What I’ve been reading — Flash Boys, Home Game, How Children Succeed, The Lean Startup

Flash Boys, by Michael Lewis. flashFlash Boys is Lewis’s newest book — it was released on Monday, preceded by a feature story on 60 Minutes — and details how high-frequency traders are “rigging” the stock market. I, of course, bought it immediately, as Lewis’s work is all essentially self-recommending. I haven’t had the chance to make much progress yet, but so far, so good: it’s in Lewis’s typical clean, elegant prose, and covers subject matter (financial chicanery through the eyes of colorful outsiders) right in his wheelhouse. I’ll put up a more extensive review once I’ve finished the book.

Home Game, also by Michael Lewis, is something altogether different, and I read it last fall when I was home with our new baby. It’s hard to recommend the book as the subject matter — Lewis’s own unique approach to fatherhood, which mostly involves him detailing ways he feels inadequate or at least overmatched by the prospect — is quite narrow, and the book itself feels a bit like an attempt to cash in on his success as it is a collection of disparate thoughts and events, some recalled years later for his older children and others recorded in somewhat real time for his younger ones. Of course, there remain moments of insight, such as when Lewis details a father’s feelings of paralysis and uselessness while his wife suffers through labor and deliver, and the book was an easy read at a time when I am still amazed I had the brainpower to read much of anything. It’s a good book for expecting and recent dads, though Adam Gopnik’s From Paris to the Moon covers somewhat similar territory in similar though more complete and better organized fashion.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough. This surprisingly riveting book is about a shift in thinking about the best way to educate and prepare children for their lives, specifically a shift away from a sole focus on raw IQ — evidenced by making three year-olds do countless math problems or other pure “cognitive development” activities — to methods that, for lack of a better term, try to help them develop supporting skills like character, diligence, curiosity, and, most of all grit and determination. I’m no education expert and reading a book of competing educational studies is not how I’d like to spend my time, but Tough supports his argument with fantastic stories of real people. I was alerted to this book by this fantastic review (which contains several excerpts) of Tough’s book which focuses on Elizabeth Spiegel, an inner-city chess teacher and one of Tough’s heroes. But this isn’t just a Hollywood style narrative; it’s far more complex, and far more rewarding.

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Smart Links — Defending packaged plays and trips, Auburn tempo, Noel Mazzone clinic notes — 3/31/2014

Courtesy of Dan Shanoff, a diagram of four verticals autographed by Kliff Kingsbury:

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Is man-to-man the modern defense’s answer to packaged plays?

Holgorsen’s offense may be revered for its stars and its successes, but it’s like many others. It uses a lot of combination plays that can be a run or a pass depending on how a defense sets and reacts and how the quarterback reads it. WVU likes to run a stick-draw play where the quarterback can wait and hand the ball to a running back on a draw or wait and sell the draw and throw a simple pass to an inside receiver for easy yardage. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has the authority to hand the ball off on an inside zone or flick a pass to a slot receiver running a slant. Kansas State and TCU both hurt WVU when the quarterback would run outside or sell that action and then throw a pass to a receiver on the move in space created by the threat of a quarterback run.

In all those instances, the offense is at a greater advantage when a defense plays zone. The offenses try to target linebackers, nickelbacks or the hybrid linebacker/defensive back types in the area they’re trying to cover. The offense’s options force that defensive player to make a decision and the offense acts off of that….

“Quite a few teams use the zone read and that pop pass off the zone read,” WVU cornerbacks coach and former ECU defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said. “You don’t want to put your defender in a run-pass conflict. He bites on the run and they throw a pass right behind him, or they run some kind of bubble screen off of it. When you go man, you take that out of the equation. He’s either a run defender or a pass defender, and you get an extra guy in the box with man coverage.”

The University of Miami has a site up with video of most of their major drills, called UDrills.TV. Below is an example of their Pat ‘N Go drill (an Air Raid staple):

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Lane Kiffin’s Southern Cal Playbook and (Entertaining) UCLA Scouting Report

Lane Kiffin’s run at Southern Cal ended rather inauspiciously, but there are many who still respect his mind as an offensive coach, most notably his new boss at Alabama, Nick Saban.

Let me focus on this

Let me focus on this

Not only did Kiffin learn from his father, Monte, he also spent long hours at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ football facility studying and learning from Jon Gruden when his father coached under him in the early 2000s. At Southern Cal, Kiffin coached under Norm Chow, who brought with him a version of the old LaVell Edwards/BYU offense (via NC State), but Kiffin — as well as USC head coach Pete Carroll — wanted to update the attack with NFL concepts, specifically Gruden’s.

I recently stumbled on one of Kiffin’s old playbooks from when he was head coach at Southern Cal (really, a specific gameplan for their game in 2010 against UCLA). By this point Kiffin’s playbook is as much his own as it is what he learned from either Chow or Gruden, but you can still see the imprint in the plays — and in other more interesting ways, as we’ll see. For example, most of the running game and base passing game are all NFL and pro-style offense staples, though Kiffin had begun sprinkling in concepts he faced weekly from other teams in the Pac-12, like inside zone where the quarterback had the option to throw a bubble screen on the backside.

zonereadbubble

But this is all pretty standard stuff. The plays I really liked in this playbook were his goal line and short yardage passes, an area where I always thought Kiffin’s teams usually had nifty answers based on whatever his opponent liked to do in those scenarios, whether it was man-to-man across the board or some kind of short zones.

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Ohio Option Football Coaches Clinic Talks (Video)

Great stuff here from the Ohio Option Coaches Clinic of Malone coaches Joel Penner and Adam Chase presenting:

For more information, check out the Ohio Option Coaches Clinic here.

New Grantland: Better with Age: How 37 year-old Peyton Manning (and his Broncos offense) got better than ever

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Even though the actual plays in Manning’s current Denver playbook are largely the same ones he used in Indianapolis, the emphasis has shifted this season. With the Colts, a large percentage of Manning’s throws went to “vertical stem” routes, where receivers ran straight down the field before breaking inside, outside, to the post, to the corner, or curling up. Those throws are still heavily present in Denver — and no one has thrown a prettier fade pass this season than Manning; the above record-breaker to Julius Thomas is just one example — but a big chunk of Manning’s completions this season came on routes designed to be thrown short. The goal on such plays is to throw short and let Denver’s receivers run long, particularly with the “Drag” or shallow cross series.

 

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Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Who’s Laughing Now? Breaking Down Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks’ Multiple Defense

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Coaching is a hard profession. It certainly has its rewards, as skyrocketing salaries for NFL and college head coaches illustrate, but failure is the norm. Being a coach means eventually getting fired, and making a career out of coaching at all is an accomplishment. Carroll, however, has done something especially rare, pushing through wrenching public failure to succeed beyond all expectations. A coach can’t do that without learning from past mistakes, and Carroll has certainly changed for the better.

Much of the credit goes to Carroll’s defense, which has been the foundation of his success and remains closely tied to the first lessons he learned as a very young coach. “To be successful on defense, you need to develop a philosophy,” Carroll said at a coaching clinic while still at USC. “If you don’t have a clear view of your philosophy, you will be floundering all over the place. If you win, it will be pure luck.”

Carroll’s Seahawks, who face the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, don’t win with luck. They win by physically dominating opponents and playing championship-level defense. They also win thanks to Carroll’s new spin on an old scheme.

Read the whole thing.

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New Grantland: Goodbye to the BCS… But Careful What You Wish For

It’s now up over at Grantland:

The primary advantage of a playoff is certainty, and after years of endless BCS debate — which followed decades of debate under the earlier bowl systems — certainty has real allure. But in most sports that have playoffs, like the NFL or the NBA, the criteria for getting to the playoffs is basically objective. Most playoff spots are decided based on win/loss records, with certain mechanical tiebreakers in place and known in advance. It’s not that the playoff crowns the best or most deserving team — just ask the 10-6 New York Giants that knocked off the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. It’s that the loser has nothing to complain about: Everyone knows the rules.

Yet the new College Football Playoff lacks the very thing that makes playoffs in other sports so palatable, namely a semblance of objective certainty. While the defective BCS formula should have been interred long ago, it has been replaced by a Council of Platonic Guardians. The College Football Playoff selection committee will meet confidentially, then announce the identities of the playoff participants by edict. That’s not exactly what I’d call “settling it on the field.”

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: The Making of a Modern Guru: How Gus Malzahn Turned Auburn Around

It’s now up over at Grantland:

This season, Auburn has been anything but balanced — not that it has mattered. The 2013 Tigers are the first SEC team to average more than 300 yards rushing per game in almost 30 years. (The last team to do that? The 1985 Auburn team led by Bo Jackson.) But while Newton and current Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall both ran for more than 1,000 yards in Malzahn’s offense, they did so while using very different approaches. At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, Newton was essentially Auburn’s power back, and Malzahn featured him on a variety of inside runs. Marshall, by contrast, is shorter and lankier than Newton but boasts great quickness and acceleration. As a result, Auburn’s 2013 offense has focused less on the core wing-T run plays and more on zone reads to get Marshall on the edges while allowing Mason to use his excellent vision and patience to find running lanes.

The backbone of Auburn’s current rushing attack has been an amped-up version of the zone-read, which gives Marshall as many as four options: (1) throw a receiver screen, (2) hand it to Mason, (3) keep the ball, or (4) keep the ball and then toss it to a receiver who can sit in an open area of the defense if the man covering him comes up for the run — a form of the quadruple-option.

FourOptions

[...]

Although Marshall running the shotgun zone-read is far afield from the old-school wing-T, these subtle adjustments are pure Raymond: They’re sequenced plays, in which the base play sets up the counter and the counter sets up the counter to the counter, all dressed up with misdirection.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Lombardi Sweep Redux: How Eddie Lacy – and Green Bay’s Most Famous Play – Give Green Bay a New Dimension

It’s now up over at Grantland:

The 2013 Packers have also resurrected a version of the most famous play in Green Bay history, the legendary Lombardi Sweep, also known simply as the Packers Sweep. The play was the backbone of the Lombardi teams that won five NFL championships and two Super Bowls. On the Packers Sweep, Paul Hornung or Jim Taylor would sweep behind the blocks of pulling guards Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston, who would create, in Lombardi’s famous words, “a seal here and a seal here,” forming an “alley.” The 2013 Packers have repeatedly run a version of this play in order to get Lacy on the edge with pulling linemen paving the way.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Florida State’s “Most Improved Person”: Jimbo Fisher

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Winston piled up yards and touchdowns on his way to the Heisman Trophy, and his 190.06 passer rating is good for the second best single-season rating of all time, just shy of the mark Russell Wilson set in 2011. And it’s not as though Winston has run some watered-down attack; Manuel said this fall that learning the Buffalo Bills’ system was actually “easier to learn than the offense [he] had at Florida State,” as it required fewer adjustments based on defensive coverages. Fisher’s system, by contrast, puts a heavy burden on the quarterback to alter his reads depending on the defense’s coverage or alignment.

Earlier in Fisher’s career, he asked both his receivers and the quarterback to adjust routes based on the defense, but in recent years he’s simplified things — for everyone but the quarterback. “There are so many schemes and we all want to be gurus in football and think we created something,” Fisher said at the clinic. “I am just as guilty as everyone else, I promise.” Over the last few seasons Fisher reduced the number of plays while building options for his quarterbacks within each play. “Against Clemson [in 2012] we ran the same pass play nine times,” said Fisher. “We completed all nine of the passes, to five different receivers. I did not need a new play.”

Read the whole thing.