Smart Links – Eli Manning, Success Rate, Back-Up Quarterbacks, Receiver Routes – 2/13/2012

Kendall Wright and not drifting away from the ball out of a cut. Matt does a good job of discussing the difference between drifting away from the ball after a receiver makes a cut while still having different “types” cuts, like “flat” breaks and “speed cuts.” A lot of scouts have an instinctive reaction to speed cuts, claiming the receiver “rounds off his route,” but that’s actually what you teach on certain timing patterns; you don’t want the receiver to lose speed out of his break which he will on any true “flat” break.

- Peter King on the growth of Eli Manning. Also, it’s worth revisiting Michael Lewis’s piece on the “Eli Experiment” from a few years back.

- Indy Football Clinic Spread Offense Notes.

- “Bench Wren,” a great boundary defensive pressure concept.

- The best negative book reviews of the year.

- NFL quarterbacks and their backups.

- The return of Van Halen.

- Why Success Rate is not as important in football as it is in baseball. Note that one of the few useful applications of Success Rate is with respect to individual runningbacks, which was discussed here.

- The physics behind music. Interesting piece.

- The universe from nothing.

- Obituary of Lucian Freud.

- Inside Instagram. I’m not convinced that the goal of all of these start-ups should be to “get big fast” via venture funding, but different contexts require different approaches.

Best of Billick 101: Chalk talks with NFL coaches

Good stuff:

<a href='http://msn.foxsports.com/video?videoid=ca002bd1-848c-4f15-9626-c8d9a3108a3e&#038;src=v5:embed::' target='_new' title='Coach Speak: Best of Billick 101' >Video: Coach Speak: Best of Billick 101</a>

After the jump are some full segments (note that it will load a bit slowly):

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New Grantland Blog: Draw it Up: Two Key Plays, Super Bowl Edition

It’s now up over at Grantland:

On the other side was Manning’s brilliant thread-the-needle pass to Manningham. Just previously, the two had barely missed on a similar fade throw to the opposite sideline. (Manningham caught it while stepping out of bounds.) But get used to this one: We’re going to see it a lot, for a long time.

The entire game, the Patriots had played a form of “cover two,” two safeties deep to take away the big plays. Belichick did not want the Giants to burn them with deep passes to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, or Manningham, and for most of the game, they succeeded. The other elements of Belichick’s game plan were to move Vince Wilfork out to line up over the guard and tackle, to take away the off-tackle run game that the Giants favored (as with two safeties deep, the Patriots were a man short against the run the entire game), and to double-team the electric Cruz. This opened things up for Nicks, who had more than 100 yards receiving on 10 catches, and, ultimately, for Manningham, on the biggest play of the game.

Read the whole thing.

And yes, the Giants — likely unintentionally — used Buddy Ryan’s old “Polish Defense” tactic by having extra men on the field to force the Patriots to burn extra time off the clock before the eventual hail mary. A wild game.

Smart Links – Sabanization, Ball Security, iPads – 1/30/2012

This edition of Smart Links brought to you by Vanderbilt offensive line coach Herb Hand and his awesome vertical leap:

- Blutarsky and Michael Elkon on the “Sabanization” of the SEC.

- Gary Crowton to become the offensive coordinator of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

- I’m still now sure how I feel about this.

- The real secret to Nick Saban’s success.

- Drug testing for legislators. Hard to see why this shouldn’t be law.

- The world of Roger Scruton.

- BenJarvus Green-Ellis’s secret to not fumbling. Try here for a little more substance on the topic of ball security.

- A good way to waste time: Look up how much your favorite college professors and administrative officials make.

- Good analysis of the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding the warrantless use of GPS tracking devices by police.

- LeBron’s “improved” post game.

- Football’s (the other “football”) best managers.

- Weaning off of “alternative” investments. Like so many things, what was once hot quickly cools.

- Human costs built into the iPad.

The most popular books bought by Smart Football readers in 2011

It’s very interesting to see what books Smart Football readers purchase. I get very minor referral revenues from Amazon purchases and, as a result, I am able to track which books readers purchase. The data is totally anonymous but it provides, in aggregate, some useful data.

The 20 Most Popular Books Bought by Smart Football Readers in 2011

Below is the broken out list. I thought it was quite interesting and I am curious if anyone thinks any particular trends emerge; there are definitely a few surprises in there. Note that I only included the top 20 books in the chart above; it would’ve been too tedious to create an “Other” category.

The Most Important Game in the History of the Spread Offense, and its Legacy

The 2000s were undoubtedly the decade of the spread offense. We’re still feeling the reverberations of the tectonic shifts; what began in backwater practice fields, the synthesis of old ideas with new ones, is now omnipresent — overexposed, quite possibly — on most levels of football, and even the NFL is now beginning to adapt. Some of this charge is led by innovative coaches; some by fan request; some simply by players too good to not be part of a changing landscape.

Sons of the spread

The spread was not born on November 4, 2000, when lowly Northwestern, coached by the late Randy Walker, defeated Michigan, but that was the day it no longer belonged to the fringe: It had been conceived long before, from a variety of parents, but that day it was born to the world, live on our TV screens. I’ve previously written about the game and what it meant going forward.

Northwestern defeats Michigan 54-51. This is shocking enough. Northwestern scored fifty-four points against a Michigan team known for great defense and great defensive talent. Doubly shocking. Quarterback Zak Kustok threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns. Not so shocking from a spread quarterback in victory. We’d seen the run and shoot before; Drew Brees, also in the Big 10 playing for Purdue, commonly put up big passing numbers in a spread-to-pass system. Indeed, don’t they always have to throw for this much to win? That’s why they get in the gun, right?

But wait, there’s another stat.

Northwestern Rushing: 332 Yards; 6.64 average per carry. 332 yards.

What? Three-Hundred and Thirty Yards rushing?

How did they do that? Yes their running back had a huge day, but the yards that also made everyone sit up and take notice were the 55 yards from Northwestern’s quarterback, Zak Kustok – hardly Vince Young or Pat White [or Cam Newton] in raw athleticism. But the light went off across the country. If Zak Kustok can do it, maybe my guy can too. And even if he’s not superman just the threat that he can make the defense pay if they over pursue by getting me eight yards, then let’s do it.

And if by the threat of the quarterback, that opened up my runningback for the huge day, then we’d really have something. The gateway for the ubiquity of the spread — by definition, a system with multiple receivers — was not by appealing to every coach’s impulse to be Mike Leach and throw it 50 times a game; believe it or not, most coaches do not want to be Mike Leach. Instead if you could show them how to run the ball for 300 yards and score 54 points against an historically great rushing defense, that is something people will sign up for. Walker and his offensive coordinator, former Oklahoma offensive coordinator and current Indiana head coach, Kevin Wilson, were traditional, power, tight-end and fullback guys. If they could make it work — against that opponent — well, there was hope for everyone.

More than a decade later, maybe the spread is already past its prime.
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New Grantland Blog: Manning to Manningham – NFC Championship edition

It’s now up over at the Grantland blog:

Yet while Cruz was the most important receiver on the field for the Giants, Manning’s best throw of the day went to a guy who had but a single catch on the game: Mario Manningham, whose 17-yard touchdown reception tied the score at 17. The play — which came, dramatically enough on third-and-15 — was an old, old pass concept known as “anchor” or “Mills.” (“Anchor” refers to the concept more directly, with an underneath receiver hopefully “anchoring” a defender so the post route can get behind him; “Mills” is a name common in many coaching circles, as Steve Spurrier destroyed people with this concept back at Florida in the 1990s and he called it “Mills” after the receiver who ran it the best, Ernie Mills.

Read the whole thing.

Joe Paterno’s Penn State Defense

Joe Paterno has passed away.  I am not the right person to put his lengthy career, decorated career together with the tragedy at Penn State, and, ultimately, his death, in proper context. Others will assuredly do it and do it well. Below is instead a meager contribution to Joe’s legacy, however mixed it may ultimately be. Before the Jerry Sandusky scandal and all that went with it became public last fall, I wrote this simple strategic-focused piece on Penn State’s traditional but very effective approach to defense. I wrote it to be a part of a larger project to be published; once I learned what happened with Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno, and so on, the piece simply became an orphan.

So I offer this here not as any commentary on what Joe’s legacy should be; that question now is about a lot more than football. But I hope it is of some value — maybe not today, but at some point in the future — given that it was written in what can only be referred to as a more innocent time, even if that was only just a few months ago.

Penn State’s Defense - Written in August 2011

Once upon a time

Penn State will – and should – always be defined by its defense. Despite some glances in the direction of being “Spread HD,” the foundation of the program is its rugged yet simple defensive schemes. When that team, wearing those same, historic uniforms, led by that coach, shuts down a hapless opponent under a sea of blitzes and gang tackles, “Linebacker U” speaks to something primitive within each of us. When you think of Penn State, you think of linebackers with bloody knuckles and neck roll padding, and a camera close-up of the opposing coach and quarterback wearing that “I-just-got-screwed” face after being on the wrong end of a goal line stand – like Michael Douglas at the end of so many of his movies – and all is right with the world.

Joe Paterno must get primary credit for building the program in his tough, irascible image. It’s a legitimate question how involved Joe is on a day-to-day basis these days, but the foundation is his and he still coaches the coaches. And he’s had some great ones, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The defense has evolved in response to the revolutions that offenses have undergone, from option football to I-formation running to west coast passing and even the early rumblings of the spread in the late 1990s. Current de facto defensive coordinator Tom Bradley (in one of its many traditions, Penn State does not actually name its coaches “offensive coordinator” or “defensive coordinator”) and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden are among the very best and most knowledgable guys in the game, while anyone who has heard defensive line coach Larry Johnson speak will no doubt remember it for years afterward. Bradley, who nearly left the program to become Pittsburgh’s head coach and was rumored for several other head coaching positions, in particular has kept the Penn State tradition intact, by keeping the framework that Penn State has used for decades while updating it for the newest waves of offensive evolution.

Penn State is nothing if not tradition, and that includes always being surrounded by the ghosts of those who came before you. Each linebacker is given a position name so he can make sense of the defensive calls: “Sam”, “Fritz” and “Backer.” Penn State’s linebackers are supposed to know which historical greats that made “Linebacker U” what it is were Fritzes, which were Sams, and which were Backers. Similarly, in many systems the strong safety is known as a “monster” player because he plays all over the field. For tradition rich, they keep the view Penn State of Rip Engle, who coached the Nittany Lions from 1950 to 1965: that “monster” is a derogatory, déclassé term, and thus the strong safety is known as “Hero.” For Penn State, the age of Eisenhower continues to be the model for present day battles.

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Former Texas A&M Coach Mike Sherman’s letter to Texas High School coaches

Sometimes things don’t work out the way you hope they do; that’s certainly the case for any coach that gets fired. But sometimes there can be victory in defeat. In that vein, I enjoyed coach Sherman’s letter, which is reprinted below.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for allowing my staff and me to come into your high schools, recruit your players and share ideas with you. I am forever grateful for the access and opportunity you’ve offered me over the last four years.

Other than going to practice every day and being on the field with my players, the one thing I am going to miss the most is visiting with high school coaches, listening to you talk about your kids and your programs, and watching practices and off-season workouts. Since this will be my last letter to high school coaches, besides thanking you for the opportunities to visit with you, I wanted to share with you some of the things I learned over the years that might be of help to you down the road. Sometimes I think as football coaches we are so competitive we are reluctant to share ideas. This profession has been good to me. I believe giving back when you can is important. These are my ideas – not suggesting they are for you. They are some of the things I came away with.

I. Core Values

If a player learns anything from me, he’ll learn that you have specific core values to live his life. These ‘core values’ are his guiding light in the decisions he makes not just as a football player, but as a man.

Our ‘core values’ for our team were simple.

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Smart Links – Conference Realignment, Pass Rushing, Jim Harbaugh on QBs, Madden, Derek Parfit, “Bob” – 1/19/2012

Beginner’s guide to conference realignment. Below is catlab’s take:

- Pass rush, thinking about the big picture.

- Jim Harbaugh on quarterbacking.

- Tom Bissell on Madden and the future of video game sports.

- Defensive line play in the 46 Nickel.

- “Bob,” R.I.P.

- Steve Spurrier’s coach hiring criteria: No smokers and no sloppy fatties.

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