It worked. The Giants held Kelly and his receivers in check en route to a 20-19 win, albeit with some help from one of the most infamous missed field goals in NFL history, and today Belichick’s Super Bowl XXV game plan sits in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Already well known at the time in coaching circles, Belichick became a household name by relying on two of the pillars that continue to define him: ingenious defensive tactics and precision without sentimentality.
Twenty-four years later, head coach Bill Belichick is still bombarding opponents with shrewd, coldly rational tactics. The result: His Patriots are making the sixth Super Bowl appearance of his reign, chasing their fourth title. To claim the crown, they’ll have to best the defending champs, a Seattle Seahawks team coached by a man who knows a thing or two about defensive tactics himself. But while Pete Carroll’s otherworldly defenses have succeeded the last few seasons largely because of the way Carroll elegantly uses simplicity to unleash his squad’s great talent, Belichick resists classification. No modern football coach can match Belichick’s deep knowledge of schemes and strategies, or his multidecade track record of applying that knowledge to devastating effect.
Read the whole thing.]]>
At Florida, Meyer’s offense revolved almost entirely around the quarterback. From 2007 through 2009, Tim Tebow led the SEC in pass efficiency while also leading the Gators in rushing yards, and the lasting image of those UF offenses is of Tebow plunging into the line on power runs. That approach worked with a 6-foot-3, 235-pound rhinoceros at quarterback, but with Tebow off to the NFL in 2010, Florida’s offense began to fall apart, and the Gators limped to an 8-5 finish. Meyer stepped away from the game in 2011 to spend more time with family, and during that time he was able to study many of the sport’s most innovative coaches and schemes. When Meyer rejoined the coaching ranks and started searching for a coordinator who could mesh the newest trends with what Meyer had done before, he asked around for suggestions, and several of his closest friends in the business suggested the same name: Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Herman.
Read the whole thing.]]>
More than 20 years later, on the brink of a divisional-round playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, McCarthy again finds himself in a teacher-student partnership with an elite pupil: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Though McCarthy is facing a similar challenge of figuring out how to help one of the game’s best quarterbacks get even better, his relationship with Rodgers is far more collaborative than his pairing with Montana ever was, allowing coach and quarterback to try to improve themselves, each other, and the very offense Walsh taught Montana so long ago.
Read the whole thing.
The Most Popular Books Bought by Smart Football Readers in 2014
The Most Popular Books Bought by Smart Football Readers in 2014 (excluding The Essential Smart Football)
Below is the full list of books. Note that I simply included the top books and did not include a separate “other” category. I thought the list was fairly eclectic this year, as non-football books had numbers comparable to the football ones. And, as usual, books that focused on football strategy dominated all other sports or football titles.
All too often, however, discussing even the most rudimentary and fundamental football concepts is needlessly offputting, something exacerbated as too many announcers and analysts use streams of buzzwords to sound intelligent without actually conveying any information (something I try very hard to not do, though undoubtedly with inconsistent success). Unless you’re sitting on an NFL sideline trying to tell your position coach what the defense is doing, you are better off using as little jargon as possible and instead trying to explain what you see in English.
But in football, terminology is often destiny, and some terms have become so ingrained that being familiar with them is critical for any intelligent fan; on the other hand, others have become so misused that using them actually deters rather than enhances understanding. The goal of this football glossary is simply to unpack a limited set of football buzzwords in a way that will make watching games on Saturday and Sunday more enjoyable. The important thing, however, is not to focus on the terms but instead on the explanations: if we’re all on the same page with those, the names we given the underlying ideas — whether you call it Smash, China or Shakes — what we end up calling it is simply detail, not substance. I’m sure your high school coach had his own name for each of these below.
Arm Talent: A notorious bit of scout-speak that is either a pseudo-scientific way to describe something obvious (“That quarterback has a strong, accurate arm”) or an extremely clumsy way to describe something better served with colloqiual english (“He has the ability to throw the ball from different angles to avoid oncoming rushers and still find an open throwing lane through which he can deliver the football”).
Bang 8 Post: A particular version of the “skinny post” or “glance” routes, the “Bang 8″ or “Bang 8 Post” was developed by former San Diego Chargers head coach Don Coryell and calls for the receiver to run seven-steps straight downfield before breaking inside at an angle. The particular angle the receiver takes, however, depends on the leverage of the defender covering him: the receiver’s job is to take whatever angle is necessary to ensure he is between the quarterback and the nearest defender. (“8″ is the number for a post in the Coryell route tree, see “Route Tree” below.) “Bang” indicates that the route is not thrown as a deep bomb but instead is a rhythm throw thrown by the quarterback on rhythm as soon as he hit the fifth step in his dropback. Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin of the Cowboys ran the Bang 8 better than anyone in NFL history:
Banjo Coverage: An adjustment to man-to-man pass coverage where the defensive backs pick up the closest receiver if the receivers criss-cross at the snap. Think of it as a “switch” in basketball.
Blitz: A tactic where the defense rushes the quarterback with five or more defenders. At one time there were different words for different sorts of blitzes — “red dog” meant the linebackers rushed up the middle, while “blitz” usually referred to a rush from a defensive back — but now blitz is the catch-all term. “Blitz” is limited to where a defense rushes five or more defenders to differentiate it from a “stunt,” where a defense only rushes four or fewer but adjusts where those players will come from and at which angles.
Bunch Formation: Any formation where receivers are aligned closely together, often just a yard or so apart. (Also known as “Cluster” formations.) The idea is to pack receivers in closely to make it difficult for defenses to match up with them man-to-man as not only do the receivers typically line up close together they frequently criss-cross after the snap, before scattering in various directions. One defensive response is to resort to “Banjo Coverage” (describe above), but often defenses will simply check to a zone defense when faced with bunch formations. This in turn frequently lets offenses call zone beating pass concepts from bunch sets, confident in the look they will get. The image below shows a “trips bunch” set, but any formation with multiple receivers to a side can be bunched, and in some circumstances even runningbacks and tight-ends can form part of a bunch set.
Bubble Screen: A bubble screen is a screen pass thrown behind the line of scrimmage to a receiver who runs an “arc” or “bubble” path towards the sideline while one or more other receivers block for him. Bubble screens are constraint plays and thus should only be thrown if the offense has a numerical advantage — three receivers versus two defenders, for example. The bubble screen is not, however, every every quick receiver screen. If the receiver doesn’t “bubble” his route, it’s a different play — a “now” or “fast” screen — but it’s not a bubble screen.
Check Release: A pass protection assignment whereby a tight-end or runningback first checks the defender(s) he is responsible for in pass protection and, if they do not rush the quarterback, then releases into the pass pattern. It allows an offense to get five receivers into a pass pattern if the defense does not blitz but keeps him in to protect if the defense blitzes.
Cloud: A defensive call made to indicate that a cornerback is responsible for the flat versus a pass and is the primary outside force defender against the run, and that the near safety is the deep defender.
Constraint Play: An offensive play whose primary purpose is to take advantage of a defender “cheating” out of position, as opposed to a “base play” which works best on the assumption that the defense plays its assignments as drawn up; a constraint play helps base plays work by forcing defenders to play honestly or else they give up easy yards, but they are not plays you would want to use against a sound defense playing a base defense. Examples of constraint plays include bubble screens, draws and bootleg passes — they work best when a particular defender cheats for the run, overpursues one way or sells out to drop back to pass too early.
Field/Boundary: Synonyms for the wide and short side of the field when the ball is aligned on one hashmark or the other. In college football, where the hashmarks are wider than they are in the NFL, many defenses set the strength of their defensive fronts and personnel to the field side, rather than to the actual strength of the offense’s formation.
Fire Zone: The most common type of zone coverage played in connection with a Zone Blitz, in which the defense plays with three deep and three underneath zone defenders.
Gap: The space between the offensive linemen and tight-ends in the offense’s formation, which defenses focus on as potential running lanes and pass rush lanes. Note that an offense can “create” a gap by pulling linemen from one side to the other or inserting a lead blocking into an existing gap. Almost all NFL and college teams categorize these by letter:
Gap Control (one-gap and two-gap defenses): Defenses must control an offense’s running game, and they do so by having a coordinated method of controlling the gaps the offense creates by its formation and blocking scheme, known as Gap Control or also their “Run Fit”. Most modern defenses are either primarily one-gap or two-gap defenses. In a one-gap control defense, defenders attack a specific gap and try to penetrate into the backfield and disrupt. In a two-gap defense defenders are (initially) responsible for controlling both gaps on either side of a blocker, something they accomplish by controlling the blocker to clog the running lanes free up the linebackers to find the ballcarrier. In short, one-gap defenders attack gaps while two-gap defenders attack people.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Two-gap defenses are better against the run, but the technique reduces the aggressiveness of a defense’s pass rush. Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has explained that he prefers a one-gap approach because “we don’t want to sit and read the play like you often have to with ‘two-gap’ principles.” In his one-gap defense, his defenses “attack into the gap at the snap, get off the ball to play on their side of the field and get after the quarterback.” One-gap defenses don’t have much margin for error, however. According to Carroll, “the big problem with any ‘one-gap’ approach however is that it allows a ball carrier to get into the secondary if one guy makes a mistake.” Of course, even a two-gapping defensive lineman will eventually choose a gap based on how the offense is trying to block him and where the ball goes. He will eventually pick one gap or the other, and try to eliminate the gap he didn’t choose by depositing the offensive linemen in it to clog it up.
Gap Exchange: A gap (or scrape) exchange is a defensive tactic in which two defensive players exchange the gaps they are responsible for in a gap control defense — usually the C and D gaps — to confuse a quarterback’s option read. This tactic has been around since at least the 1960s when option football rose to prominence. (The fact that it has been around for 50 years means we will shortly be told that this tactic was invented by NFL coaches in 2013 specifically to stop the read-option.)
Invert (or Sky): A defensive call which indicates that a safety has aligned or moved to a position close to the line and is responsible for support or contain versus the run, while the nearest cornerback is responsible for deep coverage.
Inverted Veer: A read-option play where the runningback and quarterback “invert” typical veer option assignments by having the quarterback a sweep path to the outside. The quarterback reads the playside defensive end to decide whether to hand off to the runner on the sweep or keep it himself. Typically, the play is blocked using “power” blocking with a backside pulling guard. The first team I saw using it was TCU against Clemson in September of 2009.
Cam Newton made the play famous at Auburn in 2010, and in 2012 the 49ers, Panthers and others made good use of it in the NFL; 49ers runningback LaMichael James scored a touchdown on the inverted veer in the NFC Championship game against the Falcons. This play is also sometimes known as a “Dash Read.”
Man Clue: A defensive coverage term where a defender is responsible for playing a receiver man-to-man if he runs vertically at least some threshold number of yards, usually between seven-to-nine. If he instead runs a route shorter than that the defensive back drops into a zone or picks up a different receiver.
Middle of the Field Closed (MOFC): This is a general term for all single defensive coverages which feature a single deep safety in the middle of the field. It’s a useful term for offenses because it’s not always clear whether it’s zone (Cover 3) or man (Cover 1), or some other hybrid coverage, but the fact that there’s a deep middle safety still tells you a lot about the defense, both the number of defenders in potential run support (i.e., a potential eight man front) as well as the number of potential blitzers.
Many pass progressions and even the routes themselves are keyed to whether or not the defense is in MOFC or MOFO (see the definition immediately below). If it’s MOFC then maybe the quarterback works the pass progression to his left which is designed for both Cover 1 and Cover 3, while if it’s MOFO he works to his right where the routes are designed for Cover 2 or Cover 4. Also, MOFO versus MOFC is useful for receivers because it can be extremely hard for them — from their limited vantage point while running up the field — to tell the difference between coverages, but they can determine if the defense has a deep middle safety (so maybe he breaks his route off or stays up the hash) or the middle of the field is open (so he takes his route deep down the middle). Below is an example of a defense that starts with two safeties but shifts post snap to one middle safety.
Middle of the Field Open (MOFO): The flip side of middle of the field closed, this refers to any defense where the middle of the field is open. Technically this also applies when a defense is in Cover 0 with no deep safety (and straight man-to-man blitz), typically teams think of defenses with two split safeties.
When offenses see teams in MOFO structured defenses they typically know they have a lighter box to run the ball against and the outside receivers are being jammed at the line with safety help over the top. However, many defenses show MOFO structures but the safeties are in fact read or even robber players who can fit close to the line against the run, and the famous Tampa Two defense features the middle linebacker running deep down the middle to take away many schemes designed for middle of the field open defenses. As always, it’s a cat and mouse, but it’s still a very useful way to group coverages, particularly for young quarterbacks and for receivers adjusting their routes.
Over (Front): The more “traditional” 4-3 formation with four defensive linemen and three linebackers, the 4-3 Over was used most famously by Jimmy Johnson, first at the University of Miami, where it was crucial to shutting down the wishbone (and hence why many coaches still refer to it as the “Miami 4-3 Over”), and later with the Dallas Cowboys, where it proved just as adept at stopping pro-style offenses. Below is an image from current Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s playbook from his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the late 1990s:
And below you can see an example from Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks defense. Note how each defensive lineman and linebacker is aligned over a specific gap. Subject to specific defensive calls, blitzes or stunts, each will be responsible for controlling that gap. See “Gap Control” above.
Packaged Play: An offensive play where two or more concepts — such as runs, screens or even downfield passes — are combined into the same offensive play by having different players execute different tasks, while the quarterback determines whether to hand off, keep it himself, throw a screen or throw downfield as the play requires. Defensive coaches frequently complain that offensive linemen often get too far downfield on these plays as they are often executing a run block even when the ball is thrown downfield (in college football linemen may be three yards downfield when the ball is thrown; in the NFL they have one yard).
Pattern Match Coverage: A type of pass coverage where defenders read the releases of particular receivers and, depending on who guys where, then become man-to-man defenders. Clear? Here’s how Nick Saban explained a few years ago:
You can play coverages in three ways. You can play zone, man, or pattern-match man. Pattern-match man is a coverage that plays the pattern after the pattern distribution. That means you pick up in man coverage after the receivers make their initial breaks and cuts. We number receivers from the outside going inside. If the number-one receiver crosses with the number-two receiver, we do not pick up the man coverage until they define where they are going.
There are lots of variations of pattern match coverages, with Quarters being the most famous but Nick Saban’s “Rip/Liz” match being another, to say nothing of other varieties with names like Bronco and 2-Read. The theory is to avoid the obvious issues with straight man-to-man coverage without leaving your defense exposed to the open throwing lanes that plague traditional zone coverage.
Personnel Groupings: Most teams use a two-digit system for categorizing an offense’s personnel. The first digit refers to the number of runningbacks and the second the number of tight-ends — the number of wide receivers is implied and the existence of a quarterback is assumed. The most common personnel grouping in the modern NFL is 11 personnel.
Pistol Formation: A variation of the shotgun alignment where the quarterback shortens his depth to four or four and 1/2 yards while the runningback aligns directly behind the quarterback. Unless the runningback is directly behind the quarterback, it’s not a Pistol formation, it’s just a shotgun with an offset back (even if the runningback aligns deeper than the quarterback).
Pistol Offense: A fully developed offensive system which uses a variety of complementary plays from the Pistol Alignment — in other words, no one actually uses the Pistol Offense except for Nevada under Chris Ault. By contrast, most NFL teams that use the Pistol, like the Redskins and 49ers, simply sometimes run certain read-option plays from a Pistol formation. [Footnote: Chip Kelly, at the Fiesta Bowl press conference last January: “[I] don’t run the Pistol Offense. That’s not what we do. Chris Ault at Nevada invented the pistol offense. Just retired. Great football coach out there. There’s a lot of ways to play football. Pistol, don’t know that very well. We’re more of a spread-run team.”]
Read Option: A redundant but nevertheless increasingly standard name used to describe an offensive tactic where (1) a quarterback is aligned in the shotgun (including but not always a Pistol Formation) and (2) the quarterback extends the ball to a potential runner (a “mesh point”) and reads (hence the name) a defender to determine whether to hand the ball off or keep it himself (at which point he may have further options). Although on a Read Option the quarterback will often read a defensive end, he may read any defender the offense chooses not to block. A “Zone Read” is a type of Read Option which uses zone blocking. (A play where a quarterback does not decide whether to hand off or keep it himself but instead whether to keep it himself or pitch — such as a Speed Option — is an “option” but is not a Read Option.) There is no Read Option “formation”, and not every play from the pistol or shotgun is a Read Option.
Robber Defender: A pass defender, typically a safety or linebacker, who sits at an intermediate level and reads the quarterback’s eyes to “rob” any pass routes over the middle, such as curls and crossing routes. This concept can be used with single-safety man-to-man defenses (“Cover 1 Robber”) or defenses with two-deep concepts, so the specific techniques may therefore vary, but the key is for the robber defender to read run, screen or pass and to let the quarterback’s eyes take him to the receiver. Also known as a “Rat,” “floater” or sometimes (though rarely) a “lurk” defender.
Route Tree: Typically, a route tree is a system of organizing a receiver’s potential pass routes by placing them over top of each other and giving each potential break a different number, rather than a name. Offenses run by coaches in the “Coryell” family, named after San Diego Chargers coach Don Coryell — think Norv Turner and Mike Martz — had a good reason for this as they called their passing plays using a three digit route tree system: “894” might tell the split end to run a post, the tight-end to run a seam or “9” route and the flanker to run a curl. Most teams, however, have gone back to calling their plays through one or two word calls that tell each receiver what to do, but the idea of a route tree lives on because — in football where everything must be renamed — a curl route cannot simply be a Curl, it must be a 4, and a corner route must be a 7 and a Go route must be a 9. In most route trees, in-breaking routes are even numbers while outbreaking routes are odd numbers. Of course, if you have more than 10 routes you have to go back to using names. Below is an example of a route tree from from one of Mike Martz’s St. Louis Rams playbooks from the Greatest Show on Turf era:
Sam, Mike, Will: The strongside, middle and weakside linebackers are rarely referred to by their full names. Instead coaches and players — both offensive and defensive — refer to them by single-syllabic mnemonics such as “Sam” (strongside linebacker), “Mike” or sometimes “Mac” (middle linebacker) and “Will” (weakside linebacker). These designations are almost entirely standard in modern football, though when Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry pioneered the 4-3 defense with the New York Giants in the 1950s, he referred to his linebackers as “Sarah,” “Meg,” and “Wanda.”
For 3-4 teams that use four linebackers, the term for the fourth linebacker is far less standard — “Jack,” “Ted,” and “Buck” are among the names teams use.
Spill: A technique in which a defensive player attacks the blockers — and hence the ballcarrier — from the inside out to force the ballcarrier to run laterally, thereby “spilling” the play into the waiting arms of the linebackers and secondary run support defenders.
Spread Offense: A term rendered almost completely meaningless. It made some sense in the early 2000s, as there was often a stark contrast between teams that based out of two-back formations and teams that used three or four receivers on most plays, but now even so-called “traditional” or pro-style offenses use formations and personnel groups once considered “spread”: 11 personnel (one tight-end and three wide-receivers) is the most popular set in the NFL, and in college even Alabama is primarily a one-back offensive team, though they frequently use two tight-ends. Further, some so-called “spread offenses” primarily run the ball while using a variety of read-option plays, while others throw the ball 50 times a game and use no designed quarterback runs. And, ironically, many of the NFL teams now using the read-option are doing so from very non-spread formations with extra tight-ends and fullbacks, yet many try to apply to them the “spread offense” label. It’s simply too vague to be useful.
Tampa Two: The actual definition of Tampa Two is that it is a hybrid pass coverage popularized by Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where the defense aligns as if to play a traditional two-deep or “Cover 2″ Zone but in fact drops the middle linebacker deep down the middle to a depth of 18-22 yards, thus transforming the defense into a type of three-deep zone. The definition you will hear more commonly, however, is that every defense coached by Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith or Monte Kiffin is Tampa Two.
Tape: As in, “I watched the tape.” At one time, football games — like everything else recorded — were recorded onto tapes. Nowadays, unless you’re elderly, essentially no one watches football games — or anything else, for that matter — on “tapes.” Tape is usually the word chosen because it makes the speaker sound more knowledgable than had they said, “I re-watched the game on YouTube/NFL Game Rewind.”
Technique (Defensive Alignment): In football, “technique” typically refers to two different things. One is the everyday meaning of the term, i.e. the manner in which a task is performed. The second meaning, however, is exceptionally important for understanding and categorizing football defenses, as it refers not to what defenders do but rather where they line up. Like many other things we take for granted in football, the popularity of terms like “three-technique” and “five-technique” can be traced by to former Alabama coach Bear Bryant. As Bryant explained in his 1960 book, Building a Championship Football Team, he sought for years upon a system for numbering defensive alignments to easily and quickly communicate the “many different defenses” he wanted to use (circa 1950-1960!). He got the system which is now standard at every level of football from a “Texas high school coach” — O.A. “Bum” Phillips, who would eventually become head coach for the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints. Below is a diagram from a playbook of Wade Phillips, Houston Texans defensive coordinator — and Bum Phillips’s son:
Note that certain teams and coaches will have slightly different approaches, but most follow Phillips’ model: even numbers refer to alignments which are “head up” on the offensive linemen or tight-ends — i.e., directly across from them — while odd numbers are “shade” techniques where the lineman will be offset to a lineman’s outside or inside shoulder. Linebackers use the same system, except they will add the number “0” to the end to signify that they are off the line slightly. For example, a linebacker lined up on the offensive guard’s outside shoulder is in a “30 technique.”
Throwing a Receiver Open: A technique where a quarterback is taught to throw the ball to a spot away from coverage to draw the receiver to the open area. A common example comes on corner routes where a receiver will make his break at 45 degrees but it’s up to the quarterback to “throw the receiver open” by, for example, throwing it between the corner and the safety versus Cover 2, flattening out the receiver’s route against soft coverage or throwing it high and upfield against press man.
Trap Play: One of the most underutilized schemes in football, a trap involves a running play where the offense deliberately doesn’t block a defender at the point of attack — thus allowing the playside linemen to get double teams or head to the second level to block the linebackers — while a linemen from the opposite side pulls and blocks the (often unsuspecting) defender from the inside out. (Contrast this with a “Wham” play which works the exact same way except the block is coming from the outside in.) Great versus aggressive, penetrating (one-gap) defensive linemen. (Hat tip to Field Gulls for the great gif below.)
Under (Front): Probably the most popular front in the NFL and college football, the “Under” can be thought of as either an “undershifted” 4-3 front (hence the name) or as a “reduction” 3-4 front, where the weakside defensive end and linebacker reduce their alignments towards the playside. The Under was most famously used by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the late 1990s under Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin and, at the college level, the great Southern Cal teams coached by Pete Carroll, a Kiffin disciple. Below is an image from Kiffin’s Tampa Bay playbook describing the Under:
The front’s popularity is simple: it’s great against most runs because it, with the strongside linebacker lined up on the line, presents basically a five-man front, and, according to Carroll, is “the best overall front to use to rush the passer” — a powerful combination. It has become increasingly popular as teams have moved to more hybrid defenses that uses elements of both 4-3 and 3-4 personnel. As Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees explained before the Super Bowl, “we are 3-4 personnel but a lot of the times the front that we play is a 4-3 front” — the 4-3 Under.
In the Ravens scheme, linebacker Terrell Suggs played the “LEO” or “Elephant” hybrid defensive end/linebacker. But no matter the personnel, it’s still a 4-3 Under look.
Zone Blitz: A tactic where the defense rushes the quarterback with five or more defenders and plays zone coverage, as opposed to man coverage, behind it. That is all it is. Dropping a defensive linemen into a zone does not mean it is a zone blitz if the defense is only rushing three or four defenders.
Zone Run Blocking: A full explanation requires much more space than is available here, but at core zone run blocking is a set of run blocking principles which should allow the offensive line to (a) account for the defenders in the box, regardless of where they are lined up and (b) maximize the number of double teams at the point of attack. The misconception about zone blocking is that the line simply blocks the defender in their area, a misconception partially created because “zone” is in the name. In almost all zone blocking systems, if an offensive lineman is covered — meaning there is a defender across from him — his primary job is to block that defender. The zone aspect comes in from “uncovered” linemen without a defender directly across from them. They will create the double team on the defensive linemen, until one of the two offensive linemen can slide up to the linebacker. Below is video of former Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach Alex Gibbs describing the outside zone as run by Terrell Davis:
The other advantage of zone blocking — and a big reason why it is the most popular blocking scheme in both the NFL and college — is that it can be used from a variety of formations and sets, whether they are traditional two-back tight-end formations or from one-back spread formations.]]>
Yet Jones’s most important contribution to football will be his association with the run-and-shoot. It was an offense he first encountered as a record-breaking quarterback at Portland State while playing for Darell “Mouse” Davis. The run-and-shoot was developed by Glenn “Tiger” Ellison.2 Sometime in the mid-1950s, Ellison stopped to watch a group of kids play backyard football. Instead of huddling and running off-tackle, as his team did, the kids played a free-flowing game. The quarterback ran around while his receivers improvised ways to get open. Ellison’s insight was to channel his players’ improvisational instincts into an offense that could be run at any level. The run-and-shoot was born.
Some years later, Davis refined Ellison’s insights into a few four-receiver formations and a handful of pass concepts, where each receiver had the freedom to run three, four, five, or sometimes as many as six different adjustments, based on how the defense played. One “play” in the run-and-shoot could become, on the fly, the equivalent of 20 or 30 plays in a traditional offense. “The concept of reading the coverage, nobody did it,” Jones told CBSSports. “Nobody in the NFL [in the late 1970s and early 1980s] allowed their receivers to read coverage. If you’re running a curl, you’re running a curl. That was it. There was no conversion.”
Read the whole thing.]]>
- Garmin Vivofit. The biggest revolution in football right now is not on the chalkboard or even in the stadium; it’s on the practice field, in the weight room and often even continues once the players have gone home — it’s the rise of so-called “sports science.” I wrote about some of the ways Chip Kelly monitors and tracks his players, and most of the NFL and many of the best college teams are using this technology to monitor and track their players. We’re in a world of data.
The Vivofit fortunately does not cost $25,000, but I’ve found it still generates — and most importantly prominently displays — a great deal of useful data. The Vivofit, along with most of the other leading “fitness trackers,” focuses on tracking your steps, reminding you when you’ve been inactive too long, and even monitors the amount and restfulness of your sleep. I’ve been thrilled with mine and it has definitely served its purpose of motivating me to keep hitting and surpassing my daily goals, which can be set manually or automatically by the software based on my own history. These devices are all very new — just ask most major college football and NFL programs which are experimenting with trackers of varying levels of sophistication (and cost) — and I’m guessing the next generation will render the current crop obsolete. But until then I’ve been very happy. I chose the Vivofit over the Fitbit because I wanted a tracker that displayed the number of steps, miles, calories and so on right on the face of the device. All of these devices sync with an app to track your progress over time, but I like being able to check mine in real time. The Vivofit also displays red lines if you’ve been inactive too long, which gets to the purpose of these devices: It’s not to perfectly track my steps or calories (though I certainly expect it to be close), but instead to keep me moving. At that it’s been very effective.
– UE Mini Boom Wireless Speaker. Bluetooth speakers don’t always give you the best sound quality but it’s hard to beat them for convenience — connecting your phone, iPad or other device to this speaker is a cinch. I liked this one based on its small size — portable means portable even though I typically use it at home — and the sound quality has been excellent (considering it is bluetooth). It sounds good both playing my music, as well as a few baby songs.
- Beaba Babycook. As a first time parent I could probably write up a bunch of products we tried and eventually settled on (only for our daughter to quickly grow past them) but the Babycook was a very efficient way to make babyfood at home. There’s nothing this machine does that you can’t do without it — it is basically just a food processor with a built in steamer/boiler — but being able to do it in one device with simple settings made it easy to cook a bunch of babyfood (typically to be frozen for later consumption). If I’ve learned nothing as a parent it’s that anything that saves a little time and makes life a little easier is well worth it, and this was the best way we found to make our own (hopefully healthy) babyfood.
– Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Headphone. I finally broke down and got some headphones that weren’t in-ear (sorry Beats) and I got these for both the home and office. They aren’t the most stylish headphones but the sound quality is tremendous and the noise canceling is good (maybe too good, as people sometimes sneak up on me while I’m wearing them). They aren’t good for travel or commuting — that’s what the in-ear headphones are for — but they have been as advertised.
– Clever Coffee Dripper. There’s lots of ways to make coffee, and there’s nothing wrong with any of them. But the Clever Coffee Dripper, which costs between $15-22, is in my view both the easiest way and makes the best coffee — as evidenced by the fact that if I order a cup at my favorite local coffeeshop made this way it costs like $11. It’s just pour over coffee, but this device makes it easy to make a cup or two in a container and then easily get your coffee into the cup without having to stand there dripping it in slowly. The video below shows how it works.]]>
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.
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.
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):
After the game, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll copped to getting the play from Malzahn and Auburn:
That’s the boss right there,” Bevell said in a hallway outside the Seahawks’ locker room. “That’s a Pete idea.”
We’ll go anywhere to find a play,” the Seattle coach said afterward. “And that one—uh, Muschamp at Florida, no … Auburn. They ran it. Give Gus Malzahn credit. That’s a great play. I kept telling them [the offensive staff and players] this summer, ‘It’ll work, it’ll work.’”
As good as this concept is, its critics have a fair concern: Unlike some other packaged plays where the ball is thrown extremely quickly, it seems there’s almost always an offensive lineman illegally downfield when the pitch phase is a downfield throw. Some of this is not understanding how the rules work, as in college linemen get three yards to be downfield and in the NFL they get a yard, so it’s not illegal if a lineman is simply “past the line of scrimmage,” but it’s true that referees frequently miss these calls. And I’ve been told the referees have little interest in cracking down, either because of the limited number of things they can look at during a play or simply because the powers that be aren’t complaining about more offense. And while I like these concepts, I would like to see the rules enforced as written; the plays work just fine even when linemen aren’t six or seven yards yards downfield, and the more lax the referees are the more egregious will be the violations.
There are plenty of ways for offenses to execute this play without breaking the rules. The simplest is to tag the pass concept to the playcall so the linemen know they shouldn’t get more than a yard downfield. The other is to marry it to more lateral or slower developing run schemes, like outside zone or a sweep scheme going the other way. And many coaches teach inside zone where the linemen should let the linebackers come to them, on the theory that it’s better to finish off the combination blocks and they don’t want their linemen chasing the linebackers aren’t.
But I think we’ll have to see a lot more of these plays — wand ineligible man downfield violations will have to be obvious and flagrant — before we see either college football or the NFL crack down. Yet either way, these plays aren’t going away, in college or the NFL, and why should they? They’ve already been around a long time.]]>
Rather than trying to call the right defense and maybe being right or maybe being wrong, Dantonio and Narduzzi have responded to this challenge by building a responsive defense that mutates into the right alignment depending on what the offense does. Against four vertical receivers, Michigan State wants four man-to-man defenders who can carry the receivers all the way upfield; against crisscrossing underneath receivers, the Spartans want to be in a zone coverage that lets their defenders break hard on the ball and on those receivers, rather than forcing them to chase in man-to-man; and against the run, the Spartans want as many as nine defenders in the box.
How do they manage all that at once?
Read the whole thing.]]>
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