Smart Notes 9/25/09

The “ski-gun.” I’ve been getting a lot of questions about a funky shotgun triple-option offense run by Muskegon, MI high school. (“Ski-gun” or “skee-gun” refers to Muskegon.) It’s basically Paul Johnson’s flexbone triple option offense run from a pistol set. They use a shallower pistol-gun set than does Nevada, but that’s because Nevada is more focused on traditional runs than with the quick hitting veer. Below are some clips of Muskegon’s triple: first the give reads, second the QB keeps, and third the pitches.

- Clock mismanagement. The commentary after the Dolphins lost to the Colts was partially about how much time of possession matters (my view is not that much, but I have more to say on it later), but even more about the ‘Phins awful clock management at the end of the game. And it was bad.

The biggest issue was they had no sense of urgency. I do not like teams that scramble and run around frenetically, but they were very lazy about it. They wasted a lot of valuable seconds, and there is little reason the game should have ended on second down from where they were on the field. They also spiked the ball unnecessarily. As I’ve said before, in college a spike is almost never necessary, except to get your kicking team on to the field. In the NFL, because the clock doesn’t stop except on out of bounds, incomplete passes, timeouts, and the two minute warning, a clock play might be necessary if there is a gang tackle and time is flowing off the clock, etc. But I’m still very skeptical because I firmly believe you can call a play with the same amount of communication as necessary to indicate a spike play. In this case though the Dolphins bad clock management overshadowed their improper spike because they ran out of time rather than downs.

How can you get better? Here’s the best drill I know of for being ready for the two-minute drill. It should be used to finish practice at least once a week, and I know of a team that ends every practice with it. The ball is placed on the practice field at either the 5 or 10. The quarterback and first team take the field; the coaches line up on the sidelines, just as if it is a real game. (You need a manager or ref to set the ball.) The point is to replicate the game-like scenario. You can use it against no defense but it is best I think to go live against the first or second team defense (and work on that planning as well), but don’t use any tackling to the ground. (I.e. routes, blocks, etc are fully speed but no tackling.)

The offense then runs its plays but, after every play, regardless of the play’s outcome, the ball is set 10 yards ahead, i.e. to the 15 or 20 and so on. The coaches signal the play in (or the quarterback does), the players deal with the time management, and the coaches keep a stopwatch.

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Breakdown of Drew Brees’s Saints passing game, and four verticals

Available over at the NY Times’s Fifth Down blog. Check it out there.

My breakdown of Miami’s downfield passing game

Available over at Dr Saturday. Thanks as always to the good Doctor, so check out my analysis of Jacory Harris, Mark Whipple, and some thoughts on what Virginia Tech might do in response.

Aaron Rodgers: “For better pass protection, we need fewer blockers.”

aaronrodgersSpread offense aficionados rejoice — who needs blockers? From the Green Bay Press-Gazette:

With a couple of days to think about what went wrong in Sunday’s 31-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals — a game in which Rodgers was sacked six times and hit 10 times despite a game plan that relied heavily on six- and seven-man protections — Rodgers on Wednesday said the best thing might be for coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin to let the front five on the offensive line fend for themselves.

“I think one of the things that happened last week was because of struggles (in protection) in Week 1, we’ve kept more guys in (to block),” Rodgers said. “Our backs were staying in a little bit longer, and so our stuff was all down the field because we didn’t have any of our check downs out.

“The push, hopefully, this is week is, ‘Hey you guys got to hold up up front.’ We need more options underneath the coverage. When they’re dropping off so far, you need some check downs.”

It might seem counterintuitive that the guy who’s been getting killed — 10 sacks and 19 hits in two games — wants less protection, but the logic is that by keeping in running backs and tight ends less often, Rodgers will have more options to get the ball out quicker if he’s facing pressure. Against the Bengals, many of his throws were deep because there were so few short options.

Rodgers’ theory might not be so far-fetched. McCarthy and Philbin have admitted in the days following the Bengals’ game that they may have given the line too much help.

Note too that you can have different types of pass protection — i.e. “slide” (also known as “gap”) protection or man (also known as “BOB,” big on big, back on backer). Slide protection is a little sturdier — the line, tight-ends, and/or runningbacks are each responsible for a gap, and just step that direction and zone or “area block” all stunts and twists, but man-protection, when done correctly, allows the line to just block the obvious rushers while the runningback can “check-release” a linebacker or safety and release into the pattern if no one rushes. Defenses have countermoves too, but in that way you can both max-protect and get five into the route if the defense only rushes four.

Finally, there are pass protections that use both schemes; many teams’ six-man protection scheme “man blocks” one side while “zones” the other:

passpro

It’s not clear what kind of pass protection schemes the Packers were using, but expect more variety this week.

Smart Notes 9/23/09

Zero out of ten. That was how many third downs Southern Cal converted against Washington. Couple that with a minus-three in turnovers, and you have a recipe for a loss. Trojan Football Analysis actually managed to stomach charting the third downs and compiling a video of the ten fruitless attempts. (Rated R for gore.)

chart

Packers fans agree. The New Yorker on Dan Brown, of The Da Vinci Code and now The Lost Symbol fame:

By now, we all know his writing, but do we really know Dan Brown? If there’s one thing I’ve learned from him, it’s that an ancient, super-secret, quasi-religious cabal that takes on many shifting identities—much like Brett Favre—is really controlling the world. We must be suspicious of anything that has too much power.

Paul Johnson, hero. I’m a bit late with this, but it is too good not to repost. Paul Johnson is not happy with his football team, though he points out that his offense’s performance against Clemson, whereby the team rolled up 400 yards of offense, maybe doesn’t look too bad now. Other than that? Feel the wrath:

“Miami [who the Yellow Jackets were roundly defeated by] is an outstanding football team, but it wouldn’t have had to be the way we played.”

Also: “The way we played, the way we coached, it was a group effort.”

And: “We’re not really good at anything right now.”

. . . Of an illegal block that wiped out a Tech touchdown in Miami, Johnson said: “It was very poor technique. I don’t know what the guy was doing, really.”

Of Tech’s false starts: “If you can’t go on the snap count — the other team doesn’t have anything to do with that. That’s you.”

Of Tech’s defensive collapse: “We had too much in. Anytime you can’t do what you’re supposed to be doing, you’ve got too much in.”

Of coordinator’s Dave Wommack’s assertion that his defenders will switch to a 4-5-2 alignment for Saturday’s game against North Carolina: “We could play a 4-12-9, but it won’t matter what we play if we don’t get our face on somebody and our eyes where they should be.”

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Shameless self-promotion

Apologies for the slow blogging the last few days. I was traveling quite a bit and have been spreading myself a little thin . . . . I have contributed to a few things elsewhere, so check them out:

Rich Gannon on JaMarcus Russell

Raiders Russell FootballJaMarcus Russell of the Oakland Raiders is having a rough season in terms of accuracy. Former Raider quarterback Rich Gannon offered up an in-depth critique of the young signal caller. Gannon:

“There’s been so much talk. I’ve talked to personnel people around the league. I’ve talked to people who have been at the games and there’s a lot of concern right now about JaMarcus Russell and his accuracy, his completion percentage. So I went back and did a study. I looked at his 21 starts, he’s completing just over 51 percent of his passes. And then this season, you look at his first two weeks, he’s completing around 35 percent of his passes. That obviously is not very good. I just think he’s missing too many opportunities and he’s holding back this offense right now. So what I did was I broke down every pass attempt from the first two weeks.”

Gannon then explains what he’s seeing from a mechanical standpoint.

“A couple of things are very glaring. I think, you see a lot of times he falls away from throws. He seems to bail. I think a rush up inside bothers him. He needs to get more bend in his knees when he throws. He’s very upright and not a lot of bend in his knees. It may have something to do with his weight. He seems to be more comfortable operating out of shotgun than he does under center. He doesn’t do a very good job seeing out in front of throws and I think that comes with experience, really understanding and anticipating coverages. So that’s not something he does. When you look at the offensive game plan, the passing game, I think they’ve condensed the plan. It’s not very complicated. Fundamentally, right now, he is not very sound. His mechanics, his footwork, it’s inconsistent.”

“I think sometimes he predetermines where he’s going to go with the ball. You can see that he makes up his mind very early in his drop. And the other thing is he misses a number of throws, almost a majority of his throws if you go back and look at it, they’re high which tells you that more of that weight is not on the front foot, that he’s leaning back, he’s throwing off of his back foot. These are some things that really jump out at me.”
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Most depressing thing I read today

From a study of NCAA probation penalties:

… The study reveals universities who belong to conferences whose champions receive annual automatic BCS bowl bids (BCS automatic-qualifier schools) received less stringent probation penalties from the NCAA infractions committee than other Division I institutions. Also, the research indicates FBS institutions receive less probation years than FCS institutions and non-football sponsoring schools. Finally, the results suggest historically Black colleges and universities in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference (HBCUs) received harsher probation penalties than other Division I institutions.

Read the whole thing. (H/t Blutarsky.)

And yet, as bad as this is — and it is terrible — I still tend to prefer the NCAA system and am more hopeful that it can be fixed than the NFL’s current autocracy, which works as follows, at least for individual players:

Commissioner Roger Goodell determines if you have violated the NFL’s policies. If you have, Commissioner Roger Goodell will bring enforcement against you. Commissioner Roger Goodell will determine if Commissioner Roger Goodell properly determined that you violated Commissioner Roger Goodell’s policies, and then determines the punishment. If you disagree with Commissioner Roger Goodell’s ruling or punishment, you may appeal to Commissioner Roger Goodell. Finally, Commissioner Roger Goodell will determine of you have complied with Commissioner Roger Goodell’s terms of punishment and/or probation.

Blogpoll Week 3

Rank Team Delta
1 Texas 2
2 Alabama 2
3 Florida 2
4 Penn State 1
5 California 3
6 LSU 4
7 Boise State
8 Mississippi 3
9 Cincinnati 6
10 Miami (Florida) 7
11 Virginia Tech 7
12 TCU 3
13 Houston
14 North Carolina 7
15 Oregon State
16 Kansas 7
17 Missouri
18 Florida State
19 Brigham Young 13
20 Oklahoma 1
21 Michigan 1
22 Pittsburgh 2
23 Washington
24 Southern Cal 22
25 Ohio State 5
Last week’s ballot
Dropped Out: Utah (#12), Georgia Tech (#14), Nebraska (#16).
Not too much to add here, though it is starting to be difficult to reward teams for victories over specific teams and penalize others for losses. Do I honestly think Florida State is better than Oklahoma, in a power poll sense? Not really, but FSU has played the better schedule and gets more credit for thrashing BYU, who beat OU, than OU does for thrashing whoever it has played over the last two weeks. I think Southern Cal has a lot of problems that getting Matt Barkley back won’t fix (with QB coach Jim Bates calling the plays, another guy named offensive coordinator, and Pete Carroll — coupled with the vacuum left by no Sarkisian/Kiffin — do you think USC might have too many cooks in the offensive kitchen?). And then with Boise-Cal-LSU I kind of waffle: I want to reward Boise, but the Oregon win doesn’t look as great in hindsight, they let Fresno back into the game, and the other teams have looked pretty solid. Hard to say. (And LSU’s win over Washington looks pretty good now.)
The most intriguing game to me is one where I didn’t quite know how to rank either team: Virginia Tech vs. Miami. I have VT ranked higher than some other one-loss teams. I do think Nebraska is better, and getting statistically buzzsawed by Alabama while keeping the game close isn’t bad for a team a lot of folks feel is playing the best in the country. Miami has looked great against FSU and Georgia Tech, but it’s not clear what that means. We’ll find out a lot this week.
Last, the movement at the top: Texas and ‘Bama over Florida. This is maybe ephemeral, but, while neither Texas nor Florida dominated, I liked Texas’s win over Texas Tech a lot more than I liked Florida’s win over Tennessee. And Alabama has looked consistent. More on UT-UF later.

Rich Rodriguez on the spread run game

Nothing revolutionary, but good stuff.