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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Get your option on: Air Force triple-option clips

A day without some option is not a day I want to have:

Shredding Cover Two with a “Delayed Slant” from the Smash Concept

The old “smash” concept — with an inside receiver on a corner route behind a quick hitch by an outside receiver — remains one of the most versatile pass plays in football. It’s simple enough that any team, whether they are a run-first team or a passing team, an NFL team or a junior varsity team, can get great use out of it.

smash

Base concept

It is, of course, best against Cover Two: The purpose is to get a “high/low” vertical stretch on the cornerback.

I’ve also discussed ways to make the concept more useful: One is to use a backside “seam-read” or “divide” routeto threaten the deep safeties.

The other way to get more juice out of the concept is to have the outside receiver run something more like an option route than simply a quick hitch.

Against any coverage, his job is to push to five yards (against soft coverage, it’s a five step route — three big and two quick jab steps to throttle down) and turn his numbers back to the quarterback. And against zones, he just wants to find an open window in the zone coverage, whether it is outside the linebackers towards the sideline or just inside the first zone defender.

smasher

Finding the open window

Finally, against man coverage some teams like to have the outside receiver run a “whip” or “pivot” route, where they angle inside for five yards and then “whip” back to the sideline. If you are sprinting out to the concept, I like that, but the receiver has to make that read early and as a result he may give away the intention to the corner. And in any event, it’s not an easy throw from a straight dropback. But most of all, to me, the whole point of the smash is to hit the outside unless the defense overplays it, in which case you want to then work back inside. That’s why my favorite adjustment for the outside receiver in smash against man coverage is for him to simply turn it into a delayed slant route.

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New Grantland Blog: The 49ers and the Quarterback Crack/Pull Sweep

My newest Grantland Blog is now up:

Indeed, as San Francisco 49ers legend Bill Walsh taught us, the best play callers do their play calling through preparation during the week, not so much on gameday as emotions soar. In other words, play calling is rarely the difference between a won and a loss.

But sometimes it is; sometimes a play call is so good — and takes such good advantage of a bad play call on the other side — that one can rightly say: That call might have won the game. So it was during the furious fourth quarter between the 49ers and the Saints last weekend. With two minutes and 11 seconds remaining, and the 49ers down 24-23, on third-and-7, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman made one of the best calls of the season: A crack/pull sweep with, not a running back, but quarterback Alex Smith as the blocker.

Read the whole thing.

The most popular Smart Football articles of 2011

The coming of each new year gives us a chance to look back, and 2011 was a productive year here at Smart Football. In addition to my pieces over at Grantland, I had a number of fresh pieces here on the site. Below are links to some of the most popular pieces of 2011, in no particular order.

- Dick LeBeau, Dom Capers, and the evolution of defense.

- Why every team should install its offense in three days (and other political theories on coaching offense).

- What is the inverted veer/Dash read?

- Buddy Ryan’s “Polish Goalline” Tactic.

- Bobby Petrino’s shallow cross concept.

- Snag, stick and the importance of triangles (yes, triangles) in the passing game

- The “Diamond” formation and other mult-back pistol sets.

- Teaching a quarterback where to throw the ball – Grass, leverage, and specific defenders

- Combining quick passes, run plays and screens in the same play.

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