What impact will (or should) Tom Moore have on the New York Jets offense?

Jets coach Rex Ryan, more comfortable with a more experienced Mark Sanchez, has promised to open up the Jets offense to throw the ball more this season. And there was some (meager) evidence of this in the Jets first preseason game, as George Bretherton writes over at the NYT Fifth Down:

Even if you took Rex Ryan at his word when he said the ground-and-pound Jets were going to throw the ball more this season, there were plenty of reasons to believe it wasn’t going to start with last night’s preseason opener against Houston . . .

[But t]he most notable outcome from the Jets’ 20-16 loss to the Texans was the quick pace set by Sanchez (6 of 7, 43 yards), who came out firing in his one-quarter cameo.

The move to throwing the ball more is one possible change for the Jets. The other is shrouded in a bit more mystery: In the offseason, the Jets hired longtime Colts assistant and Peyton Manning mentor, Tom Moore. Everyone involved insists it was not a vote of no confidence for current Jets offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer. Moore is 72 and will often not travel with the team this season, and Schottenheimer is a good coordinator who has done good things with both the Jets offense as a whole but also Sanchez in particular.

I've seen your playbook, and it's too big.

But there is lots of room for improvement, and Moore could be a key to that. Although Schottenheimer is a good young offensive coordinator, he suffers to some extent from good young offensive coordinator disease, which is a specific strain of a larger disease that affects large portions of the NFL: his offense often suffers from needless complexity. As I’ve previously explained, NFL offenses are typically cut from the same cloth and seek to do essentially the same things: the inside and outside zone runs, along with the power play and some counters, while the passing gameinvolves the quick game, some dropback concepts, plenty of play-action and a sprinkling of screens.

All that is fine, and there is a necessary layer of “micro” complexity where coaches must tinker with pass protections, route structures, and personnel and formations to get both the “matchup” they want (an overused term, as what you really want is not a particular one-on-one matchup but a numbers advantage of three on two or two on one, whether it is blocking or a pass route combination). Contrast this with college systems where more of the focus is on “macro” complexity in that you might face a pro-style team one week, a spread offense the next and then a triple option team after that. But the problem for pro coaches is that they often fall into the trap of complexity for its own sake, thinking that they must give a new look to the defense while forgetting that every time you add something new you make it just as hard on your own players as you do on your opponents. This is a trap I often see with Brian Schottenheimer’s offense, which, while generally very effective, often results in too many mistakes and breakdowns — all blamed on the players not getting it — when all they are doing is trying the fifth different way to throw it to the flat or to run yet another new play that hits in the same defensive gap as four others the players are more comfortable with. (Indeed, Rex Ryan recently went off on his players for their mental mistakes in that first preseason game.)

This issue, however, is solvable, and Tom Moore long ago figured it out.

Despite being one of the NFL’s best offenses for over a decade, and despite having coached offense for close to fifty years at both the pro and collegiate levels, Tom Moore’s offense was undoubtedly the simplest in the NFL. Obviously having Peyton Manning as quarterback and symbiotic on-field co-offensive coordinator didn’t hurt, but Moore recognized that having ten different ways to do the same thing isn’t confusing the defense, it is merely having ten different ways to do the same thing. As he explained, football coaching is often about not letting your coaching get in the way of the players playing:

“There are lots of systems, there are tons of systems,” Moore said. “But the trick is no systems, the trick is players and making sure you take something that the players can do and not get into, ‘Well, this is mine and this is what we’re going to do.’ It’s what’s best for the players.”

Moore’s offense with the Colts was, in many ways, unchanged from what he ran at the University of Minnesota decades ago. The running game — which consisted of three to four plays or so, if you count the inside trap they often used — was essentially the same one used by the Colorado Buffaloes in the early 1990s, except simpler as they had fewer line calls and the Buffaloes ran a lot of option. And the passing game is built on some very simple concepts which I’ll get to in a moment. But begin with the formations. I like the whole “multitude of formations” thing as much as the next guy, but there are countervailing factors.

First, from a defense’s perspective, there are different formations and then there are just different formations. When you change the strength of a formation — i.e. tight-end left or right, or tight-end and wing to one side or another, or a tight-end to both sides — or you increase or decrease the number of split receivers, and so on, you’ve changed the formation. When you line up in the same structural set — three receivers to one side, one being a tight-end — but you try all kinds of little wrinkles to it, you’ve probably just made it more confusing for your guys, particularly with respect to your pass and run blocking schemes. Sometimes you don’t want a new formation because you want to know where the defense is so you can block them. Second, when you do things like switch your receivers or move guys around, even if they have the same assignment (and in Schottenheimer’s system their assignment often changes), they have to learn a new technique: Running a comeback route on the left or right side is similar, but the techniques are different as the receiver has to push off a different foot and use different techniques. As Bill Walsh said, there is no magic rule in football that says you have to run each play to the left and right sides.

If this idea — not running concepts to both sides and leaving receivers where they are — sounds crazy, consider three datapoints:

  • In Mike Leach’s book, Swing Your Sword (my review here), he said that he evolved his offense in that direction after meeting with Baltimore Colts great Raymond Berry, who said he ran all of his routes from the same side, and that Jimmy Orr and John Mackey did the same, and Unitas and those three always practiced everything the same way. The concept worked for them (and for Leach).
  • If it sounds crazy for receivers, remember that (most) every team does the same thing for their offensive line. Unless there is some kind of unbalanced formation, the left tackle always lines up on the left, the right guard on the right, and so on. This is despite the fact that, like receivers and tight-ends, these guys have strengths and weaknesses and presumably you could get ye olde “matchup advantage” by moving them around, but most coaches don’t, and for good reason.
  • Lastly, if the Raymond Berry/Mike Leach example doesn’t move you because the old NFL and the college game are supposedly so different from todays NFL, Moore did it with the Colts for close to a decade, and when he had Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne you could count the snaps on one hand where they didn’t line up on their respective sides over the course of several seasons.

More specifically, the Colts favored formation and personnel group under Moore was the three-wide, one-back, one-tight end set.

To get formation variety, Moore focused on the stuff that mattered and ignored the stuff that didn’t. In that, he left Wayne and Harrison where they were, and would move around the tight-end and slot receiver, sometimes substituting a second tight-end for that guy.

Two-tight ends in an "Ace" set, with Pierre Garcon having taken the Marvin Harrison role

From there, the playcalling wasn’t anymore complicated. The Colts’ favorite dropback pass concept under Moore was “levels,” which involves a simple high/low read of an interior pass defender.

levels

The below image is another diagram of “levels,” courtesy of Understandingthetrickeration — check out that site for more on the Colts’ offense:

If you watch a Colts game, especially in the Manning/Moore heyday, you’ll be shocked at how many times they ran this simple concept. Again, Moore understood that football doesn’t need to be any more complicated than it has to be. This is the direction the Jets should go under Moore’s influence: Do what you do, but do less of it; cut out some of the cuteness and focus on execution and putting your players in position to succeed. The best teams don’t beat themselves.

Of course, any discussion of Moore’s offense can’t leave out the important role for Peyton Manning, and it’s not fair to ask Sanchez to take over that role. And I don’t think the focus on simplicity, even without Manning’s unprecedented freedom at the line, would hurt Sanchez and the Jets. It may have evolved over time, but my understanding is that Moore did not send in “three plays” to Manning every play, but instead called a play like other offensive coordinators. Where Manning was different, however, was that he could check to almost any play in the Colts playbook (again, a reason to not have too many plays), and when the defense showed certain looks the audible was a built in “alert” and Manning would check to those concepts by gameplan. A good example of that were the play-action passes where the outside receiver faked a stalk-block on a defender before racing deep; that was something Manning checked to at the line. (This still may be the case but I can only speak to what they did a few years ago.) Sanchez won’t get that level of responsibility, so undoubtedly Schottenheimer feels the need to “dress up” the offense a bit more. Moore may be a countervailing influence.

Again, I like Schottenheimer’s offense and I think he does many good things; I just think he could do bit fewer of them. The irony in that is that Rex Ryan’s defense is essentially the Tom Moore offense on the other side of the ball. It’s extremely simple, but focuses on the structural problems that really affect an offense; it focuses on execution and putting players in position to succeed; and the more advanced stuff are built around automatic checks at the line based on what the offense is showing. Maybe that’s why Rex hired Moore: He saw more similarities than differences.

  • Drewdy

    This is a great breakdown. I wonder if Sanchez can handle the type of things that Moore asked Manning to do. Probably not, but the Jets have to be better.

  • Troy Coll

    The departure of Brad Smith alone should simplify the Jets’ offense by reducing/eliminating that Wildcat mess. For some reason Schotty liked to use it between the 40’s, which led to a lot of stalled drives and long field goals. Of course, I assumed they’d dump it when Smith was injured for the playoffs, but they just ran it with LT and Shonn Greene. SMH.

  • Chase Stuart

    Great post, Chris.

  • Dubber

    Fantastic write up.  I am a Detroit Lions fan (hopefully you’ll do a follow up article on Schwartz for your preseason series?), but I love to watch the Colts, and living in Indiana, I get to see them a ton.

    One thing I love about the Colts is how much never having a Closed side (TE as #1 rec.) has simplified what they see.  Especially in the Harrison/Wayne heyday, you really had to account not only with your Corners (duh), but your undercoverage curl players and your deep safety players had to be aware too.  That type of stessor can simplify defenses too, and that simple deployment of always having a split out #1 has made a huge difference for the Colts (and the Mike Leach Red Raiders).

    As long as no one minds, I want to talk quickly about our offense, and then make a point.

    While we have a ton of formations dressed up with motions, there are always four elements present that really simplify things:

    *All 6 skill players are a threat to run or catch the football.

    When the defense respects all the offensive skills, it is easier to see what they are actually doing. 

    *We (almost) always have a 3×2 deployment……..RB is away from Trips, etc.

    Our plays are conceptual.  We teach everything from a 2×2 set, and then when we add formations and motions, it becomes “remember how the #3 guy always catches bubble screen?  Well now we are in the trips and Johnny’s #3…”  So when we go 2-back or empty, the carry over is the same.

    *We always know what we are looking for in X, Y, and Z looks.

    We will give a look (formation + motion) and run Iso the first time, with an eye on if we manipulated the player we wanted, and then how we want to attack that.  This year, due to unique personnel, we are able to get these looks without personnel substitutions.  We can go from 00 to 23 personnel snap to snap.

    *Our OL has a very simplified scheme………3 runs, 2 screens, and 3 protections. 

    We just ask them to execute.  Sure, it would nice to have a trap scheme versus this look, and pulling the OT versus this look would work, but in the end, we want 100% assignment execution, Even if there is a “better” way to block, we aren’t adding another scheme.

    That is the biggest deal, imo.  When we added a TE look (to help settle down the bastardized fronts we were seeing), the immediate thought was to add power and counter because of the angles.  Another scheme, that we ultimately realized, hit the same hole we already hit with our base run.  Sure, power would look great (on paper), but ultimately we would rob from the above schemes to make it work.

    Now, one thing I will disagree on Chris, and I realize I am arguing semantics and that we are probably of a like mind, is that it is not the simplicity of an offense that matters.  While you want to simplify as much as possible, simplicity for simplicity’s sake will get you beat.

    What really matters is that an offense is purpose driven.  When we motion, we must know why, and more importantly, we must know what to do next.  If there is a function behind the formation, it is valid. 

    If I am getting into 12 personnel because “it’s 8 gaps and we can throw 4 verticals”, and then game time comes and the defense plays MOFC Robber-yet, I never throw the contraint play (4 verts), or the protection breaks down because our pass pro scheme doesn’t translate to 21 personnel, or my TE’s can’t get off jams or hit their land marks, etc. then my advantage is only perceived, not realized. 

    When we send the WR is motion and have no idea what we hope to gain……then we are just being “cute”.  That is the problem.  As long as you can teach it, get as creative as you want, as long as the creativity has a purpose.

  • Anonymous

    Great stuff Dubber. I know you’ve been contributing to brophy’s great blog, but if you ever wanted to type up anything concrete on what you guys do I’d be happy to put it up here. In any event, I agree with everything above — good stuff.

  • Anon

    Hiring Moore is very similar to what the Jets did  in 2009 by hiring OL guru Jim McNally as a consultant . That wasn’t an indictment to Bill Callahan, it just allowed for more minds to analyze things.

    That’s all the Jets are doing with Moore.

  • Duece

    I’d like to see some discussion on just the last paragraph…Ryan’s defense…

    Duece

    P.S.- Good stuff, and good reading.

  • hapa

    I’ll voice my support for this as well – I’d love to see a piece on the defensive equivalent, Rex Ryan or otherwise. 

  • Anonymous

    I can work on some Rex Ryan stuff, but there’s lots of defense in the archives, Saban, etc, otherwise. I do more offense but there’s lots of defense too.

  • Tom Szelag

    Agreed, would definitely like to hear Chris’s take on a breakdown of Jets defense. 

    Good post though, as always!

  • Yrro Simyarin

    Agreed. I love this blog – is there anyone doing something similar for defense?

  • Anonymous

    don’t most defenses (not just Ryan’s) follow this same simplistic formula?

    Defenses see offenses as 2-back (base) or 1-back (sub) and with a TE or no TE.
    You can do a few things with the front 6, but by-in-large, they will have a few games, but stay consistent depending on what personnel package you are in.

    So an offense is 2-back (or 12 personnel) and you’re running your base and adjusting from there
    OR
    its 1-back (or empty) and you’re playing sub with a Money/Star/Nickel and handling each side of the formation; slot or trips

    That’s pretty modular in its approach and allows the framework for a myriad of different looks depending on split and situation

  • http://twitter.com/CoachSheehan Brian Sheehan

    Great stuff, Chris, as usual.  And I love the quote from Moore about it not being “the system,” but that it’s about what’s best for the players. As the great Bill Walsh said, “if the perfect system was invented, everyone would be doing it.” 

  • Mr.Murder

    Very interesting to see Ryan keep the coverage tight on such a reduced split. Can do that if you have physical corners who can tackle. That is a player attribute built into the system. He also plays the slot tightly, probably accelerates the switch on crosser like the ‘rat’ coverage Brophy shared from the Saban system(man under).

    Think a lot of that would be predicated on the mike or will not taking the first crosser if the backfield flows opposite the weak side.

    You isolate a vertical outside, still tagged a seam read, and cleared out for the crossers and back so you get easier underneath reads. You also have a built in hot to the offset side in the flat or the middle read on the shallow. Looks like a zone blitz killer on the two level crossers and a man pressure blitz gets eaten up outside to the flat.

    Not unlike the way that zone blocking breaks down to man if you are covered, this play call has progressions that change on the type of blitz you would run.

  • Anonymous

    Hey, Chris. Got to tell ya, I’ve been reading your stuff n this site for a long while now. Just, tremendous, really excellent stuff. It seems that there is very little, well-educated and smart football analysis’s out there. Hard to find. 

    I read a while a back a few 4 vertical articles you wrote about Leach and Drew Brees- In both, you discussed an aspect to the 4 verts- the back shoulder. From what I understand- the back shoulder is mainly used simply against tight or press man-to-man coverage. I’ve been watching the Green Bay Packers a lot lately, and it seems that they now throw this pass more than anyone else, (Though I haven’t had the chance to see many Saints games-so i could certainly be wrong).  I was wondering how much you knew about what Mike McCarthy is doing there- and also, my question is, i guess, when can’t you throw a back shoulder pass when a reciever is single covered- is the back shoulder route taking the place of the comeback route? any help would be great- their stuff seems really intriguing. It seems to me that right now- Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, and company are the best in the NFL at the back shoulder pass. 

    Here is a link of the Packer’s last pre-season game in which they completed a long back shoulder catch:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8R3daIvZi98

  • srp

    In an earlier post, I seem to recall you mentioning that teams like Boise State get a lot of advantage from having many, many formations and looks. Is that just fake variety, “window dressing,” or are they really asking their players to master a lot of different stuff?

  • 999999999

    First what ryan is doing in NY, with Mcnally and now Moore is absolutley brilliant. Why more people do not do this with older coaches, who have no desire to coach full time or coach at all, is beyond me. For all of his yap, Ryan is sort of a genius in his own right.

    familiarity, whether in alignment or in schematics, breeds contempts….but to put a play on obama, Familiarity alos breeds opportunity. And to me this is what great offenses manage to do…..When you watch the colts that is what you see…and you are starting to see it in NE…..

  • mattie

    Excellent article! By the way I couldn’t help but mention your description of Ryan’s defense and Moore’s offense (simple…putting players in position to succeed) was exactly what Tony Dungy’s defense has been in Tampa/Indy for so many years. He never did anything except run Tampa 2 70% of the time and demand that the players play exactly to their strengths and simply do their job. It worked very well. A lot of very talented coaches can learn from some of the most successful coaches. Dungy was considered a super genius from simply using a defense he played in Pittsburgh and keeping it simple…