Saturday, September 24, 2011

Air Raid Wrinkle (Part II)

A valiant effort by Louisiana Tech against formerly ranked Mississippi State, coming up short in overtime.
Something new Tony Franklin used in this game was an unbalanced trey 2-back look (like Heavy Over, but from the gun and H is off).
Franklin ran power, counter, and reverse out of this set……


and ended up setting up a huge 3rd down conversion in the 4th quarter running 51 Solid off of Rodeo action (02:34:52 of broadcast).

Though they lost, the 17 year old quarterback Isham produced in the passing game using Stick, Levels, Drive, and Y Cross (end of regulation interception in the end zone) even with the running back injured (Creer) and the multi-purpose H-back (Holley) out for the game.  On the final interception, needing to inch closer to convert the downs (5 yards), likely because of the inconsistent short-yardage production from the banged up Lennon Creer, Tech opts for Y Cross isolating standout receiver, Quinton Patton, in the boundary with a double outlet underneath to the field.  Mississippi State presses the line of scrimmage showing press cover 1, essentially baiting Isham to throw the 1-on-1 with Patton.  At the snap, MSU bails out to cover 3, Patton's cornerback retreats deep with deep help from the free safety in the end zone.  Because MSU disguised this so well (discouraging the run with 7 defenders versus the 5 blockers), it was too late for Isham to recognize the Hi-Lo on the lone MSU linebacker to the field.

The rebroadcast can be seen at the link below

Greg Studrawa: Zone from the Gun

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LSU’s current Offensive Coordinator, Greg Studrawa, provides a clinic of zone philosophy from the gun (circa 2006).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Catch-Man Technique

We’ve touched on this trend before and I believe it will be the trend for the future of defenses as they continue to aggressively adapt to passing offenses.  It used to be that when you played man coverage, it was required that you dogmatically adhere to tight or press-man technique and relied on disrupting routes and pressuring the quarterback.  This pretty much meant your defense needed to out-athlete the offense you were facing as well as showing your intentions pre-snap if the offense ever presented a one-back formation.

As defenses adapted through the 90s and offenses began finding more and more success passing the football, zone defenses were forced to evolve to pattern-matching routes.  Matching out of zone with six defenders would leave an extra hole player against five receivers.  The natural progression from this was the fire-zone, adding a zone defender to an overloaded pressure while accounting for all receivers.  Fire-zoning became (and continues to be) a catch-all solution with static pre-snap defensive looks.  The only issue would be the ability to retain alignment leverage without giving away your intentions   For this reason, fire-zones are largely packaged by field and boundary rather than strength of formation.

So what would be the next step for defenses to get a jump on playing a variety of routes while providing the capability of overloaded pressure?  In the perfect world, the defense that could ensure it:
  • retained its pre-snap coverage shell (consistent look)
  • got the favorable personnel matchup
  • was able to generate an overload pressure on the passer

A defense that could do that would be able to hold the chalk last in this new age of offensive football.  "Catch Man" or "off-man" coverage means exactly that; the defensive backs catch the route as it develops.  Because this 'catch' won't happen until well into the route, the overall defense can assume any shape/structure (1-high / 2-high) it wants without giving many pre-snap clues to the offense.  From basic pre-snap zone looks, the defense could be fire-zoning or playing man and very likely will be bringing pressure, but from where?

    This ‘answer’ kind of becomes a full-circle evolution, where many successful defenses are returning to a formula that was relied upon 30 years ago.  It isn’t surprising that the leaders of catch-man defenses are protégés of the Buddy Ryan school of defense (Gregg Williams, Rex Ryan, Rob Ryan, Dom Capers) of the 80s.  Many of the more advanced elements of Buddy Ryan's late 80's-era 46 defenses (catch man, loaded coverage, fire-zones, swipe/thumb coverage, and a reliance on man-free) are what is now en vogue in today's game.  This wide array of skill sets also begets a need to include multi-functional personnel on the field, where a 3-man fronts (or less) are preferred (see psycho posts).
    In this post, we’ll try to provide some coaching insight into developing the skills for effective catch-man coverage. This concept was admittedly difficult for me to get comfortable with many years ago, as I really believed in the old bump-and-run technique of man coverage. I felt that you had to immediately disrupt routes and out-leverage a receiver before he even began his release. While there are benefits to holding up receiver stems and immediate reroutes, there is limited flexibility in adapting to formations using this technique. The effectiveness of press can be diminished with pre-snap movement from the offense. With catch-man, you can get the best of both worlds because the coverage structure remains consistent, you can effectively play quick and deep passing game, while still disrupting receiver stems.

    Added for illustration purposes, this Revis 1-on-1 footage highlights how to leverage a receiver from many different alignments (some off, some press but they all essentially turn into the same type of coverage by the time the receiver makes his break).

    With the help of video, I hope to illustrate some of the techniques and methods of leveraging routes from an “off” alignment. The skill sets used for catch-man are also helpful in other coverage (press man / pattern-match) techniques, so using these drills will have carry-over (high ROI) for your secondary. The depth of alignment for the defensive back usually starts at 8 yards. From this depth, a defender could essentially stay put and the receiver would likely make his break in front of the defender. As the player gains more confidence (athletic ability allowing), this pre-snap cushion can be shortened and stemmed in and out of. The beauty of this is that just aligning in the path of a receiver’s stem, the defender has already re-routed the receiver; either the receiver runs over the defender (not conducive to actually running the route) or he is forced to make his break early, declaring how the defender will play the route.

    Just like pattern-matching in zone, secondary defenders will play routes based on the drop of the passer, then anticipating route breaks based on a process of elimination. Once the route is identified/confirmed, the defender can jump the interception point or secure the tackle.

    Catch-man is best delivered to players by staging teaching into depths of the quarterback drop. Just like pattern-matching, you will get specific routes based on the depth of the drop.
    • With quick-step or 3-step (quicks 0-5 yards), a receiver could really only run one of the following routes: Screen, slant, hitch, speed out
    • With 5-step routes (intermediate 10-15 yards), the receiver would likely run: out, curl, hook, dig, comeback
    • With deeper routes (15+ yards off of 5-7 step drops / sprint out and play-action) you could expect: post, corner, fade wheel
    As you’ll see in these videos, defensive backs start at a depth of 8 yards and are keying the quarterback in their initial pedal.
    While eyeing the quarterback, the corner will slowly come out of his stance in a crossover step (or backpedal). The key here is for him to remain in control of his body with an arched back with the intent to be able to mirror the receiver perpendicular to the line of scrimmage (inside/outside break under 6 yards). If the receiver stems inside, the corner should laterally step inside to mirror him. Again, it should be stressed that the corner should walk out of his stance, reading the quarterback in slow motion, keeping horizontal leverage on the receiver (mirror him). By using this horizontal leverage, he can easily recognize where the quarterback is going with the ball (based on the angle) and attack the interception point.

    If the corners are consistently aligning with 8 yards depth, they will likely see a lot of quick game to attack the cushion. When the receiver breaks under 8 yards, the corner shouldn’t attempt to come underneath the receiver for the interception unless he is certain he can get two hands on the ball. Otherwise, he should look to secure the tackle by coming in low, with arms clubbing up and expanding the receiver’s noose. It should be acknowledged that playing 3-step is difficult. The important thing is that the defender doesn’t give up a double-move or lose the 1-on-1 tackle if the ball is caught. In the event the DB gets beat here, he should cut his loses by collisioning the receiver or actually pulling him down (preventing a sure touchdown).
    Once the defender sees the drop is greater than 3-step, he accelerates his pace and immediately snaps to the receiver, keying the inside hip. The defender will then fight for control of the receiver with leverage (either hip-to-hip or at least be at arm’s length). If he loses this control (out-of-phase), the priority is just to catch up to the receiver and never look back. To help against false stepping or getting beat on double-moves, its important to rep receiver jukes, that a cut can only be made when the receiver’s shoulders rise up. Once the DB recognizes the drop is greater than 3-step his thinking is to “slowly absorb the route” and close any air that exists between the receiver and defender. With the accelerated pace of this deeper route, the defender’s concentration should be solely on the receiver’s inside hip. From this point, there is little that differentiates itself from traditional (press) man coverage. The defender should work for total control of the receiver with the progression of “receiver – recognition point (break) – ball”. Only until the receiver is controlled with leverage and the route break is identified, should the defender actually play the ball for the interception. Always finish – play the man, THEN the ball.

    Like I said, this will likely be a defensive flavor we’ll see more of in the future and your thoughts and experiences on the matter are certainly welcome.  For an added bonus, some more video on leveraging receivers (from a press position, but its all relative).  Key points to take note of are the solid base and stuttering of the corner's feet until the receiver truly commits to a release and then the flipping of the hips (and footwork) to maintain the in-phase relationship….

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011


    Over the course of this summer, Brophy and I have talked a lot of offense. As many of you know, we’ve focused much of our discussion on what Noel Mazzone is doing at Arizona State. And given the richness of this topic, I suspect that we will continue to do so throughout much of this college football season.

    For me, perhaps the greatest upshot of these discussions has been the way it took me back in time to when I first got into coaching football. Specifically, it got me thinking about Dennis Erickson and how much I enjoyed watching his offenses at Wyoming, WAZZU, and Miami, which in turn got me to think more critically about his hiring of Noel Mazzone. Sure, Mazzone was one of his guys for a short while at Oregon State, but when Erickson was forced to replace Rich Olsen, he clearly had the pick of the litter. I mean, besides knowing Mazzone, which obviously counts for something, there had to other reasons why he chose him, rather than, let’s say, Dana Holgorsen, or some other hip, en vogue spread offense guru.

    I think to get at this problem the right way we have to settle a few things about why Erickson found himself in such a situation in the first place. If we were to blindly swill the pap that ESPN spews, the reason was quite simple: Erickson’s job was on the line and Rich Olsen’s offense was too antiquated for today’s game. Now, I think most readers know where I stand on this matter, but for the sake of posterity, let’s understand that Rich Olson is an outstanding football coach and that the offense he coordinated was not outdated by any stretch of the imagination. The simple fact is that the administration forced Erickson’s hand, so a change had to be made. But this should not be interpreted as the administration taking the keys away from Erickson, because his choice of Mazzone reflects the degree to which, at a deep structural level, Noel’s offensive thinking is predicated upon the same set of fundamental beliefs and values as Erickson’s.

    The reason I harp on this is because, and I mean no disrespect here, Mazzone’s incarnation of the spread is so medieval that it’s progressive. By this, I mean that the fundamental principles and structures upon which Mazzone’s offense is predicated are virtually identical to those upon which Erickson based his offenses throughout the 80s and 90s, which is to say – verticals, quicks, and zone running made easy by defensive displacement.

    I don’t want to spend too much time on Erickson’s original offense. For those interested, please see Chris Brown’s treatment at Smart Football. The other source to consider is UTEP football, because for all intents and purposes the offense Mike Price runs today is not too terribly different from the one he ran back in the 90s at WAZZU.

    With that disclaimer of sorts, I will say a word or two about the spread offense Erickson ran with great success from Idaho and Wyoming to Miami, Oregon State, and, at least initially, Arizona State. For those expecting gaudy route structures, Erickson’s may appear, at least upon first blush, somewhat basic; Erickson really did not rely much on layered concepts, such as Shallow, Drive, Mesh, etc, preferring instead to rely on vertical stem packages in both his quick and drop back games. The reason for this is very simple: Erickson never wanted to stop running the ball; he simply wanted to create defensive structures that would enable him to run the ball effectively inside. This is why Erickson from the very beginning emphasized stretching the defense from sideline to sideline, not only with formations, but concepts as well. Formations and splits that would effectively center the defense by inviting it to align players closely to the LOS were jettisoned in favor of five very basic environments that by alignment would engender some type of a Nickel response.

    Diagram I. Tight End / Slot

    Diagram II. Trips Closed (TE to the boundary)

    Diagram III. Trey

    Diagram IV. 3X2 (with Y or T Flexed or in the Slot)

    Diagram V. 3X2 (with Y in the Formation)

    And because Erickson never wanted to bring the defense towards the ball, his passing game, by design, was designed to create an environment that would stretch the field horizontally, which he would then attack vertically. Consequently, Erickson eschewed routes that could possibly negate the horizontal stretch of his formations, for those that would always “push” the defense off the ball, creating even more vertical space between it and the offense.

    Does this mean that Erickson’s one-back was not a ball-control offense, that it was always trying to go for the deep shot? No, only that he sought a way of throwing the ball that would not draw the defense towards the formation, and thus, towards the ball. As a result, what you see is a pass offense based around vertical stems, be they seams and benders, or option routes paired with posts and digs over top.

    Now, before continuing, I want to head a potential problem off at the pass: rightfully, many coaches would look at this and say that without an aggressive shallow or drive game, how did he manage to control the linebackers? After all, this is essentially the problem Northwestern had a decade ago after their first big year in the spread offense; they had a half-field passing game to either side of the formation, but with nothing over the middle because of wide splits their receivers took. For this, much more so than Northwestern, Erickson used option routes that effectively prevented the linebackers from providing hard and aggressive run support.

    So what does any of this have to do with Noel Mazzone? I think what we need to remember is that for a while, and even recently, when coaches hear Mazzone’s name they equate it not just with Snag, but with shallows and other layered concepts. And there is undoubtedly a great deal of truth to this, because for a while shallows and crossers were the bread and butter staples of any Mazzone offense; and while he recognized the need to get vertical even then to prevent people from squatting on his underneath stuff, it was, as will be covered in a future post, usually paired on the back side of his shallows. But shallows are not what characterize Arizona State’s current offense; in fact, one can say that while shallows and drives remain an important part of Mazzone’s current offense, they now play a decidedly more secondary role to his Arizona State’s Vertical game. And this is why, I think, Mazzone was so attractive to Erickson, because Mazzone’s current offensive thinking, from the role formations and verticals, to a simple, yet effective inside zone running game, effectively is entirely in synch with Erickson’s base offensive values.

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Intro to Zone Runs: 1988 Bengals

    Fire up the DeLorean and insert the second 5 ¼” floppy disk into your Apple IIe!
    We’re going back to 1988….

    Here is a team video handout from Head Coach Sam Wyche that features a young Jim McNally (doing his best Matt Foley), Jim Anderson and Bruce Coslet.  Wyche may never get the credit he deserves for advancing the ‘modern’ game as he should, but in this time capsule we can see the evidence of his staff’s attempts to break out of the box and spread defenses.  If you lived through the 80s, I apologize for the flashbacks you’ll experience watching this, we're just offering this as a continued treatment documenting the adaptations of schemes.

    McNally and Anderson cover the run game and Coslet jumps in (38:36) to review Y Option and the rest of the passing game.

    The Bengals went on to be the most productive scoring (448), rushing (2,048 – 4.8 yard/carry average), and total yardage (6,057 – 7.9 yard/average) offense in the league in 1987.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    TCU Defense Explained

    It seems the one thing people want to see more of
    is TCU’s split-field coverage principles. 

    I don’t blame them.  It is an efficient system for distilling defenses down to their root element and provides a framework built-in to handle any offensive formation.  I’ll reiterate that WHAT they do is actually what all other defenses do.  It is the system that Gary Patterson and Dick Bumpas developed over the last two decades (through necessity) is what is important.
    Since its just you and me here, I’ll let you in on a little secret…..but don’t tell anyone else, okay?

    First 3 hours of Gary Patterson explaining how it all came about, how he installs it, and how it will be applied (with a film review of game and practices).

    Previous entries:
    TCU's 42 Nickel Coverage & Front Coordination
    TCU's 42 Nickel Blitz & Coverage Concepts
    TCU "2 Read": Adaptation to the Spread (2x2)
    TCU "2 Read": Adaptation to the Spread (3x1)

    ** be sure to check out these blogs as well **