Smart Links – Chris Ault’s Pistol, Chip Kelly’s Non-Pistol, 3-4 vs 4-3, Chappelle Show, Next Wave of Dual-Threat QBs – 1/23/2013

Former Nevada coach and Pistol Offense auteur Chris Ault has been on a bit of a media blitz recently; check out interesting interviews he’s done with the New York Times and the NFL Network. And in his interview with Mercury-News’ Jerry McDonald, Ault highlighted the fact that it’s myopic to think of this stuff as just the read and specifically the quarterback keep. Instead, what makes it all work — and potentially viable for the future in the NFL — is it’s just one piece of the puzzle but it actually bolsters the rest of what you do.

niners

Where it always begins

Q: Seems like common sense to take advantage of the athletic skills these quarterbacks have . . .

Ault: Absolutely. I’m not here to tell you that the 49ers should run the read 16, 17 times a game. You can’t do that in the NFL. But I think by running the read play, it’s in your offensive system and you’re going to run it five times, nine times a game, it’s one more thing you’ve got to defend. And then when you throw the play-action pass off it, that’s another thing. So it’s not just one dimension that you’ve got to look at, it’s a couple of things. You see Kaep run that 56-yard touchdown, and you say, great, that’s the read option. And it is great. But I think one of the things that set that up was a couple of the play-action passes out of the pistol.

Q: Atlanta saw to it that Russell Wilson did not carry the ball on the read option based on how they deployed their linebackers . . . Kapernick’s running on the read option can be taken away, correct? And in so doing, do you relinquish the middle?

Ault: That’s exactly right and that’s what happened in college. They would load the outside and take Kaep away, and that’s why it’s the read. You give the ball off. We really designed our pistol offense, where we want the running back to carry the football. That is first and foremost in our thinking. But all of a sudden, you just fall asleep, just like Green Bay, you’re handing it, and handing it and handing it, and he might’ve been able to pull it a couple of other times, but he waited until the right time. No question, they might just say, ‘We’re not going to let this Kaepernick run the ball.’ And we had that in college. Then, it gives you an opportunity to run the read and the play-action pass.

This was fairly prophetic by Ault, as Atlanta ended up trying to take away Kaepernick and in the process gave up over 125 yards and 3 touchdowns to Frank Gore and LaMichael James, as well as some big play-action passes. (Though not all of this was from the Pistol; LaMichael James’s touchdown came on the inverted veer.)

- One of the persistent myths repeated in the otherwise very good New York Times piece mentioned above is that Chip Kelly ran the pistol at Oregon. This is, as I’ve mentioned before, incorrect, as Chip himself has explained:

Q. One of the recent trends in the NFL is more pistol formation. People are tracing that back to you. Your thoughts on what seems to be a melding of the NFL and college games.

COACH KELLY: Don’t know. Haven’t been there. Don’t run the pistol offense. That’s not what we do.

Chris Ault at Nevada invented the pistol offense. Just retired. Great football coach out there. There’s a lot of ways to play football. Pistol, don’t know that very well. We’re more of a spread run team.

Trends go one way and the other. I said this a long time ago, if you weren’t in the room with Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne when they invented this game, you stole it from somebody else. Any coach is going to learn from other people and see how they can implement it in their system. Anything you do has to be personnel driven. You have to adapt to the personnel you have. There’s a lot of great offenses out there, but does it fit with the personnel you have? The key is making sure what you’re doing is giving your people a chance to be successful.

- As Chip observes, whether or not these kinds of schemes will be sustainable in the NFL will depend in a large degree on personnel — the supply of multi-talented quarterbacks. As Matt Hinton points out, while this year’s NFL draft class has few true dual threat candidates (and few quarterback candidates to get very excited about at all, though there are some potential sleepers), there is another wave of dual threat guys working their way up through the college ranks right now.

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Studying the Raw Materials of Chip Kelly’s Up-Tempo Offense

With Chip Kelly going to the Eagles, there’s been much hand wringing about whether Chip Kelly’s offense will work in the NFL, whether he’ll bring it to Philly verbatim, and so on. I honestly don’t know the definitive answer  – I am not sure Chip does — but I’m certainly looking forward to watching. Nevertheless, I expect Kelly to evolve his offense and, more importantly, tailor it to the personnel he has in Philadelphia. But whether it will work will probably be as much a function of things unrelated to the offense, like the mastery of the roster, drafting and salary caps, his ability to coach, train and teach professional versus college players, and how he generally adapts to a pro game that is in many ways just different. But, knowing how bright Chip is, I have a difficult time believing that it will be schemes — and certainly not from too much fidelity to a certain scheme — that does him in.

ChipKelly

I guess I need a new visor

Unfortunately, much of the analysis around these questions is exceedingly weak, because there is such little knowledge of what Kelly actually does. I wrote a lengthy piece this fall centering on Kelly’s actual philosophy and approach, and I think that perspective is the right one to start from, as his individual schemes have always evolved at Oregon and undoubtedly will even more so in Philadelphia. But if you want to really know how his offense works, there is no substitute for study, and in football study begins with the film. That’s what his opponents have had to do, and they almost universally come away impressed. That includes Monte Kiffin, the former Southern Cal foil and now defensive coordinator for in-division rival Dallas Cowboys:

Monte Kiffin, NFL defensive coaching legend, was standing at the top of the ramp outside the Coliseum late Saturday, about an hour after his USC Trojans fell to the visiting Oregon Ducks 53-32; in the process, Kiffin’s crew had given up 599 yards to Chip Kelly.

Kiffin was trying to assess the mind-boggling precision of the Ducks’ offense that he had witnessed first-hand and was in midsentence praising how “innovative” Kelly is when the Oregon coach happened to walk up behind him to shake his hand as he made his way to the Ducks’ bus.

Kiffin, caught off guard, smiled, and told Kelly “good job” and came right back to talking about how impressed he was by what these Ducks can do. It’s hard not to think that Kelly must seem like he’s in a lot of defensive coaches’ heads.

“That guy is such a good coach,” the 70-year-old Kiffin went on to say as he watched Kelly exit the Coliseum. “I respect him so much just from watching their tape. It’s the discipline they have. The offensive line does a great job. The receivers do a great job of downfield blocking. They don’t beat themselves very often.”

“I mean, you’re hanging in there, but then they just get you. You get a lot of guys up to stop the run and then, they play-fake. You can’t get beat like that. Arizona State played them like that and they get four or five big plays. I don’t think it’s so much the tempo, it’s really just that they execute so well.”

The first place I’d recommend going to learn more about the offense, particularly for those with a comfort in independent film study, is this page at Brophy’s site. He has all-22 game film cut-ups, organized by play and pass concept, from a few years ago for almost all of Chip’s offense.  It’s an excellent resource. (I would pay particular attention to the passing game, as if there’s anywhere that I think Chip will need to develop his offense it is there.) On the flipside, Coach Hoover has an excellent series on defending Oregon’s offense, particularly from a 4-3, a subject that also will be much discussed all offseason.

From there, I highly recommend much of the analysis at FishDuck, an Oregon site which has spent the past several years doing film breakdowns of Chip’s offense. Some of the information is slightly outdated — Chip began adjusting the alignment of his backs more often so as to not give away the play, though as stated in the article he usually built up keys and tendencies in order to set up defenses for later and break open a big play — but there’s probably no better introduction to the nuts and bolts of Chip’s attack than the following. Happy studying.

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New Grantland: How the Erhardt-Perkins System Drives the Success of Brady, Belichick and the New England Patriots

It’s now up over at Grantland:

New England’s offense is a member of the NFL’s third offensive family, the Erhardt-Perkins system. The offense was named after the two men, Ron Erhardt and Ray Perkins, who developed it while working for the Patriots under head coach Chuck Fairbanks in the 1970s. According to Perkins, it was assembled in the same way most such systems are developed. “I don’t look at it as us inventing it,” he explained. “I look at it as a bunch of coaches sitting in rooms late at night organizing and getting things together to help players be successful.”

The backbone of the Erhardt-Perkins system is that plays — pass plays in particular — are not organized by a route tree or by calling a single receiver’s route, but by what coaches refer to as “concepts.” Each play has a name, and that name conjures up an image for both the quarterback and the other players on offense. And, most importantly, the concept can be called from almost any formation or set. Who does what changes, but the theory and tactics driving the play do not. “In essence, you’re running the same play,” said Perkins. “You’re just giving them some window-dressing to make it look different.”

Read the whole thing.

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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