Smart Notes 10/20/09

Wild thought. Here’s a question for discussion. The Dolphins this season have taken to using a very interesting personnel package for their wildcat looks: two tight-ends and four runningbacks (Ronnie Brown at the “wildcat QB” spot, Ricky Williams as a split receiver/motion back, and then a fullback next to Brown and the other flanker has been a runningback as well). My friend Jerry Gordon speculated that this might be particularly taxing on NFL teams because of the strict 53 man roster limits. Indeed, the Dolphins had a lot of success against the Jets, and Rex Ryan uses a number of six, seven, and occasionally more defensive backs on the field at the same time to bring pressure with. Plus, add to that the fact that the typical NFL “cover” cornerback is not excited about being blocked in the run game, and the extra runningback out there can be a key linchpin for making the jet sweep go, and the personnel in general for opening up creases. Anyone have any thoughts on this?


– Brophy, delivering. My man Broph has some great stuff up from the past couple of weeks, especially his in depth look at Nick Saban’s defense. I’ve discussed an overview of some of what Saban does, but Brophy provides a nice summary of a DVD series Saban did, with primary focus on single safety or “one-high” defenses — Saban’s favorite.  Brophy has broken the articles into three parts:

  1. Middle of the Field Safety Coverage Principles – Part I (overview)
  2. Middle of the Field Safety Coverage Principles – Part II (Cover 3)
  3. Middle of the Field Safety Coverage Principles – Part III (Cover 1)

It’s best to read all of it, but a couple of good Saban quotes to whet the appetites:

If you’re not matching the pattern and cheating the receiver, you’re never going to make it. You’re going to be watching completions all night long. You’re never going to make it [to the ball].

The simplest and best defense in football is man-free coverage. It covers everything, it stuffs the run, and it defends the middle of the field. It’s the #1 coverage in pro ball . . . basically because you can’t get away with playing Cover 3.

And then this explanation of the “RAT” call from Cover 1 from Brophy:

The main nuance of this coverage has to do with a challenging/conflicting assignments for the backers. Because the main thrust of the defense is to stop the run from the inside out and [to] keep[] the defenders playing fast, the premise is to keep the linebackers focused on the backs and TE. Saban uses an alert code (RAT) to prevent a potentially ‘coverage breaking’ route.

“RAT” is used to alert inside backers [that the] strong safety [is] passing off his responsibility ([i.e., the] tight end) to the inside linebackers. When the second receiver (tight end) stems inside ([i.e., like on a shallow cross]), the strong safety, [if he] ran with him, []would be immediately vacating the perimeter ([i.e.] where the run game would likely be attacking) as well as [getting in the way] of the (run game) pursuing linebackers. To [avoid] this hazard, when the tight end stems inside [as on a shallow cross], the strong safety will declares/yells “RAT!”. “Rat” means a guy is coming into the funnel (is being funneled) and the remaining defender in the hole should cut/reroute and jump this receiver as he approaches.

This call accomplishes two things. First, it alerts the next backer over (Sam) that the strong safety will take his assigned man (first back out), and he should now adjust to the second back out strong. Secondly, it tells the Mike, who is the “rat in the hole” that he is going to have company soon (crossing tight end) and can jump this route as it comes.

As I see this, it is Saban’s way of getting a “floater” or “robber” player while keeping exactly who he wants on the various backs, tight-ends, and inside receivers — i.e. controlling the matchups. As a bonus, again courtesy of Brophy, is a video of ‘Bama in Cover 1 looks. And, of course for more, you must read the “holy grail” of defensive playbooks, Saban’s 2001 LSU book.

– Pellini, (un)-interrupted. Tough week for Bo coming off a big and disappointing loss to Texas Tech. But Brophy came through again with audio of a clinic talk Pellini gave while still at LSU on his defense. It’s well worth the listen.

– The testing of Mike Leach. Speaking of Tech, I have previously noted that Mike Leach is particularly adept at producing one prolific passer after another, and credited much of that to his system of drills and pass-happy practices whereby all his QBs get lots of reps. That theory will be challenged this week, as the Captain will likely be forced to start third-string redshirt freshman quarterback Seth Doege, due to injuries to his first two quarterbacks, Taylor Potts and Steven (“Sticks”) Sheffield.

– Interesting publishing deal. Free e-books as moneymakers?

– That’s just wrong. (H/t The Wiz)

– Jets QB Mark Sanchez had such a bad day… How bad was it? PFR Blog explains.

– Does anyone think this will actually help? I don’t know much about what’s going on with Jim Zorn and the Redskins, but is anyone convinced that taking away his playcalling duties and giving them to Sherman Lewis (who wasn’t even on the staff as of about three weeks ago!) is going to do anything? If there’s a crisis of confidence, then how will this help anything?

– On salary caps and competition. Sabermetric Research Blog.

  • Tim

    The announcers during the UF-Arkansas game pointed out that Mallet with his cannon arm was able to drill the ball downfield behind the cornerback before the safety could get over to help like he can against most quarterbacks. How did Saban shut this down when Alabama played Arkansas?

  • DM

    “is anyone convinced that taking away his playcalling duties and giving them to Sherman Lewis is going to do anything?”

    Of course not, and no one should be surprised. It’s the Redskins, they are a poorly run team so they do stupid things all the time because that’s what poorly run teams do.

  • Jon


    Well the owner is Daniel Snyder who doesn’t have a clue on how to run a team, let alone give up control to someone who is far more qualified to run the team.

  • Topher

    On the Wildcat: one of the perks of the new single-wing resurgence (whether it’s the zone read option or the Wildcat) is that it messes up defensive arithmetic, making the quarterback a factor the defense has to account for and making the game an 11-on-11 matchup. Further development of these schemes has produced some other wrinkles:

    -The whole idea of the option is to not block one player and run where he ain’t, so you are really playing with a numbers advantage with the option principle.

    -In the NFL, land of the cover corner, the single wing’s unpredictable combination of power, misdirection and outside running means that two defenders (the corners, who don’t like to be blocked and have gotten away with ignoring run responsibilities) are virtual nonfactors when it comes to stopping plays at the point of attack.

    -Further, the Dolphins deploying lots of backs means they get athletic, agile players blocking agile defensive backs. They don’t need to send a tight end or interior lineman to kill a fly with a bazooka when a stalk-blocking or crackbacking back can do the job.

    -Of course, the ‘Fins have to find enough good backs to run the thing competently and hope nobody gets hurt:

    “My friend Jerry Gordon speculated that this might be particularly taxing on NFL teams because of the strict 53 man roster limits.”

    When I read this, I thought you were saying that the scheme taxed the Dolphins’ offensive personnel rather than the Jets defense. This sentence unwittingly highlights the burnout factor of the single wing. The system now is comparatively unsophisticated at the pro level. As the system is coached up and refined, the dropoff gets bigger when somebody gets injured. That’s not a big deal now, but if Miami spends lots of time this season coaching up the Wildcat, Ronnie Brown gets hurt and Chad Henne can’t make up for it with the “regular” package there will be a backlash.

    What’s odd about this is that single-wing/Wildcat critics will cite this as evidence the scheme is a “gimmick” dependent upon a perfect storm of players to be run properly – but won’t apply the same criticism to the overcoached, highly quarterback-intensive “NFL Offense” that can’t be run by more than three or four QBs each season.

    As long as we are on the topic, let’s be honest about the PR factor. If Miami wasn’t being run by a proven winner in Bill Parcells, critics saying that the Dolphins were mavericks and hacks who didn’t fit into the NFL Way of Doing Things would probably be front and center.

    The pendulum swings: getting enough good players to fill those single-wing positions eventually pushed everyone into more divided-labor offenses, the last of whom was UCLA under Red Sanders. (Chris, correct me if I’m wrong).

  • Ben Smith

    Fins Single Wing- I can’t wait to see more nuances in the formations and the play-action game. Henning and Co. seem to be adding new twists every week.The financial aspect to all this is intriguing. The celebrity ownership group,locale,Bill Parcells,and variance from the prototypical NFL offense has to be reaping rewards in PR. With the economy as it is,this team has to be a hit for sponsors and network advertisers.
    Remember,the collective bargaining agreement will expire in 2010.Teams will have to boost their cash flows to compete in a likely no-cap season. The Dolphins are putting together an interesting strategy on and off the field. Big money will be watching closely,as Manhattan did in the 1960’s with Broadway Joe and the Jets.

  • Co-ach

    Regarding the roster issue of the updated wildcat, Patrick Cobbs tore up his knee against the Jets and is now out for the season. Cobbs has been an important part of the series the past two seasons. I didn’t really pay attention to how they overcame his loss towards the end of the game, but I am looking forward to the Dolphins’ response this week.

  • Disgustipate

    I think the 3rd Halfback split out wide is nice, and adds another blocking mismatch, but I’m not entirely sure it’s super important. For the largest portion of went on last year, the Jet Sweep portion ended up going behind not just the split HB, but the split out QB, which is just engaged in lame interference blocking.

    I believe when Cobbs went out, they replaced him with Brian Hartline, a backup WR who they use in alot of blocking situations. When they went into their 2-TE, 1-FB sets early in the game, it was Hartline, not Ginn or Camarillo or Bess who was out.

  • Topher

    The Dolphins’ specific use of the single-wing/Wildcat exploits not one but two major weaknesses in modern NFL defenses:

    -The use of multiple backs as running threats throws up defenses designed to stop the tailback only; today’s NFL is one where only one position on the field carries the ball.

    -The use of a two-tight end set challenges defenses who spend most of their time working to stop the pass against a three- or four-receiver package. Instead of just goal-line and max-protect situations, the defense now has to defend a tight power package all over the field.

    I’m still amazed Miami can run two distinct offenses on the same team. That’s a lot of practice time, academic learning, and coaching dynamics.

  • Linus

    Can someone point me toward a workable definition of the word “gimmick”? You know, in the context of the “Wildcat”? Because, while I am not a fan of the system, it seems to me that people who describe it as a “gimmick” really mean “system I poorly understand” (I’m not referring to anyone on this site, just certain sportswriters I’ve read).

  • Mr.Murder

    Invert the safeties and corners, or bring in an extra safety and let a corner sit out, or simply replace the safeties and corners in their assigned positions so you basically play two deep cover men and can blitz off the corners without losing any tackling integrity.

    In any event, you’re still faster than the offense.

    Have the linemen kill the dive read every time, have players able to tackle in space crashing the other reads from outside in.

  • Anonymous

    I’m way late to this so pardon my tardiness. What would happen if a team replaced it’s Wildcat package with a simple Wing-T package? I’ve just been wondering. It seems to me the Wing-T would provide the same power attack, a better misdirection, and a more capable passing threat. I started thinking about this when I saw an old (2002ish) replay of a Seahawks-Packers game on NFL network a few weeks ago. Holmgren went with the Wing-T in a goal line situation a couple times and I believe they scored both times.