Grantland: How and why Jim Harbaugh eliminated sight-adjustments in the 49ers passing game to make it go

It’s up over at Grantland:

A key reason for this is that Harbaugh has made the passing game easier for Smith, particularly when it comes to beating the blitz. Of course, coaches often say they are “simplifying the playbook,” but Harbaugh has been able to do it coherently and in a way that actually aids his quarterback’s ability to succeed rather than simply removes options.

One reason for this is that many NFL plays simply duplicate each other; you only need so many ways to throw the same pass to the flat or run off tackle. You might as well perfect the plays you have rather than keep adding new ones every week. But Harbaugh has also changed the entire theory behind how Smith and his offense approach the blitz, and this is where Smith’s greatest improvement has come. That’s because Harbaugh eliminated “sight adjustments” from the 49ers playbook. Indeed, this change has been so successful that, according to Pro Football Focus, Smith’s completion percentage, quarterback rating, average yards per attempt, and touchdown-to-interception ratio against blitzes have all been much better than Smith’s historical averages, but also better than his performance on all other downs.

Read the whole thing. Video diagrams after the jump (and in the article).

(more…)

Grantland: LSU and the Speed Option

It’s now up over at the Grantland blog:

The best and most crucial example of the speed option in the game came in overtime. The play-by-play simply refers to it as a 15-yard rush by Michael Ford, but the play essentially ended the game, as Alabama had just missed a field goal and, after the run, LSU’s field goal — and thus its victory — became inevitable. On this play, LSU showed a particularly interesting wrinkle. Not only did it run the speed option but it actually lined up in an unbalanced formation, and then ran away from the extra blockers. As can be seen from the image above, LSU put the tight end, H-back (a tight end lined up off the line) and a wide receiver all to the right side of the formation. To the left, the Tigers had only the offensive guard and the tackle. Alabama’s adjustment was to overload the offense’s right side, to the point that it was undermanned to the weak side.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: The Kansas City Chiefs and the Counter Trey

It’s up over at Grantland:

At the snap, the Chiefs line up with one wide receiver, a fullback set to the offense’s left, and a tight end and H-back to the right. The strong side of the formation is to the offense’s right, but the fullback to the left is in position to block someone on either side. This presents a problem for the defense. Because they keep two safeties back (not pictured), they have a difficult time matching numbers to each side of the offense’s formation. Not counting the center and defensive nose guard, there are three defenders to the offense’s left to deal with three potential blockers, and four defenders to the offense’s right to deal with four potential blockers. But the counter trey brings two blockers from the backside to completely overwhelm the defense at the point of attack. (And, of course, the defense already had issues in not having counterparts for all of the offense’s blockers.)

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Tim Tebow and the 2-Point Conversion

It’s up over at Grantland:

Just after the snap and viewed from behind, you can see the problem for the Dolphins: everyone is squeezed inside. Indeed, after the game, many commentators wondered how the Dolphins were not looking for the quarterback draw. But that was the problem, as Miami coach Tony Sparano confirmed after the game: They were looking for the draw, which typically is a run up the middle where the linemen fake pass for a count before blocking. That’s why Miami’s defensive linemen had squeezed inside and the linebackers all looked that way too. What they weren’t looking for, however, was the quarterback power, and that’s what got them. In the image above, you can see the clear path for Zane Beadles, the pulling guard. Also, the one tricky block on the play is by the center, who must cut off the defender lined up over the guard; he executes this block and the backside is sealed.

Read the whole thing.

Grantland Blog: The 49ers and the ‘Wham’ Play

It’s now up:

On Gore’s first big run, with just a few seconds left in the first quarter, the 49ers lined up in a “trey” set with a wide receiver to each side and a tight end and wing or “H-back,” Delanie Walker, each lined up to the right. The goal of the “wham” blocked run play was to leave Suh unblocked. As shown below, Walker’s job was to perform the “wham” block on Suh as he crashed upfield — a surprisingly simple block because Suh would be so focused on getting in the backfield that he wouldn’t see it coming. This freed up the other linemen to block Detroit’s linebackers, which they did.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Al Davis’ strategic legacy — His role in the development of the “vertical pass game”

It’s up over at Grantland:

When Davis left Gillman’s staff he took Sid’s playbook — and, more important, his ideas — with him.But Davis wasn’t content to stretch the field horizontally; he wanted to get vertical. If Gillman could get a trash can open against a zone, Davis tested how good he’d do if he added his favorite ingredient: speed. Gillman, of course, used “vertical stretches” — passing concepts that spaced receivers not left to right, but deep to short — but for Davis they became the centerpiece of his offense. Indeed, this is what Davis meant when he brought the “vertical game” to Oakland. It was not a matter of throwing deep bombs (though it was sometimes), but was instead the science of stretching defenses to their breaking point. With receivers at varying depths, a small defensive error often meant a 15-yard pass play for Davis’ offense, and a serious mistake meant a touchdown.

Read the whole thing.

Draw it up: The Packers’ post/dig off of play-action

It’s up over at Grantland:

But this is only a two-man route; for it to work, those other defenders — particularly the Falcons’ linebackers — have to be convinced it is a run play and take themselves out of pass coverage. And the Packers did just that. As Bill Walsh explained, the play-action pass is probably the best play in all of football, but it only works if the entire team is committed to selling the fake. Obviously a good fake by the quarterback is important, but what you’re doing on a play-action pass is messing up the linebackers’ reads, and they only sometimes (or tangentially) read they quarterback. More often, they are reading the offensive linemen to the running backs, and those are the players that all too often give away that the play is not a true run but is instead a pass play. But the Packers’ do an excellent job: instead of immediately popping their heads up and sinking back on their hips as they would in pass protection, Green Bay’s linemen fire out low and flat, making it impossible to detect the play’s true intent.

Read the whole thing.