New Grantland: How Joe Flacco’s Big Arm Can Exploit the 49ers’ Secondary

It’s now up at Grantland:

The key to the 49ers’ success in that game, as well as for much of the past two years, is rooted in a common misconception about their defense. It’s often noted that the 49ers play almost entirely with two safeties deep, splitting the field into halves while the remaining defenders play man-to-man coverage. This tactic, which also relies heavily on the front seven to stop the run, is known as “Cover 2 Man” defense. The notion that the 49ers use this coverage almost exclusively is, like most misconceptions, rooted in some fact. The 49ers do use this coverage a great deal, but if they used it on every down, San Francisco’s defense would be much easier to attack than it actually is.

What Fangio and the 49ers actually do is mix and match their two-deep, Cover 2 Man coverage with a variety of “pattern match” zones — zone defenses that transform into a kind of man coverage after the snap. The 49ers use a variety of these pattern-match schemes (each of which is differentiated by a subtle change in a defender’s rules), but one I’ve seen them use with success all season is known to many coaches as “Two Read.

f-post

Read the whole thing.

Studying the Raw Materials of Chip Kelly’s Up-Tempo Offense

With Chip Kelly going to the Eagles, there’s been much hand wringing about whether Chip Kelly’s offense will work in the NFL, whether he’ll bring it to Philly verbatim, and so on. I honestly don’t know the definitive answer  — I am not sure Chip does — but I’m certainly looking forward to watching. Nevertheless, I expect Kelly to evolve his offense and, more importantly, tailor it to the personnel he has in Philadelphia. But whether it will work will probably be as much a function of things unrelated to the offense, like the mastery of the roster, drafting and salary caps, his ability to coach, train and teach professional versus college players, and how he generally adapts to a pro game that is in many ways just different. But, knowing how bright Chip is, I have a difficult time believing that it will be schemes — and certainly not from too much fidelity to a certain scheme — that does him in.

ChipKelly

I guess I need a new visor

Unfortunately, much of the analysis around these questions is exceedingly weak, because there is such little knowledge of what Kelly actually does. I wrote a lengthy piece this fall centering on Kelly’s actual philosophy and approach, and I think that perspective is the right one to start from, as his individual schemes have always evolved at Oregon and undoubtedly will even more so in Philadelphia. But if you want to really know how his offense works, there is no substitute for study, and in football study begins with the film. That’s what his opponents have had to do, and they almost universally come away impressed. That includes Monte Kiffin, the former Southern Cal foil and now defensive coordinator for in-division rival Dallas Cowboys:

Monte Kiffin, NFL defensive coaching legend, was standing at the top of the ramp outside the Coliseum late Saturday, about an hour after his USC Trojans fell to the visiting Oregon Ducks 53-32; in the process, Kiffin’s crew had given up 599 yards to Chip Kelly.

Kiffin was trying to assess the mind-boggling precision of the Ducks’ offense that he had witnessed first-hand and was in midsentence praising how “innovative” Kelly is when the Oregon coach happened to walk up behind him to shake his hand as he made his way to the Ducks’ bus.

Kiffin, caught off guard, smiled, and told Kelly “good job” and came right back to talking about how impressed he was by what these Ducks can do. It’s hard not to think that Kelly must seem like he’s in a lot of defensive coaches’ heads.

“That guy is such a good coach,” the 70-year-old Kiffin went on to say as he watched Kelly exit the Coliseum. “I respect him so much just from watching their tape. It’s the discipline they have. The offensive line does a great job. The receivers do a great job of downfield blocking. They don’t beat themselves very often.”

“I mean, you’re hanging in there, but then they just get you. You get a lot of guys up to stop the run and then, they play-fake. You can’t get beat like that. Arizona State played them like that and they get four or five big plays. I don’t think it’s so much the tempo, it’s really just that they execute so well.”

The first place I’d recommend going to learn more about the offense, particularly for those with a comfort in independent film study, is this page at Brophy’s site. He has all-22 game film cut-ups, organized by play and pass concept, from a few years ago for almost all of Chip’s offense.  It’s an excellent resource. (I would pay particular attention to the passing game, as if there’s anywhere that I think Chip will need to develop his offense it is there.) On the flipside, Coach Hoover has an excellent series on defending Oregon’s offense, particularly from a 4-3, a subject that also will be much discussed all offseason.

From there, I highly recommend much of the analysis at FishDuck, an Oregon site which has spent the past several years doing film breakdowns of Chip’s offense. Some of the information is slightly outdated — Chip began adjusting the alignment of his backs more often so as to not give away the play, though as stated in the article he usually built up keys and tendencies in order to set up defenses for later and break open a big play — but there’s probably no better introduction to the nuts and bolts of Chip’s attack than the following. Happy studying.

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Capital One Bowl: Does Nebraska Have Enough Magic to Defeat Georgia’s 3-4 Defense?

Although being in a New Years Day bowl game is not quite the marker it once was — back in the pre-BCS era when the first day of the year was a final, spasmodic orgy of college football — it still represents the heart of bowl season, when (for the most part, at least) worthy teams face each other in the final contest of the year. The Capital One Bowl, between SEC runner-up Georgia and Big 10 runner-up Nebraska, clearly fits that description.

Keep it simple

Keep it simple

The oddsmakers have declared Georgia the solid favorite at nine points, and after their valiant effort in the SEC title game, combined with Nebraska’s rather ignominious appearance in its own conference title matchup against Wisconsin, that line seems fair. But I wonder if this doesn’t undervalue Nebraska’s chances. Georgia is a fantastic team, but they are certainly not invincible; and while Nebraska’s 70-31 loss to Wisconsin looms large, it’s unclear how directly applicable that game is to other contests.

The Nebraska defense that gave up 640 yards of offense, including over 500 yards on the ground, won’t be facing the multi-formation, multi-pronged attack the Badgers unveiled in that game; that attack wasn’t even something the Badgers themselves had shown all season long, particularly in Wisconsin’s loss to Nebraska earlier this season. Georgia’s attack, although certainly lethal, is more traditional; more like the kinds of offenses Huskers head coach Bo Pelini has had success with.

This is not to say that Nebraska will shut down Georgia’s offense — not by any stretch at all — but I simply don’t expect Georgia’s offense to score a touchdown nearly every time they get the ball, as was the case against Wisconsin. Instead it’ll be a hard fought matchup, which puts the onus back on the other side of the ball: Nebraska’s offense versus Georgia’s defense.

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Long live the Air Raid! The Air Raid is Dead?

The Air Raid offense — the pass-first attack developed by Hal Mumme and Mike Leach from the old BYU offense — is seemingly everywhere. In the last couple of weeks, Cal hired former Leach and Mumme assistant Sonny Dykes as well as his offensive coordinator, the mercurial Tony Franklin; Southern Miss hired Oklahoma State’s nouveau guru Todd Monken, after he impressively orchestrated the Cowboys attack over the last two seasons, both with a future first round quarterback and while rotating three different quarterbacks; Mark Stoops is bringing prodigal son Neal Brown back to Kentucky to run the Wildcats’ offense; and Kliff Kingsbury, fresh off his tutelage of Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, returns to his old stomping grounds at Texas Tech to become one of the youngest head coaches in college football history. These new hires, together with existing Air Raid programs, brings my count to ten different college football teams that will all be using some variant of the Air Raid in the fall of 2013.

“OK, loser has to chug a six pack of Red Bull.” “No, the winner does that.”

And when you throw in teams that I consider part of the extended Air Raid family, like Oklahoma, UCLA, and Indiana — offenses heavily Air Raid influenced even if they don’t quite fit the definition — you have thirteen different schools whose offenses are direct descendants of the ideas Mumme and Leach developed at places like Copperas Cove high school, Iowa Wesleyan, and Valdosta State. And last season, nine of the top twenty offenses in the country were among this group — and we’ve only added more Air Raid schools to the mix. As someone who has had his hand in this offense in one way or another for roughly fifteen years, the feeling is not quite vindication; it’s more like contentedness: yes, this is where it all was undoubtedly headed all along, the questions were only how and when.

But there’s another element, maybe less of a feeling so much as it is a realization: This may be as good as it gets. The larger trends are going to continue independent of this offense, contra the wishes of Nick Saban (and, admittedly, maybe every defensive coach in the country): for the foreseeable future at least, the game will continue to get faster and more wide open at basically every level, and athletic directors will continue to hire hotshot offensive coaches who promise yards and points to draw crowds and eyeballs for TV, something increasingly important as schools crane their necks to be noticed in an era of conference realignment. This factors are not unique to the Air Raid, and other attacks, primarily Chip Kelly’s at Oregon, are arguably more famous.

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Oklahoma’s Fake-Screen-and-Post and Other “Pop” Screen Passes

Oklahoma didn’t have a great showing versus Notre Dame, but they did show one cool play: a fake screen and downfield pass, complete with pulling lineman in the fourth quarter, which directly led to an Oklahoma score that tied the game up at 13-13 (after which the wheels promptly fell off for OU).

On the play, Oklahoma lined up in a four wide set, and sent the runningback in motion to the left, to draw attention from the defense. You can see Manti T’eo heading that way just after the snap. The outside receiver to the right runs his screen path: two steps up, retrace your steps down the stem and back to the quarterback. Meanwhile the right guard also does his screen action: pass set and then release flat down the line of scrimmage. The rest of the linemen, however, pass protect (Notre Dame did not show a blitz, and if they did it would have made some sense for OU to check out of the play), and the other three receivers release downfield.

The outside receiver to the screen side, Jalen Saunders, releases outside as if he is blocking the screen, then runs straight downfield. Once he hits a depth of 8-12 yards he can adjust his route. If the defense is totally faked out with no safety in the picture, he’d just continue down the seam. As it was, the safety was still over the top, so he flattened his route into more of a post or dig, and caught the ball behind the fooled linebackers for a big catch and run. (Go to 1:44:10 if it doesn’t load there automatically.)

This is not the first time I’ve seen this specific play, nor this breed of fake-screen combined with a downfield route. I saw Houston, under Kevin Sumlin back in 2009, run this exact play. In that play, the defense was so fooled the receiver simply kept his route vertical for a touchdown, whereas Saunders flattened it under the safety in this example.

screen

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Cincinnati’s Post-Handoff Jump Pass

While Tim Tebow may have been the guy who made famous the so-called “jump pass”: where a run-threat player runs towards the line on a run-action before raising up and tossing the ball to a (hopefully) wide open receiver. It’s an extreme form of a play-action “pop” pass over the middle, and with guys like Tebow in charge it had a single-wing twist.

And so the play has existed, largely as a novelty, for the past few years. Until this past weekend. Cincinnati ran the coolest spin on the jump pass that I’ve seen: they lined up in a tight I-formation, handed the ball to the deep I-back, who then threw the jump pass. And watch the tight-end: he kicks out the end man on the line of scrimmage before releasing — no, free releasing — to the middle of the field where he was wide open.

And watch the right guard, as Cincinnati really sells the play-action by pulling a lineman to fake the “Power-O” play.

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New Grantland: Post/Wheel and the Latest Wrinkles in Holgorsen’s West Virginia Offense

It’s now up:

It worked. The receiver outside of Austin, J.D. Woods, ran a post while Austin ran a wheel up the sideline. The post-wheel route combination is one of the oldest in football, but it has increasingly become one of Geno Smith’s favorites. A big reason is that the routes aren’t static; although one receiver runs a post and another a wheel, each receiver has freedom to adjust his route by curling in between zone defenders or changing the angle of the post route. In this way, Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense has taken on shades of the old run-and-shoot, a pass-first attack known for receivers’ adjusting their routes and whose influence is still felt in the NFL. On this play against Maryland, no adjustments are necessary. The defense is confused by the post and fake touch pass and leaves Austin wide open in the end zone.

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: Matt Barkley’s Favorite Play — the West Coast Offense Classic, “Sluggo Seam”

My breakdown of west coast offense staple — and Matt Barkley’s favorite play — is now up over at Grantland:

To understand Barkley’s answer, it’s necessary to understand USC’s offense. When Pete Carroll took the head-coaching job at USC, he hired longtime BYU assistant coach Norm Chow as his offensive coordinator. Carroll wanted the vaunted passing offense the Cougars had used for decades to topple superior foes and develop future NFL quarterbacks like Jim McMahon and Steve Young. To go along with that philosophy, Carroll also wanted to incorporate some of the latest NFL schemes, and his two young offensive assistants — former BYU quarterback Steve Sarkisian and a young Lane Kiffin — were assigned the job of bringing those ideas to USC.

Kiffin in particular relished this task, spending long hours in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers film room with Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. Gruden was a student of the West Coast offense, the pass-first, timing-based offense designed by former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh. Kiffin absorbed everything he could about Gruden’s brand of the West Coast offense, and quickly USC’s coaches began meshing some of the latest NFL concepts with the core of their offense.

Read the whole thing.

Of course, “Sluggo Seam” is not a secret play unique to Southern Cal. It’s got a long history, but maybe the best Sluggo-Seam-stopper of all time might be the guy who orchestrates the USC’s defense.

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Advanced Trends in Packaged Reads and Concepts

This article is by Patrick McCarthy. You can follow him on twitter at @patdmccarthy. Any and all questions are encouraged. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, he played and coached in France and Sweden while also coaching at St. Thomas Aquinas HS (KS) and Neenah HS (WI). Since then he has coached at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Southwest Minnesota State University, Culver-Stockton College and most recently as the Head Coach of the Kuwait Gridiron Football National Team.

Decisions, decisions

This spring I had the opportunity to visit the practices of several college programs in the Midwest. My primary focus was on the offensive side of the ball, and a recurring theme with all teams (and has been noted before) was the proliferation of read run plays and how they are packaged with other concepts, whether run or pass. Many of the following plays are in a similar vein as attaching a run play toStick’. The majority of teams also pair these concepts with an up-tempo no huddle while giving their quarterback the freedom to take any of the options or check into another play. Multiplicity within one play call through packaged concepts and the willingness for Coordinators to let the players on the field determine what the defense is giving them for the taking appears to be the direction that offenses are taking in the foreseeable future. Another interesting trend was that an increasing amount of teams are incorporating gun run concepts into non-traditional spread personnel groups (21/12 personnel groups) and out of the Pistol backset.

Many of the advancements of the sport in the last 10-15 years have been based off of the zone read, subsequent adjustments — reading the defensive tackle, or the linebacker (which I will call Key for clarification for the duration of the article) — and the defense’s response in the ever evolving battle of “who-has-the-chalk-last-wins.”

Below are some wrinkles off of the Read/Key concept packaged with other schemes that I encountered this spring.

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