Good paragraphs about Madden

And not just this year’s edition. From ESPN:

Hawkins wanted “Madden” to play out like the NFL. Equivalent stats. Similar play charts. Real football.

By contrast, Lyndon and Knox previously had made a well-received “Monday Night Football” title featuring arcade-style, action-heavy game play. That clicked with Genesis “Madden” producer Rich Hilleman, whose top design priority was fun — a game with more sacks, more bombs, more tackles in the backfield and more 60-yard runs than real-life NFL football. Something akin to an episode of “The Hills,” or what philosopher/author Umberto Eco dubbed the “hyperreal” — seemingly authentic, yet more entertaining than the genuine article.

“I came to the game from making flight simulations,” said Hilleman, who is now EA’s chief creative officer. “If you make an F-16 fighter simulation and it’s very accurate, to fire a single missile takes like 20 procedures. Only that’s not people’s perception of being a pilot. People’s perception is Tom Cruise. Push a button and blow something up. With Genesis ‘Madden,’ we wanted to emphasize what makes football exciting, not perfectly replicate the brutality of a 3.1-yard-per-carry running game.”

And:

“Let me ask,” Madden said. “When we get into the spread, the quarterback in shotgun, do the linemen get in three-point stances?”

“In some sets,” White said. “But largely in two-point.”

“They should all be in two-point stances,” Madden admonished.
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Can the West Coast Offense be taught anywhere besides the NFL?

Is it possible to run the “West Coast Offense” — the offense credited to Bill Walsh and those of his “coaching tree” — at any level other than the NFL? The answer is not necessarily clear. Indeed, despite being the most prevalent offense in the NFL, the WCO seems designed to overwhelm any college or high school team attempting to install it, whether from the voluminous playbook, playcalls that sound like something from NASA, or the difficult throws that only NFL guys can make. Despite its wonderful aspects and results, there’s a reason that many a high school coach with the best of intentions has junked the West Coast Offense after a few miserable games to return to some simpler and more trusted approach that has the advantage of being something his kids can actually do.

west coast

One, two, three, throw

Yet it must be possible to run the west coast offense at the lower levels, isn’t it? The answer is yes and no. Yes, because the most important elements of the offense can definitely be applied to the lower levels, while Jon Gruden’s extensive call sheets can be left aside. The no is just that: you won’t be able to run every formation, motion, and play in Holmgren’s Packers playbook, but fortunately you don’t have to. There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about installing the WCO. The wrong way is to download a WCO playbook and try to install Walsh’s verbatim. That approach is also known as suicide. Instead, to use the offense at the lower levels (including college)  — or even to merely understand why the WCO and is such a good offense — it’s necessary to focus on the offense’s core principles.

1. Timing-based, ball control passing game. Routes are timed to match receiver steps and quarterback steps, with a healthy mix between 3-step and 5-step drops. It’s not about long bombs (though it has these too), but instead about efficiency. This is probably Walsh’s defining legacy. Most of Walsh’s plays existed before he came around — you can find Paul Brown and Sid Gillman using them, among others — but Walsh’s passing game exploded because he was essentially the passing game’s first risk manager. Although quarterbacks had long been able to sling the ball — for example, Joe Namath threw for over 4,000 in 1967 — Walsh’s quarterbacks became great by what they didn’t do: they didn’t throw incompletions (Walsh’s quarterbacks consistently completed over 60% of their passes, and occasionally closer to 70%), they didn’t throw interceptions (the interception rate per pass attempt went way down) ; and they didn’t take sacks, owing to Walsh’s meticulousness about their not holding on to the ball too long.

To compare this to the prior generation of signal callers, in 1977 the Oakland Raiders won the Super Bowl despite Ken Stabler’s 20 interceptions; in 1978 the Steelers won the Super Bowl despite Terry Bradshaw’s 20 interceptions; and, in 1978, the Steelers won the Super Bowl and won more games … despite the fact that Bradshaw threw 25 interceptions. (In 2009, only three quarterbacks threw 20 or more interceptions: two rookies, Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez, and Jay Cutler, who had some issues in that department.) Moreover, if you roll the relevant passing stats together you get a useful stat called “Adjusted Yards Per Pass Attempt,” which averages how many yards are achieved per passing attempt (which usefully combines completion percentage and average yards gained per completion), with the adjusted part being the subtraction of yards to account for interceptions. Pro-Football-Reference.com has an in house version of Adj. YPA quite similar to what I’ve described, and the upshot is that Walsh’s quarterbacks, Montana and Young, average between one and a half and two adjusted yards per pass attempt more than Hall of Famers from an older generation, like Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, Stabler, Bob Griese, and so on. The difference was the efficiency, the careful approach, and the timing.

All of the above is a long-winded way of saying that it’s really important to focus on the details. It’s one thing to say that the WCO “treated short passes like runs” and used a “ball control approach to the passing game,” but it’s another to make pass plays so routine that they really become as second nature to the players as a handoff off-tackle. You do that through intense drill-work and matching routes, reads, and drops.

2. Meticulous gameplanning. If his legacy is not about reducing the risks of throwing the ball through a disciplined approach, it is by revolutionizing how coaches prepare for games through simple organization: scripting plays, analyzing tendencies, self-scouting, probing defenses to look for weaknesses, and so on. As with his plays, none of Walsh’s innovations here were truly new, but his approach obviously worked because not only was his success outsized but so has been the success of those who coached with him — those that were able to observe his methods.  Applied to the lower levels, it is about having a plan for gameplanning, designing practices around what actually happens in games and using as many “situational” or “game-like” scenarios as possible, and treating the creation of the scripted plan and playcall sheet as tools to be organized during the game (when you have the least time to think and things are craziest). You don’t need to produce 200 page scouting reports (like this one which Mike Shanahan and co. made for the Denver Broncos as they prepared for the Indy Colts in 2002) but the creation of a thorough plan will make you a better coach and will make your practices more focused on the things that matter.

3. “Balance” between running versus passing. Now, I have written a lot about notions of balance but and how I don’t think traditional notions — an equal number of runs or passes or an equal amount of passing and rushing yardage — is a useful way to think about the concept. But there is no doubt that the West Coast Offense wants to be balanced in a meaningful way: the defense must fear both the run and the pass. Now, again, the WCO is a pass-first offense, so I think the best way to think about whether your team has sufficient balance is to contrast the offense with offenses that don’t care about balance, like the Airraid teams or run-heavy option squads. And the best way I know of to determine that is to ask whether the play-action pass is a legitimate threat. For many pass-first spreads, the play-action pass is a non-starter because the run is an afterthought. But it is also the main source of the West Coast Offense’s explosive plays.

Indeed, Walsh as Walsh explained:

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Running the “6-3 deep post”

If you want to throw a deep post, particularly when there is an inside route designed to draw the safety away from the outside receiver, I suggest using a technique called the “6-3 post.”

The numbers refer to the number of steps the receiver takes: six vertically, attacking the defender’s outside hip, then three quick ones at 45 degrees to the sideline (sometimes with a head turn but not necessarily), with the break to the post made at full speed on the ninth step, or the third of the “6-3.” The idea is that you will take away the safeties either through play action or some kind of inside route — like in the Mills or double-post concepts — while the 6-3 technique will enable the outside receiver to get plenty of leverage as he bursts inside.

See the video linked here for a great example of Kez McCorvey from FSU (remember him?) running the route near-perfectly. (For some reason embedding is disabled, so you’ll just have to click the link.)

Smart Notes – Learning defensive coverages, Bear Bryant’s 1958 D playbook – 8/8/2010

Via Ron Jenkins, learning defensive coverages:

Because I can. Check out Bear Bryant’s 1958 Alabama playbook. Note that playbook designing technology did not advance beyond this pen and typewriter method until apparently around 2006.

Good morning, Dave. Buckeye Football Analysis breaks down Tressel’s favorite play — the “Dave” play, which is what he calls his variation of the “Power O” which he has been running since at least his Youngstown State days. Well worth the read.

The most important thing a college football fan can read: This fall’s ESPN announcer pairings, complete with commentary from EDSBS.

Watch Mark Sanchez make figure eights. This kind of drill reinforces my advice to all young quarterbacks: jump rope.

Good article from Billy Witz of the Times about Dick Enberg. Enberg has gone back to doing play-by-play for the San Diego padres:

But the reason Enberg was here became apparent on a recent afternoon as he entered his small office at Petco Park, arriving four and a half hours before the first pitch with a news release in his hand describing the Padres’ trade-deadline deal for St. Louis outfielder Ryan Ludwick.

Picking out pertinent statistics, Enberg fretted that he did not know much about the prospects San Diego had dealt, but he said that he liked the gumption the Padres, the surprise leaders of the National League West, had to acquire Miguel Tejada the day before.

“We’re getting serious,” Enberg said seriously. It was clear, at that moment and for the rest of the night, that baseball stirred him.

- How badly do you love football? If you’d be happy playing through this, then you probably qualify.

Study on NFL field goal “choking.” From the Sabermetric Research Blog: Upshot is that a study found evidence of choking, but it’s also possible that there are other conclusions to draw regarding difficulty rather than pure mental breakdowns.

Football Outsiders on Rookie Cap Salary Considerations (say that three-times fast). Check it out here. Learn all about the 25-percent rule.

Bleg. In the comments, please feel free to request topics for future coverage on the blog. I’ve got some projects I’m working on but I am always looking for new ideas.

More on the “Pistol” offense

Although I don’t consider the “pistol offense,” as pioneered by Chris Ault at Nevada, so much an offense as merely a useful formation which adapts well to a variety of schemes, there’s no doubt that Ault has had outsized success with it. Last season, Nevada averaged a staggering 344 yards rushing per game, on an even more staggering 7.39 yards per carry. Now, the offense took several games to get going (and against the meatiest part of Nevada’s schedule, no less), but it’s clear that the concept is here to stay and that it can be the foundation for an explosive attack.

Indeed, the pistol has been adopted by other teams as well, as this video from the Big Ten Network discussing Indiana’s use demonstrates (h/t Shakin the Southland):

Shakin the Southland buttresses this video with a lengthy discourse on the subject, drawing on some of my past work and a great American Football Monthly piece by Mike Kuchar. See parts one and two of Mike’s breakdown.

As I’ve said before, however, whether the pistol is a “system” or a “formation” is secondary to the results, and when it works

When the offense is rolling (which it is most of the time these days), the pistol gives a team the best of both worlds: It has at its disposal all the Urban Meyer/Rich Rodriguez spread offense stuff, like the zone read and other gadgets, as well as the advantages of a “traditional” I-formation or pro-style single-back attack. Among these are that the runningback, aligning as he does behind the quarterback, tips no hand to the defense on the direction of the play, and the offense can get both good downhill running and play-action off those looks.

The test of the pistol will be, as it is for all offenses, along two vectors: First, will Nevada break through? But second, what will its ongoing influence be? Regardless of how this season turns out for the Wolfpack, I think the “pistol’s” legacy is safe.

As a bonus, below the jump I’ve got a video of one of my favorite Nevada plays, the “horn play.”

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Nick Saban on defending the wildcat

Thanks to reader Alex Bruchac, below are three videos of Nick Saban discussing how to defend the wildcat, which is something I have previously discussed at length. Let the master explain:

The other two videos can be found below the fold:
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Smart Links – Nick Saban breaking down film – 8/4/2010

The modern maestro of defense, Nick Saban, lectures crane-necking coaches on how he prepared for the BCS Title game against Texas (h/t to reader Alex Bruchac):

Shocking commentary on how to be an offensive genius, by Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo:

A year of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno followed by a season without them will make you realize things. “I think I have learned, too, you have to have good players,” he said. “I think good players help you win football games.”

“But coach, I need a run up!” Article on dealing with players from the British American Football Coaching Association, i.e. the association for people who play real football in England. The site is worth a visit, as you don’t always see football coaches on this side of the Atlantic poppin’ their collars:

poppin

Eleven Warriors has a nice breakdown of some expansion answers from the Big Ten media days.

Expanded Season Revenue: The NFL’s real math problem, from Tom Gower. An excerpt:

[H]ow much more would the NFL make if the regular season was expanded to 18 games and the preseason was cut to 2 games? . . .

Why is Roger Goodell advocating for the players to play less and make less money per-game? Doesn’t he know that the NFL won’t really make that much extra money from moving to an 18-game season? The question to that is almost certainly yes, so why does he do this?

[T]here really is a level of popular discontent over the 4-game preseason, especially from media people and season ticket holders who feel like they’re getting screwed. These people, especially the latter, are probably wrong. . . . Proposing an expanded regular season allows Roger Rex to make nice with these people.

. . . . I don’t think the NFL is, or at least should be, particularly serious about the 18-game season. If my numbers are close to right, it doesn’t make anywhere near as much money as you’d expect from a basic 16 to 18 game comparison, and the players really don’t like it. It is, instead, primarily a negotiating tactic and media ploy, and should and will be dropped when the labor negotiations get serious.

If Sam Bradford is worth 50 million guaranteed, what is Tom Brady worth? From the Pro-Football Reference Blog.

I’m not a big Fantasy Football guy, but if you read one thing read “Fantasy Drafting: How to Maximize Value by Position and by Round,” by Chase Stuart.

The Itch of Curiosity, from Jonah Lehrer’s new digs at Wired:

Because curiosity is ultimately an emotion, an inexplicable itch telling us to keep on looking for the answer, it can take advantage of all the evolutionary engineering that went into our dopaminergic midbrain. (Natural selection had already invented an effective motivational system.) When Einstein was curious about the bending of space-time, he wasn’t relying on some newfangled circuitry. Instead, he was using the same basic neural system as a rat in a maze, looking for a pellet of food.

Defensive back fundamentals, from Brophy. One of my favorite things about Brophy is he is a big believer in “show, don’t tell.” Watch the clips already.

– Finally, below the jump a great catch by Arizona State’s Kerry Taylor. Make sure to watch the full video (h/t Offensive Musings blog). Also, it’s a great example of a “sluggo” route:

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Me on the Solid Verbal Podcast

Check out the 7/14/2010 Solid Verbal Podcast, “Smart Football,” hosted by Dan Rubenstein and Ty Hildenbrandt. It was a lot of fun and I really appreciate the invite to do the Solid Verbal.

What I’ve been reading

Football Scouting Methods, by Steve Belichick. For a long time, this widely revered tome by Steve Belichick, Bill’s dad, was out of print — and so I never read it. But I recently realized that it had been re-released and thus the price came down from its prior astronomical levels to the very affordable $10. One of the Amazon reviewers helpfully includes the table of contents for curious readers:

1. A case for specialization in scouting
2. Preparations for scouting
3. What is expected of the scout
4. Worksheet forms and terminology
5. How to recognize the defense
6. Scouting the defense
7. Defensive analysis
8. Scouting the offense
9. Offensive analysis
10. The final report
11. Self-scouting and post game analysis
12. Tip offs

Surreptitiously filming your opponents red zone plays is, to my knowledge, not covered, but hopefully the wisdom herein will trickle into my writing here on the site.

More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite, by Sebastian Mallaby. First things first: Mallaby, who is a former writer for the Economist and whose prior book, The World’s Banker: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises, and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations (about Jim Wolfensohn, the former World Bank president), was excellent, has written a full-throated defense of hedge funds and hedge fund managers — a rather unique topic in today’s climate. But whatever your views on this “new elite,” Mallaby’s book is extremely informative and entertaining, as, unsurprisingly, the history of hedge funds is filled with quixotic characters. I thoroughly enjoyed this, even if, at the end, while the financial world was crumbling as a result of the risk taking of many, Mallaby’s book becomes something of a thriller where we wait to see if various hedge funds will blow up or survive. The fact that he can overcome such oddities is a testament to Mallaby’s formidable writing skills. For a sample chapter, check out this piece from the Atlantic, covering George Soros’s successful effort to break the British pound.

Hitch-22: A Memoir, by Christopher Hitchens. I have a very soft spot for Hitch, as his rhetorical prowess is such that he could say basically anything and, because it sounds so good and is said so well, you fall in for it, even if just a bit. (And sometimes you wonder if he doesn’t set himself up that way on purpose.) But when he’s on your side, there are few better or more forceful advocates. Hitch-22: A Memoir — which is not a memoir at all, but is instead just a roughly chronological series of stories Mr. Hitchens has chosen to tell about himself and his famous friends — is fun, pungent, and elegantly written; a perfect beach read for the Fourth of July, when I read it. It doesn’t do much to explain the man (or maybe it does?), but Hitchens has always been less about bracing complexity for complexity’s sake than acknowledging it (which alone differentiates him from many commentators), then choosing a side (thus differentiating him from the rest), and asserting the moral high ground until you concede or his position is no longer remotely tenable. A sample chapter on his friendship with Martin Amis is available from Vanity Fair.

American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic, by Joseph Ellis. Ellis is maybe my favorite storyteller/historian on American History (there are historians and storytellers, and for some reason with American History few successfully manage both roles). Ellis charts early American history — post revolutionary war, in particular — through the men that made it and it made famous, though without deifying them in the process. A great text to help fill in the gaps and to give some much needed perspective on a now much discussed time.

Player salaries and economic rents

Brian Burke opines on NFL salaries:

Personally, I think they’re all overpaid, rookies and veterans. If you ask most football players if they would still play football for $80,000 per year instead of $800,000 or $8 million, they’d say yes. It’s almost certainly a better proposition than whatever else they’d be able to do in the labor market. If Sam Bradford had the choice between playing in the NFL for $80k/yr or looking for an entry level job in Oklahoma City, what do you think he’d do? Every dollar above $80k is icing on the cake. Technically, it could be considered economic rent.

In economic terms, rent is a misnomer. It does not refer to money you pay a landlord for your apartment. It refers to the money above the minimum amount required to induce the employment of a resource. There is always rent claimed by both sides of all voluntary transactions, otherwise people wouldn’t agree to the transaction in the first place. . . .

It seems to me almost all of the economic rent in professional sports goes to the players. It’s hard to imagine any other multi-billion dollar company paying more than 60% of its revenue to a few hundred employees. It’s not that the salaries are high in absolute terms, it’s that the athletes should gladly play for far less.

I tend to agree… or do I? I am conflicted. It is a plausible account, but there is a lot of uncertainty there as well. One, the NFL and other sports leagues are already incredibly distorted markets, aided as they are by exceptions to anti-trade law and a general public (to say nothing of lawmakers and judges) who are fine giving the NFL monopoly power over professional football (which may be a perfectly rational and fine choice). Second, and more importantly, the lifespan of an NFL player is blisteringly short. I’ve heard a variety of estimates, but most often the estimate is put at around 2-3 years; never have I heard even five seasons.

This skews the incentives. Were Sam Bradford to have taken the $80,000 a year job, he would be giving up a lot now, but it’s much more likely that his other career would last far longer, and as a result his income would be much smoother. And of course the number one pick is not really the appropriate metric; it’s not evident that, from a financial perspective at least, making around $400,000 a year for three or even four years and then having no career prospects at all is better than starting in a $70,000/year job with growth potential and stability. (I know in this economy nothing is certain.)

Two points flow from this. The first is that it cannot be accurate to compare an NFL player’s salary with the salary of Joe Schmo, office manager. Their income stream is more like that of an artist, or even an entrepreneur — variable with their success, with great opportunity to be set for life, with also a high likelihood of bust. As I’ve pointed out, 78% of NFL players file for bankruptcy. As this NY Times article points out, it’s not easy to manage your money if it comes in irregular, large chunks, followed by long dry-spells.

And second, if you make your money at once you end up paying more in taxes than someone who earned the same total amount, in smoother fashion, over the same period. To use an example of an entrepreneur, imagine the there are only two tax rates: 40% if you make over $200,000 and 20% if you make over $45,000. If two neighbors both make $500,000 over five years, with neighbor 1 making $100,000 every year while neighbor 2 making $250,000 twice and zero in the other years, neighbor 1 will have paid $100,000 in taxes while neighbor 2 will have paid $200,000.

Is any of this determinative of whether or not football players make too much? No, but I think it all adds a significant layer of uncertainty to their ability to make a living that, particularly when coupled with the well documented health issues that come from playing football, including brain injuries, make high incomes somewhat more understandable, even if they could be characterized as raw economic rents.