Smart Links 12/9/2009

1 New coaching blog: Coach Mac’s blog. It’s still in its early stages but there is some very good info here, particularly about the “power shotgun spread” stuff his team uses. Check out part I and part II of his series on their “power” play from shotgun.

2. A week late but, Brophy has a good post showing some of the plays Drew Brees used to carve up the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.

3. A bunch of people have sent me this link about how Nebraska supposedly bottled up Texas via “pattern reading.” To be honest the article is difficult to understand and the routes shown don’t look like ones that Texas actually uses. And besides, almost every team uses some kind of pattern reading. My biggest issue is — and this could be me misunderstanding the article — is that it appears to confuse two different things. Pattern reading is where zone defenders use sort of “match up zone” principles to identify and attack specific route combinations that they have prepared for, rather than simply react to wherever a receiver happens to run. What is described in the article instead is the idea of “bracket coverage” (also sometimes called banjo coverage), where two defenders account for two possible receivers, and ignore any initial stems or criss-crosses and take the receiver that goes to them — i.e. one goes in and the other out. This is a legitimate technique and you have to be prepared for it, as it is designed to stop basic “you go in; I go out” type routes. But, and I haven’t broken down all the details of the Nebraska-UT game, that didn’t appear to me to be the main issue. And even if was a tactic Nebraska used, much of Texas’s passing game is designed to counteract such schemes. Instead the narrative is the same one you’d think it was: Nebraska’s defensive line dominated the game both for pass protection and the run game (save for a few draws), and that freed up the rest of the Blackshirts to roam and play tough, physical coverage and keep everything in front of them. But it all began up front.

4. Advanced NFL Stats with more on run/pass balance and game theory. I promise to address this topic, even if it’s just to summarize the good stuff coming out, but in the meantime go continue to read what Brian has been putting out.

5. My guess is this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve both seen some outrageous things of this sort first hand (much moreso than what’s described in the article), and in general nothing will compare to what used to go on back in the day. But for now this is another bit of unwelcome light shining onto the recruiting practices of the University of Tennessee.

6. Charlie Strong to Louisville. Tough to have anything negative to say about this hire, though “Emperor Charlie” has his work cut out for him. Obviously on defense he’ll bring his rugged, multiple “4-3 under” scheme that has the ability to shift to a three-three (or even two-man line) against spread sets, but on offense it is anyone’s guess. Will he go the Bo Pellini route, whereby the defensive coach hires a random number generator as his offensive coordinator, or will he try to match his defense with an equally potent offense? (Here’s a hint Charlie: You coached under both Bob Davie and Urban Meyer. Which strategy worked out better? (Until the rise of Addazio, of course.) Time will tell.

7. It’s not a link but, my Heisman vote is for Suh.

Oregon’s zone read of the defensive tackle

During last night’s Oregon victory over Oregon State, the announcers mentioned that Chip Kelly’s squad will vary their zone read by reading defenders besides the backside defensive end — namely, the defensive tackle or “three technique” player.

In the “normal” zone read, the line zone blocks one way while the quarterback reads the backside defender:

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There are a variety of counters to this, including the infamous “scrape exchange,” and in response offenses have added third options and bubbles and all manner of other ideas to the outside. But Oregon, along with several other spread teams, have also responded by moving inside, by reading the defensive tackle instead of the defensive end. See the diagram below:

3tech

This does a couple things for you. One, it can confuse the “scrape exchange” response, where the defensive end crashes to force a “pull” read by the quarterback while the linebacker loops outside for him, because the defensive end gets blocked and the QB should have a big gap inside. And, second, it gives you flexibility in who you choose to block versus read. As the old saying goes, if you can’t block them, read them.

For example, when LSU had Glenn Dorsey, Urban Meyer and Florida often used this same tactic to read him instead of trying to block him. (And I wouldn’t be surprised if Florida did this against Alabama’s mountainous defensive tackle, Terrence Cody.)

So what does this look like in practice? Fortunately, Trojan Football Analysis has already broken it down, after the Ducks thrashed Pete Carroll’s USC defense with it. Below is some of the photo evidence, though you should go to TFA to read the whole thing.

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Below is the same play from a sideline angle:

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Dumbest thing I read today

From an “SEC assistant” via Tom Dienhart about Alabama’s “unsound” secondary (h/t Orson):

SECONDARY: Their weakness might be their secondary. They lost some guys who were chemistry guys in the back end. Schematically, they do a lot of different things. They do some things I couldn’t get away with because I don’t have some of the players who can just make plays. They do some things like Florida where you go, ‘Holy cow, that’s not very sound.’ But it ends up in a 2-yard loss.

Setting aside the fact that a large portion of this is meaningless, the takeaway point appears to be that the scheme is unsound and/or undisciplined but Saban just “has the players” to make it work. Uh, what? (Let’s leave aside the Lane Kiffin inflammatory analysis of the SEC Championship game that Florida has better players while Alabama has better coaches.) I simply do not agree. I’ve seen Alabama play a lot, and “unsound” is not the word I’d use. Aggressive? Sure. Do they play a lot of man coverage, which takes talent to be able to use? Yes. But unsound implies that they just make things up. I don’t know who the SEC assistant is, or if it got lost in translation to Dienhart, or what, but this just strikes me as an unbelievable form of analysis.

But, if you don’t believe me, you be the judge. The film isn’t from this year, but if they’re unsound, what should it matter? (H/t Brophy for the clips.)

Houston and the “stick” passing concept

“Stick” or “y-stick” is one of the most recent passing concepts to have gone totally viral such that basically every passing team uses it — it’s only about twenty to twenty-five years old. Everyone has their spin on the play, but basically it is a quick, three-step route play, where the offense puts the flat defender in a bind by sending one receiver to the flat while another hooks up or “sticks it” at five to six yards. Below is a good video showing the concept and showing an example of the Houston Cougars running it.

Note that it looks like Tulane is in man coverage, though it is the defensive end who drops off to cover the running back. In any event, stick also serves as a very good zone beater, as well being a great, quick zone play.

Drew Brees and the Saints’ pre-game chant

Get fired up…

Brees: 1; Chorus: 2
Brees: Win; Chorus: For You
Brees: 3; Chorus: 4
Brees: Win; Chorus: Some More
Brees: 5; Chorus: 6
Brees: Win; Chorus: Again
Brees: 7; Chorus: 8
Brees: Win; Chorus: Great
Brees: 9; Chorus: 10
Brees: Win; Chorus: Again
All: Again, Again, Again, Again!

(h/t CoachHuey.)

Good example of four verticals

This is a bit old but it is a good example of the four verticals play: Against the Baltimore Ravens, Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals hit Andre Caldwell on the play. Baltimore was in two-deep man coverage, where they had two deep safeties and the other players were in man coverage. Indeed, four verticals is not really a great play against this coverage, but Caldwell, whose job it was to “bend” inside the split safeties, beat his man and was therefore open. If you don’t remember the play, it was a game winner.

four verts

USC’s late touchdown vs. UCLA: fair or foul?

From ESPN:

When Matt Barkley kneeled down to end Southern California’s (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) victory in the final minute, UCLA defiantly stopped the clock with a timeout.

So the Trojans let ‘er rip, throwing a long touchdown pass and then celebrating it with a taunting ferocity that brought the Bruins onto the field on the verge of a brawl.

The last 90 seconds of Los Angeles’ 79th crosstown showdown had more action than the first 58 1/2 minutes, even if it was just a few extra fireworks at the close of USC’s workmanlike 28-7 victory Saturday night.

See for yourself the setting:

So the question is: Was that cool for Pete Carroll to do? Was it cool for Neuheisel to call the timeouts? What is the proper response?

Smart Links 11/25/2009

1 Follow me on twitter. Self promotion yes, but I probably won’t be blogging much over the next few days but I hope to tweet some commentary on the football games tomorrow and through the weekend. Click here for my twitter feed.

2. Pro Football Reference Blog on the “quarterback problem.” Namely, analyzing the links (or lack thereof) between evaluating talent, ultimate performance, and how the data can be skewed by a high draft position resulting in playing time. (I.e. the Matt Leinert problem.)

3. R.I.P. Abe Pollin. The WaPo has a nice article here.

4. Turkey myths. How many turkeys are eaten and other Thanksgiving myths.

5. The Wiz argues that college football will die because, well, brick and mortar universities will be gone “within 10 to 20 years.” Or, alternatively, there will be such demand for online classes that regular universities will simply give up on football. I’m not entirely convinced. In a related story, all Fortune 500 companies and government agencies have permanently closed their offices and all employees are to report electronically. Meetings will be done by instant messenger.

6. The NY Times’s Pete Thamel interviews Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. This was pretty interesting.

7. Sad news: Northeastern has dropped its football program.

8. Behavioral economics of Thanksgiving? Ezra Klein and Mark Bittman discuss.

9. Impact of No Child Left Behind. A new paper discusses, with the conclusion that it has helped math skills somewhat but has not aided reading skills.

10. Do offenses run the ball too much on first down? Advanced NFL stats analyzes the question. I have been meaning to address the new game theory studies for some time now.

Charlie Weis as great recruiter? Not all agree

charlie-weisOne of the memes reiterated in the recent John Walters piece on Charlie Weis is that Weis is a great, tireless recruiter. For example:

No one will likely be congratulating Weis if his tenure comes to an end in the next ten days. A thank you would be warranted, though. He has graduated 96 percent of his players, tied for tops in the FBS, and returned Notre Dame to the front lines of the five-star recruiting battles. . . .

I’ve heard differently. Sure, Notre Dame gets some big-time recruits and its name alone will always put it in the running for such guys. And, surely, there are many top-flight recruits Charlie has met with personally. But consider this odd example:

Notre Dame has officially offered one of my linebackers, but no one from Notre Dame has ever spoken to the kid nor has anyone from Notre Dame ever returned any of my calls. To put it context: Will Muschamp [of Texas] returned my call, Brent Venables [of Oklahoma] returned my call, Bud Foster [of Virginia Tech] returned my call, [Michael] Barrow [of Miami] returned my call, Nick Saban returned my call, and yet no one from Notre Dame has ever returned my call. Geewhiz Charlie, that’s not exactly the way to get a kid to choose ND over other BCS schools — and then you offer him blind without so much as making contact with any coach? No. That’s not the way to go about the business.

. . . Notre Dame has zero chance at this player. I started trying to call them about him when he was a freshman. Not pushing the kid, just trying to make a contact, as I do not send film to schools without making a contact (especially on a kid that I know has 100% BCS level talent). No point in his film disc just sitting on a desk with a thousand others. And not a single coach from Notre Dame has ever returned a call in three years. Now that same kid is a Junior and he’s blue chip, [top ten] in Ohio in the 2011 class, ESPN Top 50, etc. And all of a sudden Notre Dame is interested? If he’s good enough to play at Notre Dame he’s good enough to play at other schools.

Compare that with the approach of a few other programs, including one of the names on Notre Dame’s shortlist:

Then you take programs like Cincinnati with Brian Kelly and the guy who recruits our area, Jeff Quinn [Cincinnati's offensive coordinator]. They are completely different. They pursue a personal relationship. He sends me a text telling us good luck this Friday, he knows who we play (and he might just be reading it online but still he made the effort), he calls asking how things are going, how the kid is doing, he knows the kid’s mother, grand parent’s, sister’s name, etc. He even calls me every few weeks. Now, I know he isn’t really interested in talking to me and that it’s all about my player but still it makes a difference. Ohio State, Alabama, Virginia Tech, and others all recruit about the same way as Cincinnati. Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Michigan . . . they recruit like Notre Dame.

Obviously that’s just one account, but it’s certainly an interesting one.

Nick Saban on preparing for all possible circumstances

On his radio show recently (see this link at around the 17 minute mark) Saban discussed how his staff prepares for all the myriad game situations. He said before the game they have a forty-five minute meeting whereby they discuss, among other things:

  • How they will handle the coin toss
  • Which side of the field do they want to def;end (wind, weather, etc);
  • Whether they want to go on offense or defense first;
  • When they will go for two;
  • When they will get into their two-minute offense, and how they will handle field goals with the wind and late in the half, etc;
  • When they will and won’t go for it on fourth down;
  • And then player specifics, including exactly how many plays each will play before their backup will come in (for defensive line rotation, for example), how many carries or touches certain players should have or are limited to, and so on.

He said the point is to decide all of this stuff before the game ever starts. I’m sure much of it gets discussed earlier in the week too, but the point is to have it all finalized.

Interestingly, Saban noted that Charlie Weis mentioned — and he could confirm that he did this when he worked for him — that Belichick still conducts this same 45 minute meeting where, no doubt, the infamous fourth down play was decided there. It seems a bit wild to think that they discuss that possibility every week (though they do so from a high level of generality, no doubt), but I believe Saban on such a point.

It’s a lesson to all coaches: Always good to prepare, and for head coaches, whether they like the meeting or not it’s good to have your whole staff involved to make sure everyone is on the same page.