Did Cam Newton play in a “one read” passing offense at Auburn?

Trackemtigers asks whether Cam Newton played in a “one-read passing offense” at Auburn, something you keep hearing from the media. Most of the talking heads vaguely use this term, usually implying that Newton literally would look at one receiver and, if he was covered, instantly start running. This kind of confusion is understandable given that teaching quarterbacks where to throw the football both seems like a bit of an inscrutable black art — which takes years to master the often subconscious subtleties necessary to do well  — but also because there are simply many different ways to do it.

In the NFL, less running, more of this

Compounding this in Newton’s case is that almost all the attention on his offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s offense has been on the running game, while the passing game has received very little attention. This is not a surprise, given the dynamic and multifaceted run game Malzahn employs, and given that, especially with Cam, the run set up the pass. But it ignores the fact that Auburn led the nation in passing efficiency and threw for over 3,000 yards last season — we’re not talking about Paul Johnson’s flexbone here.

Indeed, Malzahn’s reputation as a high school coach was as an air-it-out guy, and in his first season at Tulsa in 2007, the Golden Hurricane were second in the country in passing yards with over 5,000, behind only pass-happy attacks from June Jones at Hawai’i and Mike Leach at Texas Tech. (They were also second in the nation in yards per attempt, behind only the Tebow-led Florida Gators.)

So Malzahn knows the pass, and Newton was obviously good at what he was asked to do. But what was that? I can only speculate on what specifics Cam was given, but I am familiar with Gus’s passing game and have a strong idea of how it was tailored to Cam Newton.

Gus, going back to Tulsa, uses progression reads, meaning his quarterbacks read the first receiver, to the second receiver, to the third receiver, and so on. That means that there’s no way Cam was given a “single read” — a single receiver to look at — or did Malzahn literally tell him to only look at one guy and to ignore everyone else? No to the first but, at least sometimes, yes to the second. This is because if there was one read it was not a single receiver, but a single defender.

For example, take the smash concept, a play that Gus has in his arsenal. The progression on the play is: corner route to hitch/underneath route, making it a two receiver progression (and a third if you have the runningback checking down over the middle). But you can also teach the play as a single receiver “key” read: Read the corner — if he stays with the hitch, throw the corner; if he drops for the corner, throw the hitch.

Thus in this case, it might not actually be inaccurate to say that Newton had only a “single read,” but it’s also a bit misleading. Indeed, many NFL quarterbacks only have a “single read” if this is the definition, though they might have some other read or key telling them which single read to focus on. But, while I think this “single read” was sometimes the case, I think more likely Gus used the progression read, giving Cam the typical suite of “reads”: one, two, three, throw-it-away/run.

Chris Petersen of Boise State once set forth his view of a quarterback’s development as follows:
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Smart Notes – High School footbal, 4-2-5 defense, QB drills – 4/13/2011

Excellent PBS Frontline feature on high school football:

Stopping the run from the 4-2-5. From runcodhit:

Isolation plays create an EXTRA GAP. To remain sound versus this play, the Defense will need to either have a player 2-gap or involve a secondary player in the run fit. This is where the corner playing cutback comes into the picture. When defending the ISO an important thing to consider is how the backers leverage the fullback. Brophy wrote an article about Bo Pelini’s defense, and specifically the lever/spill/lever concept. This is one way to treat run fits. I have become a believer in the linebacker making good contact head up to across, and letting the other backer and cutback player, fill where needed. Carl Pelini mentioned the concept at clinic. He explained that offenses were getting better at scheming run-fits. To combat this his linebackers needed to change up the way they hit and leveraged fullbacks and other pullers.

NCAA to investigate point-shaving by players. Often fixed games to pay off debts to campus bookies totaling a few hundred dollars.

In praise of Karl Marx, by Terry Eagleton tells us Marx was a pretty chill bro:

Marx’s goal is leisure, not labor. The best reason for being a socialist, apart from annoying people you happen to dislike, is that you detest having to work. Marx thought that capitalism had developed the forces of production to the point at which, under different social relations, they could be used to emancipate the majority of men and women from the most degrading forms of labor. What did he think we would do then? Whatever we wanted. If, like the great Irish socialist Oscar Wilde, we chose simply to lie around all day in loose crimson garments, sipping absinthe and reading the odd page of Homer to each other, then so be it. The point, however, was that this kind of free activity had to be available to all. We would no longer tolerate a situation in which the minority had leisure because the majority had labor.

Here is Tyler Cowen on Eagleton’s new book on Marx.

This is important to some of ya’ll: D.C. to legalize online poker. Relatedly, check out the NY Times’s profile of an online poker maven (up to you if it is worth one of your twenty).

– Rakes of Mallow does an impromptu study of DUI arrests and punishments. Draw your own conclusions.

Quarterback drills with Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris at Orange and White.

The futility of measurement, NFL combine edition

From Jonah Lehrer in the WSJ:

. . . We live in a society obsessed with maximum performance. Think of exams like the SAT and the GRE. Though these tests take only a few hours, they’re supposed to give schools and companies a snapshot of an individual’s abiding talents.

Or consider the NFL Scouting Combine, in which players entering the draft perform short physical and mental tasks, such as the 40-yard dash. The Combine is meant to measure physical ability; that’s why teams take the results so seriously.

It’s easy to understand the allure of such maximal measures. They don’t take very long, so we can quantify many people. Also, they make assessment seem relatively straightforward, reducing the uncertainty of selecting a college applicant or football player.

But as Mr. Sackett demonstrated with those supermarket cashiers, such high-stakes tests are often spectacularly bad at predicting performance in the real world. . . .

Even the NFL Combine is a big waste of time. According to a recent study by economists at the University of Louisville, there’s no “consistent statistical relationship” between the results of players at the Combine and subsequent NFL performance.
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What I’ve been reading

Wing-T: The Wing-T From A To Z: The Base Plan, by Dennis Creehan, and 101 Delaware Wing-T Plays, by Harold “Tubby” Raymond. Both look promising — if a bit overkill (101 plays?) — and the Wing-T is my offseason project. I’m convinced Wing-T blocking schemes will make (or are making) a comeback, as the hegemony of zone blocking cannot last forever. Any recent leads on Wing-T developments would be much appreciated.

– Lern 2 Rite: How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, by Stanley Fish and On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King (yes that Stephen King). Somewhat surprisingly, King’s book is the better of the two, and I bought it (i.e. downloaded for my Kindle) essentially on the strength of this recommendation. The first part of King’s book, a very well told (and brief) autobiography of his writing life, is moving and, dare I say, inspiring. Fish’s book aspires to be a more academic contribution to the concept of building and deconstructing a sentence, and while it is written as a narrative, it exists in a netherworld between being an entertaining and enlightening contribution on writing (as King’s book manages to be) and an academic text. If you’re interested in the subject (and I mean seriously interested), get this book instead.

– On the shelf, at the store: I recently bought The Handbook of Loan Syndications and Trading and Leveraged Finance: Concepts, Methods, and Trading of High-Yield Bonds, Loans, and Derivatives, but don’t even ask. The Economist recommends this book, but I’m skeptical. And I am finally almost done with The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk, which I’ve been reading off an on for over a year now.

What were the seminal offenses/defenses of each decade?

Inspired by this post, remember the definition of “seminal” when answering. Think of it (as it was in the original post) as The Great Gatsby was to books in the 1920s as X was to offensive/defensive schemes in Y.

Here are my picks. Add your own:

1900s – 1910s: Single-wing.

1920s: Notre Dame Box.

1930s: I’d like to choose the TCU/Dutch Meyer/Sammy Baugh spread offense but I’m not sure this counts as seminal. I leave this one for the readers.

1940s: T formation.

1950s: “Pro-style” offensive schemes of Paul Brown (Cleveland Browns), Weeb Ewbank (Baltimore Colts), and Vince Lombardi (Packers), and the 4-3 defense developed by, among others, Tom Landry as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants. Almost everything in the current NFL is merely a footnote to the 1950s.

1960s: Veer.

1970s: Wishbone.

1980s: West Coast Offense and Zone Blitzes.

1990s: Zone blocking and multiple-eight man front defenses.

2000s: Run-first spread offense and, to a lesser extent (though incredibly important on the lower levels), the Airraid.

Is the NCAA a coercive cartel?

Gary Becker:

[T]he NCAA sharply limits the number of athletic scholarships, and even more importantly, limits the size of the scholarships that schools can offer the best players. NCAA rules also severely restricts the gifts and housing players are allowed to receive from alumni and others, do not allow college players to receive pay for playing for professional teams during summers or even before they attended college, and limits what they can be paid for non-playing summer work. The rules are extremely complicated, and they constitute hundreds of pages that lay out what is permitted in recruiting prospective students, when students have to make binding commitments to attend schools, the need to renew athletic scholarships, the assistance that can be provided to players’ parents, and of course the size of scholarships.

It is impossible for an outsider to look at these rules without concluding that their main aim is to make the NCAA an effective cartel that severely constrains competition among schools for players. The NCAA defends these rules by claiming that their main purpose is to prevent exploitation of student-athletes, to provide a more equitable system of recruitment that enables many colleges to maintain football and basketball programs and actively search for athletes, and to insure that the athletes become students as well as athletes.

Unfortunately for the NCAA, the facts are blatantly inconsistent with these defenses.

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

Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia’s new offensive coordinator and head coach in waiting, has frequently said that his entire record breaking offense can be installed “in three days.” And, now that his three days of spring practice are up, he said on day four his team will simply “start over,” and will run through this install period three or four times during the spring. Wait, what? Hasn’t Holgorsen been a part of record breaking offenses for more than a decade, including the last three (at Houston and then Oklahoma State) as head orchestrator? Doesn’t saying you can install your entire top tier Division-I men’s college football offense in three lousy days seem a little bit like, I don’t know, bullshit?

Entire offense, three days -- power through

It does, but only because “complexity” is too often accepted as an end in and of itself and because we undervalue gains from specialization. As Holgorsen says, “no one” in his offense will play more than one position; he doesn’t even want someone to play both “inside and outside receiver.” The idea is a simple one: with limited practice time and, to be honest, limited skills, kids need to focus on a few things and to get better at them — the jack of all trades is incredibly overrated. While Urban Meyer’s Florida offense thrived for a time with Tebow and his omnipositional teammate, Percy Harvin, I’d argue that this reliance on a “Percy Position” — a guy that can play most every skill position on offense — eventually does more harm than good. I’m all for getting the ball to playmakers in different ways, but I am not — and neither is Holgorsen — a fan of doing it to the detriment of repetitions and becoming a master at your given position. It’s nature versus nurture on the football practice field, and I side with nurture.

Put another way, if your offense is well designed you don’t need to move a guy around to get him the ball. As one of Holgorsen’s assistants at West Virginia explains:

“Wes Welker at Texas Tech caught over 100 balls two years in a row and he played ‘H,” Dawson said. Michael Crabtree caught over 100 (at Texas Tech) and he play ‘Z.’ I had two receivers back to back that caught over 100 and that played ‘X.’ Then I had a guy catch 119 that played ‘Y.’

“It just depends on where that guy lines up,” Dawson continued. “The ball finds the play makers. Regardless of where you line them up. The ball finds the play makers. That is just the way it works out.”

If you’re looking for the guiding principle here, it is not one specific to football. Instead, it is (at least) as old as the opening of the Wealth of Nations:

The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is any where directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.
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Football doesn’t have to be that complicated

Overheard at a coaching clinic:

Coach 1: “We just couldn’t stop you guys from hitting the speed out. We used our Tango technique, then switched to the Dragon Claw alignment, and even whipped out the Lombardi Kung Fu grip and we still couldn’t handle it. What are you guys doing to make that that route so effective for you?”

Coach 2: “Our fast kid runs it.”

Charlie Weis’s Offense: The Sequel

Charlie Weis, he of the “decided schematic advantage,” is back coaching an offense in college football, this time with Florida. Spencer Hall does a good job explaining Weis’s offense and what Gator fans might expect — or at least as good of an explanation as is possible considering the contradictions: Weis considers himself pro-style, yet once tried to unveil a spread option look to start a season before promptly abandoning it; at Notre Dame his offense’s achilles heel was his teams’ inability to run the ball, and yet when he went back to the NFL his team lead the league in rushing. As Spencer says:

The pattern is that there is no pattern, run/pass-wise, and that he seems genuinely happy to adjust to the tools he has on hand.

I think that’s right. I expect Charlie’s offense at Florida to actually be less of the go-for-broke-let’s-hit-the-home-run fest it became under Clausen. At that stage it had become so erratic that either Clausen, Tate, and Floyd shredded you for big plays or they failed to connect, often in critical situations — it had a Madden-esque feel to it by the end. The year with the Chiefs was likely good for Charlie in that with an average NFL quarterback, only a few outside playmakers and good runningbacks, he had to turn to the run game.

And in the NFL, you don’t make the run game better by adding option plays or doing anything too exotic like the college guys. Instead, you find as many ways as you can to run the inside and outside zones. And Charlie’s big wrinkle with the Chiefs was the same one that a lot of NFL teams adopted: the unbalanced line, or simply an extra offensive lineman. The Chiefs did this, the Ravens did it, and even Stanford, under Jim Harbaugh, often did it too. The reason why you do it, particularly on zone runs when the quarterback is not a threat, is obvious: create more gaps to run through and for the defense to worry about. Compare this lineup with Michigan (note that I’d just throw it to the slot receiver here):

With this (I’ve highlighted the extra lineman and one of the gaps created by having two tackles to that side):

The whole point of zone running is to block the defenders in those zones and to create vertical running lanes; creating the extra gaps should help create additional running lanes. In this instance, it worked brilliantly for Charlie (and it helps having Jamaal Charles). Indeed, I think this is the wildcat offense‘s lasting legacy for NFL coaches — more about unbalanced lines and playing with gaps than having a quarterback who can run.

When it comes to throwing the ball, I expect Charlie’s offense to look much like it did at Notre Dame, though, at least in the early days, there will likely be more of an emphasis on screen passes than downfield shots. But when he does throw downfield, you can expect to see the old favorites: quick slants, stick concepts, deep “go” routes, and the deep cross. Indeed, the deep cross was a feature play of his both at Notre Dame (see the second clip in the video below)…

And a favorite with the Chiefs, as shown in this video.

cross

Ultimately, I don’t expect Charlie to be in Florida for long, but that doesn’t mean he won’t leave his mark — a positive one. He’ll likely be there no more than two years, maybe three, before he leaves to become a college head coach again (yes) or another NFL spot. Charlie will only be able to handle working under someone else for so long. But I think the Muschamp-Weis situation will be fine: Will will defer to Charlie on the offensive side and he’ll provide an impressive sounding board (more on that in a moment), and Charlie will genuinely enjoy just getting to focus on creating gameplans, coaching quarterbacks, and calling plays. In the long run (and assuming he has a lot of success at Florida), Muschamp will probably end up with a coordinator whose roots are in the college game with college players, much like the guys Bob Stoops has worked with over the years. But Will undoubtedly wanted real-deal-NFL-guy to both be there as a recruiting pitch and for his own psyche — long-term NFL experience is one thing his mentor Nick Saban has that he does not (Muschamp spent one year with the Dolphins under Saban).

And Weis will be a great resource. He is generally known as an NFL “pro-style” guy all the way, but it’s often forgotten that, back in the 1980s, Weis spent the decade shuffling between high school and college programs, where he ran a variety of offenses, some of them quite surprising. From a post-game interview with Weis from 2005:

Q: Coach, after watching Saturday, this question begs to be asked: Did your career path ever intersect with Mouse Davis?

WEIS: I did visit with Mouse Davis back in South Carolina when we had the run and shoot. We talked to Mouse Davis, we talked to John Jenkins not Father John Jenkins, by the way Mouse Davis, John Jenkins, those run and shoot guys. Yes, we went from the veer to the run and shoot at South Carolina. We spent some time with all of those run and shoot guys.

Q: Was influences of that evident on Saturday?

WEIS: No. What you saw Saturday [ND did a lot of 5 wide stuff and quick three step passes], first of all, run and shoot always has a back in the backfield. It’s either a two by two or three by one, which trips are spread; okay, that’s number one. And you always have a run element, so empty (backfield) really doesn’t come into play.

This brief excerpt of his own words is the best summary of Weis that can be given: irascible, somewhat condescending, and incredibly knowledgeable.

Quarterback drills with Missouri’s Dave Yost, guru, dude

Let’s play a little pitch and catch with Mizzou offensive coordinator, Dave Yost (h/t Spreadoffense):

When asked how he felt about losing Blaine Gabbert early to the NFL, Yost shrugged his shoulders and recalled an earlier time in his life when things got tough and how he resiliently bounced back.

In seriousness, I once referred to the title of Missouri quarterback as a “glamour position” in college football, and it’s proven to be that, with each of the past three signal-callers (including potential number one overall pick, Blaine Gabbert), making it to the NFL. Whoever Missouri chooses as quarterback for this fall will do well, not least of all because of Yost’s tutelage. They should just use a little more play-action to boost that average yards per attempt.