First off, I learned an important rule for blogging: don’t make promises you can’t keep.
I apologize to those who were sitting on pins and needles for my article……I hope both of you can forgive me…….especially you, Mom.
In all seriousness, I do apologize for the delay, I didn’t keep my word to get this to you in a timely manner, and that is not cool.
With that out of the way, let’s apply this study to a season’s worth of statistics.
Before we begin, MAD props to coach fingerz42, a member of Coach Huey's X's and O's site.
Seriously, if you find this to be of any use, send him a PM and let him know you appreciate his work. He was absolutely awesome, and this article would not be possible without him.
Coach fingerz42 is the first year head coach at "High School X". Suffice to say, they struggled in year one (hence the anonymity). Coach fingerz42 brought a new identity to the program, and the growing pains were evident. The team battled to a 2-8 record, and averaged 9 points a game. The adversity of learning a new scheme was further complicated by the loss of his starting quarterback in week 2.
With all due respect to Coach, the poor performance of his 2010 offensive squad makes this analysis especially exciting. The more an offense's talent outweighs that of the defense, the less important 1st down efficiency becomes. If you can have a holding penalty (1st and 20), a reverse for 1 yard (2nd and 19), a QB scramble for 6 (3rd and 13), and then throw a comeback for 15 yards consistently, then either your team is full of studs, or this must be your opponent:
Don’t laugh, these guys may win the Big East’s automatic qualifier in 2011
Team X's lack of offensive prowess, coupled with staring down a massive talent gap nearly every game, made staying on schedule exponentially vital, and that is something Coach told me he plans on scrutinizing more carefully in 2011 (good for him).
Before we examine Team X's first down statistics, let's see how they did in the other 3 areas Billick considers vital to offensive success:
- Turnovers: Team X turned the ball over 26 times in 10 games. Obviously, stemming this tide is priority number one, of which Coach is well aware.
- Explosive Plays: Coach didn't keep stats, but when you average under 200 yards a game in total offense, you can figure this is also an area in which Team X needs to improve.
- Red Zone Efficiency: 9 scores in 19 trips. Lack of opportunities and low efficiency.
Despite the obvious shortcomings in these categories, the case could be made that they all trace the root of their trouble back to first down efficiency.
Falling behind (on the series and the scoreboard) leads to more passing, and when you are a run first team with a backup quarterback, throwing in predictable situations is a recipe for disaster (picks, punts, and poor field position).
This serves to highlight an importance game planning aspect for run first teams: If you plan on attacking a defense 80% run and 20% pass, merely having that ratio in the final box score doesn't mean you accomplished anything. If your 20% came in predictable situations (3rd and long, 2:00 situations, etc.), then there is exists NO semblance of balance, and conversely, there is no defensive imbalance.
Offensive football is all about stressing the defense as a means to the ultimate end: crossing the goal line. There is nothing wrong with wanting to run the ball 80-90% of the time, as long as you avoid predictability.
What really got me excited about Coach's team was his breakdown of conversion percentages for those first down plays that garnered over and under 4 yards, respectively: On first downs where the offense gained 4 yards or more, they went to convert 80% of the time.
On first downs where the offense failed to gain 4 yards or more, that percentage fell to 31%
Think about this....here's a team that to the naked eye can't seem to do anything right (again, all due respect to coach fingerz42, almost all of us have been there), and yet, when they manage to gain 4 or more on first down, they manage to move the chains a whopping 80% of the time!
Now, the rub comes when we examine the frequency of these +4 gainers.
On the season, Team X had 194 first down opportunities. On 129 of these (66%), Team X failed to gain 4 yards.
The big question for Coach this off-season is to figure out how to create more 2nd and <6. In fact, from the conversations we’ve had, I know he is already working on his first down success through 2 important endeavors that all coaches need proficiency in:
Our staff calls it the R&D department……..recruitment and development; THE foundation of any program.
The following conversation was overheard at a clinic between coaches from rival schools (as far as any of you know):
Coach 1: "We just couldn't stop you guys from hitting the speed out. We used our Tango technique, then switched to the Dragon Claw alignment, and even whipped out the Lombardi Kung Fu grip and we STILL couldn't handle it. What are you guys doing to make that that route so effective for you?"
Coach 2: "Our fast kid runs it."
All this effort into analysis and stat tracking will flesh out an extra game or two on your season (which can mean a world of difference), but the real wins come in the off-season.
So, how can we make this work for us?
While I place a great deal of emphasis on analysis as it relates to decision making, there is no need to go all Beautiful Mind on your football team…
If you know a team runs Power Right out of the Pro-I forty-three percent of the time when on the left hash facing 2nd and 5 in the 3rd quarter when the wind is over 10 mph blowing from the west and the blah, blah, blah……….
Focus on the big things, and the little things will handle themselves.
Our staff (limited in time and man power) has started to focus on the follow areas:
- First down tendency
- 3rd down tendency
- GL tendency
We look at our opponents respective offensive and defensive strategies in these three areas and plan accordingly.
We also find 16 year old kids can remember a couple 1st down tendencies (2 main runs, favorite pass), and a couple situational items (3rd and long…..draw, verticals, etc.).
I wish you happy hunting. I hope this helps, and if you have analysis of your team, please feel free to share.
And again, one last BIG shout out to coach for making this article possible.