How the 49ers, other teams use the air raid system
The air raid is anything but simplistic, and quarterbacks must be able to understand all the intricacies of the plays.
And there are many. There’s a lot of commotion and uncertainty in most of the air raid’s passing plays. Thus, being an intelligent and anticipatory passer is key. Former Texas Tech quarterback Cody Hodges, who played under Mike Leach, stated there was only 25 passing plays in the playbook (most teams would have almost 100 passing plays in their playbooks), but that there would be five variations on each.
San Francisco 49ers
Thus, with only 25 passing plays, Leach was able to create 125 passing plays, essentially.
This idea, dressing up plays in different ways, is something a lot of NFL coaches use, especially the Chiefs’ Andy Reid, the Los Angeles Rams’ Sean Mcvay and the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan. When reviewing the Chiefs playoff game against the Patriots last season, there was one play Kansas City motioned four different receivers. Also in that game, there were a couple mesh plays the Chiefs used. So it’s clear there has been an increase in the use of air raid concepts, as the NFL has caught on to the importance of passing the ball more.
And after all, the air raid is all about passing the ball more.
Lincoln Riley, whose system adheres to the air raid’s principles and has a lot of experience of working with other air raid coaches, uses the split-back formation relatively frequently, which is something Shanahan uses quite a lot with fullback Kyle Juszczyk and one of the 49ers halfbacks.
The air raid has directly come to the NFL this season with Kliff Kingsbury taking over as the Cardinals head coach. He has spent all his playing and coaching career using the air raid and had great success doing so, previously. Something Kingsbury has done differently in the NFL, compared to in college, is he’s running the ball a lot more. Air raid coaches generally only the run ball whenever there is a favorable matchup in the box, and this is why most runs come from the quarterback calling an audible to a run. This is why most air raid offenses pass the ball about 75 percent of their plays.
So far this season, the Cardinals have passed the ball 62.5 percent of their plays, which ranks ninth highest. And it could be argued this number is inflated, as they’ve trailed during most of their games.
The Cardinals used their air raid system to good effect against the 49ers in Week 9, and the Niners will have to make their adjustments accordingly this Sunday, too.
The 49ers and Cardinals square off on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 4:05 p.m. ET from Levi’s Stadium.