What I’ve been reading — Sid Gillman, David Halberstam, Narcopolis

Sid Gillman: Father of the Passing Game, by Josh Katzowitz. I’ve long extolled the virtues and importance of Sid Gillman’s role in the development of the modern passing game — and hence also football as we know it today. Katzowitz’s book does a great job profiling the mercurial Gillman, showing his development as a coach and the influence he had on his players as well as on schemes, and is an important contribution to football history of a somewhat more recent vintage. Books about football coaches tend to focus almost exclusively on the handful of men fortunate enough to win several Super Bowls or National Championship games; what makes Gillman’s life so interesting is while he didn’t exactly toil in obscurity, he still operated as something of an outsider, somewhat he transformed into a strength.

Everything They Had: Sports Writing from David Halberstam. I am not aware of whether or not this book has been out awhile, but I know it was recently released for Kindle and that’s when I picked it up. Halberstam was of course the master, quite possibly the best writer who happened to write about sports who has ever lived. This collection is somewhat uneven (it begins with pieces he published while still in college!), but many of them still resonate, as it’s remarkable how much life he breathed into simple stories about simple games. Sports are of course inherently without meaning — their entire purpose is to be a distraction from the things in life that truly matter — and yet, to effect both good and bad, sports matter to us collectively more than almost anything else in society. And what gives them meaning is both the rules of the game and the humans operating within them. In piece after piece Halberstam always seemed to push the right buttons, to reflect on sports place in the universe when appropriate and when to focus instead entirely on some human moment we all instantly understand. Plus, the guy knew how to put a sentence together.

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Smart Links – Manti T’eo, Bobby Fischer, Dental Floss, Maryland QBs (or lack thereof), Aaron Rodgers – 10/31/2012

Manti Te’o is good at football (via reddit/cfb):

Yet an interesting stat is that T’eo only has one sack this year — but has five interceptions. I can say that while I always thought he was a nice player he looks like a completely different guy this season; much faster, tremendously productive, and much more under control. And the low sack total doesn’t surprise me, given that in Bob Diaco’s hybrid 3-4 scheme he likes to drop T’eo into coverage while blitzing one of his hybrid end/linebackers off the edge.

Mike Leach has a story about seeing what he thought was Bill Snyder going into a frat party (of course).

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Bill Snyder: Miracle Worker

Given the success Kansas State is having (again) under Bill Snyder (again), it’s good to spend a little time thinking about how the 73-year old wonder does it. And, unsurprisingly, the reason K-State is winning now is the same reason K-State was winning before: because they play with great effort, great discipline, and they do all of the little things right (they also have some pretty good players, especially their quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown).

Always building

Rightly or wrongly, coaches tend to look at football teams as reflections of their coaches: A hardworking team reflects a hardworking coach; an arrogant team an arrogant coach; a disciplined team a disciplined coach; and, most damning of all, a soft, undisciplined team for a soft, undisciplined coach.

There’s no doubt that Snyder’s teams reflect the man — driven, earnest, and, well, maybe even a little bit fanatical, as Tim Layden’s great piece explained a few years back:

When Snyder was 28, fresh from a year as a graduate assistant to John McKay at USC, he was hired to coach at Indio (Calif.) High, and he tried to have himself hypnotized so that he might compress six hours’ sleep into an hour’s trance. “The hypnotist just told me, ‘That’s not the way it works,’ ” Snyder says.

At Iowa, where Snyder coached under Hayden Fry from 1979 to ’88, his dissection of passing plays would reduce his fellow coaches to snickers. “Bill would’ve described a play for about two minutes, and he wouldn’t even have reached the point where the quarterback releases the ball,” says Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, who was the linebackers coach on that Iowa staff.

Snyder has worn the same style of coaching shoes for two decades. When Nike stopped making the model in the 1980s, he hoarded as many pairs as he could find, and now on the sideline he looks like a character from That ’70s Show.

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New Grantland: Denver Dips Into the Old Colts Playbook for Some Vintage Peyton

It’s now up over at Grantland:

The play was a familiar one for Manning, which is revealing of the Broncos’ approach. At times this season it’s been clear that Denver head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy have been more focused on fitting Manning into their offense, with mixed results. Some of this has been because of Manning’s need tolearn Denver’s terminology, while the rest of it has just been finding the right blend for the entire team. What we saw in the second half is something we’ve seen all year, namely the Broncos dipping into Manning’s old Colts playbook for plays he’s most comfortable with, and then succeeding with them.

The latest example was this play, known as an anchor pass concept: An inside receiver runs a curl or other inside-breaking route right in front of the safety, while an outside receiver runs a post route right behind him. With the Colts, Manning frequently hit Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne running free behind someone like Dallas Clark; this time, Demaryius Thomas was the beneficiary.

Read the whole thing.

The play that got Drew Brees the record

Last weekend, Drew Brees lofted a pass to a wide open Devery Henderson for a 40-yard touchdown. In doing so, Brees broke the longstanding record of Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas by throwing a touchdown pass in his 48th straight game. That it came on a long bomb — and in a win — made it all the more perfect. You can see the play below (h/t Ty):

When I saw the play, at first I wasn’t exactly sure of the concept. Clearly Henderson was on some sort of double-move, while the inside receiver hooked up at around twelve yards. Well, the Pro Football Hall of Fame itself revealed the mystery, by tweeting out some mementos of the throw, among them a diagram of the play:

And all is revealed. It’s really just the simple old west coast offense double speed-outs concept, with the inside receiver on a middle read — had the Chargers been in split-safety coverage, he would’ve run a post route down the middle. The wrinkles were the Saints use of an empty set (but with the inside receivers still check-releasing their protection responsibility before releasing into the pattern), the bunched or compressed sets by the wide receiver, and that the outside receivers ran out-and-ups instead of merely out routes. All in all, good stuff; certainly good enough to break a record.

New Grantland: The Development of Geno Smith

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Everyone points to the spectacular plays, but it’s making the system’s simple, routine plays that puts Smith in elite company. As Tom Brady is fond of saying, good quarterbacking is often as much about minimizing mistakes and making good plays as it is making great ones. “It really goes down to making routine plays,” West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said after the Mountaineers’ 800 yards of offense against Baylor. “You lose sight of that because everything in your mind goes to great plays.” Dawson’s description may sound bizarre, but true excellence is typically banal. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning each mastered the simple things to the point that they could perform them repeatedly, whenever called upon, no matter the situation. Being a quarterback is maybe most of all about making the difficult look routine and, at the college level, Smith is doing just that.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Post/Wheel and the Latest Wrinkles in Holgorsen’s West Virginia Offense

It’s now up:

It worked. The receiver outside of Austin, J.D. Woods, ran a post while Austin ran a wheel up the sideline. The post-wheel route combination is one of the oldest in football, but it has increasingly become one of Geno Smith’s favorites. A big reason is that the routes aren’t static; although one receiver runs a post and another a wheel, each receiver has freedom to adjust his route by curling in between zone defenders or changing the angle of the post route. In this way, Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense has taken on shades of the old run-and-shoot, a pass-first attack known for receivers’ adjusting their routes and whose influence is still felt in the NFL. On this play against Maryland, no adjustments are necessary. The defense is confused by the post and fake touch pass and leaves Austin wide open in the end zone.

Read the whole thing.

Self-Scouting and How the Bengals’ Jay Gruden fooled the Redskins’ Jim Haslett

Nowadays, some teams go crazy with self-scouting: stats, odds, percentages, tendencies, and so on. One can debate how useful it is that you run to the right 54.5% of the time out of a certain formation if you have only used that formation eleven times. But the best advice I’ve heard for self-scouting is to identify and counter what you “always” and “never” do. If you always run to the right out of a certain formation, or you never throw the ball when you show another look, or you always or never blitz or play a type of coverage in another situation, then you better counteract that because your opponent certainly will.

So it was this past weekend when the Bengals faced the Redskins. Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden noticed that the Redskins, under defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, always ran Cover 0 when facing any kind of wildcat formation where the quarterback was not the one under center:

“We had a pretty good indication that they were gonna be in Cover-0 when we went wildcat with whoever we had back there other than a quarterback, whether it’s a running back or wide receiver,” Gruden told Adam Schein and Rich Gannon on SiriusXM NFL Radio this week. “It took a little bit of time, but the free safety came out of the middle of the field, and came in the box, and we knew we had A.J. one-on-one against a safety.

“And it was just Mo’s job to just launch it as high and as deep as he could and let A.J. run under it,” Gruden explained. “And he threw a great ball, a much better ball than he did in practice, that’s for sure. It worked out great, obviously.” . . . .

“Actually, it was just for this game,” Gruden replied. “Because Coach Haslett, I was just watching their wildcat reel. And every wildcat snap they had, they played Cover-0. And I’ve been waiting for it. We practiced it this week, and I told them on Wednesday when we installed our group that this was gonna be play one of the game against the Redskins,” Gruden continued. “We practiced it four or five times throughout the week, and made sure we protected it number one, and gave him a chance to step into it and launch it. And he did.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with going Cover 0 against a non-quarterback formation, but, as I was told long ago, if you don’t notice your “always” and “nevers,” someone else will. Video of the play after the jump.

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Smart Links – Busted Midlines, Game Planning, 4-2-5 tips, High Freeze, Keats – 9/27/2012

Amazing, from LSUFreek:

freek

mgoblog on Michigan’s busted midline read and play-action against Notre Dame. In the first play I like outside zone and in the second the runningback needs to get away from his fake and step into that linebacker.

Game plan nuggets.

22 keys to your 4-2-5 defense.

Ole Miss’s Hugh Freeze hopes his scheme will hold up versus Alabama.

Ben Muth on the Chiefs outside zone.

Biography of John Keats.

Fewer long-winded speakers at this year’s UN Assembly.

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New Grantland: Controlled Chaos: How the evolution of zone-blitz coverages has defined modern defense

It’s now up on Grantland:

In other words, the zone blitz had come full circle. What began as a way to blitz without playing man coverage had started incorporating man coverage all over again, this time in an entirely new way.

Using pattern-match principles allowed defenses to overcome the deficiencies in both the manic, risk-heavy man-to-man blitzes and the easy-to-exploit soft spots in the zone-coverage scheme. There was now a way to keep the safety of the zone and the tighter coverage of man-to-man. Defenses had finally done for blitzing what Walsh had done for passing — keeping the reward but eliminating the risk.

Read the whole thing.