New Grantland: One-Trick Pony – How a return to the simplicity of Peyton Manning’s Indy offense has ignited the Denver Broncos

It’s now up over at Grantland:

By using Tamme as the fulcrum, Manning is able to analyze the defense and get into one of his handful of preferred plays. Although the Broncos running game is a bit different from what Manning used in Indianapolis — primarily because the Broncos use moreinside runs with pulling guards while the Colts’ best play was the outside zone — the passing game has become virtually identical: three and four verticals, deep cross, all-curl, and a drag or shallow cross concept.

But the play Denver runs more than any other is the same one Tom Moore diagrammed on the back of a golf scorecard for Larry Fedora roughly a decade ago. Known as “Dig” in the old Colts playbook and as “Levels” to most coaches, the play has an inside receiver run a square-in or dig route while an outside receiver runs a five-yard, in-breaking route on the same side of the field. On the other side, an inside receiver runs a “Read-Seam,” either streaking up the seam if there is a single deep safety or breaking to the middle between two deep safeties.

Dag-Diagram

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Calm Like a Bomb: The Finer Points of Manti Te’o’s Search-and-Destroy Style

It’s now up over at Grantland:

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All that comes close to what Te’o has shown away from the field is how he’s improved on it, and tonight, the focus will be on Te’o’s play. The Irish play an Alabama team that racked up more than 300 yards rushing against a Georgia defense with multiple NFL-bound linebackers of its own. And while Notre Dame’s entire front seven will be tested by Alabama’s great offensive line and dynamic running backs, a special focus — and responsibility — will be on Te’o as both the defense’s captain and the player whose reactions and instincts are critical to slowing down the Tide.

According to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a good linebacker is “kind of like a quarterback; the linebacker has to make multiple, multiple decisions on every play. Not only what his assignment is and what the play is, but all the way along the line, different angles, how to take on blocks, how to tackle, the leverage to play with, the angle to run to and so forth.” Like quarterbacking, learning how to succeed in any of these areas is not easy. Some of it is natural ability, to be sure, but true excellence comes with experience. For a good quarterback or linebacker, as the repetition comes the game begins to look different. Eventually, a player like Te’o “can really sort it out,” Belichick says. “They can see the game at a slower pace … and decipher all that movement.”

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Can Pete Carroll’s Defense Handle Washington’s Pistol Offense?

It’s now up over at Grantland:

That flexibility will certainly be required against the Redskins’ varied approach, but fortunately for Carroll, he not only knows his defense — he has the players to run it. Chris Clemons, Richard Sherman and a returning Brandon Browner each have the physical dominance to make well-designed schemes look ugly, but the most important player for Seattle is one arguably more dynamic than Griffin or Morris: Earl Thomas.

To match up with teams like the Redskins, whose quarterback is a threat to both run and throw, the safety must be able to both play deep (as he would against a traditional pro-style passing quarterback like Brady or Manning), and to play up at the line (as he would against an old-school triple team like old Nebraska squads). Fortunately for Carroll, Earl Thomas might be able to do it all, and the combination of his playmaking ability with big, physical corners like Sherman and Browner have me convinced that Carroll and the Seahawks have the recipe to deal with Washington.

Read the whole thing.

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Capital One Bowl: Does Nebraska Have Enough Magic to Defeat Georgia’s 3-4 Defense?

Although being in a New Years Day bowl game is not quite the marker it once was — back in the pre-BCS era when the first day of the year was a final, spasmodic orgy of college football — it still represents the heart of bowl season, when (for the most part, at least) worthy teams face each other in the final contest of the year. The Capital One Bowl, between SEC runner-up Georgia and Big 10 runner-up Nebraska, clearly fits that description.

Keep it simple

Keep it simple

The oddsmakers have declared Georgia the solid favorite at nine points, and after their valiant effort in the SEC title game, combined with Nebraska’s rather ignominious appearance in its own conference title matchup against Wisconsin, that line seems fair. But I wonder if this doesn’t undervalue Nebraska’s chances. Georgia is a fantastic team, but they are certainly not invincible; and while Nebraska’s 70-31 loss to Wisconsin looms large, it’s unclear how directly applicable that game is to other contests.

The Nebraska defense that gave up 640 yards of offense, including over 500 yards on the ground, won’t be facing the multi-formation, multi-pronged attack the Badgers unveiled in that game; that attack wasn’t even something the Badgers themselves had shown all season long, particularly in Wisconsin’s loss to Nebraska earlier this season. Georgia’s attack, although certainly lethal, is more traditional; more like the kinds of offenses Huskers head coach Bo Pelini has had success with.

This is not to say that Nebraska will shut down Georgia’s offense — not by any stretch at all — but I simply don’t expect Georgia’s offense to score a touchdown nearly every time they get the ball, as was the case against Wisconsin. Instead it’ll be a hard fought matchup, which puts the onus back on the other side of the ball: Nebraska’s offense versus Georgia’s defense.

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What’s Old Is New: Homer Smith on the Option

It’s no secret that I enjoy reading the thoughts of the great Homer Smith on football, and I came across a great old clinic article from Smith on a “new” approach to the triple option from 1970. In the article, Smith argues for adapting the triple option from the old “T-formation” with three backs to more modern splitbacks (pro) and I-formation sets by combining a few different option plays. In many ways it presaged the “pro-option” attack of Tom Osborne’s Nebraska teams from the 1980s and 1990s.

Check out the article here. It contains lots of good nuggets, but I found the following few passages particularly interesting, especially in light of the changes in football with a resurgence of option principles within a new bunch of modern sets — the shotgun, the pistol, and other spread (and not so spread) formations.

Surely the best of all T-formation running weapons is the option, where the quarterback keeps the ball or pitches it. Better than any other running play it can make the game a two-on-two or a three-on-three proposition, and the fewer the players involved in a given area the easier it is for the football to move.

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SBNation Longform: RG3, Kaepernick, and the Emergence of Chris Ault’s Pistol Offense into the NFL

It’s now up:

“There are no gimmicks in our offense,” Nevada head coach Chris Ault recently explained. [source]. “When the shotgun offenses came out, I enjoyed watching those teams move the football. The thing I did not like was the idea of a running back getting the ball running east and west,” he said. “We have always been a north and south running game offense.”

The entire premise of Ault’s pistol attack is to combine the best of the shotgun spread offenses, like Chip Kelly’s attack at Oregon [source], with the traditional, north-south power attack Ault had coached for more than 20 years. The Pistol alignment is merely the means by which to do it; the “Pistol Offense” is this blend of old and new.

It is easy to see why Ault’s vision had more appeal to the NFL mindset than the “east-west” schemes of Chip Kelly or the other spread offense gurus.

Read the whole thing.

Russell Athletic Bowl — Key to Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech: Outside Zone

College football’s bowl season is not much like the single-minded narrative of a one winner-take-all playoff. Instead it’s a shifting, multiple layered story told through an ensemble cast. Some of the stories, like the BCS title game, are triumphant, with maybe even a tinge of poetic folklore — some battle that could as easily be taking place on Mount Olympus as in New Orleans or Pasadena. But other bowls are decidedly middle American, where hope and expectation have been dulled into some more reasonable expectation of just a simple win, maybe a winning season; more Death of a Salesman than Greek myth.

Key to the game -- more of this

Key to the game: more of this

But it’s often the smaller story that carries the most drama.

The Russell Athletic Bowl pits a Virginia Tech team — a consensus preseason top 20 team — that limped its way through the season and had to win its final two games to even get to a bowl games, versus a Rutgers squad that began the year 7-0 but finished 9-3, partially undone by mistakes and inconsistency on offense (yet still having had a good year, overall). The game should be close — Virginia Tech is a slight two-point or so favorite — and both defenses ought to deliver solid performances, something often lacking during bowl season as more teams move to no-huddle spread attacks.

On offense, however, it’s a bit of a different story. Virginia Tech had high hopes for its offense, led by quarterback Logan Thomas, but the Hokies offense — and Thomas in particular — has been a big disappointment. Virginia Tech’s offense has never been known for being explosive, but their average yards per play fell by roughly half a yard, while their turnover margin swung from positive to negative. But despite those struggles I think the game will be won or lost on the other side of the ball, in the matchup between Rutgers’ offense and Virginia Tech’s defense.

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood was promoted from offensive line to head coach following Greg Schiano’s departure to the NFL, and Flood, a no non-sense kind of guy, clearly wants the foundation of his team to be his offensive line and especially his running game. Much of this is by attitude, but it’s also by necessity, as quarterback Gary Nova has been nothing if not inconsistent. Against Temple, Nova completed 63% of his passes and threw for four touchdowns but — one week later, a game I attended in person — he threw a season high 46 times and six interceptions against Kent State, the Scarlet Knights’ first loss of the season.

But the problem for Rutgers wasn’t just Nova’s inconsistency, it was that teams began to be able to take away their running games. Flood’s offense is designed to be essentially a pro-style system; if you go just by formations and a superficial look at plays, the college team they most resemble on offense is Alabama. And the foundation of their attack is nothing fancy: the outside zone play, complete with a tight-end and a fullback.

It’s a play that Flood has lectured on at coaching clinics for years and, when Rutgers’ offense is rolling, you’ll see lots and lots of outside zone.

OZ

Rutgers runs it the same way most NFL teams do, which is essentially the same way the old school Nebraska teams used to run it under Tom Osborne (the diagram above is from Milt Tenopir, Nebraska’ legendary offensive line coach). There are three keys to Flood’s outside zone:

  1. The runningback’s read;
  2. The technique of the “uncovered lineman”; and
  3. Where the fullback “inserts” into the defense.

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Bear Bryant: Mind Over Matter

I enjoyed this presentation on the Bear’s philosophy and best sayings:

My Favorite Books of 2012

This is a list, in no particular order, of the books I read in 2012 which I consider my favorites. This does not mean these books came out in 2012; it only means I read them this calendar year.

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  • The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Not as good as Blood Meridian, but also less taxing to read — and that’s not a bad thing. Dark, troubling, and quietly brilliant.
  • Waiting for the Fall: A Decade of Dreams, Drama and West Virginia University Football, by Mike Casazza. I considered reading this something of a guilty pleasure, a kind of voyeurism into some other team’s football program. There’s nothing earth shattering in here, but it’s a very well told story about a very odd football program, featuring some very odd characters.
  • Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis. I found the first thirty or so pages of this disappointing until — suddenly — it became maybe the funniest book I’ve ever read.
  • How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, by Sarah Bakewell. Likely this is the best book I read this year. Of course I’ve read Montaigne’s essays, though it’s been some years, and as a result I put this book off thinking I’d glean little. I was wrong; this is a wonderful book, whether you’ve read the essays or you haven’t.
  • American Creation, by Joseph Ellis. I’m not sure if this should count as a 2012 book given that I read most of it over the last couple of years — the chapters are fairly discrete so I often found myself picking it up and putting it down, but not because I disliked reading it. To the contrary, I really enjoyed it, both the chapters on subjects I am pretty familiar with (like the drafting of the constitution) and less so (the circumstances surrounding the Louisiana Purchase). An excellent, easy read.
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Dan Kahneman. A shockingly good, and shockingly informative, book. It is very entertaining but not in a pop kind of way — it’s determined to report the facts, just the facts (at least to the extent we know them). The basic premise is that our way of thought can be broken down into System 1 (“fast,” intuitive) and System 2 (“slow,” logical) thinking, and more important the biases and foibles of each type. But this is not Blink; it’s thoughtful, erudite, and comprehensive. It’s not light beach reading but well worth the time. Below is a video of Kahneman discussing some of these ideas.

For more books, check out the most popular books bought by Smart Football readers. And, of course, I wrote a book this year too.

New! Shop in the Smart Football Store

Smart Football now has its own online store, just in time for the holidays, featuring shirts, accessories, and more. It’s just getting started, but be sure to check it out and get some goodies for your friends, families, and — in the case of my coaching readers — staff. Check out the store here.

Be sure to keep checking the store as I hope to add new merchandise over the coming days and weeks. And don’t hesitate to drop me a line if you have any good ideas for products or items you’d like to see.