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.

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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


“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.


Noel Mazzone’s Offensive Philosophy and Inside Zone with Built In Quick Screens

Good stuff from former NC State, New York Jets and Arizona State assistant and current UCLA offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone. Particularly good stuff on practice philosophy and how to have base plays and how to solve problems (i.e. with constraint plays). Says he goes into a game with no more than about 32-35 plays, total. Also, make sure to watch the eighth and last video, as it covers Mazzone’s packaged concept where he combines a quick three-step pass combo with a slow screen to the other side, which I’ve discussed previously.

Update: The videos have been taken down. There’s a comment that the clinic asked the person who uploaded them to take them down; if so, I didn’t know they were uploaded without any permission. I will try to address some of Noel’s stuff in the future on here.

Get Smart about Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Spread

One of the best recent developments in the blogosphere has been the addition of my friend Ross Fulton to what was already one of the best blogs around, the Ohio State site Eleven Warriors. Ross has been a perfect fit, not least of all because he’s got great material to analyze in the form of Urban Meyer’s offense (along with offensive coordinator Tom Herman) are installing at Ohio State. Check out the links below for a learned preview of what we can expect from the Buckeye offense this fall.

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.


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.