Draw it up: The Packers’ post/dig off of play-action

It’s up over at Grantland:

But this is only a two-man route; for it to work, those other defenders — particularly the Falcons’ linebackers — have to be convinced it is a run play and take themselves out of pass coverage. And the Packers did just that. As Bill Walsh explained, the play-action pass is probably the best play in all of football, but it only works if the entire team is committed to selling the fake. Obviously a good fake by the quarterback is important, but what you’re doing on a play-action pass is messing up the linebackers’ reads, and they only sometimes (or tangentially) read they quarterback. More often, they are reading the offensive linemen to the running backs, and those are the players that all too often give away that the play is not a true run but is instead a pass play. But the Packers’ do an excellent job: instead of immediately popping their heads up and sinking back on their hips as they would in pass protection, Green Bay’s linemen fire out low and flat, making it impossible to detect the play’s true intent.

Read the whole thing.

Al Davis, 1929-2011

I will have more to say on the passing of Al Davis, but, for now, it’s enough to say that it’s unclear whether there was any more influential figure in the history of professional football, or ever will be. Al had his enemies and his grudges and there are many incidents that don’t always reflect so well on him, but those won’t be what I remember. I will remember the owner who was a coach, who learned from Sid Gilman, taught Bill Walsh, and hand picked and groomed John Madden (who was an obscure college assistant coach under Don Coryell — Al knew what he was doing). I will remember the man who was commissioner of the AFL and was never afraid to fight the system from within. And most of all I will remember the man whose teams, for the better part of four decades, lived up to not only his famous adage “Just win, baby!” but also to his more serious motto: “Commitment to Excellence.”

So blows the autumn wind.

New Grantland: Darren Sproles and the rise of the “space player”

My new piece is up over at Grantland. Check it out.

Scan the list of the NFL’s total yardage leaders and you’ll see their names. Most of them have the title running back — Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, Jahvid Best, and Ray Rice, to name a few — but there is no one prototype for these players. Indeed, in the same group you’ll also see receivers, most notably Wes Welker of the Patriots, a “slot receiver” who is the undisputed master of the underneath route and the receiver screen (although this year he’s been doing all that and more). An older example is former Pro Bowler Eric Metcalf, who made the rare switch from running back (where he ran for more than 600 yards in two different seasons with the Cleveland Browns) to wide receiver (where he had more than 1,000 yards in 1995 while playing in the Falcons’ run-and-shoot offense), all while returning kicks and punts. But without a doubt, today’s top space player is the New Orleans Saints’ runner/receiver/kick returner/human Molotov cocktail Darren Sproles. Sproles is straight-ahead fast, but he is a great space player because of his other attributes: quickness, lateral agility, a second gear to blow by defenders, and a low center of gravity. Sproles returns kicks for the Saints but, then again, every time he touches the ball it’s like a kick return — he’s in space, and one missed open-field tackle against him might mean a touchdown.

Read the whole thing.

Smart Links – 10/6/2011

Advice from Steve Jobs.

- The tire juke drill for runningbacks.

- Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has no qualms about taking risks.

- History of the Erhardt-Perkins offense.

- Love the fullback pop pass.

- Re-conceptualizing the strong safety in the 46.

- Celtics great Bill Russell joins the lawsuit against the NCAA regarding the use of former players’ likenesses.

- Civil Rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth has passed away.

- Seth Davis, an intelligent guy, fails economics.

- Closing the book on Bryce Brown.

- A mixed bag, but a couple of these deleted scenes really are great.

New Grantland Blog: LaGarette Blount and the Power O

It’s up over at Grantland:

The game-winning play is one of the oldest plays in football, and is used at every level, from high school to the NFL: the “Power” or “Power O” play. It’s called “power” because the goal for the offense is to get extra blockers to the point of attack, i.e. where the ball is going, to simply outnumber the defense. (It also sounds tough, and coaches like that.) There’s more strategy on why teams like to go to the power play on a given down and distance as opposed to a zone run (as we saw this season with Darren McFadden), but there’s no question it was the better look against the Colts on Blount’s 35-yard touchdown run.

Read the whole thing.

The Play That Changed College Football: Spurrier’s “Righty”

That’s the title of this new ESPNU documentary about the new SEC Championship game, and specifically the 1992 Championship game between Alabama and Florida.

At the risk of spoiling the fun, the play call that changed the game is revealed after the jump.
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Paragraphs of the day, Homer Smith/Ohio State/Ross Fulton edition

From Ross’s great analysis of Ohio State’s offense (and the lack thereof) at Along the Olentangy:

Every primary backfield action needs to threaten all 11 defenders. What a primary play needs is good counter plays. Every defender needs to be worried about the ball coming to his area – on a throwback screen, a reverse, a play-action pass, or whatever – as a play begins.

What makes a defender good is something to read. If he can say to himself something like, “As soon as that quarterback makes that half-assed fake, I’m going to find the tightend coming across and try to get an interception,” if he can read initially and react accurately, he can play over his head. Counters, not mirrored primary plays, keep defenders from reading and jumping on plays.

The quote is of course from the great Homer Smith. Read all of Ross’s analysis here.

Coaching a Surgeon: What makes top performers better?

Very interesting piece from the New Yorker:

What we think of as coaching was, sports historians say, a distinctly American development. During the nineteenth century, Britain had the more avid sporting culture; its leisure classes went in for games like cricket, golf, and soccer. But the aristocratic origins produced an ethos of amateurism: you didn’t want to seem to be trying too hard. For the Brits, coaching, even practicing, was, well, unsporting. In America, a more competitive and entrepreneurial spirit took hold. In 1875, Harvard and Yale played one of the nation’s first American-rules football games. Yale soon employed a head coach for the team, the legendary Walter Camp. He established position coaches for individual player development, maintained detailed performance records for each player, and pre-planned every game. Harvard preferred the British approach to sports. In those first three decades, it beat Yale only four times.

The concept of a coach is slippery. Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. They’re not your boss—in professional tennis, golf, and skating, the athlete hires and fires the coach—but they can be bossy. They don’t even have to be good at the sport. The famous Olympic gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi couldn’t do a split if his life depended on it. Mainly, they observe, they judge, and they guide. . . .

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All-Access: Hunkering down with the Mountaineers

Bruce Feldman goes behind-the-scenes for West Virginia’s preparation for LSU:

The staff is waist deep in LSU film. Most of the WVU coaches will go home soon after the team meal. Meanwhile, Holgorsen settles into what staffers affectionately call “The Lounge” to resume studying the Tigers. The 10-by-20 room next to the head coach’s office, which used to be where former WVU coach Bill Stewart would smoke his cigars, has been remodeled and now has two theater-style seats, a few bar stools, an antique metal Coke cart, a Red Bull cooler and a 50-inch flat screen with an Xbox. Holgorsen likes the feel of the room for whenever he wants to have a one-on-one with a player. It’s also an ideal spot for the coach and Spavital to get another look at a ferocious defense.

The scouting tape, broken down by situations, isn’t supposed to seem like “a highlight tape,” but in LSU’s case, it does. On one clip, backup defensive end Barkevious Mingo roars down the line of scrimmage to level an Oregon running back. Holgorsen rewinds the clip twice to double check where Mingo began the play from and exactly how he was able to get to the ball carrier so fast. “This is why you run the outside zone,” he says, “because that guy right there [the defensive end] is not supposed to be able to do that. And that’s friggin’ LaMichael James too.”

Read the whole thing.

What I’ve been reading

The Assembly Line, by Milt Tenopir. Tenopir was the offensive line coach at Nebraska under the great Tom Osborne, and was thus the architect of some of the greatest rushing attacks — no, greatest offenses — the game has ever seen, particularly in their heydey in the mid-1990s. (400 yards rushing and 52 points per game is not too shabby.) The book focuses on how Tenopir and Osborne focused on a few blocking schemes like the inside and outside zone and the counter trey and added multiple run actions and many, many options off of those looks. It’s nothing revolutionary, but in football, what’s great rarely is.

- Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik. I didn’t put a lot of thought into this before I bought it, but all I wanted was some easy-to-read travel reading as I’ll be heading back to France in the coming months. The other factors were that I generally like Gopnik’s writings in the New Yorker and the book won some kind of awards or whatnot, and that was that. So far, so good, though it does read a bit like it was from an earlier time (were the late 1990s really so long ago?). Overall, I recommend it, but I’m still plowing through.

- The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story, by Michael Lewis. I love anything Lewis writes — and this is no exception — but I wouldn’t put this book on the same level as The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Moneyball, and Liar’s Poker. It’s a thoroughly entertaining story about dotcom maven Jim Clark, which is a story surprisingly relevant today given the surge of new would-be internet billionaires from the likes of Groupon, LinkedIn, Facebook and so on. The book drags a bit, however, as it follows Clark in his expensive and time consuming quest to build a (nearly) fully automated mechanical yacht.

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