Musical Chairs: Packaged Plays and the Evolution of “Option” Football

This article was written by Keith Grabowski, offensive coordinator at Baldwin Wallace University. You can follow him on twitter at @CoachKGrabowski, and see his monthly columns at American Football Monthly, where he posts new articles on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

pistol-cropThe option play has gained a resurgence in football with the popularity of the spread offense. Relying heavily on the run, option football forces a defense to be disciplined and play their responsibilities. It’s still a very sound way to attack defenses, but requires a commitment to running those base plays over and over. The spread has allowed teams that attack with option and to carry an effective passing attack that utilizes the spread to get the ball to players in space. The zone read and bubble have become a staple for spread option teams as well.

Option is no longer limited to teams who utilize the traditional dive back, pitch back type of runs. Two-in one plays or packaged plays are the new trend in offense that has the stick-draw concept at the forefront of this trend. What teams are finding ways to do is to isolate a defender in space and make him be in two places at once which makes one of those spaces a clean void to attack.

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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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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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New Grantland: The New Old School: The Success of Chip Kelly’s Oregon Offense

It’s now up at Grantland, and I can safely say it’s the most definitive piece on Chip Kelly’s offense I’ve written:

Kelly’s anecdote about his old high school team suggests another possibility. Chip Kelly’s offense works not because it’s a gimmick, but because rather than choose sides between old and new, Kelly’s teams straddle history. Oregon is successful because it does well what good teams have always done well, albeit with a slightly more modern wardrobe.

“We spread the defense so they will declare their defensive look for the offensive linemen,” Kelly explained at that same clinic. “The more offensive personnel we put in the box, the more defenders the defense will put in there, and it becomes a cluttered mess.” Twenty years ago, Kelly’s high school coach ran the unbalanced, two–tight end power-I, so he could execute old-school, fundamental football and run the ball down his opponent’s throat. Today, Kelly spreads the defense and operates out of an up-tempo no-huddle so he can do the exact same thing.

[...]

Time will undoubtedly tell whether Kelly’s offense can work in the NFL, but my vote is that it will. It would require Kelly finding the right players, but a Chip Kelly–coached NFL team would win for the same reasons that the Chip Kelly–coached college team wins. Behind the speed, the spread, the Daft Punk helmets, and the flashy uniforms, Oregon ultimately wins with old-fashioned, fundamental, run-it-up-the-gut football. I think everyone, even fans of the spread offense, can appreciate that.

Read the whole thing. In addition, I’ve got some additional stuff I left on the cutting room floor that I hope to put on the site in the coming days.

New Grantland: Cam Newton and the Diversity of Carolina’s Zone-Read Package

It’s now up over at Grantland:

One of them is a play Newton made famous at Auburn — the “inverted veer” or “dash read” play. Unlike a typical zone read where the quarterback reads a back-side defender, the inverted veer reads a player on the front side — the quarterback and running back head in the same direction. Coupled with “power” run blocking with a pulling guard, the defense is outnumbered to the play side, and blocking lines up nicely.

Against the Saints, Panthers offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski took Cam’s old inverted veer one step further by running an outside run coupled with a read of an interior defender — a “sweep read.” Carolina ran this play several times against the Saints, but the best example came in the third quarter and resulted in DeAngelo Williams bursting around the left end for a 27-yard gain.

Read the whole thing.

After the jump is a good FishDuck article showing how Chip Kelly at Oregon uses a similar concept:

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Combining the shovel option with a sprint-out pass

One of my favorite recent evolutions in offenses has come from the rise of “combined” or “packaged” concepts, which might combine both a run and a quick pass play or a quick shovel screen and a quick pass into the same play. Part of the motivation behind such concepts is that they are simply good ones: You can take things you are already good at, combine them, and make the defense wrong every time while executing simple ideas. But the other reason is that in the age of the no-huddle, they avoid the need for complex pre-snap audibles or convoluted calls in the huddle of multiple plays. With these “packaged concepts” you get both the quick call-it-and-go of a fast paced no-huddle without sacrificing the quarterback’s key role in putting the offense in position to succeed.

One of the most intriguing new concepts that I’ve been told teams have run this past season — if you have any film, please feel free to send it — is to combine the “shovel option” play that Urban Meyer made famous at Florida with a true sprint-out or roll-out pass concept. The “shovel option” or “crazy option” is a great play in and of itself: The line blocks the “power” concept, pulling the backside guard, while leaving the defensive end unblocked so the quarterback can option off of him. Typically, the defensive end cannot help himself but attack upfield for the quarterback, allowing the quarterback to shovel pass it upfield to the runningback who has slipped underneath and who has a lead blocker. Below is a clip of Tim Tebow tosses the shovel option to current Patriots stand-out Aaron Hernandez.

It’s a great play — and it certainly pre-dates Meyer, as I’ve even seen clips of Alabama coach Bear Bryant running the play back in 1976 — but teams have gotten better at defending it recently. And the defensive ends that have gotten better at defending it are able to squeeze and take away the shovel pass and to force the quarterback to extend the play to the outside. Sometimes, teams run the play as a true triple option, combining the inside shovel with a speed option to the outside. But the timing on this never seems to work out well, as the speed option isn’t particularly well complemented by the slower developing shovel to the inside. And even if it is a good play, it becomes significantly more expensive to convert it from a cheap way to run the shovel and not have to block some stud defensive end and to instead turn it into a true triple option. There must be some other way to run this.

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New Grantland Blog: Draw It Up: Army-Navy and the Flexbone Offense

It’s up over at the Triangle Blog:

Niumatalolo and others at the academies, however, have evolved the offense by not just lining up in the same flexbone set and running the veer triple and the midline option 40 times a game. (Although they’re happy to do that, too, if you don’t defend it well.) Instead, they will also mix in formation variations, motion, shifts, and so on to get the matchup that they want. In other words, the service academies are running a pro-style, multiple-formation, heavily game-planned, option offense. Sounds like heresy, but look at Navy’s touchdown in the second quarter on Saturday.

Read the whole thing.

Smart Links – Strategery Round-Up: two-tight ends, the 3-4 defense, rocket toss and “Iso” – 12/8/2011

Old school Green Bay Packers’ use of two-tight ends:

Two good links from Ron Jenkins:

Wisdom from Woody Hayes:

[W]hen I first starting coaching listening to Woody Hayes talk about designing an offense. He talked about you start with your schedule and rank all your opponents from one to ten in terms of toughness to beat. Then you base your offense on beating the top 3 or 4 teams. That’s it. Once you are done there you just make sure you’re sound against everything else.

The importance of choosing your coverage in the 3-4 defense:

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The simple, wonderful, inexpensive speed option

The speed option may be the best run play in football. The pro guys don’t like it because your quarterback can be hit, but, whether under center or from the shotgun, it’s an exceptionally useful play to have in your arsenal. There are three basic reasons why the play is so effective and useful:

  • Simple: Both the concept and the schemes are simple. Unlike the true triple options, there are not multiple reads and the one read that is there is a simple one of a defender often stuck in space.

Wish they called this more in Denver

  • Inexpensive. What I mean by inexpensive is that the play requires very little teaching for any offensive players as the blocking scheme should be one already used for a traditional play. Typically, this will be outside zone blocking.
  • Speed in space. This is tied to #1 and #2, but the play works most of all because it is a simple and inexpensive way to get athletes on the perimeter of the defense in space. The option threat by the quarterback — and the numbers advantage gained by reading a defender instead of blocking him — keeps the defense inside, but the point of the play is to pitch the ball to the runningback on the perimeter where he can burst upfield to do maximum damage.

What further makes the play so good is that these concepts are universal; they are not tethered to a single offense or system. The play works from under center or shotgun, and has been effectively used by teams with great running quarterbacks and it has been used by teams with more pedestrian quarterbacks as just a cheap way to get the ball to the outside.

In modern form, the play is simple. The line outside zone blocks, which means they step playside seeking to cut off the defense and to even reach them as they can. The linemen work together to double-team the defensive linemen before sliding off to block the linebackers, and the idea is to create a vertical crease somewhere between a spot outside the tight-end and the sideline. The offense leaves an outside guy unblocked, typically either the defensive end or the strongside linebacker. The quarterback takes the snap and runs right at the unblocked defender’s outside shoulder. If the defender stays wide, the quarterback cuts up the inside crease (and typically looks to cut back against the grain). If the defender attacks the quarterback or simply stays inside, the QB pitches it. The outside receivers block the outside run support, being more focused on being in their way than pancaking anyone. Below is a modern example of the speed option from gun:

For a little more historical perspective, Tom Osborne’s great Nebraska teams used the speed option as one of its chief weapons.
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Smart Notes – Trick passes, Rich Rodriguez, Emory Bellard- 2/12/2011

This has already gone everywhere:

There are two lessons to this: (1) this kind of trickery doesn’t always translate well to actual playing time, and obviously playing quarterback requires a lot of skills beyond this sort of thing and (2) this is still great stuff, but, related to (1), the football being an extension of you is merely necessary rather than sufficient to be a great quarterback. You can see this latter point in basketball: if you ever visit an NBA or even college practice, you can see the players doing unreal things with the ball, but in a game, with the pressure on and defense, it’s much more difficult. That said, you can also take the lesson that it takes more than being able to throw a couple of nice passes in backyard football (or to hit a few shots at the local gym) to be great. The real thing is always harder than it looks.

Emory Bellard has passed away. Bellard, father of the wishbone (he wanted to call it the “Y” offense), was the original from-high-school-to-the-big-leagues-with-a-wacky-offense guy:

Bellard was on Darrell Royal’s staff at Texas in 1968 when the Longhorns developed a formation with three running backs that came to be known as the wishbone.

He coached at Texas high schools for more than two decades and won three state titles. His success landed him on the Texas staff, and while other assistants relaxed during the summer before the 1968 season, Bellard was busy trying to figure out a way to utilize a strong group of running backs after Texas endured three straight mediocre seasons. (more…)