Downfield passes as the “pitch phase” of the read-option, as run by Russell Wilson, Gus Malzahn and many, many, others

Since the invention of the zone read from the shotgun, coaches have dabbled with creative ways to add a third option for the quarterback. Early on, teams added a second runningback or receiver looping around for a traditional pitch, while others have added bubble screens where the receiver can either get the ball right at the snap as a pre-snap read or as a late option after the quarterback has kept it.

And for at least the last six or so years — but probably more like ten — teams have given their quarterback the ability to throw downfield as part of the pitch phase. I don’t know who was first, as some say it was Rich Rodriguez, others point to the Todd Graham era at Tulsa when he had offensive coordinators Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris, but I first saw the play back in 2007 and it seemed to gain some momentum in 2011 as Graham at Pittsburgh and a flurry of high school teams scored touchdowns with it. But there’s no doubt the play hit the national consciousness when Gus Malzahn’s Auburn team scored their penultimate touchdown against Alabama in the Iron Bowl with the play.

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When Auburn ran the play they ran it with as many as four options for the QB, though my understanding is they also sometimes just called it as a called keep for the quarterback where he could either run it outside or throw it downfield. The purpose of this wrinkle isn’t really to just hit an easy touchdown pass when the defense falls asleep — though it does that too, just ask Alabama — it’s to create real run/pass conflict for a cornerback who is a run “force” defender to the backside.

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Against teams that use the QB as a run threat, like Auburn, defenses need to get secondary players involved in run support. Sometimes that means safeties but other teams a corner will be the “force” defender whose job it is to set the edge and funnel runs inside, as with Cover 2. The traditional bubble or pitch concedes the edge of the defense to the force player, while these concepts put him in what is essentially a high/low bind: either he stays with his man and gives up easy yards to the quarterback or he comes up and gives up big yards behind him. In Cover 2 it’s the safety’s job to get over to the receiver, but that’s why the WR doesn’t fly upfield on a streak route. Instead it’s a “hole” throw, just behind the corner and before the safety can get over.

This isn’t the basis for an entire offense and doesn’t represent any kind of football revolution, but it is a sound concept, which is why I’m not surprised the NFL has taken notice. Last night Seattle QB Russell Wilson threw a TD pass against the Packers on this very concept (h/t SBNation):

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After the game, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll copped to getting the play from Malzahn and Auburn:

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New Grantland: The Architect: How Art Briles and his potent offense have taken Baylor from conference doormat to national title contender

It’s now up over at Grantland:

There’s no question, though, that it’s Briles’s offense — currently averaging more than 64 points and 713 yards per game — that is the engine of Baylor’s success and the source for all the optimism surrounding his program. When Baylor’s offense is rolling — when the aggressive plays, speedy weapons, and up-tempo pace work in unison — the offense is less about executing football plays and more about waging psychological warfare. Two weeks removed from Baylor’s 73-point, 872-yard thrashing of West Virginia, WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson described the loss as “unlike anything I’ve ever been associated with in my entire life. It was just catastrophic in a lot of ways to our psyche.” When Baylor scores 35 in a quarter, 50 in a half, or 70 in a game, it’s hard for the opposing team to recover mentally — not just in that game, but for the rest of their season. The fact that it’s Baylor — yesterday’s footstool — is not lost on anyone, either.

Read the whole thing.

New Longform: How will Nick Saban solve his Johnny Manziel problem?

It’s now up:

But maybe Rip/Liz isn’t the answer. It was in Alabama’s playbook last season, and they still lost. Instead, maybe Saban and his defensive coordinator, like Belichick and Saban himself back in 1994, must react by devising some modern tactic as they face this modern problem.

Right now, at every level of football, defensive coaches have been racking their brains trying to find a way to stop the onslaught of deadly dual-threat quarterbacks, particularly those captaining uptempo, spread attacks. With Manziel and Texas A&M, Saban is facing an acute version of the problem NFL, college and high school defenses are also facing.

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Vanderbilt’s complete offensive line shift (including the center) to unbalanced

Ole Miss defeated Vanderbilt 39-35 in a wild game last night, as the Rebels came back twice in the second half and, in coach Hugh Freeze’s words, “stole one.” In the final minutes of the game, after Ole Miss had taken a 32-28 lead, Vanderbilt converted a fourth and 18 to Jordan Matthews, only for Ole Miss runningback Jeff Scott to hit a 75 yard run:

The interesting thing about Ole Miss’s final touchdown was it was a hand-off on the Inverted Veer, a play which is one of Ole Miss’s staple run plays under Freeze. But the most unique wrinkle in a very entertaining and hard fought game came from Vanderbilt’s brain trust of head coach James Franklin, offensive coordinator Jon Donovan and offensive line coach Herb Hand: Before one play, Vandy shifted its entire offensive line, including the center so that its left tackle ended up snapping the ball. See the gif below (courtesy of SBNation):

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New Grantland: Packaged Plays and the New Option Football

It’s now up over at Grantland:

There have been two major reasons behind this expansion [of packaged plays]. First, they work in perfect harmony with the up-tempo no-huddle offenses that have swept through college football and will seemingly be ever-present in the NFL this fall. But rather than ask a bunch of young quarterbacks to get all Peyton Manning with audibles and gestures at the line, these plays build the options right in and let the quarterback make a decision on the fly. In short, these plays use the mental part of the read-option — allowing a quarterback to read a defensive player to ensure that the defense is always wrong — without putting him at risk. As long as the quarterback can make smart, quick decisions, these plays should work as well with Joe Flacco as they do with RG3.

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Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Same Old Chip: A Look Inside the New Philadelphia Eagles Offense Under Chip Kelly

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Before the second play of his first NFL game, Philadelphia’s new head coach Chip Kelly, a man who made his reputation as the architect of college’s football most prolific offense — the Oregon Ducks’ fast-break, spread-it-out attack — did the unthinkable: He had his team huddle. He followed this with another knee-weakening moment: His quarterback, Michael Vick, lined up under center, an alignment from which the Eagles ran a basic run to the left. For 31 other NFL teams, this would be as ho-hum as it gets. But this is Chip Kelly, he of the fast practices, fast plays, and fast talking. By starting out this way, Kelly, who repeatedly has said he doesn’t do anything without a sound reason behind it, was no doubt sending some kind of message to fans, pundits, and opposing coaches waiting anxiously to see what a Chip Kelly offense would look like at the professional level. It was a message that was unmistakable: See, I can adapt to the NFL.

At least that’s what I thought at first. But after studying Philadelphia’s game against New England, I came away with almost the exact opposite conclusion: While there were clear differences from what Kelly’s system looked like at Oregon, his Eagles offense looked a lot more like the Ducks offense than I ever anticipated.

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Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: The Cowboys’ Jason Witten: Master of the Option Route

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Despite its backyard beginnings, there are specific coaching points on an option route. The first thing Witten must do is identify the defender over him and attack that defender’s leverage on his release from the line, typically by running directly at him. By running right at that defender — which is usually a linebacker or safety — Witten forces the defense to reveal how it is playing him. There are basically two things that can happen: The defense will either play zone or man-to-man. This does not always mean that what Witten identifies is literally what the defense has called, particularly in an NFL with increasingly complicated coverages, but by classifying them this way Witten is able to cut through the confusion and defeat whatever technique he faces.

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New Grantland: Sean Payton (and Jon Gruden and Bill Parcells) Versus the Pop Warner Single Wing

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Adams’s team has 12 plays, with names picked by his kids to help them remember their assignments: “Power” is “Pizza” and “Spinner” is “Spaghetti,” and so on. The important thing is not so much the plays but how they are taught and how they fit together. “We have a counter for every run, and a fake off of every counter,” says Adams. Before going to this system, Adams says he’d “never won anything” in football, “at any level, including in college.” But since taking over at Springtown Orange, he’s turned the team around in just a couple of seasons, bringing home their first title last season. If it’s good enough to beat Sean Payton, with the assistance of Jon Gruden and Bill Parcells, does that mean Cisar, Adams, and others are onto something big?

Suggesting that, of course, seems absurd. Youth football and the NFL are obviously night-and-day different; it’s laughable to suggest that because the single wing won a sixth-grade championship it could win a Lombardi Trophy, so laughable that no one would suggest it. No one, that is, except Vince Lombardi: “What would happen if someone came out with the single-wing offense?” Lombardi once asked. “It would embarrass the hell out of us.” And Lombardi wasn’t alone. Roughly 20 years later, fellow Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh once said he’d “reflected on the single wing,” and, in his view, “those blocking schemes would just chew up NFL defenses. You could double-team every hole and trap every hole.”

Read the whole thing.

Paragraph of the Day: Cal Bears/Packaged Plays Edition

The highlight of [Cal's] practice for me was during the team periods I was standing about 5 yards away from Tony Franklin. I was right next to him so I could hear each play call. What was slightly shocking to me was how often they attach quick game concepts on the backside of runs. Nearly every single run play there is a quick game or screen component tied on to the backside, and sometimes routes are tagged frontside as well. They call quick concept backside so often that they actually have to call/signal for the backside to BLOCK when they just want a designed run play. The hot new thing is combo [a.k.a "packaged"] plays … 2 in 1 or even 3 in 1 plays… EVERY PLAY is a 2 in 1.

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Musical Chairs: Packaged Plays and the Evolution of “Option” Football

This article was written by Keith Grabowski, offensive coordinator at Baldwin Wallace University. You can follow him on twitter at @CoachKGrabowski, and see his monthly columns at American Football Monthly, where he posts new articles on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

pistol-cropThe option play has gained a resurgence in football with the popularity of the spread offense. Relying heavily on the run, option football forces a defense to be disciplined and play their responsibilities. It’s still a very sound way to attack defenses, but requires a commitment to running those base plays over and over. The spread has allowed teams that attack with option and to carry an effective passing attack that utilizes the spread to get the ball to players in space. The zone read and bubble have become a staple for spread option teams as well.

Option is no longer limited to teams who utilize the traditional dive back, pitch back type of runs. Two-in one plays or packaged plays are the new trend in offense that has the stick-draw concept at the forefront of this trend. What teams are finding ways to do is to isolate a defender in space and make him be in two places at once which makes one of those spaces a clean void to attack.

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