Breaking down the New England Patriots’ pro-spread pass game

You can find it over at the NY Times Fifth Down blog. I discuss three concepts — levels, the drive/shallow, and pivot concepts (y-stick type routes, or a pivot route with a square-in behind it) — and how the Pats use Wes Welker to make it all go and open things up for the other receivers, especially Randy Moss. Read the full thing here.

Carving up the Sooners: Y-sail with an “angle” tag

maxhall1A result as surprising and significant as BYU’s 14-13 upset of the Oklahoma Sooners does not come without storylines: Sam Bradford was knocked out of the game and all-star tight-end Jermaine Gresham did not play, and OU could only manage 13 points; BYU’s defense forced a field goal through a goal-line stand; and BYU overcame four turnovers (to only two by OU) to win the game in the waning minutes. All these were critical, but it is also clear that BYU could not have won the game without the efficient and calm (if not always smooth) performance from quarterback Max Hall, who threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns on 26 for 38 passing.

The performance was notable for the precise way Hall moved the Cougars up and down the field. If not for the turnovers (particularly the fumble before the half near the goal line), BYU could have potentially iced the game sooner. And, other than the two interceptions (both of which were not great), Hall did a wonderful job standing in against OU’s pressure-based defense and finding his open receivers. Other than a couple of plays, it was a game of steady completions, not long gains.

What is old is new. When Bronco Mendenhall took the job in Provo, he hired Robert Anae to coordinate his offense. Anae had up until then been the offensive line and running game coach for Mike Leach at Texas Tech, and he brought with him a modified version of Leach’s vaunted Airraid.  This was something of an homage to BYU years gone by, as the Airraid offense itself is a modified version of the offense LaVell Edwards and Norm Chow had run in Provo for years. Anae, who played for Edwards and Chow, has kept many of the concepts that make the offense go while dressing it up with more traditional sets — and a more traditional run game.

Good offense, better jacket.

Good offense, better jacket.

This experience with Leach also gave Anae some experience coaching against Bob Stoops’s OU defense, which is quite deadly and can swarm an unprepared team. Indeed, Stoops is willing to go completely unsound in his zone-blitzes; in the National Championship game against Florida, one of Tebow’s interceptions came on a play where the Sooners blitzed six guys and played an inadequate zone coverage. While there are holes in the zone, Stoops figures that it is not easy for the quarterback to identify these while multiple defenders are breathing down his neck — the chalkboard is one thing but the game is another. Thus the onus would be on Hall — and BYU’s line and runningbacks — to protect long enough to find the open receivers.

One concept common to both Leach and Anae’s offenses is called “Y-sail.” The basic idea is to run one man vertical, another on a 10-15 yard out, and another in the flat, to “high-low” read the defense. Check the link here from Trojan Football Analysis with a diagram and video from TTech.

Adjusting to win. But the value of all plays comes in their adjustments, and the most common adjustment for the Y-sail play is to tag the play with an “angle.” With this adjustment the receiver who normally goes to the flat begins like he is doing just that, but then he reverses field and “angles” back inside on a slant-type route. The reason this works is that the “sail” or “out route” typically pulls a defender upfield; the “angle” receiver runs right underneath him.


Scheme sizzler: FSU and Jimbo Fisher’s bootleg with receiver motion

ponderingThe Hurricanes edged out the Seminoles 38-34 in last night’s wonderful, if unexpected, coming out party for Jacory Harris and Christian Ponder. Mark Whipple, Miami’s new offensive coordinator, is — for the moment, at least — the new offensive genius in the state of Florida, and I will definitely cover his Jacory-led-West-Coast-offense-meets-the-Greatest-Show-On Turf-Attack in the near future. (I could swear that he had a section of his callsheet called “Instant thirty-yard gain off a play-action pass — for First Down use only.”) But Jimbo Fisher, FSU’s offensive coordinator, called a pretty nice game himself, and until the final drive Miami’s defense showed little ability to stop FSU quarterback Christian Ponder, who had just shy of 300 yards passing. Fisher gashed Miami’s defense several times with a bevy of plays, including a could wonderful, if not unlikely, quarterback draws with a lead back and a pulling guard.

The best call of the night was maybe Christian Ponder’s twenty-one yard bootleg pass to Taiwan Easterling that extended the Seminoles’ lead and set the score at 23-14. The play itself was simple, but Fisher had set it up previously: The ‘Noles aligned in a basic “trey” set (tight-end and two receivers to the same side; single runningback; single receiver backside) and motioned the slot receiver into the formation. The first time or two Fisher just called a simple inside zone play to the tight-end side. But down the stretch he called the counter, diagrammed below:


The video below shows the true flavor. Again, the ‘Noles had run the play already, so the defense was ready to jump all over the run play to the frontside. And, further, the man (apparently?) responsible for Easterling, Miami’s #24 Chavez Grant, plays the motion slow and doesn’t follow Easterling full speed. Thus when the linebackers all crash down for the run play — and Ponder makes a nice play to deliver the ball — no one is anywhere near Easterling. See the video below; the bootleg is the second play in the clip. (The first play just appeared to be defeating man coverage; I could not see what any safeties were doing.)

Of course, as good as Fisher’s calls were he wasn’t able to guide his offense into the end zone at the end, and Miami walked away with a victory in one of the best (read: most entertaining) games I’ve seen at least since last year’s Texas Tech-Texas masterpiece. In terms of predictions for both teams, I can only add a few words: If the offenses can keep it up, the difference between BCS game and mid-level bowl will hinge on the defenses; that upcoming Oklahoma-Miami game has taken on a far different complexion than it had just a week ago; and this game may just be a prelude to an eventual Canes-Noles ACC Championship game.

Quick notes 9/5/09

Quick thoughts on some of today’s games, some still in progress. As of 5:45 pm EST.

  • Next week – Notre Dame vs. Michigan – This match-up now looks a whole lot more interesting. For ND, their ability to shut down Nevada’s spread bodes well for the defense this year. For Michigan, their offensive outburst bodes well generally. The Wolverines sudden efficiency and explosiveness is fueled by improved quarterback play and line play — the bulwarks of any good offense (or banes of any bad offense).
  • Oklahoma State can’t quite score at will on Georgia, but their defense  does seem improved under new DC Bill Young. Either that, or Georgia can’t replace Moreno and Stafford as easily as we may have thought.
  • Purdue scored 52 points and rushed for over 300 yards en route to beating Toledo (Pat Forde picked this game as an upset special of the week). That makes their matchup with a wounded Oregon team something to watch. Will the Ducks take their aggression out on the new-look Boilermakers? Or will they roll over?
  • Navy’s ability to run their O against Ohio State indicates bad things for OSU against USC. It also is bad news for the rest of the country that has to play Georgia Tech. What do you think the ratio of future NFL players was between Navy and OSU? GT is not quite OSU but they have it a little better than Navy.
  • Baylor’s QB Robert Griffith is great.
  • Jonathan Crompton played an improved game for Tennessee, particularly after some early troubles. If this team wants to win he has to play well.
  • Northern Iowa had bad clock management at the end of the game against Iowa. They got a first down around the thirty or so with 17 seconds left; that stops the clock until the ball is set. They got to the line but didn’t have a play ready, the clock ran down to 7 seconds, and then they had to use their final timeout. Generally you want to keep your final timeout for you to get your kicking team on; that’s what they did (they attempted their first field goal attempt then) but they could have run another play and gotten further downfield. And, who knows, it could have been the difference: longer field goal attempts (the first was about 40 yards) tend to come off the kicker’s foot at a flatter trajectory. A shorter kick might have been harder to block. Who knows.
  • Finally, my preview of Mizzou – Illinois seemed accurate. Juice hasn’t turned it over a lot (and Benn and RB Ford have left the game with injury), but the game hinged on Mizzou QB’s Gabbert’s play, and he’s played great in his first as a starter. On a day when Chase Daniel got cut from the Redskins, seeing his alma mater blow out the Illini has to be uplifting.

Determining the pass coverage by “reading the square”

I didn’t invent this, but thought I’d pass it along. Much of it was originated by Lindy Infante, but it is common among most good passing coaches now.

...find the safeties

...find the safeties.

Post-snap reads (“Reading the Square”):

The most important area for determining secondary coverages is the middle of the field about 15 to 25 yards deep and about 2 yards inside of each hash. We call this area the “square”.

We normally read the “square” in our drop back passing game. Reading the “square” becomes necessary when it is impossible to determine what the coverage they are in before the snap or to make sure of secondary coverage after the snap.

In reading the “square” the QB simply looks down the middle of the field. He should not focus on either Safety but see them both in his peripheral vision.

  1. If neither Safety shows up in the “square”, and both are deep, it will indicate a form of Cover 2. A quick check of Corner alignment and play will indicate whether it is a 2/Man or 2/Zone. If neither Safety shows up in the “square” and both are shallow, it will indicate a Cover 0 (blitz look).
  2. If the Strong Safety shows up in the “square”, this will indicate a Cover 3 rolled weak or possibly a Cover 1.
  3. If the Weak Safety shows up in the “square”, this will indicate a strong side coverage. It could be a Cover 3 or a Cover 1. If the coverage is Cover 3, it could be a Cover 3/Sky (Safety), or a Cover 3/Cloud (Corner), depending on who has the short zone.

NOTE: When either of the Safeties shows up in the “square”, the best percentage area to throw the ball in is the side that he came from! If NEITHER of the Safeties show up in the “square” – throwing the ball into the “square” is a high percentage throw.

Kragthorpe on bringing coherence to Louisville’s offense

ncf_g_kragthorpe_200You know, the more I hear from Steve Kragthorpe, the more I like him. I have no idea if he is a good head coach (and the evidence seems to say no), but he was a good offensive coordinator at one time and is looking to do that again. As I wrote about for Yahoo, it might be coming too late, but some of his ideas for improving the Cardinals’ offense seem quite sound. This year, Kragthorpe has taken on the full range of offensive coordinator duties, including gamplanning and playcalling. In a recent interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal, Kragthorpe explained:

What should fans expect now that the head man is taking over what was once one of the top offenses in the country? Some changes may be far less apparent from the stands than they are to the players.

For one thing, Kragthorpe, a former college quarterback himself, has designed a more QB-friendly” system, beginning with allowing them more input in play-calling. He said junior Justin Burke, who was named the starter on Tuesday, will select up to 10 plays that he likes best to add to the game plan.

“Coach Kragthorpe, as we practice, knows what our strengths are and calls plays accordingly,” Burke said. “But to really hone in on that, he lets us bring in five of our favorite plays before a game … that we’re extremely comfortable with, and (it’s) kind of a go-to in a big situation. He gives us that little option.”

Burke also will have more options at the line of scrimmage. When he breaks the huddle, he will have three different plays he can use, depending on how the defense lines up. Kragthorpe has simplified the reads Burke has to make before selecting the play. Instead of reading the entire defense, he might be able to key on where one player is aligned.

“It’s very simple, especially in the run game,” Burke said. “It’s very black and white. Some of the run checks last year weren’t as simple.”

Kragthorpe also plans to give his quarterback more alternatives on passing plays beyond a primary or secondary receiver. Burke said he will have more “full-field” reads. If his primary receiver isn’t open, he’ll swivel and progress to his second, third and fourth options.

“Time will tell how dramatic those changes are in the fans’ eyes,” Kragthorpe said. “But in our eyes we’ve made some pretty big changes in terms of the way we call plays, the way we determine what play we’re going to select at the line of scrimmage and the way we read certain passing plays.”

I’ve always been a huge fan of letting the quarterbacks suggest plays. In fact, when scripting or gameplanning, I think the head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterback should all create a list of five to ten plays based on what had been installed and practice. Stuff that all three suggest immediately go into the gameplan, preferably to be run early in the game. Non-essentials plays that none of the three suggest are thrown out.


Quarterback’s checklist on pass plays

QB Thought process for analyzing a pass play

The QB must understand both the offense and defense

The QB must understand both the offense and defense

I. What is the defensive personnel in the game?

– A. What are the protection capabilities?

– B. What does it take to “go hot” — i.e. a sight adjust or automatic route (if applicable to the protection call); in other words, who must blitz to trigger this?

– C. What does it take for a route adjustment from the receivers?

II. What is my pre-snap read?

– A. Is the theory of the play acceptable when compared to the anticipated defense? (Is the defense still shifting?)

  1. If not acceptable, what is the best available audible?
  2. If acceptable (pre-snap, at least), are there route adjustments based on the pre-snap alignment of the secondary? Does the drop need to change?

III. Post-snap

– A. What is my read (be alert for secondary rotation)?

– B. What is my progression?

  1. If man?
  2. If zone?
  3. Who do I “see” (if zone)?

– C. What is my drop?

IV. Game situation in decision making process

– A. Down and distance (time)

– B. Match-ups by personnel (where are our studs?)

– C. Best route runner for specific situations

Hat tip to Bill Mountjoy for the above.

Update: A few extra notes on the above.


Colt McCoy’s Texas passing game

Colt McCoy, University of Texas’s record-setting triggerman (and Heisman hopeful), is known for one thing above all else: his astounding accuracy. Indeed, he set the FBS single-season record for completion percentage last season, having completed 76.7 percent of his passing. For his career, McCoy has thrown for 9,732 yards and 85 touchdowns to only 33 interceptions, and has led the Longhorns to a 32-7 record as a starter.

11coltLast season, of course, was his best yet, as he averaged an impressive 8.9 yards per pass attempt and UT went 12-1. Yet the stats don’t necessarily sum up his accuracy: his coaches freely profess that he is the most accurate passer they have ever seen; it’s not just a matter of throwing a lot of checkdowns. He makes decisions quickly, sizes up the defense, and puts the ball right on his receivers’ numbers. So what concepts do Texas’s coaches, head coach Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis, use with McCoy?

In exploring that question, this is one of those great examples where understanding the Xs and Os doesn’t supplant appreciating the skills and talent of the player, but instead enhance it. McCoy is a triggerman in every sense of the word: he calls the checks, he is given a plethora of options on most plays, and Texas’s gameplan week-to-week is to basically hand him the ball and tell him to make it work. That’s not to say they don’t give him the tools — I like Texas’s schemes quite a bit — but it’s a system that takes advantage of McCoy’s special skills.

Texas’s favorite route concept, by far, is something known as the “two-man” game, known in some coaching circles as the “stick concept.” Texas runs their a little difference, but they also use it a great deal; it’s their number one concept by far. After that I’ll briefly overview Texas’s quick game or three-step drop passes, followed by some highlights of what Texas’s coaches dial-up when they want to get a little more vertical.