Tim Tebow’s Last Chance

I watched Tim Tebow play before I had any idea who he was. I occasionally feel oddly fortunate for that fact, as very few people can say the same. Since at least the time he was a freshman at Florida, his reputation — really, his mythos — has preceded him: from heavily hyped Florida recruit to Heisman winner to on-campus living legend, and then to shocking first round draft pick to fan (and Skip Bayless favorite) to New York Jets sideshow, it’s become effectively impossible to watch Tebow play without also seeing the incredible amount of hype and baggage that follows him. This talented but flawed quarterback — born to Christian missionary parents in the Philippines, raised in Florida and, for a time, the face of football’s spread offense and read-option revolutions — has come to embody alternatively the dreams and nightmares of so many football fans.

Simpler times

Simpler times

In 2013 one therefore can’t simply “put on tape of Tim Tebow” and evaluate him as a player. Instead, in what may be his one truly great skill, any attempt to evaluate Tim inevitably results in something else: you end up also evaluating yourself, whether you realize it or not. Include me in this, too.

But in 2005, on the recommendation of one of my coaching buddies, I taped a game Tebow played in, without knowing who he was. As high school football has gotten more successful — and commercial — there’s been a rise in featured “matchup” games set up by promoters and marketed to fans as well as TV networks. This game, between Hoover High School of Alabama, and Nease High School in Florida, was a made-for-TV concoction designed to pit the most high profile team in Alabama against the most high profile high school quarterback in Florida — and maybe the country. My friend recommended taping it fundamentally because of the offenses: Hoover, under then coach Rush Probst, was a “client” of now-Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s “System” and had ridden it to several Alabama state titles in recent years. Nease, meanwhile, had exploded into one of the most explosive teams in the country using a kind of hybrid spread offense which combined zone reads with downfield passing to average close to 50 points a game. (While one might wonder how much you can learn from watching a high school game, remember that this was 2005 and we’re still talking about both of those offensive systems today.)

When I began watching the game two things became clear very quickly: Hoover was the far superior team at essentially every position, but the Tebow kid was basically carrying his team. Nease lost convingly, 50-29, but Tebow racked up over 422 yards of offense, including 398 through the air, and could’ve had 500 yards if his receivers would’ve avoided some costly drops. I don’t much care for recruiting, but Tebow — about whom I knew nothing before I began watching — jumped out at me to the point where I took some scouting notes on him, notes which I recently dug up:

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New Grantland: Tim Tebow and the Jets

You can find it over at Grantland:

This is exactly the role Tebow should have had in the NFL from day one. Former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels famously traded up to draft Tebow in the first round, an exceedingly high spot for a player that is, and remains, a work in progress. Although it was preposterous when so-called scouts and experts claimed that Tebow should have been converted into a tight end or halfback (he will succeed or fail as a quarterback, the position he has played his entire life), it also was apparent that he needed to make significant progress in a variety of areas to be an effective NFL quarterback. Despite the tenor of the debates, in the NFL player evaluation is less about black-and-whites than it is about shades of grey and the interplay of two factors: roles and value.

Read the whole thing. This was originally intended to be a quick piece but it kind of ballooned out (the subject will do it to you). I do think it’s important to this story that Rex Ryan has been around football for a long time — and his Dad obviously even longer — so the calculus of the quarterback-as-run-threat is not lost on him. But of course Tebow’s long term success will be driven by his ability to read defenses and locate receivers more quickly than he has been able to so far.

Smart Football’s NFL Playoffs Wildcard Review

Wildcard weekend features several important matchups, though some wide disparity in teams: In the same weekend that the 13-3 and record setting Saints must play, so too much the 9-7 Bengals, 9-7 Giants and even the 8-8 Denver Broncos. At different times I’ve written about most of these teams; the weekend provides a good chance to review some of the concepts that these teams hope to ride to victory.

Keys to success

Cincinnati Bengals at the Houston Texans. My pick is Houston by seven or so. Make sure to read my recent exploration of their outside “wide” zone, which they learned from the master himself: Alex Gibbs.

Detroit Lions at the New Orleans Saints. This is far and away the best game of the weekend, and, though I have to go with the Saints, I think it’s a tough one to call. The Saints are particularly devastating at home, so I’ll pick them by three, but I would not at all be shocked to see Detroit pull off the victory.

In a year of dynamic offenses, New Orleans may well have the best one in all of football. A key part of that success is all-purpose “space player” Darren Sproles, who frequently serves as the fulcrum player in the Saints’ multifarious attack by lining up all-around the field and being both a rushing and receiving threat. I wrote all about those varied skills earlier this season here, for Grantland. Of course, Drew Brees is pretty good too; I’ve previously written about his favorite play, four verticals (isn’t it everyone’s favorite play?), for the NY Times.

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Klosterman on the people who hate Tim Tebow

Chuck Klosterman has a strong piece on the people who hate Tim Tebow. I liked this piece because it inverted the usual structure of the Tebow discussion, which I can summarize as “TEBOWTEBOWTEBOWTEBOWHARFHARFHARF”. (Or, as Spencer Hall has accurately put it: “YOUR STUPID NON-COLLEGE-FOOTBALL-WATCHING RELATIVE SAYS: ‘Oregon has the uniforms and the colors and the things, don’t they? What’s with that? Hey, what do you think of Tim Tebow? ‘Cause I’ve got some real strong opinions I’d like to share.'”) From Klosterman:

The crux here, the issue driving this whole “Tebow Thing,” is the matter of faith. It’s the ongoing choice between embracing a warm feeling that makes no sense or a cold pragmatism that’s probably true. And with Tebow, that illogical warm feeling keeps working out. It pays off. The upside to secular thinking is that — in theory — your skepticism will prove correct. Your rightness might be emotionally unsatisfying, but it confirms a stable understanding of the universe. Sports fans who love statistics fall into this camp. People who reject cognitive dissonance build this camp and find the firewood. But Tebow wrecks all that, because he makes blind faith a viable option. His faith in God, his followers’ faith in him — it all defies modernity. This is why people care so much. He is making people wonder if they should try to believe things they don’t actually believe.

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Four verticals is the best, Tim Tebow vs. the Vikings edition

Especially if the defense plays Cover 2 and is terrible at it:

You can read more on four verts here, here, here and here.

What coach said this about facing what team and quarterback?

Quiz time:

“Well. We have another big one ahead of us. This next one, I guess you’d say that every game is really really big, but I think this one will pose a real challenge to our defense because they’re like three offenses in one. They’re a power attack . . . . They go from that to being able to be an option attack with the quarterback. . . . You see where their offense is. It makes the defense have to be sound in all phases. You can’t load up and play the power because you may be getting optioned. You can’t go in there with an idea of being a finesse or assignment totally or you’re going the power run right at you. This is going to be a big test. And he can throw it. He’s put some yardage on people. The last thing they do that challenges your defense is they have a fast pace, so they do that to try to get your defense so they’re not in great alignments. Just to be a little sloppy because they hurry up and if you’re not a real disciplined defense, you don’t get set correctly, and you know as well as I do that we’re not good enough to not be perfect in our assignments and our alignments.”

The answer is after the jump.

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You be the offensive coordinator/quarterback: Dealing with the blitz

In my most recent post for Dr Saturday I discussed some of Florida’s struggles on offense. The particular topic was some of Florida’s struggles in pass protection in all phases: accounting for potential rushers, sustaining the blocks, the receivers getting open on time, and the quarterback delivering the ball on time. In the post I showed what went wrong on the play, as the video below shows.

But it’s much easier to show what went wrong than it is to answer: What would you have done differently? Specifically, let’s say you are the OC who can signal a play in or you are the quarterback with a menu of checks and calls at the line. Your squad lines up in five wide, on third and goal (your team is leading), and the other team is showing a man blitz. Here’s what you see (the receivers are all covered down by guys showing man-to-man).

1_empty

You know they have at least a possible six guys to blitz against your five, if not more if they don’t cover down on one of the slots at the snap. Below is a diagram of the play Florida had called — a double smash concept. Note that the rule for the outside receiver’s in man is to convert the route to some kind of pivot route to the outside.

1_EMPTYSMASH

So what do you do here? Here is a non-exhaustive list of options. You make the call.

  1. Stick with the play as called. Although they have one more guy than you can block, your other guys should protect well, the QB should step up in the pocket, and throw the corner route (or another route) before the blitzer gets there. It was an execution problem.
  2. Call timeout. You can’t block all their guys, and have a bad playcall. Try again.
  3. Check to a short, three-step pass. Yes it is third and goal but better to throw a short completion with a chance to run it into the end zone.
  4. Check to a three step fade pass. You need to throw it into the end zone but don’t have time for any other play that gets it into the end zone.
  5. No need for a check, but the play should have a “sight-adjust” built in, where if the QB and receivers both read blitz they break off their route for a slant. Yes this read can get muddied against zone blitzes, but this is the right situation for it. Everyone should read this on the fly.
  6. Check the play to a receiver screen. Same philosophy as the short pass — get it to an athlete with some room to run, though this time with some blockers.
  7. Check to a quarterback trap or draw. You have an excellent runner at quarterback, why not use him? Yes it is third and long but you avoid the dangerous play, and if you block the trap or draw right and their defenders are too aggressive, you might score.
  8. Stay with the same playcall, but make a call to shift one of the split receivers in tight to be an extra blocker. Yes they can always blitz one more than you can block, but might as well put on a full six-man gap scheme and force the extra rusher to come from further away.
  9. Shift a receiver in to act as a runningback for a more advanced run play, like the speed option or a zone read. This is basically a full audible with a change of formation and playcall. Note that the defense could adjust too, given this opportunity.
  10. Some other option I haven’t listed.

Now, no team would give their quarterback this many options at the line, but most teams give their quarterback the ability to get into at least three of these. Some (like the sight-adjust) is either built into the offense or it isn’t.

So what is it? You make the call.

Monte Kiffin’s scheme for Urban Meyer’s offense

monteMuch of the offseason chatter around the SEC centered on how the legendary Monte Kiffin, now the defensive coordinator for the University of Tennessee under his son, Lane, would deal with the extremely productive but decidedly “college” (in a good way) Florida Gator spread offense, orchestrated and designed by Urban Meyer.

And, while the game itself, a 23-13 affair, was quite possibly a snoozer, the ennui that has followed the game has been remarkable. The storylines have swirled: Tebow’s passing was questionable, Meyer says that he put the brakes on because Lane Kiffin wasn’t interested in winning, and he mentioned that his team was flu-stricken. Yet there is no overshadowing that Monte’s defense did a nice job against Florida’s offense. His plan was to take away the inside run game and make the receivers beat them. And, indeed, the subtext of Meyer’s post-game comments indicate that Monte’s plan was pretty much on target:

“You don’t have to be a genius to figure out the strength of our team right now,” Meyer said. “And that’s a big offensive line running off the ball and a freak quarterback that just takes the game over.

“Is it perfect? No, it’s not perfect. But until we get the full allotment, the full compliment, of wide receivers playing at the level we need them to play, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to win.”

So what was Monte’s plan? A few bullets:

  • The basic theory was clear: focus on Florida “inside to out,” meaning focus first on the line and the gamebreaking runningbacks, then on Tebow running and the inside receivers and tight-ends like Hernandez, and, only last, Florida’s outside receivers. I had predicted Monte might do this, but I was wrong with his prescription. I had said they might plan man and use Berry as a “rover” like Dungy used Bob Sanders. I was wrong: Monte played zone defense almost exclusively, played his cornerbacks way off usually to help deep inside, while the other nine guys — Eric Berry included — all kept their eyes in the backfield. And this is why Monte gets the big bucks: this was better than what I had suggested.
  • For example, Kiffin played a lot of Cover 4 or “quarters” against Florida. Florida, in turn, uses a lot of “trips” sets with three receivers to a side to try to force them out of it. The defensive adjustment is to have the safety to the single-receiver side cheat over and help with the inside slot. The diagram below shows this, though I admit it looks a little confusing. The point is that the safeties help with bracketing coverage but also fly up for run support; both guys can hit people on the line of scrimmage.
    cover4trips
  • Where are the weaknesses? To the outside receivers. The single receiver backside is basically in one-on-one coverage because the safety to his side has cheated over for trips. Yet Tebow could not get the ball outside.
  • And when he tried, the Gators looked awful. Tebow was 14-19 for 115 yards and an interception, and also took a couple of sacks. First, Monte was able to make Florida’s line look poor with a lot of stunts and occasional blitzes, though he never brought an all-out one. Frequently, Tebow had very little time to go through his reads.
  • But even when he did, he looked off-kilter. The interception he threw to Eric Berry was a prime example. Kiffin changed up his coverage to what was (I believe, the camera angles were not great) an “invert Cover two” where instead of two deep safeties, a safety and the cornerback played deep. Yet this wasn’t heavily disguised: Eric Berry just sat in the flat. Tebow stared at him, and stared at him, and stared at him…and then threw him the ball. (Senior?!) Anyway Kiffin was mixing up the schemes well, but again the common theme was zone with pressure on Tebow to get him rattled.
    berry_pick
  • Below is video of the pick; it should begin at the proper point. If not, skip ahead to the 0:50 mark.
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