In 2013, Charlie Weis Has It Right

Charlie Weis, in 2005:

Every game, you will have a decided schematic advantage.

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Decidedly trying

Charlie Weis, in 2013:

As I sat there and watched the last four or five games of that Austin guy at West Virginia just tearing it up as both a wide receiver and a running back, I think that football sometimes doesn’t have to be as cerebral as some people try to make it, and I think that it’s a copycat business.

Pulling out the infamous “decided schematic advantage” quote is always a bit of a cheap shot at Charlie, but I still think it’s fascinating to see how his thinking has evolved as he went from the mountaintop of Super Bowl wins and ten win seasons at Notre Dame to the “pile of crap” (his words) he’s dealing with Kansas. The 2005 quote is a paean to winning by abstract thought, where chalkboard doodles decide games. It’s stated in the most bold way possible, but it’s not that far from what most coaches at least try to do.

His 2013 quote, by contrast, is a paean to common sense. In it he’s making three points, all of which are undoubtedly true:
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Translating Nick Saban: Three Plays from the BCS Championship

Nick Saban did the full ESPN car wash today, and ESPN, to their credit, fit in a brief bit of actual football talk as they looked at three plays from the BCS Championship game against Notre Dame. The segment is definitely worth watching:

Although there was good information here, the segment was also a bit rushed and the hosts didn’t do much to get Saban to more clearly explain some of his technical football jargon. So let’s do that right now.

Eddie Lacy’s Run. This is the most jumbled presentation as they appeared to want to be able to freeze the footage and were unable to, but Saban still gives some insight:

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  • Saban: “You picked one of our basic plays, which is a zone play.”Translation: The play is inside zone to the left, which is one of Alabama’s bread and butter plays. I’ve written about the inside zone extensively and Don Kausler had a very good story on this very play before the BCS title game.
  • S: “We’re in an overloaded Y-Y Wing type situation here.”Translation: The formation has two tight-end type players, or “Y” players,” to the same side, which can also be referred to as a a “tight-wing” formation. Remember, Saban is a defensive coach so even when he describes his own team’s offensive concepts, he’s often thinking about them in terms defensive coaches use. Here he ends up using three different descriptions (“Y-Y”, “wing” and “overload”) to describe the same idea: a tight-end with another tight-end or “wing” player to the same side, which presents an “overload” formation which the defense must react to.
  • S: “[It's] a zone cut play where 31 is going to go back.”Translation: It’s very common on zone running plays to leave the backside defensive end unblocked — teams used to control him with the threat of a bootleg, but nowadays many do it with the zone read — but it’s also common to simply bring another offensive player to the backside to block that defender. The primary purpose is to seal that backside defender to help create a cutback lane, but it also gives a traditional zone play a bit of a misdirection element. Here 31 refers to tight-end Kelly Johnson, who acts as the “block back” player, also known as the “sealer” or “kicker”.
  • S: “Now we point out the MAC… Eddie Lacy does a fantastic job of pressing downhill and making a zone cut… we’re stretching the guard area….”Translation: The video can’t be paused and Saban ends up saying three non-sequiturs and isn’t really able to finish his thoughts, but there’s still real football here. “Pointing out the MAC,” which is another term for the middle linebacker, is something most zone teams do before every snap. The reason is that once the middle linebacker has been identified, all of them linemen will know who they are responsible for, both for defensive linemen and linebackers, typically through a “count” method which counts out from the nose guard or middle linebacker out.

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A Better Box Score: Simple Ways to Improve the Basic Game Recap

Box scores are intended to give a snapshot of games, and, for the most part, they work. If I look at the box score for West Virginia’s 70 to 63 victory over Baylor, I have a pretty good inkling of what kind of game it was; similarly if I look at the box score of Auburn’s infamous 3-2 win over Mississippi State. But there’s an awful lot I can’t tell from those box scores. Mississippi State had 38 rushing yards, but was that because their running game was stoned or because they took too many sacks? West Virginia and Baylor combined for over 1,000 yards passing, but were those short passes receivers took the distance or long ones down field?

Run or pass? Or neither?

Run or pass? Or neither?

I’m against overwhelming the classic box score with a variety of so-called advanced statistics. I’m a fan of these and I think they are great, but the box score is not the place for unpronounceable acronyms. So below is a non-exhaustive list of very basic, very simple, hopefully very clear changes I think would greatly improve the quality of the traditional box score.

  • Sack Yards: This is an easy one, and is unique only to college rather than the NFL, but there’s no reason that sacks should count against rushing yards. It makes quarterback rushing yards extremely difficult to decipher, especially in the age of the dual-threat quarterback, and often makes passing look more productive than it is in reality. (It also penalizes quarterbacks who do the smart thing, and throw the ball away instead of taking sacks.)
  • Tackles for Loss: Sack yards should come out of passing but all box scores should also have a simple table of negative plays as its own stand alone category. You can tell a lot about offensive and defensive styles based on the number of negative plays.
  • Completions Behind the Line: Bubble screens, rocket screens, now screens, touch passes and swing passes are an increasingly large part of offenses, and, given that these plays are nominally forward passes but are typically “packaged” with running plays, they really should be their own quasi-run/pass category. (In college and high school in particular, the rules for linemen downfield are entirely different depending on whether the pass is completed behind or past the line of scrimmage, thus further arguing for different treatment.) Call it the Percy Harvin/Tavon Austin category of plays which “all-purpose” players typically thrive on. The other goal is to remove these plays from traditional passing categories (though I think it is fair to count incompletions against the quarterback), to make passing statistics more purely a measure of downfield passing.

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Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs Top Passing Concepts (Shallow, Stick, Sail/Flood) With All-22 Film

Very interesting clips showing Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs’ top passing concepts, with all-22 game film; specifically his shallow cross series and the stick and sail/flood concepts.

Of course, Richt has previously done many clinics on his shallow cross series. It was probably the staple concept of the old fast break offenses he was a part of at Florida State. A clip of one of those is below.

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Stanford HC David Shaw: Can Football Change the World?

Very interesting TEDx talk by Stanford head coach David Shaw:

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Tim Tebow’s Last Chance

I watched Tim Tebow play before I had any idea who he was. I occasionally feel oddly fortunate for that fact, as very few people can say the same. Since at least the time he was a freshman at Florida, his reputation — really, his mythos — has preceded him: from heavily hyped Florida recruit to Heisman winner to on-campus living legend, and then to shocking first round draft pick to fan (and Skip Bayless favorite) to New York Jets sideshow, it’s become effectively impossible to watch Tebow play without also seeing the incredible amount of hype and baggage that follows him. This talented but flawed quarterback — born to Christian missionary parents in the Philippines, raised in Florida and, for a time, the face of football’s spread offense and read-option revolutions — has come to embody alternatively the dreams and nightmares of so many football fans.

Simpler times

Simpler times

In 2013 one therefore can’t simply “put on tape of Tim Tebow” and evaluate him as a player. Instead, in what may be his one truly great skill, any attempt to evaluate Tim inevitably results in something else: you end up also evaluating yourself, whether you realize it or not. Include me in this, too.

But in 2005, on the recommendation of one of my coaching buddies, I taped a game Tebow played in, without knowing who he was. As high school football has gotten more successful — and commercial — there’s been a rise in featured “matchup” games set up by promoters and marketed to fans as well as TV networks. This game, between Hoover High School of Alabama, and Nease High School in Florida, was a made-for-TV concoction designed to pit the most high profile team in Alabama against the most high profile high school quarterback in Florida — and maybe the country. My friend recommended taping it fundamentally because of the offenses: Hoover, under then coach Rush Probst, was a “client” of now-Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s “System” and had ridden it to several Alabama state titles in recent years. Nease, meanwhile, had exploded into one of the most explosive teams in the country using a kind of hybrid spread offense which combined zone reads with downfield passing to average close to 50 points a game. (While one might wonder how much you can learn from watching a high school game, remember that this was 2005 and we’re still talking about both of those offensive systems today.)

When I began watching the game two things became clear very quickly: Hoover was the far superior team at essentially every position, but the Tebow kid was basically carrying his team. Nease lost convingly, 50-29, but Tebow racked up over 422 yards of offense, including 398 through the air, and could’ve had 500 yards if his receivers would’ve avoided some costly drops. I don’t much care for recruiting, but Tebow — about whom I knew nothing before I began watching — jumped out at me to the point where I took some scouting notes on him, notes which I recently dug up:

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Chip Kelly on Designing an Offense

When I was hiring staff, I wanted to hire a lot of smart people. Then let’s sit together as a group and say, ‘Alright, what did you do in the quick game? How do we want to do it in the quick game? This is what we did here. How did you call it in Cleveland, (offensive coordinator) Pat (Shurmur and defensive coordinator) Bill (Davis)?’ (Wide receivers coach) Bobby (Bicknell), came from the Buffalo Bills: ‘How did you do it?’ How did (offensive line coach) Jeff Stoutland do it in Alabama? And then we came up with what is the best way for the 2013 Eagles to run it. And we did it in every phase: the screen game, the quick game, the drop back game, the run game, all those things. What’s our two minute offense going to look like? It’s a collaboration from everybody we put together on our staff. And everybody has a say, and we’ll all talk it through, and then we’ll, as a group, decide on what is the best thing moving forward.

That’s from Chip Kelly’s most recent interview post practice. Most so-called innovations are the result of a bunch of guys sitting in a room trying to figure out if what they are doing makes sense. Do it enough — and thoughtfully enough — and focus on what your players can do and how it all fits together, and the wrinkles and interesting stuff will take care of themselves.

Alex Gibbs Denver Broncos (Terrell Davis) Outside Zone Cut-Ups and Explanation

As always, very good (somewhat old) stuff from Alex Gibbs on the outside zone running play. Note that Gibbs recently rejoined the Broncos as a consultant.

Of course there’s a lot more where that came from. (Hat tip to togfootball.) Also try eight hours of Alex Gibbs talking with Dan Mullen, Steve Addazio and others at the University of Florida several years back:

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New Grantland: What Drafting Matt Barkley Means for Chip Kelly’s Plans for the Eagles

It’s up over at Grantland:

Kelly’s staff in Philadelphia further supports this view. Kelly said he wanted offensive and defensive coordinators with NFL coordinator experience, and in Pat Shurmur and Billy Davis, that’s what he got. Throughout this offseason, Kelly has made clear that he wants the Eagles to be something of a laboratory for football ideas, whether it be X’s and O’s or the science of peak athletic performance.

But this line of thinking still has to be tempered with a bit of realism. Kelly is clearly bright, committed, and open-minded, but the idea that he can step into the NFL and runany offense — spread, pro-style, West Coast, Coryell, Wing-T — seems implausible. He shredded college football running a very specific attack based on very specific principles, and the mathematical advantage he gained from having his quarterback be at least some kind of a threat to run was a central tenet. He might be able to adapt his offense to his players and coaches, but this is not the same thing as continuing and growing what worked at Oregon.

Read the whole thing.