As somebody who’s always believed the first law of offensive coordinating is take what the defense gives you, I’ve always favored Mike Leach’s definition of balance over, say, Mike Bobo’s.
“There’s nothing balanced about 50% run-50% pass, ’cause that’s 50% stupid. What is balance is when you have five skill positions and all five of them are contributing to the effort in somewhat equal fashion — that’s balance. This notion that if you hand one guy 50% of the time and then you throw it to a combination of two guys the other 50% that you’re really balanced. You probably pat yourself on the back and tell yourself that. People have been doing that for decades. Well, then you’re delusional.” -Mike Leach
As Ian Boyd puts it,
It’s often been noted that it can be hard to run the ball effectively if the defense isn’t worried about the pass at all because defenders fly downhill when they see run blocking. Alternatively, a defense that isn’t worried about the run can play more DBs, bring more exotic blitzes, and rush the passer off the snap more aggressively. In that sense, balance can just mean making a defense worry about multiple things before the snap to prevent them from zeroing in.
Mike Leach prefers to think of balance in terms of how many skill players on the field have to hold the attention of the defense. If all five skill players are a threat to receive a pass from the QB and do damage with the ball, it becomes very difficult to account for everyone on every snap.
He then goes on to look at what balance means in an era of pass-first, HUNH spread offense. There are effective wrinkles, of course, but in the end, it still comes back to the Jimmies and Joes.
Having balance in the Leach-ian sense is pretty difficult. Ensuring that there are players at all five skill positions that can actually threaten a defense is pretty difficult. For years Leach was able to do it because his Tech teams were unique in their approach and defensive rosters weren’t built to handle facing so many competent receivers. Nowadays his teams face a squad like Washington that plays in base nickel personnel with speedy LBs in the middle of the field and there are diminishing returns.
Having a roster that can put five skill players on the field at the same time who can be counted on to carry the day if the defense dictates that the ball needs to go there.
Remember, the spread started as a way to give teams with lesser talent a shot at competing with their betters. It’s certainly evolved from there, but as it has, defenses have evolved with it. If the world is moving to stop pass-first offenses — and Boyd takes the position that’s still an ongoing process — the teams that are left with high levels of talent and run-heavy schemes that should be able to exploit defenses not geared for that sort of attack should be successful in pursuing a contrarian approach. Gee, I wonder if we know of any programs that take such an approach…