New Grantland: What Drafting Matt Barkley Means for Chip Kelly’s Plans for the Eagles

It’s up over at Grantland:

Kelly’s staff in Philadelphia further supports this view. Kelly said he wanted offensive and defensive coordinators with NFL coordinator experience, and in Pat Shurmur and Billy Davis, that’s what he got. Throughout this offseason, Kelly has made clear that he wants the Eagles to be something of a laboratory for football ideas, whether it be X’s and O’s or the science of peak athletic performance.

But this line of thinking still has to be tempered with a bit of realism. Kelly is clearly bright, committed, and open-minded, but the idea that he can step into the NFL and runany offense — spread, pro-style, West Coast, Coryell, Wing-T — seems implausible. He shredded college football running a very specific attack based on very specific principles, and the mathematical advantage he gained from having his quarterback be at least some kind of a threat to run was a central tenet. He might be able to adapt his offense to his players and coaches, but this is not the same thing as continuing and growing what worked at Oregon.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III: The Future Is Now — The stars are aligning for a generation of great NFL quarterbacks

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Ever since the rise of the T-formation and the modern notion of the quarterback as passer and team leader, young QBs have received varying amounts of training for the position. If his father was a coach — like Elway’s was — or if he happened to live in Granada Hills, California, he might learn the sophisticated skills necessary to continue developing. But if not, it was unlikely that he’d ever receive that sort of necessary coaching. The long history of quarterback draft busts has taught us that athletic ability alone does not make a quarterback. A great quarterback is instead one of sport’s oddest confections: He is the athlete whose success depends as much on his brain as on his body. One can’t help but wonder how many would-be great quarterbacks never had the chance to develop because no one taught them the intricacies of the position; like some football equivalent of Gray’s Elegy, who knows how many mute inglorious Mannings remain forever obscure to history.

In recent years, however, the situation has changed. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are harbingers of an approaching age of quarterbacks who are both better athletes and better trained at a young age than ever before. In a decade or so, the debates about a player like Tim Tebow — that NFL teams must choose between quarterbacks who are passers and quarterbacks who are athletes — will seem quaint and ridiculous. Nowadays, coaches at the lower levels put their best, smartest, most charismatic kids at quarterback and develop them. The new age we’re entering will be something of a Hunger Games for young quarterbacks: By the time they reach the NFL draft, they will be among the best, most talented, brightest, and best-trained candidates we’ve ever seen. Instead of asking ourselves what traits we prefer, we’ll be asking why we ever thought we had to choose.

Read the whole thing here.

Who should be the NFL rookie of the year? Cam Newton vs. Andy Dalton

Cam Newton and Andy Dalton are having outstanding rookie seasons. Newton has been setting records since the beginning of the season, while Dalton has helped make Cincinnati the NFL’s most surprising playoff contender. With the season 11 weeks old, many fans are thinking about who will wind up winning some of the NFL’s main individual awards. Aaron Rodgers has just about locked up the AP MVP award and should probably grab the AP Offensive Player of the Year Award, too. The AP Defensive Rookie of the Year will almost certainly be Von Miller, also known as the “other” reason the Denver Broncos have won five of their last six games. But what about the Offensive Rookie of the Year award?

"Cam, is the rookie of the year award a done deal?" "Like they say...."

Realistically, either Dalton or Newton will win the award. DeMarco Murray and A.J. Green are having great seasons for a rookie running back and wide receiver, respectively, but the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award is as much about position as performance.

From 1967 to 1983, the award went to a running back in all but three seasons. In 1968, Terry Cole led all rookie running backs with only 418 yards, so the award went to the top rookie receiver that season, Earl McCullouch. In 1970, the top rookie running back was Dallas’ Duane Thomas, but he had been less impressive than the Cowboys’ 1969 offensive rookie of the year, Calvin Hill. The top receiver, Ron Shanklin, was unspectacular, so the award actually went to Buffalo quarterback Dennis Shaw. Shaw had a an ugly 3-8-1 record, but all of his wins were 4th quarter comebacks. He also finished 6th in the league in passing yards. In 1976, wide receiver Sammy White had a monster year for the Vikings while no rookie running back stood out.

In fact, from the inception of the award in 1967 until 2003, Shaw was the only quarterback to win the award. But since then, Ben Roethlisberger, Vince Young, Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford have taken the award in every even year starting in ’04. In 2005, Kyle Orton was the only rookie QB with at least 200 attempts; while his 10-5 record was nice, his individual statistics were terrible, and Cadillac Williams took home the award. In 2007, Adrian Peterson was an obvious selection, and it probably didn’t hurt that Trent Edwards was his top competition at quarterback. In 2009, Percy Harvin won the award on the basis of his receiving and returner skills, while Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman were each busy throwing seven to eight more interceptions than touchdowns and completing fewer than 55% of their passes.


The NFL doesn’t want you to have access to the “All 22” film

The NFL doesn’t want “All-22” game film — the “eye-in-the-sky” view that coaches use to analyze their teams and their opponents** — released to the public because “it would open players and teams up to a level of criticism far beyond the current hum of talk radio… [F]ans would jump to conclusions after watching one or two games in the All-22, without knowing the full story.”

It should be this simple

This is, of course, ridiculous. Obviously the argument doesn’t work, because if anything the All-22 would clarify the hasty conclusions fans and commentators already jump to on the basis of poor angles and little information. And even if it did open them up to criticism, so what? It’s an arbitrary game played for people’s enjoyment. If the First Amendment to the Constitution protects citizens’ ability to criticize the actions and policies of government and government actors, even during times of war — something that could potentially have a cost in human life — I should think that people who are paid millions of dollars to coach and play an arbitrary game can stand a little bit of heat. The whole thing is silly.

The proffered reason — that it would result in too much criticism — is so silly that it can’t possibly be true. But if it’s not true, then what is the real reason? I struggle with this (though I shouldn’t overlook the Occam’s razor-esque possibility that it’s simply that the people with decisionmaking authority over these kinds of things at the NFL are not intelligent, thoughtful people and do it for no real reason at all), as the only apparent conclusion is that it’s simply to insult the intelligence of fans and people who enjoy football. In short, it leaves two possibilities: first, either we really would fail to comprehend the complex array of movement on the field by twenty-two supremely athletic but human men, and thus we need the gentle paternalism of the cameraman and producer to show us, in a kind of cinematic baby talk, “See, with this close-up the quarterback throws a pretty spiral to the receiver!”; or, second, football isn’t even a game so much as it is a product to be branded in a particular way, and by restricting the All-22 the NFL can by Orwellian imagery of extreme close-ups and slow-motion shots emotionally convey to us the narratives solely how they want to in the way they want to. In either case, it’s all about controlling the message; the only question is why, and all the answers are depressing.


Eighth Circuit rules in favor of NFL on Norris-LaGuardia argument

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit sided against the players and in favor of the NFL in ruling that the players’ lawsuit seeking an injunction against the lockout was barred by the Norris-LaGuardia Act. Of course, several news outlets erroneously said the Eighth Circuit “rules that lockout is legal” — it did no such thing (sorry Doug), but instead simply said a suit seeking an injunction could not be brought. Indeed, one of the significant aspects of the ruling was that it left open the possibility that the players could potentially sue for actual antitrust damages at some point down the line, just not right now.

This fact helps point in a direction every fan wants: For this ruling to be relatively meaningless because a settlement will soon be in place. I hope so too. But it’s worth revisiting briefly what was at stake in the actual ruling. As I previously summarized the issue (while predicting that the owners would win this case, as they did):

[T]he NFL’s argument is a straightforward textual argument: No injunctions may issue in cases involving “labor disputes,” and … this sure sounds like a labor dispute. The players’, by contrast, say that you have to read the Norris-LaGuardia Act in context; this language did not drop out of the sky and the NFL’s argument is not at all the way that the Act was intended to be used. [T]heir argument is one about the Act’s purpose and history.

The Norris-LaGuardia Act was passed in 1932, at a time of great strife between employers and organized labor. The principal draftsman of the Act was Felix Frankfurter, a Harvard Law professor who would go on to become a Supreme Court Justice. The problem the prohibition on injunctions was intended to remedy was that employees would go on strike and employers would frequently file a lawsuit requesting an injunction and often judges, who were perceived to be “in the pocket” of employers, would often grant them without hearings or without much process. Even if overturned later, these injunctions forced employees back to work and destroyed unions’ negotiating leverage…

Indeed, this is what I find so interesting about the case: Here we are, in 2011, talking about a dispute between — of all things — football players and owners of football teams, and the key legislation was designed to protect union workers back in 1932 who were being routinely jobbed….


NFL and players argue in the 8th Circuit over the legality of the lockout

Listen to the oral argument here. I highly recommend doing this and not simply reading the summaries, if for no other reason than to hear two excellent advocates — Paul Clement for the NFL and Ted Olson for the players.

Update: I just finished listening to the oral argument, and I think, if there is no settlement, the NFL definitely wins this appeal.

The Associated Press summed up the argument thusly:

The NFL and its players went back to court Friday for a pivotal hearing before a federal appeals court on the legality of the lockout, now nearly three months old with no sign of a new collective bargaining agreement that would save the 2011 season.

The two sides each got roughly 30 minutes before a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, swapping sometimes-dense arguments over the lockout imposed by owners after labor talks fell apart in March.

The panel has twice decided to keep the lockout in place pending the full appeal. It did not issue an immediate decision and Judge Kermit Bye smiled as he told the attorneys before they left the courtroom: “We wouldn’t be all that hurt if you go out and settle that case.” . . .

At the heart of the hearing was U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s decision on April 25 to lift the lockout, saying it was illegal and agreeing with the players that they were suffering harm.

In a case Bye called complex, given its collision of antitrust and labor law, attorneys for both sides spent most of the 68-minute hearing arguing case law and legal precedent, at times pressed to elaborate by two judges – Steven Colloton and Duane Benton – whose earlier rulings sided with the league.


How do NFL players memorize all those plays?

Dilfer said it’s a three-year process to own a particular playbook. Owning a play is different from memorizing it, Dilfer explained. “Owning it to me goes from knowing it to understanding it to it becoming instinctive,” Dilfer said.

How does one own the plays? “If you’re not spending an hour every day in your playbook, you’re cheating your teammates,” Dilfer said. He stated quarterbacks should study three hours per day, given their extra responsibilities in commanding an offense.

It can take a while just to lock down a playbook’s language. “A lot of coaches use numbering systems,” Dilfer added. He said odd numbers are typically used for plays to the right, even numbers for plays to the left. Many offenses use T and D words for formations: T for Trips, where three receivers are lined up on one side, and D for double sets, such as double tight ends.

Dilfer cited an example of one play with a different meaning in two systems. “Red Right 22 Texas is a West Coast play,” Dilfer explained. “In another system, it’s Split Right Scat Right 639 F Angle. What some players will do when they go to a new team, is when it’s Split Right Scat Right, they go, ‘Oh, that’s 22 Texas.’ They hear one thing and they put old language on it; you have to learn the new language.” Leinart admitted as much in his transition from the Cardinals to the Texans.


Dhani Jones, a middle linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, said memorizing plays isn’t as difficult as understanding their philosophy. “I don’t drop the language (from previous systems),” said Jones, who’s also been on the Giants and Philadelphia Eagles during his 10-year career. “It’s just different words that are used. Quarters coverage is the same as Cloud coverage is the same as strong-side rotated coverage. They’re just named differently.”

Bobby Petrino’s shallow cross concept – concepts, routes, and protection

The shallow cross is, quite possibly, the best pass play in football: Almost any quarterback can complete it; almost any receiver can run it (though there is more nuance than maybe one might initially realize to a good shallow route); it is a way to get “speed in space” without requiring a big arm; it works against most all coverages; and throwing a few of these tends to open up big plays downfield as defenders creep up.

Score... heh heh heh...score...

I’ve discussed lots of variants of the shallow, but one of my favorites remains Bobby Petrino’s. I see Petrino’s version as essentially the meshing of a pro style approach with a college sensibility; the reads are simple but there are nuances built in so that it works against almost any coverage. Petrino moves his guys around a bit, but, the key feature is that unlike the Airraid guys, he has his runningback and his shallow going to the same side: the back runs a wheel route to pull the underneath coverage to the sideline and up the sideline, while the other two receivers run a post and a square-in, and on the backside the receiver runs a comeback. The base play looks like this:



The post and the wheel are “alert” routes, in that they aren’t part of the basic reads but the quarterback can look at them first if the defense gives it. The most famous example of hitting the wheel was the second play of the game last season against Alabama. Alabama came out in a quarters or split safety look, but there was some coverage bust (it’s hard to say exactly but it was probably the cornerback chasing the post route all the way inside, as shown in the video below).

More typically, the goal is to hit the shallow, as the read is shallow to square-in to comeback on the backside. (Note that some people have said all routes should be read high to low, including the shallow. Although I think that’s a good rule of thumb, that’s all it is: the shallow needs to be the read before the square-in.) Below is a diagram and clip of the same concept, except Petrino now has the square-in/dig and the shallow coming from the same side.


Here, Arkansas runs the shallow and the wheel to the short and tight side (short side of the field and where there is only a tight-end). The corner and safety drop deep, and the advantage of running the shallow to this side is the tight alignment brings the linebackers in, and the shallow ends up able to outflank those guys.

The read is the same though: Alert (post/wheel), shallow to square-in to comeback. I’ve covered all of this previously, but it’s worth mentioning again because don’t take my word for it: Ryan Mallett explained it all to Jon Gruden recently. Jump to the 2:05 mark. (My favorite part of this is when Mallett begins discussing the hot reads and Gruden’s eyes light up.)

Smart Notes – Tressel, Triple Inside Fire Zones – 3/15/2011

I’m generally not a fan of sentencing guidelines, but the Jim Tressel, Cam Newton, and other stories indicate to me that some kind of guidelines would be helpful, even if they were entirely advisory. The upshot of what I mean is that it’d be nice if we, as the football populace, knew that if you violated rule or bylaw X or Y, your potential punishment range was between A and B, to be meted out by some NCAA enforcement body. Maybe there is more of this than I’ve noticed, but it all strikes me as so subjective. Pundits whinge and hand-wring, but their postulations are as arbitrary as the ones actually handed down. That said, I don’t want it to be completely rigid — that’s why I said there should be a range and the guidelines should be advisory, to be deviated from in appropriate cases. To do this properly would require the NCAA to research past sentences and to think hard about what punishments should be and to publish those findings. The incentive for such action has to be there now, however, with all these high profile enforcement cases.

Bracket coverage. Runcodhit on bracket coverage.

Understanding the vertical pass set. The most important pass protection technique in football right now (either to use or at least understand), this is a solid primer:

Vertical setting is essentially the OL equivalent of a backpedal.
We retreat backwards away from the LOS , looking for all 5 OL to remain on the same vertical plane. The OL steps should go:

Inside – Out – Inside – Out

basically we always step with the inside foot first, and then the outside foot. for all 90s protection we take 4 steps back before dropping we “Anchor”. Many teams only use this protection but I still use a separate 60s protection, that is the same thing but for 2 steps.

Triple inside fire zone. I have previously discussed Dom Capers’ and Dick LeBeau’s use of the triple inside fire zone, and Coach Hoover has expanded on the topic, and has included some nasty footage here:

The labor dispute: a legal roadmap. Good piece from Michael McCann on

Administrative Note: I’ve upgraded the comment system using the Disqus system. Please let me know if there are any problems or issues. I’ve tried to port over all the old comments — it seems to have worked on some subset of old posts but not all of them. Hopefully this comment system will be a little more conducive to discussion. The strength of the readership (from coaches and players to intelligent fans who bring expertise from other backgrounds to football) is one of the best parts of this site, and I thought the old comment system wasn’t interactive or attractive enough. Hopefully I can do a good job providing thought provoking posts to spark discussion.

Tom Brady, et al. v. National Football League, et al.

Read the complaint here. There is more to say about the NFL CBA dispute (here’s a summary of some, but not all, of the legal issues here), but that’s one of the issues here: No one knows what to think or who to listen to. As interesting as the legal issues are (and they are pretty interesting, though not as interesting as, say, the old free agency fight the players won), the fascinating thing to me is the complete breakdown in the quality of media coverage. This is not surprising or even fair to the genuinely diligent reports who have gotten to where they are and spend their days talking to football people about football things — who is hurt this week, will Donovan McNabb be traded, is Bill Belichick videotaping someone, what blitz package will Pittsburgh use — suddenly are forced to understand rather complex anti-trust and labor issues. Indeed, the labor law and anti-trust law are individually extremely complex, and their interaction — with a splash of straight up negotiating bravado — makes this all difficult to wrap your head around, particularly in football, which is built on easy narratives.

As a result, suddenly reliable sources (“Fred Taylor won’t start this week because of his ankle problem, though the team isn’t talking”) is suddenly completely uninformative, even if honest (“I’m not a lawyer but Bob Kraft told me the deal gets done tomorrow”). Nothing that has happened is at all surprising, and yet the media acts like it has been and has consistently failed to bring any coherence. That’s why the people to listen to — and I’ve yet to completely find them, and it’s not necessarily me who has not dived in to the details enough — is someone who knows complex labor negotiations and the state of antitrust law on reasonable restraints of trade, not the guy who accurately broke Spygate.

But again, I can’t fault the Chris Mortensens or Adam Schefters — they are in the same positions that fans, with an extra monetary penalty if there is no season. ESPN isn’t in the tank for either side (at least I don’t think), but instead is in the tank for getting a deal done: if there’s no football ESPN loses money, and if it loses money there might not be a need for Mortensen or Schefter, or certainly not the many people operating on the fringes who want to reach that place. They, like you and me and everyone else, don’t really care what the split of $9 billion in revenue is: in the immortal words of David Cross, we don’t care what else is going on in the world, why won’t somebody pick up the ball and play some damn football.

Update: James Surowiecki sides with the players: