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.

New Grantland: Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III: The Future Is Now — The stars are aligning for a generation of great NFL quarterbacks

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Ever since the rise of the T-formation and the modern notion of the quarterback as passer and team leader, young QBs have received varying amounts of training for the position. If his father was a coach — like Elway’s was — or if he happened to live in Granada Hills, California, he might learn the sophisticated skills necessary to continue developing. But if not, it was unlikely that he’d ever receive that sort of necessary coaching. The long history of quarterback draft busts has taught us that athletic ability alone does not make a quarterback. A great quarterback is instead one of sport’s oddest confections: He is the athlete whose success depends as much on his brain as on his body. One can’t help but wonder how many would-be great quarterbacks never had the chance to develop because no one taught them the intricacies of the position; like some football equivalent of Gray’s Elegy, who knows how many mute inglorious Mannings remain forever obscure to history.

In recent years, however, the situation has changed. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are harbingers of an approaching age of quarterbacks who are both better athletes and better trained at a young age than ever before. In a decade or so, the debates about a player like Tim Tebow — that NFL teams must choose between quarterbacks who are passers and quarterbacks who are athletes — will seem quaint and ridiculous. Nowadays, coaches at the lower levels put their best, smartest, most charismatic kids at quarterback and develop them. The new age we’re entering will be something of a Hunger Games for young quarterbacks: By the time they reach the NFL draft, they will be among the best, most talented, brightest, and best-trained candidates we’ve ever seen. Instead of asking ourselves what traits we prefer, we’ll be asking why we ever thought we had to choose.

Read the whole thing here.

New Grantland Blog: Draw it Up: Two Key Plays, Super Bowl Edition

It’s now up over at Grantland:

On the other side was Manning’s brilliant thread-the-needle pass to Manningham. Just previously, the two had barely missed on a similar fade throw to the opposite sideline. (Manningham caught it while stepping out of bounds.) But get used to this one: We’re going to see it a lot, for a long time.

The entire game, the Patriots had played a form of “cover two,” two safeties deep to take away the big plays. Belichick did not want the Giants to burn them with deep passes to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, or Manningham, and for most of the game, they succeeded. The other elements of Belichick’s game plan were to move Vince Wilfork out to line up over the guard and tackle, to take away the off-tackle run game that the Giants favored (as with two safeties deep, the Patriots were a man short against the run the entire game), and to double-team the electric Cruz. This opened things up for Nicks, who had more than 100 yards receiving on 10 catches, and, ultimately, for Manningham, on the biggest play of the game.

Read the whole thing.

And yes, the Giants — likely unintentionally — used Buddy Ryan’s old “Polish Defense” tactic by having extra men on the field to force the Patriots to burn extra time off the clock before the eventual hail mary. A wild game.

New Grantland Blog: Manning to Manningham – NFC Championship edition

It’s now up over at the Grantland blog:

Yet while Cruz was the most important receiver on the field for the Giants, Manning’s best throw of the day went to a guy who had but a single catch on the game: Mario Manningham, whose 17-yard touchdown reception tied the score at 17. The play — which came, dramatically enough on third-and-15 — was an old, old pass concept known as “anchor” or “Mills.” (“Anchor” refers to the concept more directly, with an underneath receiver hopefully “anchoring” a defender so the post route can get behind him; “Mills” is a name common in many coaching circles, as Steve Spurrier destroyed people with this concept back at Florida in the 1990s and he called it “Mills” after the receiver who ran it the best, Ernie Mills.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland Blog: The 49ers and the Quarterback Crack/Pull Sweep

My newest Grantland Blog is now up:

Indeed, as San Francisco 49ers legend Bill Walsh taught us, the best play callers do their play calling through preparation during the week, not so much on gameday as emotions soar. In other words, play calling is rarely the difference between a won and a loss.

But sometimes it is; sometimes a play call is so good — and takes such good advantage of a bad play call on the other side — that one can rightly say: That call might have won the game. So it was during the furious fourth quarter between the 49ers and the Saints last weekend. With two minutes and 11 seconds remaining, and the 49ers down 24-23, on third-and-7, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman made one of the best calls of the season: A crack/pull sweep with, not a running back, but quarterback Alex Smith as the blocker.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland Blog: Drawing Up the National Championship and A.J. McCarron’s Smash Concept

It’s up over at the Grantland blog:

Many of those downfield completions came on the “smash” concept, which involves an inside receiver running a 10- to 12-yard corner route and an outside receiver simply stopping at five yards. It’s a high/low concept: One wide receiver is deep while another is underneath, so the quarterback can read that defensive back. If he comes up for the five-yard hitch on the outside, the quarterback throws it to the corner route; if the defensive back hangs back, he drops it off short to the outside wide receiver. It’s a very basic concept, but still a great one. Indeed, even Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley pointed this out on Twitter, noting that Alabama’s success came on “smash routes all day.”

smash

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Alabama’s Run Game — Simple and Deadly, But Is It Good Enough to Beat LSU?

It’s up over at Grantland:

That said, we should never count out Nick Saban. Alabama’s defense is arguably even better than LSU’s based on statistics (though I favor LSU owing to stronger competition and general fearsomeness). Alabama also boasts perhaps the best player on either team: running back and Heisman finalist Trent Richardson. Perhaps more than any other player in the country, Richardson has the ability to personally shred defenses, even those geared to stop him.

But can Alabama get Richardson loose? In the first matchup (or hadn’t you heard that this game was a rematch?), Richardson led the Crimson Tide in rushing and receiving but never really got free. Because we know what we will get from Richardson — primarily, if you’re an LSU defender, a face full of the kneepad-covered pistons he calls legs — Alabama’s success on offense Monday night will depend on offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and tight end Brad Smelley.

Read the whole thing.

Oklahoma State and the Stick/Slant concept

It’s up over at the Grantland blog:

Oklahoma State has excelled for both of the past two years with “packaging concepts,” and in this case, putting different “coverage beating” pass concepts to each side of the field. Doing this gives quarterback Brandon Weeden options on where he wants to go with the ball, depending on the pass coverage. On this play, the Cowboys lined up with three receivers to the left and Blackmon, as the split end and the running back, the versatile Joseph Randle, to the right. The pass concept to the three-receiver side was a staple of Oklahoma State’s offense: the stick concept. On stick, an outside receiver runs a vertical route, an inside receiver runs to the flat while a third receiver runs a “stick” route, essentially just hooking up at five or six yards. This creates a stretch on the defense in the form of a triangle, and is good against almost all zone coverages and some man-to-man looks.

okie statwe

Read the whole thing.