Ray Perkins, a former NFL player and coach who spent over 40 years in the game, died this past Wednesday at the age of 79.
New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick provided insight to what Perkins meant to him in a statement provided by the team Saturday.
“Ray [then Head Coach of the New York Giants] gave me an opportunity in 1979 to go with the Giants and that was a life-changing moment for me.” Belichick said. “As a former player and coach, Ray had a good perspective on the game. He played for two of the greatest coaches of all time in Bear Bryant and Don Shula. His level of competitiveness and toughness was about as good as anybody I’ve ever been around.”
During his first stint in New England, Perkins and then offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt took part in developing the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system under head coach Chuck Fairbanks. The system was designed to maximize efficiency no matter the personnel, with a focus on the run game and short yardage passing game. Sound familiar?
The Erhardt-Perkins system
What the system did, and still does to this day, is run simple plays under multiple formations, with different personnel groupings, in an effort to make the offense easy for offensive players to understand and develop in but hard to defend. Erhardt and Perkins developed this as an offensive playbook with systematic tendencies for all players to learn, even if the playbook was tweaked. Nowadays, it is a full fledged system that teams like the Patriots run, that allow them to maximize their talent and keep defenses on their toes.
Now it’s about to get really footbally in here so bear with me.
What sets Erhardt-Perkins apart from other systems is its reliance on the quarterback. The two most notable players to have run the system, just happen to be Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, men that are lauded for their football knowledge. This specific system forces the quarterback to know every single formation, route concept, blocking scheme, and read all while seeing the whole field and diagnosing what the defense does. An example of a different scheme would be one like the Los Angeles Rams run where half the field is cut off and quarterback’s decisions are made for him pre-snap.
The system looks like a children’s book to other players compared to the quarterback but it’s not necessarily a cake walk. For instance, receivers run their routes in concepts instead of individually. A play call will say “tosser” which is just two slants run from the same side of the ball where another system would call “z-slant, y-slant” for the same exact thing. It makes for an easier call but doesn’t spell things out for the receiver like others.
What makes the Erhardt-Perkins system so attractive is its diversity. Since it is called in a simplistic way it allows for tempo. Those two-minute drives that Tom Brady ran 1,000,000 times and won about 1,000,000 games with? They were in part to the E-P system. Brady could call two plays in the huddle, then on the fly as the team was marching down the field. It would have been much harder for him if he had to call, “Scatter-Two Bunch-Left-Liz-Fire 2 Jet Rio Left-F Flat X-Q Go.” after a three yard dump off to James White. Instead they have plays installed that could be called at the line by saying “Leo!” or “Buzz!” which are two of my personal favorites.
Earhardt-Perkins’ influence on the Patriots
Belichick said in his statement, that “with the Patriots, the terminology that Ray and Ron Erhardt used under Coach [Chuck] Fairbanks here in the late 70s, early 80s that then came to New England with Ray and with Bill Parcells after the ‘80 season. Certainly the terminology and a lot of the fundamentals and foundation of our offensive system are still in that offense from Ray and Ron back in the late 70s under Coach Fairbanks.”
If you take a step back and look at the big picture, Ray Perkins took part in developing a system that won you six Super Bowls. Two-minute drives against St. Louis and Carolina are thanks in part to it, as well as those same kinds of drives that won countless playoff games. Running the ball out against the Rams two years ago and James White becoming the record holder for receptions in a Super Bowl? That goes back to the base principal of Erhardt-Perkins’ “power running and the short passing game.”
Even following Tom Brady’s departure, Cam Newton brought another element to that power run game, and has steadily improved on his short throws (remember this next time you yell at him about how much he stinks, he just got thrown into the hardest offense for a QB to learn with six weeks heading into the season. There’s a learning curve.)
The system itself is fairly easy to learn once you have the base knowledge, we’ve seen big jumps in production before out of players, once they get to know it. No matter your philosophy or view on how offenses should be run, the most successful franchise in sports wouldn’t run this system for two decades if it didn’t work.
In short, Ray Perkins, along with Ron Erhardt, deserve some credit for the success that we’ve seen in recent years. Years and years after they both had retired and eventually passed, their offense is still the standard for excellence in the NFL.
“He had a big impact on my life and my career and I have a ton of respect for Ray and his family. My personal sympathies go out to them as part of the Patriots family”, said Belichick. You can read Belichick’s full statement here.