Most Popular Books Bought by Smart Football Readers in 2014

I’ve always been floored by the quality of the feedback and discussion from Smart Football readers (whether on this site, Grantland or on Twitter or Facebook), so it’s always fascinating to see which books are most popular among readers. The following is a breakdown of the books purchased over the last year by Smart Football readers. I get very minor referral revenues from Amazon purchases and, as a result, I am able to track which books are purchased by readers. The data is entirely anonymous but it is, to me at least, quite interesting. (Click to enlarge the charts.)

The Most Popular Books Bought by Smart Football Readers in 2014

2014 Chart 1

The Most Popular Books Bought by Smart Football Readers in 2014 (excluding The Essential Smart Football)

2014 Chart 2

Below is the full list of books. Note that I simply included the top books and did not include a separate “other” category. I thought the list was fairly eclectic this year, as non-football books had numbers comparable to the football ones. And, as usual, books that focused on football strategy dominated all other sports or football titles.

The Smart Football Glossary

Football is bathed in jargon. Other sports have their wonky terms but anyone who even casually watches a football game is bombarded with a cascade of code words, while even experienced fans usually can’t make heads or tails of what coaches and players say to each other on the sidelines. Some of this is inherent in a game made up of a few seconds of action interrupted by breaks for communication. And the phenomenon of platooning — where offensive players don’t play defense and vice versa — creates additional opportunities for coaches and players to communicate, and, like any other pressure filled profession, from the armed forces to medicine, communication in these circumstances is condensed so that the most information is conveyed in the fewest syllables.

wordcloud1All too often, however, discussing even the most rudimentary and fundamental football concepts is needlessly offputting, something exacerbated as too many announcers and analysts use streams of buzzwords to sound intelligent without actually conveying any information (something I try very hard to not do, though undoubtedly with inconsistent success). Unless you’re sitting on an NFL sideline trying to tell your position coach what the defense is doing, you are better off using as little jargon as possible and instead trying to explain what you see in English.

But in football, terminology is often destiny, and some terms have become so ingrained that being familiar with them is critical for any intelligent fan; on the other hand, others have become so misused that using them actually deters rather than enhances understanding. The goal of this football glossary is simply to unpack a limited set of football buzzwords in a way that will make watching games on Saturday and Sunday more enjoyable. The important thing, however, is not to focus on the terms but instead on the explanations: if we’re all on the same page with those, the names we given the underlying ideas — whether you call it Smash, China or Shakes — what we end up calling it is simply detail, not substance. I’m sure your high school coach had his own name for each of these below.

Arm Talent: A notorious bit of scout-speak that is either a pseudo-scientific way to describe something obvious (“That quarterback has a strong, accurate arm”) or an extremely clumsy way to describe something better served with colloqiual english (“He has the ability to throw the ball from different angles to avoid oncoming rushers and still find an open throwing lane through which he can deliver the football”).

Bang 8 Post: A particular version of the “skinny post” or “glance” routes, the “Bang 8″ or “Bang 8 Post” was developed by former San Diego Chargers head coach Don Coryell and calls for the receiver to run seven-steps straight downfield before breaking inside at an angle. The particular angle the receiver takes, however, depends on the leverage of the defender covering him: the receiver’s job is to take whatever angle is necessary to ensure he is between the quarterback and the nearest defender. (“8″ is the number for a post in the Coryell route tree, see “Route Tree” below.) “Bang” indicates that the route is not thrown as a deep bomb but instead is a rhythm throw thrown by the quarterback on rhythm as soon as he hit the fifth step in his dropback. Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin of the Cowboys ran the Bang 8 better than anyone in NFL history:

(more…)

New Grantland: June Jones’s Retirement, and the Lasting Influence (and Possible End) of the Run-and-Shoot

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Yet Jones’s most important contribution to football will be his association with the run-and-shoot. It was an offense he first encountered as a record-breaking quarterback at Portland State while playing for Darell “Mouse” Davis. The run-and-shoot was developed by Glenn “Tiger” Ellison.2 Sometime in the mid-1950s, Ellison stopped to watch a group of kids play backyard football. Instead of huddling and running off-tackle, as his team did, the kids played a free-flowing game. The quarterback ran around while his receivers improvised ways to get open. Ellison’s insight was to channel his players’ improvisational instincts into an offense that could be run at any level. The run-and-shoot was born.

Some years later, Davis refined Ellison’s insights into a few four-receiver formations and a handful of pass concepts, where each receiver had the freedom to run three, four, five, or sometimes as many as six different adjustments, based on how the defense played. One “play” in the run-and-shoot could become, on the fly, the equivalent of 20 or 30 plays in a traditional offense. “The concept of reading the coverage, nobody did it,” Jones told CBSSports. “Nobody in the NFL [in the late 1970s and early 1980s] allowed their receivers to read coverage. If you’re running a curl, you’re running a curl. That was it. There was no conversion.”

Read the whole thing.

What Gadgets I’ve Been Using: Garmin Vivofit Fitness Tracker, UE Bluetooth Speaker, Clever Coffee Dripper, Babyfood

I’m not a big gadget guy but I realized that I’ve been acquiring several over the past few months and thought I’d share a few that have been working well.

vivofitGarmin Vivofit. The biggest revolution in football right now is not on the chalkboard or even in the stadium; it’s on the practice field, in the weight room and often even continues once the players have gone home — it’s the rise of so-called “sports science.” I wrote about some of the ways Chip Kelly monitors and tracks his players, and most of the NFL and many of the best college teams are using this technology to monitor and track their players. We’re in a world of data.

The Vivofit fortunately does not cost $25,000, but I’ve found it still generates — and most importantly prominently displays — a great deal of useful data. The Vivofit, along with most of the other leading “fitness trackers,” focuses on tracking your steps, reminding you when you’ve been inactive too long, and even monitors the amount and restfulness of your sleep. I’ve been thrilled with mine and it has definitely served its purpose of motivating me to keep hitting and surpassing my daily goals, which can be set manually or automatically by the software based on my own history. These devices are all very new — just ask most major college football and NFL programs which are experimenting with trackers of varying levels of sophistication (and cost) — and I’m guessing the next generation will render the current crop obsolete. But until then I’ve been very happy. I chose the Vivofit over the Fitbit because I wanted a tracker that displayed the number of steps, miles, calories and so on right on the face of the device. All of these devices sync with an app to track your progress over time, but I like being able to check mine in real time. The Vivofit also displays red lines if you’ve been inactive too long, which gets to the purpose of these devices: It’s not to perfectly track my steps or calories (though I certainly expect it to be close), but instead to keep me moving. At that it’s been very effective.

– UE Mini Boom Wireless Speaker. Bluetooth speakers don’t always give you the best sound quality but it’s hard to beat them for convenience — connecting your phone, iPad or other device to this speaker is a cinch. I liked this one based on its small size — portable means portable even though I typically use it at home — and the sound quality has been excellent (considering it is bluetooth). It sounds good both playing my music, as well as a few baby songs.

(more…)

Downfield passes as the “pitch phase” of the read-option, as run by Russell Wilson, Gus Malzahn and many, many, others

Since the invention of the zone read from the shotgun, coaches have dabbled with creative ways to add a third option for the quarterback. Early on, teams added a second runningback or receiver looping around for a traditional pitch, while others have added bubble screens where the receiver can either get the ball right at the snap as a pre-snap read or as a late option after the quarterback has kept it.

And for at least the last six or so years — but probably more like ten — teams have given their quarterback the ability to throw downfield as part of the pitch phase. I don’t know who was first, as some say it was Rich Rodriguez, others point to the Todd Graham era at Tulsa when he had offensive coordinators Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris, but I first saw the play back in 2007 and it seemed to gain some momentum in 2011 as Graham at Pittsburgh and a flurry of high school teams scored touchdowns with it. But there’s no doubt the play hit the national consciousness when Gus Malzahn’s Auburn team scored their penultimate touchdown against Alabama in the Iron Bowl with the play.

play

When Auburn ran the play they ran it with as many as four options for the QB, though my understanding is they also sometimes just called it as a called keep for the quarterback where he could either run it outside or throw it downfield. The purpose of this wrinkle isn’t really to just hit an easy touchdown pass when the defense falls asleep — though it does that too, just ask Alabama — it’s to create real run/pass conflict for a cornerback who is a run “force” defender to the backside.

quadruplemalzahn

Against teams that use the QB as a run threat, like Auburn, defenses need to get secondary players involved in run support. Sometimes that means safeties but other teams a corner will be the “force” defender whose job it is to set the edge and funnel runs inside, as with Cover 2. The traditional bubble or pitch concedes the edge of the defense to the force player, while these concepts put him in what is essentially a high/low bind: either he stays with his man and gives up easy yards to the quarterback or he comes up and gives up big yards behind him. In Cover 2 it’s the safety’s job to get over to the receiver, but that’s why the WR doesn’t fly upfield on a streak route. Instead it’s a “hole” throw, just behind the corner and before the safety can get over.

This isn’t the basis for an entire offense and doesn’t represent any kind of football revolution, but it is a sound concept, which is why I’m not surprised the NFL has taken notice. Last night Seattle QB Russell Wilson threw a TD pass against the Packers on this very concept (h/t SBNation):

throw

After the game, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll copped to getting the play from Malzahn and Auburn:

(more…)

New Grantland: Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi’s Stingy, Adaptable Michigan State Defense in the Age of the Spread Offense

My latest piece on Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi’s Michigan State defense is now up over at Grantland:

Rather than trying to call the right defense and maybe being right or maybe being wrong, Dantonio and Narduzzi have responded to this challenge by building a responsive defense that mutates into the right alignment depending on what the offense does. Against four vertical receivers, Michigan State wants four man-to-man defenders who can carry the receivers all the way upfield; against crisscrossing underneath receivers, the Spartans want to be in a zone coverage that lets their defenders break hard on the ball and on those receivers, rather than forcing them to chase in man-to-man; and against the run, the Spartans want as many as nine defenders in the box.

How do they manage all that at once?

MSUQuarters1

Read the whole thing.

Amazon is running a 99 cent special on The Essential Smart Football for Kindle

Amazon has a short-term 99 cent special of my book, The Essential Smart Football for Kindle.

Click here to see the offer.

The Essential Smart Football

New Grantland: How Chip Kelly’s influence — both on and off the field — is spreading around the NFL

It’s now up over at Grantland:

So far, most of the attention surrounding Kelly has centered on his spread offense, particularly the way in which he gives his quarterbacks multiple run, keep, or pass options on the same play, all from a no-huddle, up-tempo pace. And those ideas are certainly having an impact. The Dolphins hired Kelly’s quarterbacks coach, Billy Lazor, to implement a version of Kelly’s scheme in Miami; the league in general is trending toward more no-huddle; and several NFL coaches have told me their teams will be using “Chip Kelly plays” this season.

But Kelly’s influence extends far beyond read-options and the no-huddle, and into the subtler and more fundamental aspects of the game. In just one year, Kelly’s question-everything approach has caused many smart NFL coaches and executives to ask themselves why they’ve been doing things the same way for so long. And many are realizing that Kelly has better answers.

Read the whole thing.

gbsweep

New Grantland Bits On Andy Dalton and Ryan Tannehill (and Dolphins OC Bill Lazor)

Bill Barnwell invited me to write some sidebars for his Grantland pieces analyzing Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

TannehillCheck out the Tannehill piece:

Ryan Tannehill enters his make-or-break third season with a new offense coordinated by Bill Lazor, a promising but relatively unknown coach. Joe Philbin let his friend Mike Sherman go and brought in Lazor, who has coached with Joe Gibbs, Mike Holmgren, and, most recently, as the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly. Miami is hoping Lazor can do for Tannehill what he did for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who went from an iffy rookie year in 2012 to a sparkling 27-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a league-high passer rating in 2013. Nonetheless, Lazor, who, befitting his Cornell degree, looks less like an offensive coordinator than he does a management consultant, is something of a blank slate and has never called plays in the NFL before.

And while several players have intimated that the new Dolphins offense will look like Philadelphia’s, Lazor has maintained it will be a blend of what he has learned throughout his career, not just his lone season with Kelly. But while we don’t know if Lazor brought the Eagles’ playbook to Miami, we do know he is trying to replicate Kelly’s fast-paced approach. “The number one thing we want to do is play with great tempo,” Lazor explained recently. But the best no-huddle offenses in the NFL — the Broncos, Patriots, and Eagles — expertly vary their tempos, a skill Lazor is going to have to develop.

And the one on Dalton:

It’s a shame because when he has a comfortable pocket, Dalton is able to show everyone what his coaches clearly see in him, namely that he understands defenses, route concepts, and even how to look defenders off and throw with anticipation before his receivers make their breaks. Unfortunately for Dalton, the threat of pressure can’t be wished away in the NFL.

One question often asked about Dalton is whether his background with the spread offense in college helped or hurt him. It probably helped, but it’s hard to say. TCU — the rare college spread offense team that boasted top-five defenses while Dalton was there — ran a standard spread: multiple receiver formations, a mix of inside zone and read-option runs, coupled with quick passes and a bevy of screens, which sounds a lot like what he did in Cincinnati under Gruden, minus the emphasis on read-options. Dalton’s other top passing concepts at TCU are also found in NFL playbooks, and the reality is that he’s going on Year 4 as a starting quarterback — he’s had plenty of opportunities to adapt to the pro game.

Pete Carroll explains how his Seattle Seahawks team tackles better and with reduced risk of head injury

I don’t think I need to explain how crucial tackling is to football, nor do I need the explain the serious concerns our developing knowledge about brain and head injuries poses to the future of football. Recently, the USA Football, with the support of the NFL, has begun putting out a series of videos and other materials about “Heads Up” or “safe tackling” — though the reality is there can never truly be such a thing — but the method they propose is not much different than what has traditionally been taught and the head is still front and center in the tackle. And it’s not necessarily the easiest way to get a moving target to the ground, so defenders end up resorting to more haphazard methods just to get the tackle made.

Pete Carroll, one of the best coaches in all of football, has a video with HUDL explaining his team’s tackling techniques, which is based on a rugby style “shoulder-to-thigh” approach. You can watch the video below using the password “dominate“. (Hat tip to Brophy.)

There are good coaches who aren’t big fans of the “Hawk” tackle, particularly for the secondary, though the “Profile” tackle included here more or less covers the remaining bases. But there’s no doubt about the effectiveness of the techniques Carroll shows in this video, and while the tackling isn’t “safe” per se he is right that these techniques put less stress on the head (and neck) than some other tackling techniques. This is just a tremendous video on tackling technique, and an important one as well.