New Grantland: How Chip Kelly’s influence — both on and off the field — is spreading around the NFL

It’s now up over at Grantland:

So far, most of the attention surrounding Kelly has centered on his spread offense, particularly the way in which he gives his quarterbacks multiple run, keep, or pass options on the same play, all from a no-huddle, up-tempo pace. And those ideas are certainly having an impact. The Dolphins hired Kelly’s quarterbacks coach, Billy Lazor, to implement a version of Kelly’s scheme in Miami; the league in general is trending toward more no-huddle; and several NFL coaches have told me their teams will be using “Chip Kelly plays” this season.

But Kelly’s influence extends far beyond read-options and the no-huddle, and into the subtler and more fundamental aspects of the game. In just one year, Kelly’s question-everything approach has caused many smart NFL coaches and executives to ask themselves why they’ve been doing things the same way for so long. And many are realizing that Kelly has better answers.

Read the whole thing.

gbsweep

New Grantland: The Making of a Modern Guru: How Gus Malzahn Turned Auburn Around

It’s now up over at Grantland:

This season, Auburn has been anything but balanced — not that it has mattered. The 2013 Tigers are the first SEC team to average more than 300 yards rushing per game in almost 30 years. (The last team to do that? The 1985 Auburn team led by Bo Jackson.) But while Newton and current Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall both ran for more than 1,000 yards in Malzahn’s offense, they did so while using very different approaches. At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, Newton was essentially Auburn’s power back, and Malzahn featured him on a variety of inside runs. Marshall, by contrast, is shorter and lankier than Newton but boasts great quickness and acceleration. As a result, Auburn’s 2013 offense has focused less on the core wing-T run plays and more on zone reads to get Marshall on the edges while allowing Mason to use his excellent vision and patience to find running lanes.

The backbone of Auburn’s current rushing attack has been an amped-up version of the zone-read, which gives Marshall as many as four options: (1) throw a receiver screen, (2) hand it to Mason, (3) keep the ball, or (4) keep the ball and then toss it to a receiver who can sit in an open area of the defense if the man covering him comes up for the run — a form of the quadruple-option.

FourOptions

[...]

Although Marshall running the shotgun zone-read is far afield from the old-school wing-T, these subtle adjustments are pure Raymond: They’re sequenced plays, in which the base play sets up the counter and the counter sets up the counter to the counter, all dressed up with misdirection.

Read the whole thing.

New Longform: How will Nick Saban solve his Johnny Manziel problem?

It’s now up:

But maybe Rip/Liz isn’t the answer. It was in Alabama’s playbook last season, and they still lost. Instead, maybe Saban and his defensive coordinator, like Belichick and Saban himself back in 1994, must react by devising some modern tactic as they face this modern problem.

Right now, at every level of football, defensive coaches have been racking their brains trying to find a way to stop the onslaught of deadly dual-threat quarterbacks, particularly those captaining uptempo, spread attacks. With Manziel and Texas A&M, Saban is facing an acute version of the problem NFL, college and high school defenses are also facing.

Read the whole thing.

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.

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.

(more…)

Smart Links – Chris Ault’s Pistol, Chip Kelly’s Non-Pistol, 3-4 vs 4-3, Chappelle Show, Next Wave of Dual-Threat QBs – 1/23/2013

Former Nevada coach and Pistol Offense auteur Chris Ault has been on a bit of a media blitz recently; check out interesting interviews he’s done with the New York Times and the NFL Network. And in his interview with Mercury-News’ Jerry McDonald, Ault highlighted the fact that it’s myopic to think of this stuff as just the read and specifically the quarterback keep. Instead, what makes it all work — and potentially viable for the future in the NFL — is it’s just one piece of the puzzle but it actually bolsters the rest of what you do.

niners

Where it always begins

Q: Seems like common sense to take advantage of the athletic skills these quarterbacks have . . .

Ault: Absolutely. I’m not here to tell you that the 49ers should run the read 16, 17 times a game. You can’t do that in the NFL. But I think by running the read play, it’s in your offensive system and you’re going to run it five times, nine times a game, it’s one more thing you’ve got to defend. And then when you throw the play-action pass off it, that’s another thing. So it’s not just one dimension that you’ve got to look at, it’s a couple of things. You see Kaep run that 56-yard touchdown, and you say, great, that’s the read option. And it is great. But I think one of the things that set that up was a couple of the play-action passes out of the pistol.

Q: Atlanta saw to it that Russell Wilson did not carry the ball on the read option based on how they deployed their linebackers . . . Kapernick’s running on the read option can be taken away, correct? And in so doing, do you relinquish the middle?

Ault: That’s exactly right and that’s what happened in college. They would load the outside and take Kaep away, and that’s why it’s the read. You give the ball off. We really designed our pistol offense, where we want the running back to carry the football. That is first and foremost in our thinking. But all of a sudden, you just fall asleep, just like Green Bay, you’re handing it, and handing it and handing it, and he might’ve been able to pull it a couple of other times, but he waited until the right time. No question, they might just say, ‘We’re not going to let this Kaepernick run the ball.’ And we had that in college. Then, it gives you an opportunity to run the read and the play-action pass.

This was fairly prophetic by Ault, as Atlanta ended up trying to take away Kaepernick and in the process gave up over 125 yards and 3 touchdowns to Frank Gore and LaMichael James, as well as some big play-action passes. (Though not all of this was from the Pistol; LaMichael James’s touchdown came on the inverted veer.)

- One of the persistent myths repeated in the otherwise very good New York Times piece mentioned above is that Chip Kelly ran the pistol at Oregon. This is, as I’ve mentioned before, incorrect, as Chip himself has explained:

Q. One of the recent trends in the NFL is more pistol formation. People are tracing that back to you. Your thoughts on what seems to be a melding of the NFL and college games.

COACH KELLY: Don’t know. Haven’t been there. Don’t run the pistol offense. That’s not what we do.

Chris Ault at Nevada invented the pistol offense. Just retired. Great football coach out there. There’s a lot of ways to play football. Pistol, don’t know that very well. We’re more of a spread run team.

Trends go one way and the other. I said this a long time ago, if you weren’t in the room with Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne when they invented this game, you stole it from somebody else. Any coach is going to learn from other people and see how they can implement it in their system. Anything you do has to be personnel driven. You have to adapt to the personnel you have. There’s a lot of great offenses out there, but does it fit with the personnel you have? The key is making sure what you’re doing is giving your people a chance to be successful.

- As Chip observes, whether or not these kinds of schemes will be sustainable in the NFL will depend in a large degree on personnel — the supply of multi-talented quarterbacks. As Matt Hinton points out, while this year’s NFL draft class has few true dual threat candidates (and few quarterback candidates to get very excited about at all, though there are some potential sleepers), there is another wave of dual threat guys working their way up through the college ranks right now.

(more…)

Oklahoma’s Fake-Screen-and-Post and Other “Pop” Screen Passes

Oklahoma didn’t have a great showing versus Notre Dame, but they did show one cool play: a fake screen and downfield pass, complete with pulling lineman in the fourth quarter, which directly led to an Oklahoma score that tied the game up at 13-13 (after which the wheels promptly fell off for OU).

On the play, Oklahoma lined up in a four wide set, and sent the runningback in motion to the left, to draw attention from the defense. You can see Manti T’eo heading that way just after the snap. The outside receiver to the right runs his screen path: two steps up, retrace your steps down the stem and back to the quarterback. Meanwhile the right guard also does his screen action: pass set and then release flat down the line of scrimmage. The rest of the linemen, however, pass protect (Notre Dame did not show a blitz, and if they did it would have made some sense for OU to check out of the play), and the other three receivers release downfield.

The outside receiver to the screen side, Jalen Saunders, releases outside as if he is blocking the screen, then runs straight downfield. Once he hits a depth of 8-12 yards he can adjust his route. If the defense is totally faked out with no safety in the picture, he’d just continue down the seam. As it was, the safety was still over the top, so he flattened his route into more of a post or dig, and caught the ball behind the fooled linebackers for a big catch and run. (Go to 1:44:10 if it doesn’t load there automatically.)

This is not the first time I’ve seen this specific play, nor this breed of fake-screen combined with a downfield route. I saw Houston, under Kevin Sumlin back in 2009, run this exact play. In that play, the defense was so fooled the receiver simply kept his route vertical for a touchdown, whereas Saunders flattened it under the safety in this example.

screen

(more…)

Purdue (Joe Tiller, Ed Zaunbrecher, Curtis Painter era) Quick Passing Game Cut-ups

The below cut-ups are of Purdue’s quick passing game from the 2006 season. Although Purdue threw for 4,000 yards that season, they’re not the greatest cut-ups in terms of offensive execution as it was Painter’s first year as a starter and Purdue had begun its decline under Tiller. But I think it’s very good teaching tape because the the passing concepts are very common ones, the formations — two-by-two, ace, trey, trips, etc — are used by virtually every team in football, and as a result the film is very good for studying the defenses. And in that vein if you watch the film by studying the alignment and techniques of the safeties, whether you can spot the blitzes pre-snap, and where the soft spots in the defense are, you can then begin analyzing where you would’ve gone with the football. Many of these quick passes here are checks at the line; as a result it’s good to think about whether they were the right checks and the right decisions on where to throw the ball.

(more…)

Washington State’s Spring Game: The Return of the Pirate

Spring games typically don’t make for very compelling watching, but anytime you have a new coaching staff, the interest is heightened somewhat because it’s the first and often only glimpse at how the new staff’s schemes will mesh with the existing talent. And of course I’ve been looking forward to the return of Mike Leach to the sideline, and to see how his offense may have evolved in his couple of years away from the game.

As expected, one answer is simple: Not much, nor should it be much different. The offense got lots of mileage early out of four verticals and the mesh concept, for example. But there’s some somewhat new stuff here, primarily in the use of pistol sets from the backs, some multiple runningback sets and motion with those guys in the backfield, and even some play-action and “pop” passes. Much of it is familiar to offenses run by other Airraid graduates, but is somewhat new to Coach Leach’s more traditional attack. I expect Washington State to have a few struggles in the fall, but it should be fun to see how quickly the offense comes together and what new wrinkles Leach adds in.

(more…)

“A very wise coach once told me, ‘If you really want play-action, you better pull a guard’” — Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III agree

The title is a quote from former Stanford and current San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, from the video clip below. And it’s absolutely true. While much is rightfully made about whether a quarterback does an effective job of selling a run fake on play-action, the reality is that the offensive line plays just as big of a role in convincing a defense that a play is a run. Indeed, the play-action pass is probably the best weapon offenses have, one far too often underutilized by modern spread offenses. As Bill Walsh once explained:

Let's go deep

The Play-Pass is the one fundamentally sound football play that does everything possible to contradict the basic principles of defense. I truly believe it is the single best tool available to take advantage of a disciplined defense. By using the play-pass as an integral pant of your offense you are trying to take advantage of a defensive team that is very anxious very intense and very fired-up to play football. The play-pass is one of the best ways to cool all of that emotion and intensity down because the object of the play-pass is to get the defensive team to commit to a fake run and then throw behind them. Once you get the defensive team distracted and disoriented, they begin to think about options and, therefore, are susceptible to the running game.

It is no surprise then that maybe the two best play-action teams in college football season were Stanford and Baylor, two teams that just so happened to produce the two best quarterbacks in college football, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. In reviewing the game film of both players, I couldn’t help but marvel at how many of their touchdown passes were well designed, well executed “shot plays” that, while impressive, pretty much just required both quarterbacks to throw the ball to wide open receivers. And a huge part of that was because both of their offenses involved heavy doses of play-action with pulling linemen.

Just think about what kind of effect that has on the defense. While both players were impressive in their play-action fakes — and someone like Peyton Manning is even more impressive — if you’re a linebacker or safety and you see a pulling guard, you basically can’t help but tell yourself: “It’s a run.” Especially since run plays that involve a pulling guard means one thing: “power,” in the lowercase sense of lots of bodies will be at the point of attack so the defense needs to match numbers as well. And in the case of both Stanford and Baylor it also means “power” in another sense: the “Power-O” play where the linemen block down and a backside guard pulls to lead. Stanford, being a more of a pro-style offense, runs the traditional Power-O numerous times every game. Baylor, being a spread team, typically used the vaunted “inverted veer” play, which is the spread offense’s read-based adaptation of the old Power-O. Regardless, for opponents of both, a pulling guard meant trouble for Stanford’s and Baylor’s opponents run defenses, which, through the use of play-action, in turn meant trouble for their pass defense. That Bill Walsh guy just might have been onto something.

(more…)