Vanderbilt’s complete offensive line shift (including the center) to unbalanced

Ole Miss defeated Vanderbilt 39-35 in a wild game last night, as the Rebels came back twice in the second half and, in coach Hugh Freeze’s words, “stole one.” In the final minutes of the game, after Ole Miss had taken a 32-28 lead, Vanderbilt converted a fourth and 18 to Jordan Matthews, only for Ole Miss runningback Jeff Scott to hit a 75 yard run:

The interesting thing about Ole Miss’s final touchdown was it was a hand-off on the Inverted Veer, a play which is one of Ole Miss’s staple run plays under Freeze. But the most unique wrinkle in a very entertaining and hard fought game came from Vanderbilt’s brain trust of head coach James Franklin, offensive coordinator Jon Donovan and offensive line coach Herb Hand: Before one play, Vandy shifted its entire offensive line, including the center so that its left tackle ended up snapping the ball. See the gif below (courtesy of SBNation):

(more…)

New Grantland: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Sid Gillman, and the Mysterious Art of Quarterbacking

It’s now up over at Grantland:

No position is more scrutinized — How tall is he? How far can he throw? Who is he dating? — and nowhere in football is greatness valued or debated more, but exactly how young, promising quarterbacks become Tom Brady and Peyton Manning remains something of a mystery. The results are apparent, but most are unversed in the actual process. Manning, Brady, and Rodgers are great because they’ve taken the raw materials of the position — an understanding of defenses, of why receivers get open and how to find them — and transformed them into muscle memory they can use to fluidly perform, every time. Greatness isn’t something quarterbacks stumble upon. It’s something that becomes ingrained into their very constitution.

[...]

Now, let’s say the quarterback’s first read isn’t open. How does he know when to move to the next receiver? The idea of finding a secondary receiver leaves some quarterbacks looking like they just lost their wallet. For others, like Brady or Manning, it looks easy, and it’s because it’s not only their brains telling them when to look.

“His feet are telling him when to move to no. 2 and no. 3,” current San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh said to a room full of quarterback coaches back when he was coaching at the University of San Diego. “One-two-three-four-five-plant — throw it. If it’s not there, first hitch is to the [second read], and then the second hitch is to [third read].”

brady1

Read the whole thing.

Controlled Adversity: Hell Week

One of the main reasons to play football is that it is hard. The defining feature of playing the sport is every person who plays has to do one thing, over and over and over: get back up. And not just get back up right away, but get back up when you’re tired, filthy, and just plain cranky. Compared to other sports, football players spend hours and hours at practice for a payoff of just a handful of plays once a week, a few weeks a year. It’s a grind.

But that’s what makes it great. It’s a cliche that the controlled adversity a football player — and more importantly a football team — faces is preparation for real adversity in life, but it’s a cliche for a reason. Yet, particularly for high school football players who will never play again, it’s also one of the last times in their lives they will face that adversity not alone, but with a team of equals to share the experience with and rely on.

Last night I saw a screening of Hell Week, a short documentary airing tonight (August 22) on ESPN2 at 7:30pm, which captures a slice of that experience by following the Station Camp High School (Tennessee) team during their four night fall camp.

(more…)

New Grantland: Packaged Plays and the New Option Football

It’s now up over at Grantland:

There have been two major reasons behind this expansion [of packaged plays]. First, they work in perfect harmony with the up-tempo no-huddle offenses that have swept through college football and will seemingly be ever-present in the NFL this fall. But rather than ask a bunch of young quarterbacks to get all Peyton Manning with audibles and gestures at the line, these plays build the options right in and let the quarterback make a decision on the fly. In short, these plays use the mental part of the read-option — allowing a quarterback to read a defensive player to ensure that the defense is always wrong — without putting him at risk. As long as the quarterback can make smart, quick decisions, these plays should work as well with Joe Flacco as they do with RG3.

package1

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Same Old Chip: A Look Inside the New Philadelphia Eagles Offense Under Chip Kelly

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Before the second play of his first NFL game, Philadelphia’s new head coach Chip Kelly, a man who made his reputation as the architect of college’s football most prolific offense — the Oregon Ducks’ fast-break, spread-it-out attack — did the unthinkable: He had his team huddle. He followed this with another knee-weakening moment: His quarterback, Michael Vick, lined up under center, an alignment from which the Eagles ran a basic run to the left. For 31 other NFL teams, this would be as ho-hum as it gets. But this is Chip Kelly, he of the fast practices, fast plays, and fast talking. By starting out this way, Kelly, who repeatedly has said he doesn’t do anything without a sound reason behind it, was no doubt sending some kind of message to fans, pundits, and opposing coaches waiting anxiously to see what a Chip Kelly offense would look like at the professional level. It was a message that was unmistakable: See, I can adapt to the NFL.

At least that’s what I thought at first. But after studying Philadelphia’s game against New England, I came away with almost the exact opposite conclusion: While there were clear differences from what Kelly’s system looked like at Oregon, his Eagles offense looked a lot more like the Ducks offense than I ever anticipated.

Kelly1

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: The Cowboys’ Jason Witten: Master of the Option Route

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Despite its backyard beginnings, there are specific coaching points on an option route. The first thing Witten must do is identify the defender over him and attack that defender’s leverage on his release from the line, typically by running directly at him. By running right at that defender — which is usually a linebacker or safety — Witten forces the defense to reveal how it is playing him. There are basically two things that can happen: The defense will either play zone or man-to-man. This does not always mean that what Witten identifies is literally what the defense has called, particularly in an NFL with increasingly complicated coverages, but by classifying them this way Witten is able to cut through the confusion and defeat whatever technique he faces.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Adrian Peterson and the Lead Draw: The Vikings’ Throwback Play for Their Throwback Runner

It’s now up over at Grantland:

The lead draw has a storied history. Dating at least as far back as the Johnny Unitas–led Baltimore Colts, the play had maybe its greatest renaissance when run by Emmitt Smith for the Dallas Cowboys. To this day, Smith — not commonly known for his rhetorical flourishes — waxes philosophical whenever asked about the play, as he details the subtle ways he played off the blocks of his massive offensive line and fullback Daryl Johnston to wear down, and then break, defenses. The play epitomized the running game of the great 1990s Cowboys teams. Defenses knew it was coming and still couldn’t stop it.

The lead draw works very much the way its name implies: At the snap, the offensive line and quarterback step away from the line just as they would on a pass play, in an effort to make the defense think they are trying to throw the ball — a “draw.” Meanwhile, “lead” refers to the block of the fullback or H-back, who initially looks like a pass blocker before leading the way for the runner. In short, the lead draw combines deception with power, which is also an apt description for Peterson’s running style. One of the best examples of Peterson running the lead draw came in the second quarter against St. Louis last fall.

Read the whole thing.

(more…)

What I’ve Been Reading: I Wear the Black Hat, The Metaphysical Club, Feynman, Sedaris

I Wear the Black Hat, by Chuck Klosterman. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though I am predisposed to liking it. blackhatRock critic/pop culture writer/contributing editor for Grantland/New York Times Ethicist /read option analyst has a rather distinctive style, and, like several of his other books, I Wear the Black Hat is composed of a series of thematically linked stand alone essays which explore the nature of villainy. The subjects of the essays run the gamut, from the movie Death Wish to Bill Clinton to OJ Simpson to Andrew Dice Clay to (somewhat to Klosterman’s chagrin), Hitler. But like all of Klosterman’s books — and as he repeatedly acknowledges — the meta-subject of the book is himself, and the particular way he processes and turns over cultural figures and ideas is part of an extended self-analysis. So I enjoyed the book, but that probably says as much about me as it does the book itself.

- The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America, by Louis Menand. This book, the 2002 Pulitzer winner for History, is nominally the story of the leading thinkers in the school of philosophy (loosely) known as “Pragmatism,” namely William James, John Dewey, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and Charles Sanders Peirce. The book does a nice job teasing out and explicating the key features of pragmatism, commonly referred to as the United States’s greatest contribution to philosophy, but its real strength is placing those ideas, and more importantly the men who worked through the philosophical questions and propounded possible solutions, in their historical setting, primarily the era of the Civil War and its aftermath. The book is not so much a contribution to academic philosophy, although it did flesh out some things for me and raises excellent questions along the way, its primary value is as a well-written history of pragmatic thought.

(more…)

New Grantland: How Will NFL Teams Defend the Read-Option?

It’s now up over at Grantland:

That second player doesn’t even have to be a linebacker. Alabama, which has won three national championships in four years and boasts the best defense in college football, constantly varies the defenders assigned to the quarterback. When Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart gives a “force” call, he explains, that leads to a gap replacement with the defensive end. “The quarterback sees the crashing end and pulls the ball,” Smart says. “We roll the free safety down to the line of scrimmage and he has the quarterback.” And all this varies based on the opponent. “If the quarterback is a better runner, we make him give to the tailback,” said Smart. “If the tailback is the better runner, we give the force call, and the defensive end crashes inside and makes the quarterback pull the ball.”

safety1

Not all the problems with defending these plays last season were tactical. NFL defenders not used to the read-option frequently lacked the mastery of the subtle techniques that made them All-Pros against traditional attacks. Backside defenders — usually the very player the quarterback is reading — have an especially difficult job. “The defensive end gets the shaft because he has to play two aspects: the dive, the bend of the dive to the inside out to the QB,” says Aranda, the Wisconsin defensive coordinator. This fundamental problem is also why the old just-hit-the-quarterback tactic is not optimal, at least as an every-down strategy. If the defensive end or linebacker gets upfield too quickly, that means he is not squeezing the cutback and may be opening up a huge lane for the quarterback.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Sean Payton (and Jon Gruden and Bill Parcells) Versus the Pop Warner Single Wing

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Adams’s team has 12 plays, with names picked by his kids to help them remember their assignments: “Power” is “Pizza” and “Spinner” is “Spaghetti,” and so on. The important thing is not so much the plays but how they are taught and how they fit together. “We have a counter for every run, and a fake off of every counter,” says Adams. Before going to this system, Adams says he’d “never won anything” in football, “at any level, including in college.” But since taking over at Springtown Orange, he’s turned the team around in just a couple of seasons, bringing home their first title last season. If it’s good enough to beat Sean Payton, with the assistance of Jon Gruden and Bill Parcells, does that mean Cisar, Adams, and others are onto something big?

Suggesting that, of course, seems absurd. Youth football and the NFL are obviously night-and-day different; it’s laughable to suggest that because the single wing won a sixth-grade championship it could win a Lombardi Trophy, so laughable that no one would suggest it. No one, that is, except Vince Lombardi: “What would happen if someone came out with the single-wing offense?” Lombardi once asked. “It would embarrass the hell out of us.” And Lombardi wasn’t alone. Roughly 20 years later, fellow Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh once said he’d “reflected on the single wing,” and, in his view, “those blocking schemes would just chew up NFL defenses. You could double-team every hole and trap every hole.”

Read the whole thing.