Smart Links 3/8/2010

Is home court advantage really about the ball? This article is about basketball, but I think it is an underrated element in football games, though many times the team on offense gets to use their own ball.

2. Brian Burke is not impressed by Bill Polian.

3. What components of a QB’s passer rating are most important for winning? Interceptions play an interesting role here, with there being evidence of it being possible to throw too many interceptions (obviously) and too few (by being too passive, and thus costing your team expected points and the game).

4. Bill Connelly on recruiting success breeding recruiting success.

5. The trouble with web traffic numbers. Also see the print WSJ, Slate, and Yahoo.

6.  What are NFL teams worth?

7.  Dynamic ticket pricing and sabermetrician salaries.

8. Should the Senate abolish the filibuster? Key quote: “There is no pressure in the Senate itself to abolish the filibuster. The reason is that it benefits all Senators, not just those who expect to be in a minority, because it arms every Senator to demand concessions in exchange for voting for cloture.”

9. Five tips for writing non-fiction. I tend to agree with — and simultaneously to be bad at — generally all of these.

10. Georgia’s new DC talks defense. (H/t Blutarsky.)

Smart Links 2/27/2010

Without a Single Throw, Tebow Rules the Combine.

At the Combine: Union Will Watch Teams’ Spending.

Is “cellar door” the most beautiful phrase in the English language?

Gus Malzahn has a “secret dossier of Auburn’s most valuable intelligence.” (H/t EDSBS.)

Why the young tend to be more creative than the old. For more on the subject, see this old article by Gladwell.

Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich ‘not at maximum potential’ for spring, but still on his way.

Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett, ridin’ nerdy on broken foot.

170 year old lost letter by Descartes found.

Where’s Chang? (Gated.) For a related article, see Todd Kliman Pursues the Perfect Chef. Also, Tyler Cowen talks up China Star, Chang’s former restaurant. I have eaten there as well, and it is as advertised.

The New Yorker profiles Paul Krugman.

– Tips on writing fiction from some of the world’s best authors, from the Guardian. Read both parts one and two.

Publishing: The Revolutionary Future, from the New York Review of Books.

During Prohibition, the U.S. government poisoned its own citizens.

Smart Notes 1/18/2010

1 Is it possible for a defense to be “good against the run” or “good against the pass,” or is it merely good, mediocre, or bad? Chase Stuart, in two excellent posts heavy on the game theory (available here and here), shows that, at the very minimum, it’s difficult to say anything meaningful about a defense other than to comment on its general effectiveness; the two phases are too inextricably intertwined. For fans and commentators I think this is correct, though from a gameplanning perspective it remains possible to identify which defenders are most dangerous and what is most difficult to accomplish, not to mention whether the defense is tilting to the pass or run — i.e. extra defensive backs or guys in coverage, or extra run defenders.

2. Survivor bias on the gridiron. From the Freakonomics blog.

3. Tim Tebow’s loping release. During the broadcast of Florida’s bowl game, Brian Billick showed exactly what is wrong with Tebow’s release: It’s long, he brings the ball down too low (this motion generates no additional power or accuracy), and it exposes the ball both to a fumble and to a defender who might break on the ball. See it here (h/t Doc Sat):

The word I had gotten was that Scott Loeffler, Florida’s quarterback coach, had made significant progress with Tim on this but that come gametime, well, a player’s gotta play how he knows how. And Tebow had earned the right to play his way. Yet it is troubling to the lack of progress, and it will hurt him in the draft. But what if it was worse, than a lack of progress — what if Tebow actually regressed on this point? Check out this video which charts Tebow’s release over time, and you be the judge.

4. “Football Island”:
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Smart Notes 1/14/2010

1 There’s a new book out there that I highlight recommend: Coaching the Under Front Defense, by Jerry Gordon. It’s a very nuts and bolts approach to the “under front,” a very common shifted variant of the traditional 4-3 defense, which is the defense of choice for teams and coaches as diverse as Charlie Strong (Florida, now Louisville) and Pete Carroll (USC, now Seattle Seahawks). I hope to have Jerry contribute to the site soon.

2. Haiti. EDSBS collects links on how and where to donate for Haiti. Please do.

3. American Needle round-up. In addition to my post from yesterday, there has been some other great work on yesterday’s oral arguments. The consensus with all seems to be: The NFL won’t get what it wants, though it may ultimately win the case on narrower grounds. From the NFL’s perspective, it was kind of like going deep on second and short: could have been a big play, but as it stands they’ll probably get the first down. If you read one thing, I highly recommend Josh Levin and Dahlia Lithwick’s piece on Slate, where they note how little the Justices seem to know (or care) about football. Both Justices Breyer and Sotomayor disclaim knowledge of football, and Breyer keeps turning the hypotheticals into ones about baseball. Justice Alito, who is a huge baseball fan, doesn’t seem too interested either. (The Court’s biggest football fan, Justice Thomas, is more of a college football fan — his favorite team is the Nebraska Cornhuskers — and in any event he rarely if ever asks questions at oral argument.) Other good takes on the case from: Adam Liptak (NY Times), David Savage (L.A. Times), Jess Bravin (WSJ), and Ashby Jones (WSJ Law Blog).

4. “Depends on what the meaning of ‘is,’ is.” Check the 1:30 mark of Lane Kiffin’s press conference.

5. Speaking of books, I’m currently reading Hilary Martel’s Wolf Hall: A Novel (Man Booker Prize), a sort of reiminaging of the court of Henry VIII. I recommend it.

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.

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.

Smart Links 11/19/2009

Best sleepers in college football of the decade. Hey that Chris Brown guy really knows what he’s talking about.

- Brophy has several good posts about pattern reading. Check them out here and here.

- Red Cup Rebellion has a really nice breakdown showing why a busted trick play looked, so, well busted. (And also has an example of what it should have looked like.)

- Mark Mangino, interrupted. The Kansas coach is getting it from all sides. Now, I don’t want to be flippant and there are some very serious allegations here, but there is something a little strange about the possibility that a football coach might get in trouble for yelling too much. But there seems to be more news to come.

- Can we thank Belichick? The Fifth Down says that the New England coach has emboldened the geeks, which is definitely a good thing. In that vein, here is a nascent, but promising, new stat blog.

- I’m very confused. I’ll listen to anyone’s ideas about this.

Outside zone variant: The “pin-and-pull”

I recently wrote a post giving a very simple explanation of the outside zone and zone runs in general. One popular variant that I did not discuss was the “pin and pull” zone. The Indianapolis Colts use this variant quite a bit, as did the Minnesota Gophers back when they had Lawrence Maroney and Marion Barber under Glen Mason. This is a staple of the one-back, two-tight end offenses that the Colts use and was famously used by Elliott Uzelac as offensive coordinator for the Colorado Buffaloes in the early 1990s.

Here is a basic explanation. Generally, one way to think of it is that uncovered linemen pull; alternatively uncovered linemen “block back” to get a good angle and the covered linemen pull. Just depends how you teach it. Here are some sample rules:

The aiming point for the Single Back is one yard outside of the tight-end.

If the Center can reach the Nose he will make a “you” call to the strongside guard telling him to pull and block the middle (“Mike”) linebacker. The strongside tackle and tight-end will “tex” — i.e. an exchange: the tight-end blocks down while the tackle wraps around. The tight-end down blocks to prevent penetration; the tackle pulls and runs to reach the strongside (“Sam”) linebacker.

If the center cannot reach the nose he will make a “me” call to the strong guard telling him to block the nose and the center will pull to block the “Mike.” The strongside guard blocks down and to disallow the noseguard from penetrating. The strong tackle and tight-end will “Tex” as described above.

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Below is a video of Penn State using what was, apparently, the pin and pull zone. (Courtesy of mgoblog.)

(Note that I could be wrong on identifying this as an example of “pin and pull,” as it could be a simple down or “G” scheme. Though the idea gets across.)

Reggie Bush, superfluous?

ReggieBushShutdown Corner wondered aloud recently whether Reggie Bush, whose role in the New Orleans Saints offense has rapidly diminished, hasn’t been relegated to just a peripheral role? Consider that Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas have carried the rushing load and that Drew Brees has a plethora of surehanded receivers. But I still like Bush as a valuable weapon — though in his newer, more limited role.

Although I think it’s quite possible that the Saints left several wins on the field the last few years by not going with a more trusty back between the tackles, I don’t think that devalues Bush, it just confirms what he is not: an every down back. Indeed, I look at him as basically the same as he was in high school: a wing-t wingback. That translates to the NFL as a third-down/scatback for spread sets and as a receiver, and as a slot receiver or otherwise split receiver who can motion into or out of the backfield. He is best used off misdirection as his impressive reverse and leap for a touchdown against the Dolphins showed, and as an outlet receiver. He runs fairly good option routes when covered in man-to-man by linebackers (though he gets too cute, as he does with so much else, by hopping around instead of just running a sound route), and he has averaged around ten touches a game. In his second year, by contrast, he averaged around 19 touches a game; in his first and third years he averaged closer to fifteen touches per game. I think ten is the more appropriate number. Most of the reduction has been in his rushing attempts, though his receptions has gone down too. Ultimately, I think they should continue using him as they are though maybe with a bit more motion and the like to get him favorable matchups, and this offseason he should really focus on becoming a better receiver and route runner.

The boys at the PFR Blog point out that players similar to Bush — good athletes, good receiving prowess, but little aptitude as every down, between the tackles runners — have switched to wide receiver and had success. (See also this post by Chase Stuart about Frank Gifford, Lenny Moore, Bobby Mitchell, and Charley Taylor: four of only a few players who have gone to the pro bowl as both runningbacks and wide receivers.) I agree with the sentiment if not the prescription. In modern football you don’t need to switch roles so dramatically, but the name of the modern game is versatility and “hybrid” guys give you that.

Ultimately, I think Bush’s future would be as (best case scenario) a cross between Marshall Faulk and an excellent slot receiver like Wes Welker or Brandon Stokely. Obviously Bush has more speed than all of those guys, but he hasn’t yet developed their awareness on the field. I know this sounds like the worst of all worlds but if you did it right Reggie Bush could play almost the whole game and simply move from halfback, to third-down back, to split receiver, to wing-back, all within Sean Payton’s versatile system. Now, the Saints have a lot of good players, but I’m not ready to relegate Bush to purely being an ornament. He’s just a different type of player. A big factor in his development, however, is likely whether he learns to embrace that more limited role.

Smart Notes 10/28/2009

Totally unnecessary, but nevertheless, I approve. High school quarterback throws a behind the back pass to convert a two-point try. Of course, he could have just turned and thrown it to them, but where’s the fun in that? (H/t Totalsports.)

Of course, former Redskins great Sonny Jurgensen could throw behind the back passes better than most NFL quarterbacks could throw normal passes (I once saw an NFL films clip with Jurgensen taking a five-step drop and throwing fifteen yard out cuts with timing and on the money — all behind the back). Indeed, Jurgensen even completed one of those in an all-star game and once in college.

- Buckeye analysis. There’s a new, promising site dedicated to Ohio State football, modeled after the great Trojan Football Analysis, which is dedicated to Southern Cal football. One of the earliest posts is about pass protection, and it has a very good video showing the basics of how “slide” or “gap protection” works — i.e. each lineman or blocker steps to their “gap” (though shouldn’t step so fast that they let someone shoot through the space they are vacating) and block whomever tries to come through. It is a true “zone” pass protection, and its advantage is that the defense can throw whatever stunt or inside blitz it wants and the line should be able to bottle it up. Its disadvantages are that a defense can overload one side or another, the offense usually has to preassign a few potential receivers to stay in and block, and sometimes those gap assignments can result in mismatches — i.e. a runningback on a defensive lineman. Nevertheless, it is a useful protection scheme to have.

- Does replay in the SEC work? The Clarion-Ledger asked four SEC coaches what they thought. (H/t TheWiz.)

- More on the NFL and brain injuries. The questioning didn’t go so well for the NFL, though it remains unclear whether anything will come of it. The NFL especially was criticized for basically making up its own study to try and discredit the outside studies that have shown a strong link between football and brain injuries, particularly injuries taking affect in later life.

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