The Future of the NFL: More Up-tempo No-huddle

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that huddling is an archaism destined for the dustbin. I say it’s a slight exaggeration because there is a value to huddling, primarily when you have a great leader at quarterback as a huddle is an opportunity for him to show his leadership skills. But otherwise, it’s inherently inferior to going no-huddle. It’s slower, which is a problem both in games but also in practice where your offense gets fewer reps, and, maybe most importantly, the safety net of a huddle leads coaches to transform plays that can be communicated in just one or two words into multi-syllabic monstrosities. That’s the sad secret of those long NFL playcalls: They convey no more information than can be conveyed with one or two words or with a combination of hand-signals.

I prefer to go fast

It’s doubly bizarre that the NFL, which has the most (i.e. infinite) practice time to develop no-huddle methods, and where the quarterbacks actually have a radio speaker in their headsets — shouldn’t it be easy? And it’s no secret, too. Despite being a copycat league, most NFL teams don’t do it while the best teams and the best quarterbacks — Tom Brady and Peyton Manning — kill people with it every week. And what is strangest of all is that the NFL was onto the no-huddle before most modern teams:

None of this is particularly new. In the 1980s and early 1990s, both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills used the no-huddle extensively, and college and high school teams have increasingly moved to no-huddle approaches over the last decade. In his 1997 book Finding the Winning Edge, Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh—whose West Coast offense fueled the growth of complex play calls—predicted that no-huddle offenses using “one word” play calls would come to dominate football. Walsh may have been a bit early, but Brady and Belichick are making his prediction come true.

But things may be changing, led by an influx of college quarterbacks comfortable in the movements of the no-huddle. As Tom Brady shows every week, there’s an art to manipulating the defense in the no-huddle. And there’s an incredible value to this, as NFL defenses become more and more complex.

Modern defenses want to match offenses in terms of strength and speed via personnel substitutions. They also want to confuse offenses with movement and disguise. The up-tempo no-huddle stymies those defensive options. The defense doesn’t have time to substitute, and it’s also forced to show its hand: It can’t disguise or shift because the quarterback can snap the ball and take advantage of some obvious, structural weakness. And when the defense is forced to reveal itself, Tom Brady can change into a better play. The upshot of this tactic: Brady, of all people, sees defenses that are simpler than those most other NFL quarterbacks go up against.

I’m somewhat more confident about seeing more no-huddle in the NFL both because there was more of it last season, but also because of those young quarterbacks. The “Gruden QB” camps are not the same thing as actual player evaluation, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting subtexts. Last season, everyone jumped on Cam Newton for his performance on Gruden’s show, when he was challenged about how simple his playcalls were at Auburn. The consensus was that because, in Auburn’s no-huddle offense, Cam would simply say “36” instead of one of those long NFL playcalls, he was unfit for the pros. Well those predictions didn’t turn out well.


What is the proper stance for a wide receiver?

This topic comes up fairly frequently and — while coaches have many different views on this — I am pretty set in how I think a receiver stance should look. The two most important things in the stance are to (1) get off the line quickly and (2) be balanced enough to deal with press coverage. Some coaches try to use different stances to accomplish this but given how unpredictable defenses can be, I don’t think you can swap stances.

Always a good model

Much of getting off the line involves two factors related to the stance and feet — namely avoiding false steps (having to take an initial step that doesn’t get you anywhere) and being in position to burst off of the line. On the other hand, defeating press coverage is typically about the receiver having certain moves he is good at, threatening the defender with his release immediately, and using his hands.

There is much to say about specific receiver techniques for releases themselves and obviously route-running itself, but the stance is the foundation for all of it.

For the stance itself, I don’t want it to be too much of a crouched sprinter stance, nor too upright and rigid. It should be a flexible, natural stance, recognizing that while the vast majority of time the most important thing for the receiver is to get vertical as quickly as possible, dealing with press man and taking other releases (either inside or outside) are integral parts of the repertoire and the stance should both lend themselves to those moves and not give anything away before the snap. Here are my coaching points for what I like.

  • Inside foot up, flat on the ground but weight slightly on the toes. 80% of weight on front foot, 20% on back foot.


New Grantland: Tim Tebow and the Jets

You can find it over at Grantland:

This is exactly the role Tebow should have had in the NFL from day one. Former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels famously traded up to draft Tebow in the first round, an exceedingly high spot for a player that is, and remains, a work in progress. Although it was preposterous when so-called scouts and experts claimed that Tebow should have been converted into a tight end or halfback (he will succeed or fail as a quarterback, the position he has played his entire life), it also was apparent that he needed to make significant progress in a variety of areas to be an effective NFL quarterback. Despite the tenor of the debates, in the NFL player evaluation is less about black-and-whites than it is about shades of grey and the interplay of two factors: roles and value.

Read the whole thing. This was originally intended to be a quick piece but it kind of ballooned out (the subject will do it to you). I do think it’s important to this story that Rex Ryan has been around football for a long time — and his Dad obviously even longer — so the calculus of the quarterback-as-run-threat is not lost on him. But of course Tebow’s long term success will be driven by his ability to read defenses and locate receivers more quickly than he has been able to so far.

Change Your Life for the Better: Coffee Time

I’m not a coffee “guru” or aficionado or any kind of expert, but I am one important thing: an addict. I also have little patience for exotic brewing techniques, though I also frequently burn my coffee on the old-school Mr. Coffee brewer and generally get annoyed. That is, that was the case until I found the solution: The Clever Coffee Dripper. Forgive me for this (entirely unsolicited commercial), but I assure you that the quality (and quantity) of my caffeine intake is not unrelated to this website.

The device is simple, which is what I like about it. It’s literally just a cup that has a gravity held seal at the bottom; you insert a filter into the top along with hot water, and then put the dripper on top of a cup and — voila — you have coffee in your cup, and the grinds are easy to throw away. This all sounds shockingly silly and simple until one remembers the great lengths (and often expense) of brewing decent coffee. (And often the expense of brewing mediocre or bad coffee is even greater, given that Keurig machines cost around $200 bucks and your per-coffee cost hovers just shy of a dollar per cup. (Link is to a PDF.)) Here is a quick video showing how simple this little guy is:

So I highly recommend this (this post is purely out of my affection for this thing, as I am currently drinking a cup of its product), and much of my recent content, going back to the fall, can be credited in part to this device. You can check it out here, though if you Google for it you can find additional information elsewhere.

Dick LeBeau shows you how to form tackle (sort of)

An in-game demonstration from the great Steelers (and here, former Bengals) defensive coordinator, versus the old Run and Shoot Houston Oilers:

What I’ve been reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Dan Kahneman. Science described this book as Gladwell’s “Blink with muscles” and that’s a fairly accurate, if slightly simplistic, summary. Kahneman’s book is extremely interesting and consists of almost all substance, yet is also clearly written and is a very fair account of Kahneman’s work over the years. Although it’s not directly about football given that it is about the nature of thinking and how our brains work, it’s of obvious application. Much of the book centers around the tension between what Kahneman calls our “System One” and “System Two” brains. This is not quite the same thing as saying between our impulsive and rational ways of thinking, particularly because our System One thinking is more than mere impulsiveness and it is extremely remarkable in the way that it can process and filter extreme amounts of information and form them into intuitive judgments and actions. But System One thinking is not a substitute for System Two, or rational thinking, but our brains have a limited capacity for engaging in System Two thinking — in Kahneman’s terms, our brain is often simply lazy about it — and so we’re constantly going back and forth between the two, sometimes to our benefit, sometimes not so much. It’s a fascinating read and one of the best books I’ve read in some time, though if you are extremely familiar with Kahneman and his frequent collaborator Tversky’s papers, the material won’t be particularly new.

Pricing the Future: Finance, Physics, and the 300-year Journey to the Black-Scholes Equation, by George Szpiro. I’ve already once on this site discussed a book about the Black-Scholes equation, the very good Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance, so it may appear that I’m setting up some kind of cottage industry in reading books about that particular bit of financial arcana. But Szpiro’s book was actually of more general interest than the one about Fischer Black, as that one focused on Black’s life, upbringing, unique intellectual influences and fascination with the Capital Asset Pricing Model. Szpiro’s book really only builds to the Black-Scholes equation at the end, only after covering hundreds of years of mathematical history, focusing as much on Louis Bachelier, Einstein, Robert Brown and the discovery of Brownian motion, Nikolaevich Kolmogorov and the general intellectual underpinnings and history of probability theory. I enjoyed these portions of the book — though I am admittedly not a scholar of mathematics by any stretch — more than the latter chapters more specifically about finance. So I recommend it, but only for those who think they are likely to enjoy a book about the history of various mathematical characters or the development of one particular financial theory.

What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy, by Thomas Nagel.

Breakdown and preview of North Carolina’s offense and defense under new head coach Larry Fedora

You can find both here: offense and defense. North Carolina is an intriguing team, and will be extremely multiple on both sides of the ball. On offense, Fedora is going with an up-tempo, pro-style spread, while on defense Vic Koenning and Dan Disch will be using a hybrid 4-2-5/3-3-5 type package. Should be fun to watch.

Excellent Video on Quarterback Drills from Ohio State OC/QB Coach Tom Herman

Good stuff:

On pseudo “Scoutspeak”

One 240-pound athlete who can move like a hungry leopard is pretty much like all the others, a fact that cannot be allowed to stand between the motivated draftnik and that coveted senior draft analyst title. Luckily, there is Scoutspeak, a language designed to baffle laymen with submolecular analysis of every high-cut, sudden prospect who can high-point, bucket step and take proper angles but gets upright, runs with poor lean, and fails to syncopate his duodenum while percolating the jabberwocky.

Every Scoutspeak term does correspond with some real physical attribute, and true experts like Mayock can pepper their explanations with jargon without delving into non-Newtonian football minutiae. Others use Scoutspeak to conceal ignorance. The Paradox of Draft Analysis states that the more detailed the observations about a prospect’s kinesiology, the less likely the writer-speaker is to have ever seen the prospect play football.

That’s Mike Tanier writing at the Fifth Down. Read the whole thing.

Not what the game is about

According to the investigation, the players regularly contributed cash into a pool and received improper cash payments of two kinds from the pool, based on their play in the previous week’s game.

Williams administered the program with the knowledge of other defensive coaches and occasionally contributed funds, according to the league investigation.

Payments were made for plays such as interceptions and fumble recoveries. But the program also included “bounty” payments for “cart-offs,” meaning that the opposing player was carried off the field, and “knockouts,” meaning that the opposing player was not able to return.

The investigation showed that the total amount of funds in the pool may have reached $50,000 or more at its height during the 2009 playoffs. The program paid players $1,500 for a “knockout” and $1,000 for a “cart-off,” with payouts doubling or tripling during the playoffs.

“The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for ‘performance,’ but also for injuring opposing players,” Goodell said in a statement. “The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity.”

Read the full report.