Smart Links – 9/16/2011

Alligator Army on Tennessee’s passing game. I hope to break down UT’s offense at some point, but OC Jim Chaney has done a nice job evolving his old Purdue offense and combining it with NFL concepts and sets from his time in that league. Bray threw touchdown passes on the 3-step fade/out combo, double post, smash with a divide post route backside, and then just a busted coverage pass.

- The 4-3 “Lightning” Cover Zero.

- Runningback Balance Touch Drill.

- Klosterman on small-school offensive wrinkles. I enjoyed this, but I have a hard time forgiving him for the use of Gregg Easterbrook’s inapt “Blur Offense” moniker for Oregon.

- Why Noel Mazzone?

- When will Ray Lewis slow down? Uh, maybe never, it seems like. I’m beginning to think he’s a Highlander.

- Chase Stuart likes the Bills (to an extent) but isn’t so keen on the Chiefs. I tend to agree.

- World’s worst analogies.

The history of american football in Europe

Hat tip:

Smart Notes – Brady’s 99-yard touchdown pass, Solid Verbal, valuable video games, pro combat uniforms, defending the option – 9/13/2011

Tom Brady, in the method predicted, carves up the Miami Dolphins:

How great was the 99-yard pass? And it was so simple. The Dolphins had played a lot of man-to-man coverage, primarily man-free with a single deep safety. The Patriots lined up in no-backs but with a tight-end in the game: The beauty of this is that the no-backs invited the press-man pressure but the tight-end let them protect with six blockers as opposed to five. And then the route combination? Literally the first pass that every high school installs: The hitch/seam combination. The outside receivers run five-yard hitch routes; had the Miami defensive backs played loose, Brady would have taken the quick pass to the flat. Instead they pressed and the slot receivers faded their routes to the outside and turned it into a fade route. Brady actually didn’t throw away from the safety, as the free safety rotated to Welker. But the safety looked like he was trying to jump the seam, and instead Brady lofted it over his head. Great stuff. The Patriots entire gameplan was extremely simple; their other best play was four verticals off of play-action with Brady hitting those tight-ends in the seam.

- Big moves. Ty and Dan are taking the Solid Verbal to Grantland.

- Just what you were waiting for. Nike’s pro combat uniforms are here. And, um, yeah:

I’m just waiting for uniforms that light up on contact like those old L.A. Lights shoes.

- South Carolina is preparing for Navy’s triple-option:

To get ready for Navy’s triple-option rushing attack, the Gamecocks’ defensive unit practice without a ball. The Midshipmen lead the nation in rushing, averaging more than 400 per game. The key to stopping an option attack is to be disciplined and not blowing assignments, Ward said. Which was why the Gamecocks’ defense practiced without a ball. “It was different, but it made you concentrate on your assignments,” Holloman said. “You can’t follow the ball and I think it’ll pay off for during the game.”

All good, but remember that you can’t only rely on playing assignment football against the option; they’ll figure out those assignments and screw with them.

- The quest for the golden cartidge (i.e. a video game cartridge worth $5000) is a real thing:

(more…)

Breaking down Cam Newton’s first NFL touchdown pass

This piece is up over at Grantland as well, this time on The Triangle blog. Check it out:

Entering this season, the biggest questions surrounding Cam Newton were about his ability to stand in the pocket, identify the pass coverage, find the open receiver, and deliver the football under pressure. Newton showed a level of maturity against the Cardinals he had not shown in the preseason, aided in particular by go-to receiver Steve Smith. Newton’s first career NFL touchdown, a 77-yard bomb to Smith, showcased Newton’s poise in the pocket.

Read the whole thing (and check out the earlier in-depth piece on beating the blitz with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers).

New Grantland article: Beating the Blitz with the Best

I will be contributing this fall to Bill Simmons’ Grantland, and the first piece is online now. Check out my first piece, about how the best (Rodgers, Brady, Manning) beat the NFL blitz:

Identifying, and developing a quarterback who can play under pressure is a true challenge. As one NFL personnel director told me, while there are 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL, there aren’t 32 players qualified for their jobs. Throwing motions and mechanics go out the window unless a guy can be accurate under pressure and make great decisions. No one cares how good a quarterback is against air. What matters is: Can he beat the blitz?

Smart Football is still home (and I’ll be sure to link to all the Grantland pieces from here), but I’m very excited to contribute to Grantland this Fall. Look for both NFL and college football centric articles and blog posts throughout the season.

Does anyone still use Vince Lombardi’s “Packers’ Sweep”?

Vince Lombardi’s “Packers’ Sweep” is probably the single most famous play in football. And, if it is not the most famous play on the field, it is undoubtedly the most famous play to have ever been diagrammed. Very few football fans cannot recall the famous “seal here, and a seal here and he runs…. in the alley,” even if they don’t even know what was actually being described; such was the magic of Lombardi:

Whether or not you understood the play itself, you certainly understood the import: A tough runningback turning the corner with a couple of offensive linemen as his personal bodyguards. But, of course, as Vince Lombardi himself explains, a play is just a play; there’s nothing magical to it. It’s about attitude and execution, and, as he also explains in the videos below, the right play comes to personify the heart and soul of an entire team; it makes the whole enterprise go.

(more…)

Sentence of the day, “Isn’t that the job description?” Edition

Others have mentioned this already, but it’s too good to not to put up:

“They’ve got fullbacks that want to block your soul.”

That’s Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz speaking about upcoming UT opponent BYU.

The “Diamond” formation and other multi-back “pistol” sets

I like to often say that football is a simple game, and in that vein coaches, when designing offensive plays, have really only two choices: To change where the players begin (the formation), and where they’ll end up (the play design). Formations are often more important than plays, but also should be easier to get right: The guy should stand where he was told to stand. But they’re still fun to play with, and the past couple of seasons have seen some interesting wrinkles.

Probably the most famous new formation came about from the world’s smallest adjustment: Moving a runningback over a couple of feet. But no one calls it that; instead, they call it the “PISTOL OFFENSE” (all caps). Of course, announcers like to say a team is using the “PISTOL OFFENSE” (all caps) whenever the runningback lines up in the pistol, but really only a handful of teams use the set in anything that can be called an “offense” in the sense of a fully robust system, Nevada, of course, being among them with a mixture of downhill I-formation plays from the shotgun with options like the speed option and the veer play.

But I’ve been kind of down on the “Pistol” as something broad or novel, because most teams that have used it are still one-back teams and all they’ve done is move the runningback around a little, which is something good teams like Oregon or others were doing anyway, just not from the pistol. The real advantage of the pistol (the formation, not the offense), however, comes when you add a second back to the backfield. In the image below, West Virginia actually goes with three backs (more on that in a bit), but the point is simply that you can align a fullback (or two fullbacks) to add a strength to the formation.

A bit of overcrowding?

Now, West Virginia didn’t have much luck with the three back set, but the idea is a good one:

(more…)

Smart Notes – NFL Week 1, Northwestern’s tricks, 82-6, twitter wisdom – 9/6/2011

Football is back:

- Five things to watch in week one of the NFL. Among them:

Julio Jones vs. the Bears Tampa 2: Really anxious to watch the rookie WR play this Sunday in Chicago. I know he has talent, size and deep ball speed—but I want to see him at the line of scrimmage vs. Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 scheme. The Bears’ CBs (Peanut Tillman and Tim Jennings) will work to re-route the Falcons’ WR and force an inside release. Can he consistently win and get into the route stem when the Bears show their Cover 2 shell? Because if he does, then we get to see him work a deep half safety on the 9 (fade), 8 (post) and 7 (corner). That’s good football to check out.

- Northwestern with that sprint-draw from gun, via Sippin on Purple. Good breakdown of an underused play.

- So, that happened. Hal Mumme apparently scheduled for his McMurry University team — a Division III squad, meaning they don’t have scholarship athletes — to play Stephen F. Austin, an excellent FCS level school (i.e. whose roster is made up of scholarship athletes). The result, was, uh, ugly:

Hal Mumme’s McMurry University’s team took a record 82-6 loss to Stephen F. Austin last Saturday.

McMurry is a Division III team in Texas. Stephen F. Austin is ranked No. 14 in FCS, the same division that includes Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State, etc. Stephen F. Austin outgained Mumme’s team 668-120. McMurry quarterback Jake Mullins threw for just 79 yards and was sacked five times. The score was 53-6 at halftime.

Ever the Civil War buff, Mumme had a quote after the rout.

“I know how Lee felt after Pickett’s Charge,” McMurry coach Hal Mumme said. “It’s all my fault. I just asked them to do something they couldn’t do.”

I generally like Hal, but there must have been a payday or something involved. Wow. (Though McMurry is supposed to be transitioning to Division II.) Of course, Hal was also up to his old tricks. I’m not against going for it, but I’ve never heard the logic before that it’s actually better for the defense to give the other team the ball in red zone as opposed to their own twenty. Worth the trade-off of going for it, sure, but not that you were actually helping your defense:

With nothing to lose except a football game, McMurry went for broke from the start, going for it and failing on fourth down on its first four possessions. Three of those were in McMurry territory, including a fourth-and-8 from the 28. The Lumberjacks took advantage with a field goal and two touchdowns to take control before the game was eight minutes old.

“If I’d punted it, I didn’t think our defense could slow them down,” Mumme said. “Nothing against our defense, but we had to make big plays and get them off the field in three plays if we were going to stop them. It’s easier to do that when they’re in the Red Zone than when they’re back 80 yards away. They’re just like us — they throw it down the field real well.”

- Bill C on week one. Great stuff. See also this:

(more…)

It’s the process, recruiting edition

The article is a bit dated, but is still fascinating. Nick Saban on his recruiting method:

[T]he Nick Saban doctrine of recruiting. It is meticulous, methodical and relentless in every single aspect of the recruiting process. . . . Belichick, Bill Parcells and other player pro directors all influenced Saban and his recruiting approach. It’s a five-phase process that first begins with identifying needs of your current personnel based on attrition two to three years down the line out of a five-year player cycle.

Second, Saban sets a standard at each position, identifying key characteristics within each position with the offensive and defensive systems that he runs. Each prospect who is recruited, depending on the position, has to meet certain measurables (height, weight, speed, etc.), among other criteria. Rarely will Saban deviate.

(more…)