Kelly’s staff in Philadelphia further supports this view. Kelly said he wanted offensive and defensive coordinators with NFL coordinator experience, and in Pat Shurmur and Billy Davis, that’s what he got. Throughout this offseason, Kelly has made clear that he wants the Eagles to be something of a laboratory for football ideas, whether it be X’s and O’s or the science of peak athletic performance.
But this line of thinking still has to be tempered with a bit of realism. Kelly is clearly bright, committed, and open-minded, but the idea that he can step into the NFL and runany offense — spread, pro-style, West Coast, Coryell, Wing-T — seems implausible. He shredded college football running a very specific attack based on very specific principles, and the mathematical advantage he gained from having his quarterback be at least some kind of a threat to run was a central tenet. He might be able to adapt his offense to his players and coaches, but this is not the same thing as continuing and growing what worked at Oregon.
It’s no secret that I enjoy reading the thoughts of the great Homer Smith on football, and I came across a great old clinic article from Smith on a “new” approach to the triple option from 1970. In the article, Smith argues for adapting the triple option from the old “T-formation” with three backs to more modern splitbacks (pro) and I-formation sets by combining a few different option plays. In many ways it presaged the “pro-option” attack of Tom Osborne’s Nebraska teams from the 1980s and 1990s.
Check out the article here. It contains lots of good nuggets, but I found the following few passages particularly interesting, especially in light of the changes in football with a resurgence of option principles within a new bunch of modern sets — the shotgun, the pistol, and other spread (and not so spread) formations.
Surely the best of all T-formation running weapons is the option, where the quarterback keeps the ball or pitches it. Better than any other running play it can make the game a two-on-two or a three-on-three proposition, and the fewer the players involved in a given area the easier it is for the football to move.
One of my favorite recent evolutions in offenses has come from the rise of “combined” or “packaged” concepts, which might combine both a run and a quick pass play or a quick shovel screen and a quick pass into the same play. Part of the motivation behind such concepts is that they are simply good ones: You can take things you are already good at, combine them, and make the defense wrong every time while executing simple ideas. But the other reason is that in the age of the no-huddle, they avoid the need for complex pre-snap audibles or convoluted calls in the huddle of multiple plays. With these “packaged concepts” you get both the quick call-it-and-go of a fast paced no-huddle without sacrificing the quarterback’s key role in putting the offense in position to succeed.
One of the most intriguing new concepts that I’ve been told teams have run this past season — if you have any film, please feel free to send it — is to combine the “shovel option” play that Urban Meyer made famous at Florida with a true sprint-out or roll-out pass concept. The “shovel option” or “crazy option” is a great play in and of itself: The line blocks the “power” concept, pulling the backside guard, while leaving the defensive end unblocked so the quarterback can option off of him. Typically, the defensive end cannot help himself but attack upfield for the quarterback, allowing the quarterback to shovel pass it upfield to the runningback who has slipped underneath and who has a lead blocker. Below is a clip of Tim Tebow tosses the shovel option to current Patriots stand-out Aaron Hernandez.
It’s a great play — and it certainly pre-dates Meyer, as I’ve even seen clips of Alabama coach Bear Bryant running the play back in 1976 — but teams have gotten better at defending it recently. And the defensive ends that have gotten better at defending it are able to squeeze and take away the shovel pass and to force the quarterback to extend the play to the outside. Sometimes, teams run the play as a true triple option, combining the inside shovel with a speed option to the outside. But the timing on this never seems to work out well, as the speed option isn’t particularly well complemented by the slower developing shovel to the inside. And even if it is a good play, it becomes significantly more expensive to convert it from a cheap way to run the shovel and not have to block some stud defensive end and to instead turn it into a true triple option. There must be some other way to run this.
1 There’s a new book out there that I highlight recommend:Coaching the Under Front Defense, by Jerry Gordon. It’s a very nuts and bolts approach to the “under front,” a very common shifted variant of the traditional 4-3 defense, which is the defense of choice for teams and coaches as diverse as Charlie Strong (Florida, now Louisville) and Pete Carroll (USC, now Seattle Seahawks). I hope to have Jerry contribute to the site soon.
2. Haiti. EDSBS collects links on how and where to donate for Haiti. Please do.
3. American Needle round-up. In addition to my post from yesterday, there has been some other great work on yesterday’s oral arguments. The consensus with all seems to be: The NFL won’t get what it wants, though it may ultimately win the case on narrower grounds. From the NFL’s perspective, it was kind of like going deep on second and short: could have been a big play, but as it stands they’ll probably get the first down. If you read one thing, I highly recommend Josh Levin and Dahlia Lithwick’s piece on Slate, where they note how little the Justices seem to know (or care) about football. Both Justices Breyer and Sotomayor disclaim knowledge of football, and Breyer keeps turning the hypotheticals into ones about baseball. Justice Alito, who is a huge baseball fan, doesn’t seem too interested either. (The Court’s biggest football fan, Justice Thomas, is more of a college football fan — his favorite team is the Nebraska Cornhuskers — and in any event he rarely if ever asks questions at oral argument.) Other good takes on the case from: Adam Liptak (NY Times), David Savage (L.A. Times), Jess Bravin (WSJ), and Ashby Jones (WSJ Law Blog).
Fits and starts. Georgia Tech’s offense is, by most statistical measures, beating its marks from last season. In ’08 the Jackets averaged roughly 370 yards of offense, while this year they are second in the ACC with over 400 total yards per game. Scoring is up by over six points a game too, up from 24 to roughly 30. But the perception is that Paul Johnson’s vaunted flexbone offense is not doing so hot. Indeed, the perception vs. reality debate centers on Jonathan Dwyer, who, if you ask most fans (or see the emails I get), is having a disappointing year despite being third in the ACC in rushing yards per game.
There’s definitely some truth to the idea that Johnson’s offense has not been crisp. Exhibit A were the nationally televised games against Miami, where the Jackets fell behind and could not get the offense going, and Clemson, where a strong first quarter and gutsy fourth bracketed two quarters of very little production. And Dwyer’s 400+ yards rushing this year are muddied by his 66 yards against Clemson and seven against Miami. So what is the prognosis?
I talked to a few flexbone experts and the thoughts were these. The first let’s just get out of the way: Johnson is still using Chan Gailey’s players, and doesn’t yet have its own. I don’t want to harp on this but I am sure there is at least some truth to it. The line in particular was disappointing against Clemson and Miami, and Johnson will ultimately be judged when he gets a full roster there. But that doesn’t much help us in the here and now.
Second, and most interesting, is that there is sentiment that Johnson doesn’t totally trust his quarterback and is predetermining more reads than we might think. I don’t think that is as surprising as it sounds. Johnson said in clinic talks over the summer that he predetermined a lot of the reads last year, and there is some precedent for this: Tom Osborne said in the Nebraska heyday up to 70-80% of the reads in a given game might be predetermined by the call. I’m an option purist, and moreover from a viewing perspective I can’t always tell if a play was a bad read or a predetermined one. But that would help explain some of the stunted dives to Dwyer that have not seemed to go anywhere at times this year. (But don’t ask Mississippi State or North Carolina.)
Finally, there have been some changes in defensive tactics. Most notably almost everyone is playing Georgia Tech with a nose-guard to help stop the midline option and to either stop Dwyer up the middle or at least muddy that read. Miami in particularly played their base defense but simply moved one defensive tackle over to nose guard. This isn’t an end-all be-all scheme, as it has opened up some outside lanes and various counter plays, but GT has not always executed those plays well. Rewatching the Clemson and Miami games in particular one is struck by the fact that there are big plays to the outside to be had, but the Jackets just keep missing key blocks. Now credit both Clemson and Miami for fending off the myriad chop cut blocks and making tackles, but if Johnson wants to continue having success they will have to make teams pay for crowding the middle, and the passing game can only go so far.
The demise of Johnson’s scheme has been premature, though, like any other squad, it comes down to execution and GT will have to prove that its success will continue. The Jackets face a reeling Florida State squad this weekend, followed by a streaking Virginia Tech team. We’ll learn a lot about PJ’s boys in the next two weeks.
Paul Johnson bonus. Below are highlights from the 1992 Holiday Bowl, where Hawai’i, with Johnson as offensive coordinator, defeated Illinois.
With the 2013 Super Bowl right around the corner be sure to grab your tickets. With a huge seating selection, luxury suites and party tickets, SB-Tickets.com is the premier online Super Bowl Ticket seller.