New Grantland Bits On Andy Dalton and Ryan Tannehill (and Dolphins OC Bill Lazor)

Bill Barnwell invited me to write some sidebars for his Grantland pieces analyzing Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

TannehillCheck out the Tannehill piece:

Ryan Tannehill enters his make-or-break third season with a new offense coordinated by Bill Lazor, a promising but relatively unknown coach. Joe Philbin let his friend Mike Sherman go and brought in Lazor, who has coached with Joe Gibbs, Mike Holmgren, and, most recently, as the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly. Miami is hoping Lazor can do for Tannehill what he did for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who went from an iffy rookie year in 2012 to a sparkling 27-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a league-high passer rating in 2013. Nonetheless, Lazor, who, befitting his Cornell degree, looks less like an offensive coordinator than he does a management consultant, is something of a blank slate and has never called plays in the NFL before.

And while several players have intimated that the new Dolphins offense will look like Philadelphia’s, Lazor has maintained it will be a blend of what he has learned throughout his career, not just his lone season with Kelly. But while we don’t know if Lazor brought the Eagles’ playbook to Miami, we do know he is trying to replicate Kelly’s fast-paced approach. “The number one thing we want to do is play with great tempo,” Lazor explained recently. But the best no-huddle offenses in the NFL — the Broncos, Patriots, and Eagles — expertly vary their tempos, a skill Lazor is going to have to develop.

And the one on Dalton:

It’s a shame because when he has a comfortable pocket, Dalton is able to show everyone what his coaches clearly see in him, namely that he understands defenses, route concepts, and even how to look defenders off and throw with anticipation before his receivers make their breaks. Unfortunately for Dalton, the threat of pressure can’t be wished away in the NFL.

One question often asked about Dalton is whether his background with the spread offense in college helped or hurt him. It probably helped, but it’s hard to say. TCU — the rare college spread offense team that boasted top-five defenses while Dalton was there — ran a standard spread: multiple receiver formations, a mix of inside zone and read-option runs, coupled with quick passes and a bevy of screens, which sounds a lot like what he did in Cincinnati under Gruden, minus the emphasis on read-options. Dalton’s other top passing concepts at TCU are also found in NFL playbooks, and the reality is that he’s going on Year 4 as a starting quarterback — he’s had plenty of opportunities to adapt to the pro game.

New Grantland: Better with Age: How 37 year-old Peyton Manning (and his Broncos offense) got better than ever

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Even though the actual plays in Manning’s current Denver playbook are largely the same ones he used in Indianapolis, the emphasis has shifted this season. With the Colts, a large percentage of Manning’s throws went to “vertical stem” routes, where receivers ran straight down the field before breaking inside, outside, to the post, to the corner, or curling up. Those throws are still heavily present in Denver — and no one has thrown a prettier fade pass this season than Manning; the above record-breaker to Julius Thomas is just one example — but a big chunk of Manning’s completions this season came on routes designed to be thrown short. The goal on such plays is to throw short and let Denver’s receivers run long, particularly with the “Drag” or shallow cross series.

 

denver-drag-playbook-fe

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Are Alex Smith and Andy Reid a Good Match in Kansas City?

It’s now up:

But there are lingering questions about both Smith and Reid. I’ll let others address whether the Chiefs overpaid for Smith, but I’m still not so sure that the fit is as good as it would seem. As is West Coast offense tradition, when Reid’s offense was at its best, it was as much about throwing vertically — with deep passes to Terrell Owens or DeSean Jackson breaking open a game — as it was about short passes underneath. Smith has never been known for his ability to throw the ball down the field. And of course, one of the biggest knocks on Reid in Philadelphia was that he would never stick with the run; much of Smith’s success in San Francisco came when supported by Harbaugh’s deep commitment to a power running game.

This is the specter that hangs over this trade and the marriage of Smith and Reid: the specter of, well, Jim Harbaugh (scary thought).

Read the whole thing.

Beating the Blitz with the One-Back Offense (Bob Bratkowski)

The original one-back offense, the one that can trace its roots back to Jack Neumeier at Granada Hills high school and was popularized by Dennis Erickson, is both one of history’s best offenses and was a forerunner to today’s dynamic spread attacks. Bob Bratkowski, currently the offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars, has been one of its oldest practitioners. He coached under Erickson at Washington State, Miami, and the Seattle Seahawks, before striking out on his own in the NFL. He’s most famous — or infamous — for the decade or so he spent as the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, where he coached some dynamic offenses but also was the target of a great deal of fan scorn.

In any event, below is an old coaching clinic he did about beating the blitz with the one-back back when he was with Seattle. The first twenty minutes or so or so is about wide receiver technique and releases. It’s useful stuff, but the meat of the scheme stuff comes after that. Regardless of your opinion of Bratkowski, I always found this a very useful tape.

Quarterbacking the Steve Spurrier Way

I’ve been going through the Smart Football home archives, and I found this old gem: Quarterbacking the Steve Spurrier Way, back from Spurrier’s Florida days (this is from the mid-1990s), where the Ol’ Ball Coach, with some assistance from a slightly mulleted Shane Matthews, demonstrates proper quarterbacking fundamentals. What Steve shows doesn’t feature the latest technology in quarterback mechanics, but the video is exactly right when it says that — for that era, at least — when you’re talking quarterbacks, you’re talking Steve Spurrier. Part 1 of the video is below and Part 2 can be found after the jump.

The video (including in Part 2) doesn’t really cover the schemes Steve used to use back then, but that is something I discuss in The Essential Smart Football, among other topics.

Update: Part 2 is now up, and it can be viewed after the jump. (Apologies for some of the technical difficulties in the quality of the video; it’s obviously from a pretty old VHS tape.)

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Shredding Cover Two with a “Delayed Slant” from the Smash Concept

The old “smash” concept — with an inside receiver on a corner route behind a quick hitch by an outside receiver — remains one of the most versatile pass plays in football. It’s simple enough that any team, whether they are a run-first team or a passing team, an NFL team or a junior varsity team, can get great use out of it.

smash

Base concept

It is, of course, best against Cover Two: The purpose is to get a “high/low” vertical stretch on the cornerback.

I’ve also discussed ways to make the concept more useful: One is to use a backside “seam-read” or “divide” routeto threaten the deep safeties.

The other way to get more juice out of the concept is to have the outside receiver run something more like an option route than simply a quick hitch.

Against any coverage, his job is to push to five yards (against soft coverage, it’s a five step route — three big and two quick jab steps to throttle down) and turn his numbers back to the quarterback. And against zones, he just wants to find an open window in the zone coverage, whether it is outside the linebackers towards the sideline or just inside the first zone defender.

smasher

Finding the open window

Finally, against man coverage some teams like to have the outside receiver run a “whip” or “pivot” route, where they angle inside for five yards and then “whip” back to the sideline. If you are sprinting out to the concept, I like that, but the receiver has to make that read early and as a result he may give away the intention to the corner. And in any event, it’s not an easy throw from a straight dropback. But most of all, to me, the whole point of the smash is to hit the outside unless the defense overplays it, in which case you want to then work back inside. That’s why my favorite adjustment for the outside receiver in smash against man coverage is for him to simply turn it into a delayed slant route.

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Dana Holgorsen’s West Virginia “Airraid” offense

Dana Holgorsen came to West Virginia to install his own brand of the Airraid offense, which was invented and developed by Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. Their offense had been somewhat inconsistent all year, but 70 points — in the Orange Bowl — is pretty much how you draw it up. Below are some links giving a primer to an offense — and a coach, and a system – I’ve long been studying.

- I explained in detail the history, evolution, and development of Holgorsen’s own unique brand of the Airraid — with added emphasis on the run game and play-action — over at Grantland earlier this season.

- Holgorsen often says that the key to the offense is less about the schemes than how they practice. As explained here, he says his offense can be explained in three days (with obviously some refinement later on).

- Further, see here for a primer on how Texas Tech set up their practices under Mike Leach. Holgorsen used this same framework at West Virginia.

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Bill Walsh and Joe Montana on the fundamentals of quarterbacking

Old but good stuff from the master:

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How to Use “Backside Tags” to Attack the Entire Field in the Passing Game

This article is by my friend Dan Gonzalez, who, in addition to being an expert on offense and the passing game, has written a book about both called Concept Passing: Teaching the Modern Passing Game. Dan also previously collaborated with me on an article about the four verticals pass concept. I am honored to host his excellent article on Smart Football.

“Pick a side.” This common coaching directive, in which the quarterback is given the autonomy to choose his starting point on a pass play, has always bothered me. It’s an abdication of a coach’s responsibility: It’s the coach’s job to orchestrate the assault on a defense –- why isn’t the quarterback given a specific starting point and a full complement of options? Even as a college player, I would sit in meetings or pick up a game plan handout and roll my eyes when I saw these words attached to a pass play. My coaches were no slouches – there was an NFL pedigree throughout the staff, and they were fresh from coaching the first pick in the NFL draft when they came to my school. We were taught sound mechanics and fundamentals and our system was a complex pro-style system. Still, there was an abundance of mirrored pass patterns (see Diagram 1 below) in our system, where receivers on both sides of the formation ran the same routes. While these plays were sold as attacking the full field, I often thought to myself, “If everyone comes open at the same time, aren’t we really wasting half the field, and sometimes more than half of the eligible receivers?”

Diagram 1. Example of a “mirrored” pass pattern

I have always considered myself a sort of “free thinker” when it came to football. My talent would never have allowed for me to dream of playing after college (I considered myself blessed to be there), and I always knew I would go into coaching. When I studied our game tapes (I was in charge of the passing game quality control as a senior) and opponent scouting tapes, I was not only living in the “now” — I was also searching for the methodology that I would use when I finally got to run my own offense. Even then, there were two things I knew I wanted: (1) My system would establish itself with the dropback pass and (2) I was going to give the quarterback as many options as possible on a given pass play.

In the passing system I have coached myself (and have since installed for my clients on a consultant basis), pass plays have “frontside” and “backside” component. They fit together through a system of pattern variations, or “tags,” which I’ve created to give the quarterback a well defined method of attacking the full width and depth of pass defenses. There are three types of backside tags, each encompassing a specific way to affect the backside of a pass defense:

  • Provide outlets if the primary combination is covered.
  • Control safety rotation or displacement.
  • Prevent “matching” of the undercoverage.

For this article, I’m going to share a little of the thinking that goes into the first category of backside tags that we teach –- in our vernacular, these combinations are called “Scan Reads.”

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Can inexperienced quarterbacks succeed in the playoffs? The Houston Texans and the T.J. Yates experiment

The Houston Texans are currently having the finest season in their nine-year existence. With an 8-3 record, Houston is almost certainly going to make the playoffs. But after losing quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart in consecutive games, the Texans are down to their third string quarterback.

Doing a lot of this

That man is T.J. Yates, a rookie quarterback out of North Carolina. Yates did manage to torch LSU for over 400 yards and 3 touchdowns last season, one of three 400-yard performances by Yates in his senior season. But you can’t fault Texans fans if they’re a little concerned.

Houston signed Jake Delhomme this week, but he’s expected to serve as the primary backup and mentor. If the Texans go with Yates for the final five games of the season, will he be the most inexperienced quarterback to ever start a game in the playoffs?

Hardly. There have been 13 quarterbacks to start a playoff game with five or fewer career regular season starts. In fact, he’d only be the third rookie quarterback with to be inserted into his team’s lineup for the last five games of the season and then start in the playoffs. Perhaps more surprisingly, there have been five times since 1960 when a quarterback made only one regular season start in his entire career before being called on to start a playoff game. Going chronologically:

Tom Matte, 1965 vs. the Green Bay Packers

In 1965, the NFL was a 14-team league with two divisions. The playoffs were simple: the two division winners would play in the last championship game before the start of the Super Bowl era. Under Johnny Unitas, the Colts raced out to 7-1 record, with the only loss coming at Lambeau Field by a score of 20-17 in week two. Unitas missed the Colts’ ninth game with a back injury, but backup Gary Cuozzo (more on his reputation as the best backup quarterback in football here) led the Colts to victory and threw for five touchdowns in his absence. Unitas returned the next week and helped the Colts pick up another victory and one tie. By then, the 9-1-1 Colts held a 1.5 game lead on the 8-3 Packers with only three games left to play. But against the Bears, Stan Jones and Earl Leggett tore Unitas’ knee in a classic high-low hit that ended his season. The Colts offense was helpless against Chicago, losing the game 13-0.

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