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.

Shameless self-promotion – Maple Street Guides

Like last year, I have written a variety of pieces for the wonderful Maple Street Press, which specializes in team-centric preview guides — i.e. preview guides wherein all 128 pages are about your team, rather than having to share your single-page half-and-half with Akron (sorry Akron) or Michigan State (sorry Michigan State). This season, I wrote seven articles for six different publications, and had the collateral benefit of working with some very talented (and extremely patient) publishers and editors. So, obviously, if you like any of these teams, I recommend shelling out the 12 duckets to buy a copy; they can be ordered through Maple Street’s website (see the links below) or found in stores on a regional basis.

And if you’re curious what they look like in print, here is a link to an article I did last season for the Florida guide — I think it came out somewhat better than Tebow’s actual season did. In any event, here are the choices. Without further delay, and in no particular order, are the articles:

- We Are Penn State, edited by Mike Hubbell of BlackShoeDiaries. My article is titled “Inside the Spread HD,” but as I explain, that term is really a misnomer or at least merely serves cosmetic purposes, as at best Penn State’s offense is formed from coach Galen Hall’s two-tight, power approach (similar to the Indianapolis Colts’s core offense), with Jay Paterno’s “be multiple” impulses laid on top. At worst, however, this balancing act can lead the Nittany Lions away from having any particular identity. I discuss this balancing act, along with some of the key concepts, along with how PSU may feature Evan Royster this year.

- Cornhusker Kickoff 2010, edited by Jon Johnston of cornnation.com. My two articles, “Shawn Watson and K.I.S.S.” and “Offensive Tendencies,” discuss the man entrusted with steering the other half of Nebraska’s team, the offense, self-proclaimed west coast guru and Mike White disciple, Shawn Watson. Obviously, with how dominant the defense was Nebraska was a few more yards and a few more points away from an even better season, and the Cornhuskers showed flashes worthy of hope in their bowl game against Arizona. I discuss Watson’s evolutions and the team’s options for 2009 in each.

- Yea Alabama, edited by Todd Jones and Joel Gamble of rollbamaroll.com. My article, “The McElwain Way,” sheds some insight into the sarcastic and funny Jim McElwain, whose one-back power offense has in many ways been both the perfect complement to Saban’s defense and the difference between Alabama’s 7-6 record in Saban’s first year (without McElwain) and 26-2 record since. I focus particularly on ‘Bama’s run game.

- Here Comes the Irish, edited by Pat Misch of The Blue-Gray Sky. My article, “A Passing Primer,” is a nuts and bolts introduction to Brian Kelly’s offense and what he might do at Notre Dame. I’ve touched on similar topics previously, but I’d never had the opportunity to pull it all together as I did there. I look at Kelly’s run game, passing concepts (including how he handles pattern read coverages), favorite quirks, and his general approach to offense and especially quarterbacks.

- Hail to the Victors, edited by Brian Cook of mgoblog.com. The buzz coming out of spring camp at Michigan is that the Wolverines are moving to a 3-3-5 (or 3-5-3) look on defense, harkening back to Rich Rodriguez’s preferred defense at West Virginia. In “Back in Time,” I take a look at the origins of the 3-3-5, some of its progenitors (like Charlie Strong, formerly of Florida and now of Louisville, and the quixotic Joe Lee Dunn), how it is similar to and differs from traditional 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, and the ways it has evolved for modern football.

- Packers Annual 2010, edited by Brian Carriveau of the Journal-Sentinel Online and Cheeseheadtv.com. Yes, an NFL article! In “Unleashing Aaron Rodgers,” I discuss Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin’s “pro-spread” attack, how they handle the blitz by deploying more receivers and giving Rodgers more options, and how Rodgers cycles through his progressions on such staple concepts as “smash” and “levels.”

So, feel free to run out and buy a bunch for your friends (note that I don’t get paid based on how many you buy, and I do really think these are quality products). I would say that they’d make great stocking stuffers, but even I must admit that they will be a bit out of date by then.

Walter Payton and the wildcat?

Of course, I’m pretty precise when it comes to referring to something as the wildcat, but these clips of Sweetness playing shotgun QB for the Bears are, well, sweet:

Sean Payton breaks down his Super Bowl script

From the New Orleans Times-Picuyane, via reader Justin. Sean Payton discusses several plays, including four verticals and stick.

Below is a diagram of the second play the Saints run in the video above. The second video in the series (which is the more informative of the two videos) can be found after the jump.

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Good Q&A about the spread with Baylor HC Art Briles

Art Briles, cool customer

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Q&A with Baylor head coach Art Briles, from FoxSports Southwest. (H/t Spreadoffense.com.)

Your spread offense really served as a catalyst in the state of Texas. After they saw the success you were having in the 1990s, dozens of schools changed their offenses and patterned them after yours. Where did you come up with your version of the spread? Did you have any influences when you designed your offense?

I appreciate you saying that, because honestly we were some of the first people to start throwing it around and spreading it out. I just kind of came about it through trial and error. I had my first head coaching job back in 1984 in Hamlin, Texas. That first year, we made it to the quarter-finals and got beat on penetration. So the next year, I understood that if we didn’t spread the field and give our guys space to create plays in, somebody with better talent was going to shut us down and beat us. We started it in 1985, spreading in the ball around. We were in the shotgun, throwing it and running the zone read. It just kind of evolved through the years. We fluctuated with our personnel and with our philosophy, and with the defenses we were facing. I think it’s fun; I like how everything has evolved in the game of football. I’m excited about what the future holds, because it’s been a fun journey watching the way everything has transpired on both sides of the ball.

How much has your particular brand of the spread changed since you started running it?

Quite a bit. To some extent, we’re a little more screen-oriented now than we were then. We had more of a vertical passing game then, because we got more single [coverage] matchups than you get now. I’ve always liked a real mobile quarterback. We’ve always had our best teams that way. Even having Kevin Kolb at Houston. He’s fixing to be a star quarterback for the Eagles. You know, Kevin’s a mobile guy. He’s one of only three quarterbacks in college football history to throw for 400 yards and rush for 100 yards in a game. He had that capability; we just didn’t pull it out of them that much because he’s such a precise passer and we had other weapons around him. I like a guy who’s mobile. I like a guy who can move around and make things happen, and create plays for other people. Fortunately, we have a guy like that in Robert at Baylor.

The spread really took off in the college game early in the 2000s. Offenses enjoyed a lot of success for several seasons, but last year, it seemed like defenses found a way to at least slow down the spread. Do you think the spread is here to stay in college football, or will it be like the wishbone or West Coast offenses that were en vogue for a while before fading away?

I definitely think it will continue to change, but I also think it’s here to stay. I think the game has become a lot faster from the standpoint of putting people in space and letting them make plays. I don’t think that we’ll consistently see people lining up with a full house backfield, handing the ball to a guy who’s running downfield. I think that part of the game is definitely valuable. You can have some advantages doing that today, because people don’t recruit defensively to stop teams that pound the ball at you. But I don’t think the spread offenses are going anywhere for a while.

You left Stephenville to become running backs coach at Texas Tech. That was the same year Mike Leach arrived in Lubbock. What was it like working with Mike? How similar is your offensive philosophy to his?

We were on the ground floor of the Texas Tech process. Spike [Dykes] had done a great job there for many years. I think at that time, they had been to a bowl nine of the past ten years. That situation has continued there since then. The thing about Leach and his philosophy – like with Hal Mumme at Kentucky, Al Wesland at Valdosta – is it’s set, it’s patternized, and you do what you do. The thing I was impressed about was they had what they had, they believed in it, and it was successful for them.