Smart Notes – Defending Packaged Plays, Baylor’s Lazy Offense, Buck Sweep, Murder

Defending Packaged Plays.

Packaged plays are among the most deadly tools in the modern offense’s arsenal. These plays, sometimes also referred to as run-pass options, combine different types of plays into one while giving the QB the option to choose; they are a type of read-option that don’t require the QB to run the ball at all. They started years ago with combining inside runs with a built-in bubble screen, but they have grown and expanded over recent years and now frequently feature running plays — complete with the offensive line blocking for the run — with downfield passing routes designed to be open if the defense plays the run, which in turn keeps them honest and thus opens up the run.

This is why just about every team in college football now uses these plays, with teams as diverse as Baylor and Alabama alike profiting from them, and in the NFL the Steelers, Patriots, Eagles, Packers and many others have been using packaged plays repeatedly. And when they work, they are awful pretty.

run slant

Yet, like anything else new, defenses are getting better at defending packaged plays. Their purpose is to isolate a defender who is responsible for both the run and the pass, such as a safety or a linebacker, to put him in conflict, and to make him wrong. But if the defense simplifies itself and defines who is doing what — in other words, playing man-to-man coverage in the secondary while committing everyone else to the run — then there is no conflict and hence no read, and the defense should have numbers to defend the run. This is a sound response, and the rise of packaged plays is one reason defenses are playing more and more man coverage.

The problem with straight man coverage, however, is that it is, well, straight man coverage: if the offense has anyone you can’t match up with then the offense won’t fiddle around with packaged plays and will instead run a regular pass play (or screen, or certain run plays) and hurt you with more straightforward plays.

As a result, defenses have increasingly been employing different tools to defend packaged plays, the most effective of which has been to shift and disguise their coverage so the offense can’t get a bead on which defender to read. For example, in week one Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans shredded Tampa Bay whenever they lined up in two high coverage by reading the inside linebackers to decide whether to hand off or throw.


Doing this with Mariota made sense, as he was comfortable with packaged plays and the quick decisions they require from his time at Oregon — and it lets him use his arm and his brain rather than his legs — but now-deposed Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt failed to evolve his use of packaged plays and other teams caught up.

Maybe the most egregious example of this came in week 5 as the Dolphins repeatedly outfoxed Whisenhunt (yes, the interim-coach led Dolphins outfoxing your coach is a kind of death knell) on these concepts by confusing the QB’s reads. In the below clip, Mariota is reading the backside inside linebacker — who is unblocked as the backside tackle is blocking out on the defensive end — to decide whether to hand off on an inside run or throw a slant into what should be a vacated area.


Yet even though the linebacker steps up for the run — and thus Mariota’s read takes him to the slant — the nickel defensive back had been reading Mariota’s eyes the entire time and he simply steps in front of the slant for a too-easy pick-six.

Does this mean defenses have figured these plays out? Not even close; one of the many reasons Whisenhunt got fired was because he had only superficially begun integrating these plays into his offense, rather than truly understanding how they fit together. But I’ve seen other examples of plays like this so far this year, and it’s evidence that defenses are catching up. That, of course, shouldn’t be a surprise. In football, nothing stays easy for long.

Baylor’s Lazy Offense

Undefeated Baylor takes on Oklahoma this weekend, and even though the Bears had to turn to a freshman quarterback and Oklahoma suddenly looks like a juggernaut, does anyone not expect Baylor to continue to put up a crazy amount of points? Part of that is the great talent they have on offense, including a sturdy, veteran offensive line, as well as lethal receivers like KD Cannon and Corey Coleman. (On SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt on Monday night, Art Briles described Corey Coleman as “a bad dude. He will pull your heart out and watch it stop beating. He’s a bad hombre.”)

And of course it’s also how well designed it is, as I talked about at length in The Art of Smart Football. For example, look at all the space the bunch trips formation into the boundary creates for Coleman:

But the most remarkable thing to me is how lazy Baylor’s offense is. What do I mean? I mean that if you watch Baylor closely, you will frequently see something you almost never see: receivers jogging or even just standing around while their teammates run their routes full speed.

And here’s the weirdest part: It’s by design. Briles actually coaches his receivers to save their legs when the play isn’t going to them, and their tempo, maximum receiver splits, and packaged plays mean that those receivers often affect the defense just based on how they line up rather than what they do after the snap.

Indeed, when Briles and Baylor find a matchup they like they often simply call a one man route where one receiver is given a “win” route — get open deep — and the others just kind of sit it down. The QB’s job is to hit the receiver deep or throw it away.


It’s amazing to me any team can get away with this, let alone arguably the best offense in the country at any level.


Need 401k advice? Ask Marshawn Lynch.

College Romance That Led to Murder: Fascinating, enthralling New Yorker meditation on a bizarre set of murders.

– Brophy on matching up defensively with run-pass option/packaged play offenses and coverage examples.

– Nifty Wildcat Buck Sweep with a fake end around from Gus Malzahn at Auburn:

An, uh, interesting trick play.

Lin-Manuel Miranda versus Black Thought in a freestyle battle.

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