New Grantland: Draw It Up: Larry Fitzgerald and the Eagles’ Coverage Breakdown

It’s now up on Grantland:

Fitzgerald’s 37-yard touchdown on Sunday against the Eagles was a nice example. On first-and-10 in the second quarter, the Cardinals called a very basic pass combination — a post route by Fitzgerald behind a deep cross by Roberts, all off play-action. This has been one of coach Ken Whisenhunt’s favorite pass concepts over the years, and is one used by virtually every NFL team.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Cam Newton and the Diversity of Carolina’s Zone-Read Package

It’s now up over at Grantland:

One of them is a play Newton made famous at Auburn — the “inverted veer” or “dash read” play. Unlike a typical zone read where the quarterback reads a back-side defender, the inverted veer reads a player on the front side — the quarterback and running back head in the same direction. Coupled with “power” run blocking with a pulling guard, the defense is outnumbered to the play side, and blocking lines up nicely.

Against the Saints, Panthers offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski took Cam’s old inverted veer one step further by running an outside run coupled with a read of an interior defender — a “sweep read.” Carolina ran this play several times against the Saints, but the best example came in the third quarter and resulted in DeAngelo Williams bursting around the left end for a 27-yard gain.

Read the whole thing.

After the jump is a good FishDuck article showing how Chip Kelly at Oregon uses a similar concept:

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New Grantland: Back to School: How Mike Shanahan Is Using RG3′s College Offense With the Redskins

It’s now up on Grantland:

Coaching is about putting players in positions to succeed. Griffin’s potential is nearly limitless, but as a rookie playing his first game, he’s not Tom Brady just yet, and asking him to throw 40 or 50 traditional drop-back passes was not going to give Washington its best chance to win. Shanahan has clearly gone into this year with an open mind — something many otherwise excellent pro coaches don’t do often enough — and he’s blended his tried-and-true West Coast/zone-blocking offense with some of the best andsimplest principles Griffin executed so well at Baylor.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland — The Future of Playcalling: “Packaged plays,” Tecmo Bowl and a revolution in how we define “football play”

It’s now up on Grantland:

Admittedly or not, most fans think of real-world play calling as a slightly more complicated version of this “Tecmo Bowl model.” The offense’s job is to “keep the defense guessing,” and the defense must “guess right” to make a stop. On some level, even with their lengthy play sheets and reams of data, professional coordinators are engaged in a version of this same psychological battle, employing little more than educated guesses about the opponent’s tactics. Until recently, even the best, from Bill Walsh to Bill Belichick, have been playing what amounts to a complex game of Tecmo Bowl, improved only by the marginal differences coming in the form of various checks or audibles by the quarterbacks.

That seemingly straightforward screen pass to Ryan Grant suggests that now things are no longer so simple. There’s a new game, and it takes those time-tested plays and blends them into something new. It blends them so seamlessly that it threatens to upend the very idea of “run” and “pass.” These are the “packaged plays,” and because of them real football is ahead of the video games — both old and new. The answer to “What play was that?” is no longer so simple, because it’s increasingly “All of them.”

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: S-A-C-K: Why Pass Protection Might Be the Jets’ Biggest Problem

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Saturday night was an example of the preseason problem of hodgepodge lineups that haven’t spent much time together. As the game wore on, the Jets routinely failed to pick up very simple blitzes, and the result was sacks, hurries, and, according to some reports,an extremely frustrated Tim Tebow.

Pass protection is extremely difficult. Individually, it’s a brutal ballet, requiring the larger, less athletic human to step backward while a superior specimen (like Jason Pierre-Paul) sprints, swims, rips, spins, or hurdles his way to the quarterback. Collectively, it’s all thatand some kind of diabolical logic game.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: The Evolution of the Hybrid Defender

It’s now up over at Grantland:

More recent is the rise of the true hybrid safety/linebacker, players seemingly designed to provide answers for players like Gronkowski and Graham. This is the next logical step from Johnson’s method for building Miami and the Cowboys. Instead of taking high school safeties and making them linebackers, coaches are taking athletes who can hit and play pass coverage, and simply letting them make plays. That means everything from blitzing the quarterback or stuffing a running back in the backfield to running step-for-step with a tight end or slot receiver. NFL coaches have begun referring to this as their “big nickel” package, which is a bit misleading because “nickel” is a term invented to describe some smaller part of a team’s overall defensive game plan. The reality is that just as NFL offenses rarely line up with two true running backs, NFL defenses rarely line up with three true linebackers. Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu were the two best safeties of the last decade or so, but their successors — in body type, athleticism, and playmaking ability — may not play safety at all. Regardless of the position at which he’s listed, he’ll likely be a linebacker in a safety’s body.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: The Case for an Improved San Francisco 49ers Offense

It’s now up at Grantland:

Still, I can’t help but feel optimistic about the Niners — even their seemingly pedestrian offense. Despite the obvious personnel deficiencies — other than tight end Vernon Davis and running back Frank Gore, the Niners had few players capable of scaring opposing teams last season — Harbaugh and his offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, consistently did more with less than any other offensive staff in the NFL. They did it with ingenuity, whether it was adapting the “jet” or “fly sweep” to the NFL, or making maybe the best — and gutsiest — call of last season on Alex Smith’s — Alex Smith’s! — sweep for a touchdown late against New Orleans in last season’s playoffs. And while none of the new additions on offense are sure things, they do provide something that will buttress the staff’s creative options: depth.

Read the whole thing.

Grantland’s One-Year Anniversary – Quickish’s Top 25 List

This list, from Dan Shanoff’s inimitable and essential Quickish (other than my little bits of course) is full of awesome stuff. All of them are great pieces, but I particularly recommend all the ones on here from Brian Phillips and Tom Bissell. I’m just honored to be a small piece of such a great group:

Grantland 1-Year Anniversary Greatest Hits Top 25

Today is the one-year anniversary of Grantland’s launch. After looking through the handy Quickish archive of Grantland tips, here is an assuredly incomplete list of the 25 best sports things the site has published, with designations appropriate for the occasion:

“Rushmore” — Four Things People Think About When They Think of Grantland:

“Growing Up Penn State” (Michael Weinreb)
“B.S. Report: Barack Obama” (Bill Simmons)
“The Importance of Ichiro” (Jay Caspian Kang)
“The Malice at the Palace: An Oral History” (Jonathan Abrams)

“Pantheon” — 10 More Things People SHOULD Think About When They Think of Grantland:

“The Garden of Good and Evil” (Katie Baker)
“The Future is Now” (Chris Brown)
“The Fiberglass Backboard” (Bryan Curtis)
“The Greatest Paper That Ever Died” (Alex French And Howie Kahn)
“Wilt vs. Elgin” (Dave McKenna)
“The Rise of the NBA Nerd” (Wesley Morris)
“The Long Autumn of Roger Federer” (Brian Phillips)
“Tim Tebow: Converter of the Passes” (Brian Phillips)
“James Brown’s Augusta” (Wright Thompson)
“Occasional Dispatches From the Republic of Anhedonia” (Colson Whitehead)

“Also Receiving Votes” — 11 Other Things That Represented the Grantland Ideal:

“The Murder of Tayshana Murphy” (Jonathan Abrams)
“A Requiem for the Dream Team in Philly” (Bill Barnwell)
“Madden and the Future of Video Game Sports” (Tom Bissell)
“Ode to the War Daddies” (Chris Brown)
“What Would the End of Football Look Like?” (Tyler Cowen)
“An Evening With Jose Canseco” (Bryan Curtis)
“Three Man Weave” (Chuck Klosterman)
“A Fighter Abroad” (Brian Phillips)
“Soccer’s Heavy Boredom” (Brian Phillips)
“Novak Djokovic: The Shot and the Confrontation” (Brian Phillips)
“Oden on Oden” (Mark Titus)

 

Grantland: Charlie Strong, Joe Lee Dunn, and the Birth of the 3-3-5 Defense — An excerpt from The Essential Smart Football

An excerpt from my new book, The Essential Smart Football, is now up over at Grantland:

Even with his success, Dunn’s career can also be a warning about the 3-3-5. He’s held down jobs with good schools, but he never was able to break out beyond schools like Memphis, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss. While at their best, his defenses were suffocating and hard to plan for; when the talent dropped off, the aggressiveness once viewed as a virtue seemed to bleed over into a lack of discipline and a penchant for giving up big plays. Since then, he has coached at Ridgeway High School, New Mexico State, and now Division III McMurry. In football, pragmatism rules, and inflexibility — even if it’s with a great idea — leads to the rest of the landscape passing you by.

His legacy is nevertheless secure. Dunn is essentially the father of the 3-3-5, and the coaches that now use it, even if only in certain situations, are his descendants. The original “30 stack” 3-3-5 is no longer the defense of the future. As with most schemes, age has exposed many of its weaknesses, and many of its leading practitioners, like Charlie Strong, have moved on to other fronts and use it as only a subpackage. But in the age of pass-first and spread offenses, the principles underlying it — movement, disguise, aggressiveness, and an extreme focus on speed — are more important than ever.

Read the whole thing, and the book can be purchased here.

New Grantland Blog: Analyzing Cleveland’s top two draft picks

It’s now up over at Grantland:

The Cleveland Browns had an interesting first day of the 2012 NFL draft. On the one hand, Cleveland got two of the draft’s most productive players: Brandon Weeden, quarterback from Oklahoma State, who threw 71 touchdowns over the past two seasons, and Trent Richardson, an absolutely ferocious running back who rushed for more than 1,600 yards as the offensive centerpiece for Alabama’s championship squad.

And yet, we’re starting to see that drafting a running back so high — the Browns traded up to get Richardson — is typically not a great idea. And Weeden? Well, let’s just say that picking a rookie quarterback who is 28 years old is not exactly without risk.

Read the whole thing.