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.

My Favorite Books of 2013

This is a list, in no particular order, of the books I read in 2013 which I consider my favorites. This does not mean these books came out in 2013; it only means I read them this calendar year.

outofsight

  • Out of Sight, by Elmore Leonard. I was sad to hear of Leonard’s passing, but I’d only read a couple of books of his prior to this year. Out of Sight was tightly focused and riveting throughout.
  • The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success, by William Thorndike. While not exactly a beach read and it doesn’t have a lot of obvious application outside of its narrow focus, this may have been my favorite book that I read all year. Thorndike’s book takes eight colorful CEOs and uses their experience to turn a lot of corporate common wisdom on its head. If you are at all into business or any kind of corporate finance, I highly recommend this book.
  • The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.: A Novel, by Adelle Waldman. This critics’ favorite was more than a little precious in parts, but it was also extremely well written and a breezy, fun read about the habits of that all too familiar creature, the literary, career minded Brooklyn-ite male.
  • “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character, by Richard Feynman. Surprisingly funny, this collection of stories and anecdotes from Feynman is extremely entertaining (and at least a little informative on the physics, too).
  • The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America, by Louis Menand. Menand’s lucid, highly readable book puts this group of pragmatic philosophers in historical context.

For more books, check out the most popular books bought by Smart Football readers, as well as my own.

New Grantland: What Really Went Wrong with RG3 This Season?

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Griffin’s footwork not only hurt his reads, it hurt his accuracy. “Body position is absolutely critical,” Redskins quarterback coach Matt LaFleur recently told ESPN’s John Keim. “If you don’t have good body position, your balance is off and your accuracy will be off. It’s absolutely critical you get your body in correct position to make the correct throw.” LaFleur added that, for Griffin, this season has “been a constant work in progress.”

Read the whole thing.

Request for Creative Design Help

I’m looking to hire a creative designer for a quick freelance assignment to create the design for a 3.75″H x 4″W printed insert for a charity event. Please email me at chris [at] smartfootball.com with a proposed price and a link to your portfolio. I can provide more details at that point.

Thanks so much.

Chris

Most Popular Books Bought by Smart Football Readers in 2013

What follows is a breakdown of the books purchased over the last year by Smart Football readers. I get very minor referral revenues from Amazon purchases and, as a result, I am able to track which books are purchased by readers. The data is entirely anonymous but it provides, in aggregate, some interesting information. (Click to enlarge the charts.)

The Most Popular Books Bought by Smart Football Readers in 2013

Booksand ESF - 2013

Below is the same chart excluding my book, The Essential Smart Football (which you can read more about here):

AllBooks1-2013

And below is the full list. Note that I simply included the top books and did not include a separate “other” category.

Watching Game Film with Chip Kelly

It’s been fun this season seeing how Chip Kelly’s offense has translated to the NFL — how he’s evolved what he did at Oregon for professional players and multiple quarterbacks, how defenses have responded, and how his Eagles have responded to those responses. At 6-5 the Eagles are both in position to make the playoffs but on no one’s Super Bowl radar; it’s a transition season, and with some clear downs as well as ups, it’s been an overall productive one headed into December.

Learn stuff

Learn stuff

But another fun element has been that Kelly has — whether graciously or against his will, I’m not sure — submitted to a number of quick film breakdowns of various plays throughout the season, and he’s been fairly honest and open as he’s covered not only his famous spread-to-run concepts but also more traditional play-action, screens, and even some defense and special teams. I’ve collected links to most of the better ones below, though note that some of them are longer videos where Kelly’s Xs and Os session is only one part, and the rest can largely be ignored and is sometimes a bit misleading.

There’s lots of great scheme stuff to pick up here, but pay special attention to the little coaching points and mnemonic devices Kelly throws in to help his players remember. Whether or not Chip is successful with the Eagles remains to be seen, but there’s no question the guy knows a lot of football.

- Dual-screen (motion swing screen and slow-screen to tight-end), inside zone on goal line, bracket coverage

- Two-gap technique for defensive linemen

(more…)

New Grantland: The Architect: How Art Briles and his potent offense have taken Baylor from conference doormat to national title contender

It’s now up over at Grantland:

There’s no question, though, that it’s Briles’s offense — currently averaging more than 64 points and 713 yards per game — that is the engine of Baylor’s success and the source for all the optimism surrounding his program. When Baylor’s offense is rolling — when the aggressive plays, speedy weapons, and up-tempo pace work in unison — the offense is less about executing football plays and more about waging psychological warfare. Two weeks removed from Baylor’s 73-point, 872-yard thrashing of West Virginia, WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson described the loss as “unlike anything I’ve ever been associated with in my entire life. It was just catastrophic in a lot of ways to our psyche.” When Baylor scores 35 in a quarter, 50 in a half, or 70 in a game, it’s hard for the opposing team to recover mentally — not just in that game, but for the rest of their season. The fact that it’s Baylor — yesterday’s footstool — is not lost on anyone, either.

Read the whole thing.

New Longform: How will Nick Saban solve his Johnny Manziel problem?

It’s now up:

But maybe Rip/Liz isn’t the answer. It was in Alabama’s playbook last season, and they still lost. Instead, maybe Saban and his defensive coordinator, like Belichick and Saban himself back in 1994, must react by devising some modern tactic as they face this modern problem.

Right now, at every level of football, defensive coaches have been racking their brains trying to find a way to stop the onslaught of deadly dual-threat quarterbacks, particularly those captaining uptempo, spread attacks. With Manziel and Texas A&M, Saban is facing an acute version of the problem NFL, college and high school defenses are also facing.

Read the whole thing.