New Grantland: Football 101 – Why Power Running Works

It’s now up over at Grantland:

While many think the term “power football” describes an attitude or perhaps even a formation, coaches actually use it to refer to something more technical: the Power-O and Counter Trey run plays, which most coaches simply call Power and Counter, and which are foundational running plays in the NFL and college football.

Power and Counter are so effective because their very designs are forged from aggression. They’re deliberate melees built on double-team blocks, kick-out blocks, lead blocks, and down blocks, and preferably finished off by a running back who drops his shoulder and levels a defender or two before going down. And as this GIF shows, they can be things of beauty:


While football increasingly seems to revolve around quarterbacks who post gaudy passing stats in spread attacks, the inside running game remains the sport’s core no matter what offense a team runs. Let’s take a closer look at how Power and Counter were developed, why they work, and how teams are putting some new spins on some old plays.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Breakdown of Gary Patterson’s TCU 4-2-5 Defense

I’ve been working for a few months on a deep-dive analysis of Gary Patterson’s morphing, multifarious 4-2-5 defense for Grantland, and it’s now up. Patterson’s defense is intriguing on a number of levels, and not only because TCU is ranked #2 in the preseason AP polls: Patterson’s 4-2-5 is custom built for the kinds of wide-open, uptempo spread offenses that now dominate football at every level, but there’s a lot of nuance into exactly why that is:


Patterson’s 4-2-5, however, was designed with those challenges in mind. By playing five defensive backs, Patterson almost never needs to substitute to match up with the offense. But the system’s genius runs even deeper: Patterson has cleaved the very structure of his defense into pieces, simultaneously making everything simpler for his players and more complicated for opponents.

“We divide our defense into attack groups,” Patterson explained at a coaching clinic in 2011. Those attack groups are: (1) the four defensive linemen and two linebackers, referred to as the front, (2) one cornerback, the free safety, and the strong safety, and (3) the weak safety and other corner. For most teams, the calls for the front and secondary only work if appropriately paired, but that’s not the case for TCU. “Our fronts and coverages have nothing to do with each other,” Patterson said at the clinic. “The coverage part is separate from the front.”

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: The Receiver Ripple Effect – Ranking the top wide receivers in the 2015 NFL Draft

It’s now up over at Grantland:

For a long time, conventional wisdom held that receivers took a few years to develop, and that the wideouts picked near the top of the draft carried a nasty bust rate1 because of the physical and mental demands of playing receiver in the NFL. But last year’s rookie class appeared to obliterate those concerns, and the position should continue to produce sterling talents now that college teams are using three or four receivers on every play, year-round 7-on-7 camps are leaving prospects as polished as ever, and schools are increasingly emphasizing the passing game.

The 2015 wide receiver draft class exemplifies this trend, boasting numerous physical marvels and future stars. Of course, as always, there will also be some busts. The trick is figuring out which players will be which.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Inside the Evolution (and Oregonification) of Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Offense

It’s now up over at Grantand:

At Florida, Meyer’s offense revolved almost entirely around the quarterback. From 2007 through 2009, Tim Tebow led the SEC in pass efficiency while also leading the Gators in rushing yards, and the lasting image of those UF offenses is of Tebow plunging into the line on power runs. That approach worked with a 6-foot-3, 235-pound rhinoceros at quarterback, but with Tebow off to the NFL in 2010, Florida’s offense began to fall apart, and the Gators limped to an 8-5 finish. Meyer stepped away from the game in 2011 to spend more time with family, and during that time he was able to study many of the sport’s most innovative coaches and schemes. When Meyer rejoined the coaching ranks and started searching for a coordinator who could mesh the newest trends with what Meyer had done before, he asked around for suggestions, and several of his closest friends in the business suggested the same name: Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Herman.

Read the whole thing.

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.

New Grantland: Goodbye to the BCS… But Careful What You Wish For

It’s now up over at Grantland:

The primary advantage of a playoff is certainty, and after years of endless BCS debate — which followed decades of debate under the earlier bowl systems — certainty has real allure. But in most sports that have playoffs, like the NFL or the NBA, the criteria for getting to the playoffs is basically objective. Most playoff spots are decided based on win/loss records, with certain mechanical tiebreakers in place and known in advance. It’s not that the playoff crowns the best or most deserving team — just ask the 10-6 New York Giants that knocked off the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. It’s that the loser has nothing to complain about: Everyone knows the rules.

Yet the new College Football Playoff lacks the very thing that makes playoffs in other sports so palatable, namely a semblance of objective certainty. While the defective BCS formula should have been interred long ago, it has been replaced by a Council of Platonic Guardians. The College Football Playoff selection committee will meet confidentially, then announce the identities of the playoff participants by edict. That’s not exactly what I’d call “settling it on the field.”

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Florida State’s “Most Improved Person”: Jimbo Fisher

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Winston piled up yards and touchdowns on his way to the Heisman Trophy, and his 190.06 passer rating is good for the second best single-season rating of all time, just shy of the mark Russell Wilson set in 2011. And it’s not as though Winston has run some watered-down attack; Manuel said this fall that learning the Buffalo Bills’ system was actually “easier to learn than the offense [he] had at Florida State,” as it required fewer adjustments based on defensive coverages. Fisher’s system, by contrast, puts a heavy burden on the quarterback to alter his reads depending on the defense’s coverage or alignment.

Earlier in Fisher’s career, he asked both his receivers and the quarterback to adjust routes based on the defense, but in recent years he’s simplified things — for everyone but the quarterback. “There are so many schemes and we all want to be gurus in football and think we created something,” Fisher said at the clinic. “I am just as guilty as everyone else, I promise.” Over the last few seasons Fisher reduced the number of plays while building options for his quarterbacks within each play. “Against Clemson [in 2012] we ran the same pass play nine times,” said Fisher. “We completed all nine of the passes, to five different receivers. I did not need a new play.”

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: What Really Went Wrong with RG3 This Season?

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Griffin’s footwork not only hurt his reads, it hurt his accuracy. “Body position is absolutely critical,” Redskins quarterback coach Matt LaFleur recently told ESPN’s John Keim. “If you don’t have good body position, your balance is off and your accuracy will be off. It’s absolutely critical you get your body in correct position to make the correct throw.” LaFleur added that, for Griffin, this season has “been a constant work in progress.”

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Adrian Peterson and the Lead Draw: The Vikings’ Throwback Play for Their Throwback Runner

It’s now up over at Grantland:

The lead draw has a storied history. Dating at least as far back as the Johnny Unitas–led Baltimore Colts, the play had maybe its greatest renaissance when run by Emmitt Smith for the Dallas Cowboys. To this day, Smith — not commonly known for his rhetorical flourishes — waxes philosophical whenever asked about the play, as he details the subtle ways he played off the blocks of his massive offensive line and fullback Daryl Johnston to wear down, and then break, defenses. The play epitomized the running game of the great 1990s Cowboys teams. Defenses knew it was coming and still couldn’t stop it.

The lead draw works very much the way its name implies: At the snap, the offensive line and quarterback step away from the line just as they would on a pass play, in an effort to make the defense think they are trying to throw the ball — a “draw.” Meanwhile, “lead” refers to the block of the fullback or H-back, who initially looks like a pass blocker before leading the way for the runner. In short, the lead draw combines deception with power, which is also an apt description for Peterson’s running style. One of the best examples of Peterson running the lead draw came in the second quarter against St. Louis last fall.

Read the whole thing.


New Grantland: What Drafting Matt Barkley Means for Chip Kelly’s Plans for the Eagles

It’s up over at Grantland:

Kelly’s staff in Philadelphia further supports this view. Kelly said he wanted offensive and defensive coordinators with NFL coordinator experience, and in Pat Shurmur and Billy Davis, that’s what he got. Throughout this offseason, Kelly has made clear that he wants the Eagles to be something of a laboratory for football ideas, whether it be X’s and O’s or the science of peak athletic performance.

But this line of thinking still has to be tempered with a bit of realism. Kelly is clearly bright, committed, and open-minded, but the idea that he can step into the NFL and runany offense — spread, pro-style, West Coast, Coryell, Wing-T — seems implausible. He shredded college football running a very specific attack based on very specific principles, and the mathematical advantage he gained from having his quarterback be at least some kind of a threat to run was a central tenet. He might be able to adapt his offense to his players and coaches, but this is not the same thing as continuing and growing what worked at Oregon.

Read the whole thing.