New Grantland: Who’s Laughing Now? Breaking Down Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks’ Multiple Defense

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Coaching is a hard profession. It certainly has its rewards, as skyrocketing salaries for NFL and college head coaches illustrate, but failure is the norm. Being a coach means eventually getting fired, and making a career out of coaching at all is an accomplishment. Carroll, however, has done something especially rare, pushing through wrenching public failure to succeed beyond all expectations. A coach can’t do that without learning from past mistakes, and Carroll has certainly changed for the better.

Much of the credit goes to Carroll’s defense, which has been the foundation of his success and remains closely tied to the first lessons he learned as a very young coach. “To be successful on defense, you need to develop a philosophy,” Carroll said at a coaching clinic while still at USC. “If you don’t have a clear view of your philosophy, you will be floundering all over the place. If you win, it will be pure luck.”

Carroll’s Seahawks, who face the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, don’t win with luck. They win by physically dominating opponents and playing championship-level defense. They also win thanks to Carroll’s new spin on an old scheme.

Read the whole thing.

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New Grantland: How Will NFL Teams Defend the Read-Option?

It’s now up over at Grantland:

That second player doesn’t even have to be a linebacker. Alabama, which has won three national championships in four years and boasts the best defense in college football, constantly varies the defenders assigned to the quarterback. When Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart gives a “force” call, he explains, that leads to a gap replacement with the defensive end. “The quarterback sees the crashing end and pulls the ball,” Smart says. “We roll the free safety down to the line of scrimmage and he has the quarterback.” And all this varies based on the opponent. “If the quarterback is a better runner, we make him give to the tailback,” said Smart. “If the tailback is the better runner, we give the force call, and the defensive end crashes inside and makes the quarterback pull the ball.”

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Not all the problems with defending these plays last season were tactical. NFL defenders not used to the read-option frequently lacked the mastery of the subtle techniques that made them All-Pros against traditional attacks. Backside defenders — usually the very player the quarterback is reading — have an especially difficult job. “The defensive end gets the shaft because he has to play two aspects: the dive, the bend of the dive to the inside out to the QB,” says Aranda, the Wisconsin defensive coordinator. This fundamental problem is also why the old just-hit-the-quarterback tactic is not optimal, at least as an every-down strategy. If the defensive end or linebacker gets upfield too quickly, that means he is not squeezing the cutback and may be opening up a huge lane for the quarterback.

Read the whole thing.

Translating Nick Saban: Three Plays from the BCS Championship

Nick Saban did the full ESPN car wash today, and ESPN, to their credit, fit in a brief bit of actual football talk as they looked at three plays from the BCS Championship game against Notre Dame. The segment is definitely worth watching:

Although there was good information here, the segment was also a bit rushed and the hosts didn’t do much to get Saban to more clearly explain some of his technical football jargon. So let’s do that right now.

Eddie Lacy’s Run. This is the most jumbled presentation as they appeared to want to be able to freeze the footage and were unable to, but Saban still gives some insight:

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  • Saban: “You picked one of our basic plays, which is a zone play.”Translation: The play is inside zone to the left, which is one of Alabama’s bread and butter plays. I’ve written about the inside zone extensively and Don Kausler had a very good story on this very play before the BCS title game.
  • S: “We’re in an overloaded Y-Y Wing type situation here.”Translation: The formation has two tight-end type players, or “Y” players,” to the same side, which can also be referred to as a a “tight-wing” formation. Remember, Saban is a defensive coach so even when he describes his own team’s offensive concepts, he’s often thinking about them in terms defensive coaches use. Here he ends up using three different descriptions (“Y-Y”, “wing” and “overload”) to describe the same idea: a tight-end with another tight-end or “wing” player to the same side, which presents an “overload” formation which the defense must react to.
  • S: “[It's] a zone cut play where 31 is going to go back.”Translation: It’s very common on zone running plays to leave the backside defensive end unblocked — teams used to control him with the threat of a bootleg, but nowadays many do it with the zone read — but it’s also common to simply bring another offensive player to the backside to block that defender. The primary purpose is to seal that backside defender to help create a cutback lane, but it also gives a traditional zone play a bit of a misdirection element. Here 31 refers to tight-end Kelly Johnson, who acts as the “block back” player, also known as the “sealer” or “kicker”.
  • S: “Now we point out the MAC… Eddie Lacy does a fantastic job of pressing downhill and making a zone cut… we’re stretching the guard area….”Translation: The video can’t be paused and Saban ends up saying three non-sequiturs and isn’t really able to finish his thoughts, but there’s still real football here. “Pointing out the MAC,” which is another term for the middle linebacker, is something most zone teams do before every snap. The reason is that once the middle linebacker has been identified, all of them linemen will know who they are responsible for, both for defensive linemen and linebackers, typically through a “count” method which counts out from the nose guard or middle linebacker out.

    (more…)

New Grantland: Calm Like a Bomb: The Finer Points of Manti Te’o's Search-and-Destroy Style

It’s now up over at Grantland:

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All that comes close to what Te’o has shown away from the field is how he’s improved on it, and tonight, the focus will be on Te’o's play. The Irish play an Alabama team that racked up more than 300 yards rushing against a Georgia defense with multiple NFL-bound linebackers of its own. And while Notre Dame’s entire front seven will be tested by Alabama’s great offensive line and dynamic running backs, a special focus — and responsibility — will be on Te’o as both the defense’s captain and the player whose reactions and instincts are critical to slowing down the Tide.

According to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a good linebacker is “kind of like a quarterback; the linebacker has to make multiple, multiple decisions on every play. Not only what his assignment is and what the play is, but all the way along the line, different angles, how to take on blocks, how to tackle, the leverage to play with, the angle to run to and so forth.” Like quarterbacking, learning how to succeed in any of these areas is not easy. Some of it is natural ability, to be sure, but true excellence comes with experience. For a good quarterback or linebacker, as the repetition comes the game begins to look different. Eventually, a player like Te’o “can really sort it out,” Belichick says. “They can see the game at a slower pace … and decipher all that movement.”

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: How Stanford Shut Down Oregon

It’s now up:

But head coach David Shaw and defensive coordinator Derek Mason also had some wrinkles up their sleeves, specifically old-school principles that defenses have used for decades to stop option teams. Oregon is not a true “triple option” team, but their fast-break style of offense forces defenses, just like those option teams do, to account for every offensive player. This made Stanford’s impressive performance remind me of some old quotes from Iowa’s great (former) defensive coordinator Norm Parker when his team faced a true triple-option team, Georgia Tech, in the 2010 Orange Bowl. In that game, which Iowa won 24-14, Parker’s defense held the Yellow Jackets to 155 yards of offense — just under 300 yards less than their season average — and one touchdown.

Parker explained that it’s not about inventing some new defensive scheme, but about being schematically sound: “You only have 11 guys out there. When they are balanced, you have to play five and a half guys on one side and five and a half guys on the other side.” If the offense is unbalanced, with additional blockers or receivers to one side or the other, the defense must “match” them and not allow the Ducks to get extra numbers or leverage. “You have to change up how you are covering it,” Parker explained. Being sound is the most important thing. “What they are looking for is for you to make a mistake.”

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Controlled Chaos: How the evolution of zone-blitz coverages has defined modern defense

It’s now up on Grantland:

In other words, the zone blitz had come full circle. What began as a way to blitz without playing man coverage had started incorporating man coverage all over again, this time in an entirely new way.

Using pattern-match principles allowed defenses to overcome the deficiencies in both the manic, risk-heavy man-to-man blitzes and the easy-to-exploit soft spots in the zone-coverage scheme. There was now a way to keep the safety of the zone and the tighter coverage of man-to-man. Defenses had finally done for blitzing what Walsh had done for passing — keeping the reward but eliminating the risk.

Read the whole thing.

Bear Bryant’s 6-5 Goal Line Defense

Courtesy of Kleph (click to make larger):

Nick Saban Doesn’t Teach Backpedaling?

Former Alabama and current Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick caused something of a stir when he told the media that he “never backpedaled at Alabama.” Apparently, this is something Bengals coaches value, as Kirkpatrick had to learn to backpedal. Some fairly questioned whether this was hyperbole — How do you not teach defensive backs to backpedal? — but, although he does teach backpedaling, Saban very specifically focuses on other techniques.

Seems to work pretty well

As Saban tells it, he used to teach backpedaling until he was with the Cleveland Browns with Bill Belichick. The ownership signed the legendary Everson Walls, who, much to the dismay of the young defensive backs coach, Saban, ran about a 4.8 forty yard dash and simply could not, under any circumstances, backpedal. He was awkward, couldn’t accelerate, and there were other guys on the roster much better at backpedaling.

Walls also, however, was being paid significantly more than his coach, and it was clear from the ownership that Walls would be starting. He also, it must be said, was still a great player, and just happens to still rank 10th on the all time list of most interceptions in NFL history. So Saban began teaching his now famous “shuffle” technique, rather than the traditional backpedal. There’s a good deal to it, and it can adjust depending on the receiver’s exact release, but essentially it is a three-step shuffle technique, at which point the defensive back may break on a short route or can turn and run and play the receiver down the field.

Complementing this is that Alabama’s cornerbacks spend about 90% of the game in a press coverage position, from which they either stay in press or can bail to a zone or off-man position. They do this because it threatens the offense and helps take away screens and quick passes, and they feel that if a defense doesn’t press it’s a huge advantage to the offense who is simply throwing routes on air. I have to say that having excellent corners like Saban has had at Alabama helps, but, as more of an offensive guy, I would much prefer my corners to show a lot of press (even if they bail a lot) and use the shuffle technique as opposed to the backpedal. There’s nothing easier than seeing a bunch of corners lined up at seven yards backpedaling at the snap; you can run just about anything at that, and they simply will not be able to react quickly enough.

I was reminded of this as I have spent a little time catching up on the games from the past few weeks. Of special note was the tremendous job Alabama’s Dee Milliner did against Michigan in week one. Other than a few extremely poor throws/reads, for the most part Denard Robinson’s throws were on the money, but Alabama and Milliner in particular shut down Michigan’s receivers, who were simply not up to the challenge. Watch and judge for yourself.

And next time you hear someone talk about defensive backs backpedaling, you can tell them you know of what is, at least in the view of many (though certainly not all) coaches, a better way.

Greg Schiano on recovering fumbles: “Squeeze your butt cheeks”

From an old clinic lecture by former Rutgers and current Tampa Bay Bucs head coach, Greg Schiano. I think I prefer “scooping and scoring.”

You’ll thank me later


We also have our players perform the recover drill. In this drill, we stress three aspects: covering the points by surrounding the football; covering the ball in a fetal position so none of the brown part of the football shows; and, when they recover a fumble, we also ask our players to close their eyes, close their mouths, and squeeze their buttock cheeks.

What happens at the bottom of the pile on a fumble? One thing that may occur is that the opponents may stick a finger in the eye of the man with the ball. What do you do when someone sticks a finger in your eye? In all likelihood, you may take one hand off the ball. The second thing the opponents do is fishhook you with a finger in your mouth, and then rip your mouth with that finger. Again, this action may lead you to take one hand off the ball.

Another thing the opponents might do is to grab you in the testicular area. At this point, you may have no hands on the football, which is why we tell our players who recover a fumble to close their eyes and mouths, and to squeeze their butt cheeks.

Nick Saban on Bill Belichick’s Hybrid/Subpackage Defenders: “Star” and “Money”

Good stuff from Saban on the history of Belichick’s hybrid or subpackage defenders, “Star” and “Money”:

If the video doesn’t start there automatically, jump to the 5:30 mark. Hat tip to reader Corey.