Smart Notes – Norm Parker; inverted veer – 10/12/2010

Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker will return this season, despite having had his foot amputated as a result of his diabetes. Parker is both one of the great defensive coordinators out there and one of the good men in the profession. Check out the video below, courtesy of Brophy, of the Hawkeye Tackling Circuit:

For more on Parker’s defense, see here.

– Julio Jones played with a broken hand during almost all of Alabama’s loss to South Carolina. Cue Doc Sat: “The injury was bad enough (and presumably exacerbated by Jones continuing to block and catch passes all afternoon) to require surgery on Sunday to insert a plate and screw. That may not quite measure up to playing after losing a piece of your finger, but it’s tough enough to impress me. Jones’ return for this week’s visit from Ole Miss depends on his “pain tolerance,” per coach Nick Saban, who also said this morning the offense will be without starting right tackle D.J. Fluker, victim of a “pretty severe” groin injury.”

– Inverted veer, spreading. Nebraska’s speedy quarterback Taylor Martinez scored a couple of his long touchdowns on the “inverted veer” play, which I discussed previously here and here. Check out the clips below; the first example comes on Martinez’s second touchdown run about 18 seconds in. It’s really amazing how different Nebraska’s offense is than last season, if not totally in schemes then certainly in personality and dynamic.

– Zone read of the defensive tackle. How did Purdue beat undefeated Northwestern despite having less than 50 yards passing? One key tool — which had a large part in Purdue QB Rob Henry rushing for 132 yards — was Purdue’s use of the zone read of a defensive tackle rather than a defensive end. Check out the video below.

– The 2010 Nobel Prize in Economics has been awarded to Peter A. Diamond, Dale T. Mortensen, Christopher A. Pissarides for their work on “search markets,” and labor markets in particular. Ed Glaeser has a very good explanation of their work (I do think there are football related applications of analysis of markets with “search frictions”):

The most traditional economic model of the labor market assumes a labor supply schedule, which reflects the number of workers willing to work at a given wage, and a labor demand schedule, which describes the number of workers that companies are willing to hire at a given wage. At some wage, supply equals demand and that’s the market equilibrium, which is where traditional economics predicts the world will end up. In markets with undifferentiated products — like copper or winter wheat — that model works pretty well, but it has some pretty obvious failings when it comes to labor or housing markets.

[T]he Economics 101 model does an awful job explaining an American civilian labor force where nearly one-tenth say they want a job and can’t find one. Die-hard supporters of the basic model sometimes argue that wage floors, like the minimum wage, keep wages too high for the market to clear. But American minimum wages are low, and only a small fraction of jobs are affected by that barrier. Another attempt to save the old model is to argue that unemployed workers just value their time too highly to take a job at current market rates. But the view that the unemployed are just having a swell time hanging out watching cable is wildly at odds with the real world. New paradigms emerge when reality crashes against theory, and that’s what brought us the search theory of Professors Diamond, Mortensen and Pissarides.

Search models don’t just assume that buyers and sellers face a market-clearing price — they try to actually describe the process that determines that price. The ur-search paper, “The Economics of Information,” was published in 1961 by George Stigler (who won his Nobel in 1982). Professor Stigler modeled a product market where consumers kept searching for lower prices until the point where “the cost of search is equated to its expected marginal return,” in the form of lower prices. Professor Stigler then applied search theory to the labor market in 1962, focusing on the dispersion of wages, which he argued should be higher when search was more difficult. He said little about unemployment and didn’t really address the pricing behavior of companies.

Dale Mortensen’s 1970 paper on “Job Search, the Duration of Unemployment and the Philips Curve,” formalized and extended Professor Stigler’s ideas. In Professor Mortensen’s paper, companies offer jobs, each of which requires a certain amount of skill. Jobs with the same skill requirements offer the same wage. Workers then interview for jobs, and if they are qualified, they can either take the job or move along. More skilled workers will be qualified for more jobs, which perhaps explains why the unemployment rate among college graduates is about one-third the unemployment rate for high school dropouts, but they will also be pickier. Pickiness among the more skilled also leads to unemployment, as workers hold out for a better job. In a sense, unemployment does reflect the fact that workers have something better to do than accept a low-paying job. That something is searching for a better-paying job.

But Professor Mortensen’s 1970 paper was still pretty modest…. Peter Diamond [published his model in 1971], “A Model of Price Adjustment,” in The Journal of Economic Theory. Professor Diamond began writing about information a few years later, with an article about the “role of the stock market,” in the transmission of knowledge. The 1971 search paper produces a somewhat surprising result: if there are a number of otherwise identical stores, which fix their prices, then competition can lead to high monopoly prices, not low competitive pricing or Stiglerian price dispersion. If consumers think that companies are all charging the same price, then they won’t bother searching. If consumers don’t bother searching, then the only reasonable thing for companies to do is to charge the monopoly price. This result, which is known as the Diamond Paradox, can be weakened if price-cutting companies are able to advertise, but it suggests the enormous ability of search frictions to distort markets….

(I also recognize that many would prefer not to call the Economics Prize a “Nobel Prize” because it was only added later.)

– Readers of this site can relate. James Surowiecki examines procrastination — and what it says about us — in the New Yorker. A couple of the (many) good paragraphs:

The idea of the divided self, though discomfiting to some, can be liberating in practical terms, because it encourages you to stop thinking about procrastination as something you can beat by just trying harder. Instead, we should rely on what Joseph Heath and Joel Anderson, in their essay in “The Thief of Time,” call “the extended will”—external tools and techniques to help the parts of our selves that want to work. A classic illustration of the extended will at work is Ulysses’ decision to have his men bind him to the mast of his ship. Ulysses knows that when he hears the Sirens he will be too weak to resist steering the ship onto the rocks in pursuit of them, so he has his men bind him, thereby forcing him to adhere to his long-term aims. Similarly, Thomas Schelling once said that he would be willing to pay extra in advance for a hotel room without a television in it….

Not everyone in “The Thief of Time” approves of the reliance on the extended will. Mark D. White advances an idealist argument rooted in Kantian ethics: recognizing procrastination as a failure of will, we should seek to strengthen the will rather than relying on external controls that will allow it to atrophy further. This isn’t a completely fruitless task: much recent research suggests that will power is, in some ways, like a muscle and can be made stronger. The same research, though, also suggests that most of us have a limited amount of will power and that it’s easily exhausted. In one famous study, people who had been asked to restrain themselves from readily available temptation—in this case, a pile of chocolate-chip cookies that they weren’t allowed to touch—had a harder time persisting in a difficult task than people who were allowed to eat the cookies.

Given this tendency, it makes sense that we often rely intuitively on external rules to help ourselves out. A few years ago, Dan Ariely, a psychologist at M.I.T., did a fascinating experiment examining one of the most basic external tools for dealing with procrastination: deadlines. Students in a class were assigned three papers for the semester, and they were given a choice: they could set separate deadlines for when they had to hand in each of the papers or they could hand them all in together at the end of the semester. There was no benefit to handing the papers in early… [T]he rational thing to do was to hand in all the papers at the end of the semester[.] Yet most… chose to set separate deadlines for each paper, precisely because they knew that they were otherwise unlikely to get around to working on the papers early, which meant they ran the risk of not finishing all three by the end of the semester. This is the essence of the extended will: instead of trusting themselves, the students relied on an outside tool to make themselves do what they actually wanted to do.

  • Malcolm Kass

    Why would anyone not refer to it as the Nobel Prize of Economics. In many ways, it is more of a science than many of the “empirical only” fields like astronomy and zoology. Nowadays, economics run experiments and their level of stats and mathematics knowledge is matched by only statisticians. What is not to like?

  • Malcolm,

    It’s not something I get into, but suffice to say some people feel very strongly about it not being a true “Nobel Prize.”

  • The short answer is that the economics prize was not one of the ones named in Alfred J Nobel’s will. It was established afterward. People who get exercised about it are just being pedantic.

  • LongCat


    At what point since Copernicus has astronomy been “empirical only”? There’s a lot more theory and physics involved than just aiming a telescope at a nebula and taking a pretty picture.

  • 4.0 Point Stance

    On those Nebraska clips, at least two of Martinez’s runs, including the long one, were against 6 man fronts. Seems kind of odd that K State was willing to honor the pass with both safeties, considering Martinez’s reputation as a run first QB. Helu’s TD at :45 is another example where Nebraska scored based on simple math – the Huskers unbalanced to the top of the screen, the entire K State defense shifted that way and followed Martinez around that end. No one kept contain on the weak side and Helu went in untouched.

    I thought the formation on the Purdue clip was interesting. On the TD run at :32, the guards are lined up about 1/2 yard in the backfield, although the tackles are straight up on the line. I suppose this is designed to make it easier to pull, but neither guard pulled. Anyone know the benefits to this formation?

    And vis a vis the New Yorker article, now that I’ve watched these clips and said my piece I’m headed to the library.

  • Teo

    @LongCat and Malcolm: and a lot more math too. Which is far more complex than the math used in stats.

  • I was a bit confused on the Purdue clip. On the Rob Henry roll-out, it looked to be a designed play, not a read at all. On the TD handoff to Dierking, though, it did look like Henry might have been reading the DT (i.e. the DT was coming for the QB, so he hands off), but I wasn’t quite sure.

    Which play were you referring to?

  • Brad: I fixed the clip to start at the TD handoff to Dierking. I’m 100% positive that was a zone read of the defensive tackle, where the DT penetrated so much that the read and handoff had to happen quickly. Happy to look at any other interpretations. You’re right that the first play was just a called play of some kind. Purdue did run this throughout the game.

  • Thanks Chris…

    At this point I’m just a fan of the game and trying to learn things at a deeper level — on top of being a Boiler fan and interested in what our own offense is doing. I had read in another article that Purdue was doing reads of the interior linemen, so I wanted to know what you were referring to in order to see it in action…

  • Patrick

    Nebraska really has an interesting offense this year. Part Oregon, part Nevada, they really incorporate a lot of different types of reads. In the clip, Taylor Martinez’s 1st touchdown is indeed on the inverted veer. However 2nd touchdown at the end of the clip is the outside zone, reading the DT rather than end. I also saw them run a couple of midline plays. I would really like to see them run a little more option than they do, but thats just me. Also, I guess this is just semantics, but I really would consider the play in the Purdue clip a midline rather than a zone read.

  • Admittedly, I haven’t gotten to see as many NU games as I would like to, but watching their dismantling of KSU, and how they late-set the back (to prevent defenses from setting their fronts against the back), I had to wonder if they didn’t adopt this after Ron Hudson and UL-Lafayette (notorious for doing this) did this against them last year in Lincoln.

    Is the offensive adaptation more a result of brilliance shining on them (in the form of Taylor Martinez), kind of how Vince Young molded the Texas offense?

  • Bob

    Patrick, there are four TDs on the clip. The first is a QB power that Martinez cuts back, the second is the inverted veer, the third is QB draw, and the fourth is outside zone with a read of the DT.

    Teams like Nebraska and Oregon, who have QBs with tremendous speed, intelligence and passing ability are doing some amazing things with their offenses. These schemes are great but you need the right athlete to really make it go. It is no accident that Nebraska and Michigan are so much improved this year. Their quarterbacks have incredible skill-sets.

  • Patrick

    Yeah, sorry. Apparently I’m a bit of a tard. I was referring to touchdowns 2 and 4. I really do like the a lot of the aspects of the spread offenses that are being run today, if for no reason other than they are bringing option football back, at least to some degree. But they really are the most single player centric offenses probably ever run. If you don’t have a quarterback who is a hell of an athlete and can pass at least competently, the offense is going nowhere. Honestly, as good as Michigan has looked this year on offense, if you NEED an athlete at qb like Denard Robinson for your scheme to work, there is a flaw in the design.

  • PhilProf


    I doubt that there is a direct causal connection, but the various ways spread offenses read defensive linemen seem conceptually similar to the old inside belly play Split T & wishbone teams used to run – isolate a lineman and make him wrong by running 2 potential ball carriers at him. Do you think there is any mileage left in this idea as a 2+ back T-formation play? Is there anything spread offenses can learn from the T-formation predecessor?

    Love the discussion of procrastination. I’m a big fan of the extended will, but beware – you’ve got to be careful about taking the divided-self metaphor too seriously. (1) Treating each desire as an agent supposes that each has it’s own beliefs & reasoning capacities. Beware the homunculi! (2) If individual decision making were like parliamentary decision making, we would rarely see well-ordered decisions of the sort that most economists usually predict (and we sometimes see). A divided mind would be subject to Arrow’s Theorem and so would exhibit some really bizarre behavior of a peculiar sort.

  • PhilProf: I don’t see why traditional sets have to go away. I think the gun opens up a lot of options for the mobile QB, but some of the best offenses of all time featured mobile QBs from under center. I think we’ll probably see it as more of a synthesis over time though; some teams using under center/two back sets and then also using gun spread looks to run the same concepts.

  • Patrick,

    I could not disagree with you more about the statement, “But they really are the most single player centric offenses probably ever run. If you don’t have a quarterback who is a hell of an athlete and can pass at least competently, the offense is going nowhere.”

    Yes, teams have a problem, but only when they are one dimensional with only a QB. To be effective, you need to have a QB and a Running Back. Look at Oregon and the one two punch between the QB and the tailback. When you have both you put a lot of stress on the defense. Throw a WR or two in the mix and life is pretty good as long as the ball is distributed correctly.

    The system is not flawed. Only having one piece of the puzzle is what’s causing the problem . . . yes, look at Michigan. No Tailback, one dimensional. Michigan will be marginal until they get Robinson some help at the running back spot. Just something to think about.

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