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.

Understanding coverages and attacking them with passing game

There are many qualities that a quarterback must possess. However, the most obvious is the QB’s ability to throw the football. Throwing the football requires a tremendous amount of coordination and teamwork for proper execution. The QB can make up for some deficiencies with proper reads. Whether it is the Pre-Snap Read, Reading on the Move, or Adjustments in routes, the QB’s recognition, anticipation and reaction are based upon his knowledge of the offense as it relates to what he sees.

Pre-snap read
The QB must make a “Pre-Snap Read” confirming the defensive secondary’s alignment. The PSR provides the QB with help in making the proper throwing decision; i.e., allows the QB to establish his thought process prior to the snap. There will be many times when the QB can determine what the coverage is before the snap. About eighty percent (80%) of the time the coverage will be given away by someone’s alignment in the secondary, typically the second defender inside. Even when the total coverage is not given away, through observation of particular alignments, you will be able to eliminate some coverages or narrow to a “Hard Focus” area. The QB must approach the LOS the same way every play and get his hands under the center. The PSR process includes a “Soft Gaze” left, middle and right. The purpose is to identify (1) the depth of the corners, (2) number of safeties, (3) weakside flat defender, and (4) the number of run defenders (“front”):

  • Find the Free Safety (“FS”) and Strong Safety (“SS”) to determine the type of front – seven-man or eight-man. If the safeties adjust to motion, be aware of a possible blitz.
  • Find the weakside linebacker (Whip (“W”)). This is a crucial read to recognize an outside blitz. It is the QB’s responsibility to adjust the protection to handle the outside blitz or allow the receivers to read “HOT.”

The PSR is only the first step in the throwing decision. The QB must identify the primary defender (the “Key”) to read (“Hard Focus”) and determine where to throw the ball. The Key is determined by the pattern and the related PSR. The ball is thrown based upon what the Key does within the QB’s line of sight. For example, on a strong side route the PSR must identify the SS. Upon the snap the strong safety can either man-up, cover the flat, cover deep third (1/3) or cover deep quarter (¼), and it is the SS’s action that allows the QB to decide where to throw the ball. Depending upon the route, the SS’s action might change the key (Reading on the Move [“ROM”]) to the Corner (“C”) or FS. The QB will make their throwing decision based upon what happens in his Hard Focus area and the related routes within the “line of sight”; i.e., does the Key rotate, invert or play man. When the QB keys defenders, not receivers, there are fewer throws into coverage.

Basic Coverages

A brief summary of coverages, including strengths, weakness, and how to attack them follows. The summaries include a place (“Patterns”) for the coach and QB to write in their specific routes to attack the coverages. These are the basic coverages: Invert (“sky”); Rotate (“cloud”); Two Deep, Man Under Two; Man with a Free; Man – Zero; Quarter, Quarter, Half; Zone Blitz; Robber; and Prevent.

Three Deep – Invert (“Sky”)

cover3
The PSR is based on the alignment of SS and C on the strong side. Teams will typically define the TE as the strong side, however a scouting report will provide this information. If the SS is aligned with less depth than the C, the read is an invert by the SS; i.e., the SS is covering the flat, if a receiver is in the flat. Confirm 3D coverage by the alignment of the FS. If the FS is off the hash and favoring the middle, assume that it will be a 3D. Also the QB must be aware of the weak side, if the Weakside Linebacker (“W”) is in a stack (lined-up behind a defensive lineman or end) or walk (off the LOS outside the end) position, it denotes a soft corner, with W responsible for the weak flat. If the end (“E”) is up on the LOS or in a three (3) point stance, assume he will rush. If you are throwing to the strong side upon the snap you can determine whether E is coming or has curl or flat.

- Strengths

  1. Safe – always three deep
  2. strong side force against the run
  3. SS can get under an out and may be able to get under a stop or flat depending upon the wide receiver splits
  4. can cover eight zones with a three man rush
  5. can still bring four with strong side contain and have seven in coverage

- Weaknesses

  1. Versus eight in coverage the defense can only rush three with five or more to block them
  2. four defenders underneath to cover the six zones – large curl and horizontal seams
  3. no leverage on wide receivers; i.e., cannot bump or push inside
  4. possibly late to cover stop and flat, both weak and strong
  5. cannot cover a strong side flood route (three or four receivers in the pattern) without E, then it is a three man rush
  6. weak flat
  7. weakside force

- How to attack it:

  1. Stretch vertically and horizontally
  2. plenty of pass protection
  3. throw in the alley created by sending three on two in the perimeter (“flood type” routes)
  4. weakside curl & flat
  5. sprint away from SS

Three Deep – Rotate (“Cloud”)
The goal of this coverage is to take away the short passing game or protect against the wide side of the field when the offensive formation is strong into the boundary (short side). The PSR is based on the alignment of the SS and the C. The SS must be deeper than normal in order to cover the deep middle or deep outside (is aligned deeper than the adjacent C), the read is a rotate by SS; i.e., SS is covering the deep middle or outside. Also, in this coverage the C to the side of the rotation will be tight (up close) on the wide receiver as they have the flat. The secondary can disguise this by having both Cs up and on the snap the away (from the rotation) C back peddles to deep third [1/3] quickly (“bails”). However, we can determine the side of the rotation by the position of the Outside Linebacker (“OLB”). The OLB, whether W or S away from the rotation must be stacked or walked off as they have flat away from the rotation. You can confirm the 3D by the alignment of the FS. If the FS is off the hash and favoring the middle, assume 3D.

- Strengths

  1. Safe – always three deep
  2. force (to the rotation) against the run
  3. leverage by the C (shut down weak flat or out)
  4. can cover eight zones with a three man rush
  5. can still bring four with force and contain to the rotation, and have seven (7) in coverage
  6. easy to disguise (more…)

Carving up the Sooners: Y-sail with an “angle” tag

maxhall1A result as surprising and significant as BYU’s 14-13 upset of the Oklahoma Sooners does not come without storylines: Sam Bradford was knocked out of the game and all-star tight-end Jermaine Gresham did not play, and OU could only manage 13 points; BYU’s defense forced a field goal through a goal-line stand; and BYU overcame four turnovers (to only two by OU) to win the game in the waning minutes. All these were critical, but it is also clear that BYU could not have won the game without the efficient and calm (if not always smooth) performance from quarterback Max Hall, who threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns on 26 for 38 passing.

The performance was notable for the precise way Hall moved the Cougars up and down the field. If not for the turnovers (particularly the fumble before the half near the goal line), BYU could have potentially iced the game sooner. And, other than the two interceptions (both of which were not great), Hall did a wonderful job standing in against OU’s pressure-based defense and finding his open receivers. Other than a couple of plays, it was a game of steady completions, not long gains.

What is old is new. When Bronco Mendenhall took the job in Provo, he hired Robert Anae to coordinate his offense. Anae had up until then been the offensive line and running game coach for Mike Leach at Texas Tech, and he brought with him a modified version of Leach’s vaunted Airraid.  This was something of an homage to BYU years gone by, as the Airraid offense itself is a modified version of the offense LaVell Edwards and Norm Chow had run in Provo for years. Anae, who played for Edwards and Chow, has kept many of the concepts that make the offense go while dressing it up with more traditional sets — and a more traditional run game.

Good offense, better jacket.

Good offense, better jacket.

This experience with Leach also gave Anae some experience coaching against Bob Stoops’s OU defense, which is quite deadly and can swarm an unprepared team. Indeed, Stoops is willing to go completely unsound in his zone-blitzes; in the National Championship game against Florida, one of Tebow’s interceptions came on a play where the Sooners blitzed six guys and played an inadequate zone coverage. While there are holes in the zone, Stoops figures that it is not easy for the quarterback to identify these while multiple defenders are breathing down his neck — the chalkboard is one thing but the game is another. Thus the onus would be on Hall — and BYU’s line and runningbacks — to protect long enough to find the open receivers.

One concept common to both Leach and Anae’s offenses is called “Y-sail.” The basic idea is to run one man vertical, another on a 10-15 yard out, and another in the flat, to “high-low” read the defense. Check the link here from Trojan Football Analysis with a diagram and video from TTech.

Adjusting to win. But the value of all plays comes in their adjustments, and the most common adjustment for the Y-sail play is to tag the play with an “angle.” With this adjustment the receiver who normally goes to the flat begins like he is doing just that, but then he reverses field and “angles” back inside on a slant-type route. The reason this works is that the “sail” or “out route” typically pulls a defender upfield; the “angle” receiver runs right underneath him.

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