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.

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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.

Smart Links — Strategery Round-Up: GPS tracking, bootleg passes, defending 3×1 — 7/15/2014

GPS tracking to measure exertion, speed and to prevent injuries (see also here):

Four years ago, Erik Korem and Joe Danos, who were FSU assistants at the time, brought the idea to [Jimbo] Fisher after seeing the devices used by an Australian rules football team. The Australian company that makes them, Catapult Sports, had never had an American football client, but Fisher was quickly sold on the possibilities of designing highly specialized training programs for his athletes that promised increased production and fewer injuries. “He knew at some point in time, we were going to be ready to face the best of the best, and we had to be a little bit different,” head strength coach Vic Viloria said. “His little bit different turned out to be really, really impressive.” . . .

The cost is dwarfed by the sheer scope of information the devices provide. Each GPS monitor returns about 1,000 unique data points per second, which for 95 players practicing for a few hours a day amounts to an overwhelming amount of information for coaches to dissect. Florida State now employs two assistants working full-time hours — Jacobs and Kratik Malhotra, a data analyst with a degree in electronics engineering — just to sift through the numbers. . .

Florida State’s run to a national championship last year hinged greatly on an unusually low number of injury casualties, which Fisher hardly chalks up to luck. With information gleaned from the GPS devices, Florida State virtually eliminated soft-tissue injuries — muscle pulls and strains — and Fisher adjusted the team’s practice schedules to reduce midweek workload and ensure his team peaked on Saturdays. The more FSU’s coaches learned about the data delivered by the GPS systems, the more the team’s conditioning and practices could be tailored to the specific needs of each player.

- Defending 3×1 (trips) formations, Part IV:

There are many key items to look at when setting the defense up vs. 3×1, but if your opponent utilizes the bubble as a mainstay, I’d suggest overloading to the trips side of the coverage. Now this may mean rolling a safety down and playing a one-high look in these situations, or playing a version of TCU’s Special coverage, but whatever you do, I’d over play the trips side. First off, when coupled with the run game, the zone read can easily be defended as discussed in a previous post. The LB’s track the RB and the DE gets a two-for-one on the RB and the QB, usually giving the QB a give read. Now, if the QB, or the OC is savvy enough to simply call the bubble, instead of having the QB read it since the OC knows the DE is sitting on the give and the QB keep, he’s now made the DE a three-for-one player, because this gets the DE into pursuit quicker than if the QB were actually reading the play. Likewise the over shift in coverage puts more defenders closer to where the offense is trying to attack. Again, this is a big win for the defense. I recommend rolling into a one-high shell late, or even on the snap to gain a defender with leverage on the bubble.

- NIU’s empty quarterback power and counter combination play:

Northern Illinois has a pretty nifty offense. It seems to be all the rage these days. However, when you watch the film, the vast majority of the offense relies heavily on the old, reliable power blocking scheme. In this case, since they run QB power from an empty formation, they’re kicking out the end with the guard in this specific usage of the power scheme. You may consider this a trap play, but it’s using the power blocking concept (specifically the “counter” play scheme, with the QB’s read acting as the “wrapper” typically filled by the fullback or pulling tackle). They run a lot of QB power, and this article will focus on their combination QB power play with the jailbreak screen.

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New Grantland: Evaluating QBs: Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel…and You

It’s now up over at Grantland:

That, however, is precisely what makes this draft so fascinating: Bortles, Bridgewater, and Manziel are all first-round talents with fifth-round flaws, and which of them a given personnel man or fan likes best says as much about that person as it does about that quarterback. They’re different players, but they’re united by the uncertainty that surrounds them. Each QB is a Rorschach test for the evaluator, which makes examining these three prospects in turn a way to study the larger, gut-wrenching process of evaluating and drafting players who can make or break careers.

Read the whole thing.

What I’ve been reading — Flash Boys, Home Game, How Children Succeed, The Lean Startup

Flash Boys, by Michael Lewis. flashFlash Boys is Lewis’s newest book — it was released on Monday, preceded by a feature story on 60 Minutes — and details how high-frequency traders are “rigging” the stock market. I, of course, bought it immediately, as Lewis’s work is all essentially self-recommending. I haven’t had the chance to make much progress yet, but so far, so good: it’s in Lewis’s typical clean, elegant prose, and covers subject matter (financial chicanery through the eyes of colorful outsiders) right in his wheelhouse. I’ll put up a more extensive review once I’ve finished the book.

- Home Game, also by Michael Lewis, is something altogether different, and I read it last fall when I was home with our new baby. It’s hard to recommend the book as the subject matter — Lewis’s own unique approach to fatherhood, which mostly involves him detailing ways he feels inadequate or at least overmatched by the prospect — is quite narrow, and the book itself feels a bit like an attempt to cash in on his success as it is a collection of disparate thoughts and events, some recalled years later for his older children and others recorded in somewhat real time for his younger ones. Of course, there remain moments of insight, such as when Lewis details a father’s feelings of paralysis and uselessness while his wife suffers through labor and deliver, and the book was an easy read at a time when I am still amazed I had the brainpower to read much of anything. It’s a good book for expecting and recent dads, though Adam Gopnik’s From Paris to the Moon covers somewhat similar territory in similar though more complete and better organized fashion.

- How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough. This surprisingly riveting book is about a shift in thinking about the best way to educate and prepare children for their lives, specifically a shift away from a sole focus on raw IQ — evidenced by making three year-olds do countless math problems or other pure “cognitive development” activities — to methods that, for lack of a better term, try to help them develop supporting skills like character, diligence, curiosity, and, most of all grit and determination. I’m no education expert and reading a book of competing educational studies is not how I’d like to spend my time, but Tough supports his argument with fantastic stories of real people. I was alerted to this book by this fantastic review (which contains several excerpts) of Tough’s book which focuses on Elizabeth Spiegel, an inner-city chess teacher and one of Tough’s heroes. But this isn’t just a Hollywood style narrative; it’s far more complex, and far more rewarding.

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Smart Links — Defending packaged plays and trips, Auburn tempo, Noel Mazzone clinic notes — 3/31/2014

Courtesy of Dan Shanoff, a diagram of four verticals autographed by Kliff Kingsbury:

kliff

- Is man-to-man the modern defense’s answer to packaged plays?

Holgorsen’s offense may be revered for its stars and its successes, but it’s like many others. It uses a lot of combination plays that can be a run or a pass depending on how a defense sets and reacts and how the quarterback reads it. WVU likes to run a stick-draw play where the quarterback can wait and hand the ball to a running back on a draw or wait and sell the draw and throw a simple pass to an inside receiver for easy yardage. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has the authority to hand the ball off on an inside zone or flick a pass to a slot receiver running a slant. Kansas State and TCU both hurt WVU when the quarterback would run outside or sell that action and then throw a pass to a receiver on the move in space created by the threat of a quarterback run.

In all those instances, the offense is at a greater advantage when a defense plays zone. The offenses try to target linebackers, nickelbacks or the hybrid linebacker/defensive back types in the area they’re trying to cover. The offense’s options force that defensive player to make a decision and the offense acts off of that….

“Quite a few teams use the zone read and that pop pass off the zone read,” WVU cornerbacks coach and former ECU defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said. “You don’t want to put your defender in a run-pass conflict. He bites on the run and they throw a pass right behind him, or they run some kind of bubble screen off of it. When you go man, you take that out of the equation. He’s either a run defender or a pass defender, and you get an extra guy in the box with man coverage.”

- The University of Miami has a site up with video of most of their major drills, called UDrills.TV. Below is an example of their Pat ‘N Go drill (an Air Raid staple):

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Lane Kiffin’s Southern Cal Playbook and (Entertaining) UCLA Scouting Report

Lane Kiffin’s run at Southern Cal ended rather inauspiciously, but there are many who still respect his mind as an offensive coach, most notably his new boss at Alabama, Nick Saban.

Let me focus on this

Let me focus on this

Not only did Kiffin learn from his father, Monte, he also spent long hours at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ football facility studying and learning from Jon Gruden when his father coached under him in the early 2000s. At Southern Cal, Kiffin coached under Norm Chow, who brought with him a version of the old LaVell Edwards/BYU offense (via NC State), but Kiffin — as well as USC head coach Pete Carroll — wanted to update the attack with NFL concepts, specifically Gruden’s.

I recently stumbled on one of Kiffin’s old playbooks from when he was head coach at Southern Cal (really, a specific gameplan for their game in 2010 against UCLA). By this point Kiffin’s playbook is as much his own as it is what he learned from either Chow or Gruden, but you can still see the imprint in the plays — and in other more interesting ways, as we’ll see. For example, most of the running game and base passing game are all NFL and pro-style offense staples, though Kiffin had begun sprinkling in concepts he faced weekly from other teams in the Pac-12, like inside zone where the quarterback had the option to throw a bubble screen on the backside.

zonereadbubble

But this is all pretty standard stuff. The plays I really liked in this playbook were his goal line and short yardage passes, an area where I always thought Kiffin’s teams usually had nifty answers based on whatever his opponent liked to do in those scenarios, whether it was man-to-man across the board or some kind of short zones.

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