That’s what I call a shootout

Back in 1990 — before the spread offense had been invented, so we’re told — Houston beat TCU 56-35 in one of the greatest aerial duels of all time. TCU’s quarterback, Matt Vogler, threw for 690 yards and five touchdowns on 44 of 79 passes. Houston’s David Klingler countered with 563 yards and seven touchdowns on 36 of 53 passing (with four interceptions). Of course, Klingler was running John Jenkins’s brand of the run and shoot. Below are the scoring drives from the first half (hat tip to Football Mastery for the vids):

See below the jump for the second half clips:
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Montana Magic

Stumbled across these great videos of Joe Montana, grand executor of Bill Walsh’s precision offense. There are many great things to notice from these clips, but in particularly focus on Montana’s footwork. This is one area where quarterbacks as a whole have regressed.


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Houston and the “stick” passing concept

“Stick” or “y-stick” is one of the most recent passing concepts to have gone totally viral such that basically every passing team uses it — it’s only about twenty to twenty-five years old. Everyone has their spin on the play, but basically it is a quick, three-step route play, where the offense puts the flat defender in a bind by sending one receiver to the flat while another hooks up or “sticks it” at five to six yards. Below is a good video showing the concept and showing an example of the Houston Cougars running it.

Note that it looks like Tulane is in man coverage, though it is the defensive end who drops off to cover the running back. In any event, stick also serves as a very good zone beater, as well being a great, quick zone play.

Good example of four verticals

This is a bit old but it is a good example of the four verticals play: Against the Baltimore Ravens, Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals hit Andre Caldwell on the play. Baltimore was in two-deep man coverage, where they had two deep safeties and the other players were in man coverage. Indeed, four verticals is not really a great play against this coverage, but Caldwell, whose job it was to “bend” inside the split safeties, beat his man and was therefore open. If you don’t remember the play, it was a game winner.

four verts

The “smash” route against man coverage

I have previously discussed the smash concept, where an outside receiver runs a short flat or “hitch” route while an inside receiver breaks to the corner. The play works well against cover two zones in particular because it puts the cornerback in a bind: if he plays the man in front of him he opens up a big are for the quarterback to throw the corner route behind him.

smash

One reason this play is useful, however, is because it does more than attack this zone aspect. Again man-to-man coverage the corner route is a very good option — so long as the throw is precise and the route is good. One reason for this is because many defenses who play man coverage use inside leverage to take away the quick slant passes that can gash them for big plays and are easy throws.

Cover 1 RobberMoreover, many man defenses use a deep free-safety or an inside “floater” or “robber” player whose job is simply to read the quarterback’s eyes. The advantage of the corner route is that the throw is away from all these inside defenders who can gum up a normal “who has beaten his man” read.

Finally, the fact that it is the inside receiver rather than the outside one who runs the corner route can get the offense some favorable matchups: Most defenses put their cornerbacks in man coverage on the outside receivers; the inside receivers are thus often guarded by safeties or linebackers or substitute “nickel back” players.

All of these advantages were on display in Penn State’s game against Michigan, as the Nittany Lions scored on the same smash concept from the same formation against the same coverage (indeed, same receiver) twice. Below is a diagram of their play, followed by video, courtesy of mgoblog.

1SMASHGIF

Below is the video:

The slant concept: Iowa’s game winner

Iowa, a team that seems to thrive on dramatic finishes, pulled off one of the biggest of Kirk Ferentz’s tenure last weekend against Michigan State, as Ricky Stanzi threw a touchdown pass as time expired for the Hawkeye victory. The play itself was as simple as it gets: The old slant/shoot combination, which dates back at least as far back as Paul Brown’s teams. Bill Walsh of course made it even more famous, as his receivers frequently caught slant passes and took them for long touchdowns.

As you can see, it worked very well, as Michigan State played man coverage and went with an all-out blitz. Stanzi was able to deliver the ball before Michigan State’s unblocked defender (who came from Stanzi’s right) could get there. The slant’s quickness is one of its advantages.

In the play, Stanzi went to his single receiver — i.e. his split end — who had single, man coverage. But on the other side Iowa ran the same slant concept except with three receivers: The outermost guy ran a slant, the inside slot ran a slant as well, and the H-back, the innermost receiver, ran to the flat.

iowaslant

This leads to the other aspect of the play, the wrinkle that helped it succeed: The motion by the H-back/tight-end before the snap. He began on the left side of the formation and motioned across. Why was this relevant? Watch the clip above again. What did Michigan State do? A single defender followed the H-back across — a clear indicator that the defense was in man coverage. Knowing this, Stanzi knew that his backside receiver was one-on-one, and he went to him.

But what if they hadn’t reacted this way? Had Michigan State, rather than having a man follow the H-back instead “bumped across” so that a defender on the offense’s left merely repositioned slightly to account for the new receiver, this would have indicated that the play was zone. And unless the zone was very unbalanced to the single receiver, Stanzi would have no doubt looked to the three receiver side as a kind of flood for the zone. His read would have been the flat defender: if he widened for the tight-end in the flat, the slant should be open; if he hangs back then the tight-end ought to be open in the flat.

So Iowa won the game using one of the most basic plays in football, but they didn’t do it without a bit of knowledge about what they were getting into. Now, it bears noting that modern defenses can disguise their man or zone reactions to motion, but it remains a useful tool. It certainly was that for Iowa.

(H/t Brophy for the video.)

How Florida’s offense might evolve with John Brantley

My analysis is available over at Dr Saturday. It includes an in-depth look at the “levels” concept against a couple of pass coverage, and hypothesizes how Florida might use a true pocket passer instead of the multi-talented Tim Tebow.

Throwing a football while staring down a blitz

Very good quarterbacking video from Dub Maddox of Jenks, OK, HS, and who helps run Darin Slack’s quarterback camps.

Understanding coverages and attacking them with passing game

There are many qualities that a quarterback must possess. However, the most obvious is the QB’s ability to throw the football. Throwing the football requires a tremendous amount of coordination and teamwork for proper execution. The QB can make up for some deficiencies with proper reads. Whether it is the Pre-Snap Read, Reading on the Move, or Adjustments in routes, the QB’s recognition, anticipation and reaction are based upon his knowledge of the offense as it relates to what he sees.

Pre-snap read
The QB must make a “Pre-Snap Read” confirming the defensive secondary’s alignment. The PSR provides the QB with help in making the proper throwing decision; i.e., allows the QB to establish his thought process prior to the snap. There will be many times when the QB can determine what the coverage is before the snap. About eighty percent (80%) of the time the coverage will be given away by someone’s alignment in the secondary, typically the second defender inside. Even when the total coverage is not given away, through observation of particular alignments, you will be able to eliminate some coverages or narrow to a “Hard Focus” area. The QB must approach the LOS the same way every play and get his hands under the center. The PSR process includes a “Soft Gaze” left, middle and right. The purpose is to identify (1) the depth of the corners, (2) number of safeties, (3) weakside flat defender, and (4) the number of run defenders (“front”):

  • Find the Free Safety (“FS”) and Strong Safety (“SS”) to determine the type of front – seven-man or eight-man. If the safeties adjust to motion, be aware of a possible blitz.
  • Find the weakside linebacker (Whip (“W”)). This is a crucial read to recognize an outside blitz. It is the QB’s responsibility to adjust the protection to handle the outside blitz or allow the receivers to read “HOT.”

The PSR is only the first step in the throwing decision. The QB must identify the primary defender (the “Key”) to read (“Hard Focus”) and determine where to throw the ball. The Key is determined by the pattern and the related PSR. The ball is thrown based upon what the Key does within the QB’s line of sight. For example, on a strong side route the PSR must identify the SS. Upon the snap the strong safety can either man-up, cover the flat, cover deep third (1/3) or cover deep quarter (¼), and it is the SS’s action that allows the QB to decide where to throw the ball. Depending upon the route, the SS’s action might change the key (Reading on the Move [“ROM”]) to the Corner (“C”) or FS. The QB will make their throwing decision based upon what happens in his Hard Focus area and the related routes within the “line of sight”; i.e., does the Key rotate, invert or play man. When the QB keys defenders, not receivers, there are fewer throws into coverage.

Basic Coverages

A brief summary of coverages, including strengths, weakness, and how to attack them follows. The summaries include a place (“Patterns”) for the coach and QB to write in their specific routes to attack the coverages. These are the basic coverages: Invert (“sky”); Rotate (“cloud”); Two Deep, Man Under Two; Man with a Free; Man – Zero; Quarter, Quarter, Half; Zone Blitz; Robber; and Prevent.

Three Deep – Invert (“Sky”)

cover3
The PSR is based on the alignment of SS and C on the strong side. Teams will typically define the TE as the strong side, however a scouting report will provide this information. If the SS is aligned with less depth than the C, the read is an invert by the SS; i.e., the SS is covering the flat, if a receiver is in the flat. Confirm 3D coverage by the alignment of the FS. If the FS is off the hash and favoring the middle, assume that it will be a 3D. Also the QB must be aware of the weak side, if the Weakside Linebacker (“W”) is in a stack (lined-up behind a defensive lineman or end) or walk (off the LOS outside the end) position, it denotes a soft corner, with W responsible for the weak flat. If the end (“E”) is up on the LOS or in a three (3) point stance, assume he will rush. If you are throwing to the strong side upon the snap you can determine whether E is coming or has curl or flat.

- Strengths

  1. Safe – always three deep
  2. strong side force against the run
  3. SS can get under an out and may be able to get under a stop or flat depending upon the wide receiver splits
  4. can cover eight zones with a three man rush
  5. can still bring four with strong side contain and have seven in coverage

- Weaknesses

  1. Versus eight in coverage the defense can only rush three with five or more to block them
  2. four defenders underneath to cover the six zones – large curl and horizontal seams
  3. no leverage on wide receivers; i.e., cannot bump or push inside
  4. possibly late to cover stop and flat, both weak and strong
  5. cannot cover a strong side flood route (three or four receivers in the pattern) without E, then it is a three man rush
  6. weak flat
  7. weakside force

- How to attack it:

  1. Stretch vertically and horizontally
  2. plenty of pass protection
  3. throw in the alley created by sending three on two in the perimeter (“flood type” routes)
  4. weakside curl & flat
  5. sprint away from SS

Three Deep – Rotate (“Cloud”)
The goal of this coverage is to take away the short passing game or protect against the wide side of the field when the offensive formation is strong into the boundary (short side). The PSR is based on the alignment of the SS and the C. The SS must be deeper than normal in order to cover the deep middle or deep outside (is aligned deeper than the adjacent C), the read is a rotate by SS; i.e., SS is covering the deep middle or outside. Also, in this coverage the C to the side of the rotation will be tight (up close) on the wide receiver as they have the flat. The secondary can disguise this by having both Cs up and on the snap the away (from the rotation) C back peddles to deep third [1/3] quickly (“bails”). However, we can determine the side of the rotation by the position of the Outside Linebacker (“OLB”). The OLB, whether W or S away from the rotation must be stacked or walked off as they have flat away from the rotation. You can confirm the 3D by the alignment of the FS. If the FS is off the hash and favoring the middle, assume 3D.

- Strengths

  1. Safe – always three deep
  2. force (to the rotation) against the run
  3. leverage by the C (shut down weak flat or out)
  4. can cover eight zones with a three man rush
  5. can still bring four with force and contain to the rotation, and have seven (7) in coverage
  6. easy to disguise (more…)

The Patriots’ comeback play and Belichick on passing

bradyLast night saw the return of Tom Brady, and, in a wild finish, he led the Pats to a waning-minutes 25-24 victory. There were several remarkable aspects of the game, but the most interesting to me was that Belichick obviously made a choice to put the game in the hands of his great — but returning — quarterback. I discussed the nuances of the Pats’ passing game last week, but Brady’s two touchdowns last night were remarkable in that it was the exact same play against the same defensive scheme and the ball was thrown to the same receiver.

The play was a variant of “smash” to one side, with the tight-end, Ben Watson, running a post route. I don’t have all the possible reads and route adjustments available, but the Pats ran the play the same way both times. To the two receiver side the Pats ran the smash concept, with the inside receiver on a corner and the outside on a quick hitch. To the other side the outside receiver, Randy Moss, ran a type of under route, presumably to settle in a hole against zone or run away from man coverage. The runningback just ran the flat — Brady always had this option against man coverage to hit Kevin Faulk if he could outrun the linebacker.

Patriots-gamewinner

The tight-end of course ran a post route. His job was to jab like he was going to the corner (and I believe the Pats have run a variant where he ran a corner route), and then break for the post inside the near safety. The corner route on the other side runs away from the safety to his side. Brady’s job is to read the safeties first and if the corner or post doesn’t come open, work to the underneath guys. Both times last night, he didn’t get that far into his progression. The first time Watson was simply wide-open. On the second touchdown, the linebacker did a better job getting down the deep middle in a “Tampa Two” defense (Tampa two is simply cover two where a linebacker tries to get deep down the middle). But the pass was good and the catch even better, and the rest is history.

Here is a link to video of the Pats’ final two minutes, though it is low quality. Here is a link to Brady’s passing highlights from NFL.com; if you watch this you can see how often the Patriots ran the above play, though they often hit other receivers besides Watson, before hitting the game winners.

Relatedly, one of the ongoing questions was how the Pats’ offense would be after Josh McDaniels left. Brady recently told ESPN.com, “As long as we have Belichick, I always think that we’re going to be just fine.” Coach Bill knows offense, and is heavily involves. This gets to the other point that I enjoyed about last night: with Brady back, Belichick did not pull any punches, as, partly because the Pats got behind in the game, Brady threw it 53 times and set his own career record for completions with 39. Indeed, Belichick knows for Brady it is about getting reps to get the rust off. A lot of coaches take their rookie quarterbacks or a guy returning from injury and want to “ease them in.” Besides ignoring the fact that it is repetitions that make you better — you learn and improve by doing — the conservative playcalling often forces the passer into a lot of third and longs anyway.

But Belichick, never afraid of set his own path, knows that his team will rise and fall with Brady and he was going to let his guy throw it. Early on Brady was rusty, but that rust clearly began to wear off. It reminded me of Joe Tiller’s famous quotation when he first got to the Big 10 and caused waves by throwing it around sixty, or even eighty (!) times (against Wisconsin): “We’re going to throw it ’til we got hot, and then we’re going to keep throwin’ it.” It’s how you get better.

Finally, I wanted to highlight a great quote from Belichick about the passing game, passed along by Coach Mountjoy.

What the passing comes down to is the timing and execution. That’s true of every team in this league. It doesn’t matter what level you throw the ball at. It’s a combination of the throwing and the catching of the skill players and the protection of the blockers, which includes backs and tight ends. If a team pressures, they are involved in the protection, too. What you want to do is protect the quarterback. Whether you’re throwing three-step drop or seven-step drop or whatever the pattern is, protect him long enough so he can drop back and get set and throw the ball on time. The receivers need to get open and come open on time when the quarterback is ready to throw. Not a second before he’s ready, not a second after he’s ready. That’s just not the way to do it. You might get away with one here or there, but that’s not the way to do it. So all of that needs to be synchronized and if it is, then you have a well executed passing game. If it isn’t, then something’s going to go wrong. We are all part of that. Sometimes the receiver is open and the quarterback can’t throw. Sometimes the quarterback can throw and the protection is good and the receiver is not able to get open on the route, or the distribution of the receivers is wrong and then the quarterback doesn’t have a clear throwing lane. Sometimes the guy drops the ball. Sometimes the quarterback makes a bad throw. Sometimes it gets tipped. There’s a lot of things that could happen in the passing game.

If you throw the ball well, you’re completing in the mid-60s, the high 60 percents. Not 90 percent, that’s a good passing game. You’re completing 68, 67 percent of your passes, that’s good. If you’re the best passing team in football, you’re probably going to miss one out of three. The difference between hitting one or two more per game is the difference between having an okay passing game and having a good passing game.