses

A tale of two offensive wizards

NFL: NOV 05 Cardinals at 49ers Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No risk it, no biscuit. That has been Buccaneers’ coach Bruce Arians’ offensive philosophy for years. And you can tell by looking at him that he’s enjoyed a lot of biscuits.

Arians won’t be calling plays this year; he retired as the Cardinals’ coach in 2017 for health reasons, and he has delegated immediate play calls to offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich (who has never called plays before) in his new job. But it’s safe to say that Arians is designing the offense and will give Leftwich plenty of input.

How do I know? Because he said so, in an interview with Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. The Bucs owners wanted Arians to call plays; he insisted on Leftwich and told them “Just trust me. My hand is there. I’m right over his shoulder. He is trained and ready to go.”

Arians has an “offensive wizard” rep similar to Shanahan’s, but their styles are very different. Shanny, as we know, runs a lot of outside zone runs and play-action passes, using massively multiple lineups to stay unpredictable. He runs a handful of formations, most of which could result in a run, a screen, or a pass of almost any depth.

Arians, on the other hand, confuses defenses with a blizzard of formations and loves to take a lot of deep shots with a highly vertical passing game featuring a lot of double moves and empty formations after motioning out his back. Doug Farrar in Sports Illustrated noted that Arians often runs passing concepts with a first down target on one side of the field and a deep shot on the other side. Lots of different looks from different formations, no discernible patterns.

In the past, that has proven extremely effective, and now he has Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at wide receiver, along with tight end O. J. Howard. Given the Niners’ highly suspect secondary, that sounds like a disaster. But there is one major change.

During Arian’s heyday in Arizona, he had a strong offensive line. Tampa Bay very much does not, and the Niners have flipped a weak pass rush into of the NFL’s strongest — at least on paper — by adding Dee Ford and Nick Bosa.

Arians’ favorite deep shots are often five-step drops. If the combination of these new outside rushers with DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Solomon Thomas is anywhere near as potent as Robert Saleh expects, Jameis Winston won’t get much opportunity to launch them.