Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sometimes the Higher you Go the Simpler Things Get

I just want comment briefly on some points that Brophy made earlier regarding LaTech's protections. From my perspective, the greatest insight to be gleaned from what LaTech is doing is that the AirRaid (and I use the term simply as a type of critical shorthand here) has become exponentially simplified, perhaps even reductive as it has evolved at the college level.

That the AirRaid has become even more streamlined in recent years is no surprise. All systems, in particular languages, possess a teleological desire to simplify themselves for their users. The AirRaid is no exception to this rule, especially in regards to protection. Since most AirRaid teams have by now evolved into pure one-back figurations within some type of a detached four hot environment the protections now only deal with defensive reactions elicited by either 2x2 or 3x1 alignments. As Brophy has noted, this exponentially reduces the number of reactions a defense will most likely respond with; moreover, they are all known quantities.

Now, all of this is pretty simple and straightforward. What I would now like to spend the rest of this piece discussing is why LaTech and other programs can afford to be so reductive in their approach to protection and why High School programs that employ this offense should be leary of following their lead. At the college level, it is a given that any team that runs this offense can throw the ball and protect the passer. In other words, defensive coordinators do not doubt their counterparts' basic competency in this area. Consequently, depending on whether they are an odd or even front team, they are going to run some type of a nickel or stack scheme. By nickel here I am not just talking about 5 defensive backs. Texas last year played with three linebackers most of the game against TTech, but they were aligned in various nickel looks. As a result, when an AirRaid team goes into Spring Practice the first front they throw up on the white board is something in the nickel or odd-stack family. They no longer scheme against base 4-3s, 3-4s, 4-4s, 50s, etc because they will NEVER see them. They then can focus all their time on technique and sorting.

But can high school coaches afford to be so reductive in their approach to protection, at least schematically? My answer is no. Maybe in certain regions of the country, such as in Texas or in the South where Spring ball is permitted, teams that run the AirRaid will have the time to develop the mastery required to elicit such basic looks; however, my experiences suggest that the first thing a HS DC will do in most situations is present you with some type of a base look and pressure the living heck out of you until you prove that you can throw the ball with ease. As a result, HS teams still need to be prepared to protect base fronts, which makes the job of the HS line coach, ironically, more difficult than that of his college counterpart.


Kevin said...

Crap. Just as I suspected. I am sure in some small way we will be able to adapt part of the concepts at least with our current protections. Our offense keeps 2 backs in most of the time to protect. We'll sometimes have to even keep the TE in. Needless to say, we are typically not a team that throws with ease. We want to do more...

The Flipped Coach said...

I have to disagree a bit with this post. High School coaches notoriously have almost entire summers and often also spring football to work out their playbooks and protections giving them plenty of time. I also would like to point out to Coach Ayre that by bringing in 2 backs and a TE to protect, you will see more and have to teach more fronts simply because you are not spreading your formation as much. The difficulty to protect arises mostly based on the quality of the defenses of the teams that you play. We had most quality teams this past year running very simple schemes because they recognized that they needed to cover every receiver more then just man to man. If a team mans up on you to send more rushers and you are a passing team, you should be licking you chops and taking it to them with fast screens and your 3-step game. We had a not so hot season only going 2-7 but the two teams we beat were easier for us because they tried to play man and bring more pressure. The reads were easier for our QB and even though they could send 1 more then we could block, it didn't matter because we got the ball out quicker. By also running more slow screens we made them pay for their aggressiveness. The other simplicity of the spread and AirRaid is that all the variety of fronts when spread out can only be a few different looks. For example a 3-4 and 5-2, become a 3-2 to the line. A 4-4 and 4-2-5 are a 4-2. If a team goes 4-3 it is even easier because to the line it is a 4-1 and the back gets a free release. That's why a line can simply call Nic for an even 4 man front and 5-0 for the odd front or 5-0 Stack for a spread out 3-3 Stack or 5-3 look. Where we ran into trouble was actually being able to beat the basic looks in all aspects of our offensive package.

Hemlock said...

I agree with Conservative Football Coach on some points, particularly his remarks at the end. However, most high schools in America do not have Spring Practice. Spring Practice is primarily a southern thing. Northern states and virtually all midwest states do not have spring ball and some have very, very restrictive rules on things like 7-7.

I agree with CFC on the matter of the TE. TEs and backs that are attached to the formation make protecting more complex than it needs to be.

That said, I still hold to my basic thesis: the AirRaid has and is becoming simpler and more streamlined all the time and it is most readily evident at the college level.

brophy said...

1. I am not sure to what degree spring ball has to do with altering protection. Spring ball is great for good programs, and just a time to kick the tires for most. I would argue that the 'spring ball' argument is really just another way of trying to say that southern states take football SERIOUSLY (which makes a difference) and well, northern states, well....uh.....y'know.

2. The summer months are devoted to the passing game (sans protection). Right or wrong, but I don't think I've seen our linemen in the summer in all the years I've been in the south.

3. The fact ultimately remains, if you are going to live in 2x2 / 3x1 sets, you have to make the 'worst case scenario' your best case scenario (something the Air Raid likes to pride itself on).

3a. Either victimize 8 man fronts by formationing them (because they are not adjusting to the formation.

3b. Or force them out of what they are doing by having an answer for it.

While I'd hardly call what we did last year "Air Raid" (nor would I attempt to sully that term), but when facing one of the worst teams on our schedule, we were faced with this very same dilema: a press-man 2-high defense. We could make ourselves adapt to the defense and become something that we weren't (2-back, pro set) or we could force the defense to get out of the 2-high/man look through option and shallows.

4. This can become a circular argument - does the offense match what the defense presents, or does the defense match what the offense presents?

brophy said...

.........that being said, I do agree with Hemlock's premise, which is ultimately "high school defenses" + "high school quarterback".

This is an admonishment coaches should heed and keep this circumspect attitude in mind when installing their protection. Know what you can handle and what you cannot, and have an answer for when you 'cannot'.

Also, as Hemlock alludes to, the disparity you will find at the HS level (as compared to NCAA) can gum up this process even more. You may face a DT or SS that just cannot be handled and can rush, cover, and all around disrupt conventional wisdom when it comes to accounting for numbers. Just something to keep in mind.

Dubber said...

As a high school coach whose team is know as "that spread team" in our area, I understand where Hemlock is coming from.

We had trials by fire in the first 3 years of running this offense, and we feel we have evolved nicely.

The only team that got away with 5+ pressures on us last season had the horses to erase mistakes and lock us down in press man.

There are rumblings in our area about so and so going to spread, but I doubt they have patience (and more importantly, job security) to wade through the growing pains like we did.

Heck, it took us a couple years to truly understand what we were looking for when we went trips, and to add to Hemlock's post, we HAD TO MAKE THEM LINE UP "RIGHT"....

Once you can force them into their proper positions (you MUST make the force player cover the slot, etc.), then protection becomes THAT simple.

Something new HS spread teams can take for granted.

Chris said...

I like, Brophy, see where Hemlock is coming from but disagree with this generally. This really gets back to hemlock's view of the R&S as a true four-wide environment at all times that is essentially unchanging, with the recognition that, well at the high school level it's not so easy and maybe it'd be useful to keep an extra back in for protection once in awhile.

I think the reality is that principle applies in college too -- gives you another answer to the D which multiplies your responses and makes their job more complicated -- and the difference between "simplicity" and "complexity" is not as straightforward as it sounds. A HS line coach might use six-man and 7-man (two back) protections, but that doesn't mean the nuances of technique and blitz pickup are "more complicated" than a team that stays in six-man protection all game long but has spent three or four years with those guys picking up every imaginable blitz and zone pressure.

I do think there is something be said for this idea: That the "system" is really the most useful in college, because you can recruit for it and you put guys in your program doing a few things over and over again, which interplays with the strict limits on practice time. But I'm not sure we can draw any more conclusions than that.

(That said, I'm happy you're writing online now Hemlock! Look forward to the discussion.)

Jon E said...

I think for any team, adjusting to heavier fronts can be as simple as teaching one more player one more blocking assignment, and teaching a QB how to hot read, if needed.

I think defenses are getting extremely effective at bringing 5+ with zones behind against 5-6 that spread sets will have to look at TEs and 2-back sets for critical situation.

BYU-Oklahoma was a good example of 2-deep 4-under zone pressure that was effective against a very good offense (while Bradford was in).

In general, I think coaches will have to install more max protection (Texas routinely had 11 personnel for 7 protectors).

I think I may have strayed from the argument a little. I think Hemlock is right, for some different reasons than he provides. High School coaches don't have athletic separation, in many cases, between the slot receiver and the OLB, so the spread may not create a large enough one-on-one mismatch. Not to mention that the High School QBs skill set may not let him look at a 3rd, or even 2nd WR.

The defense has less to worry about, I think, and can therefore feel more comfortable keeping a basic set in.

Jon E said...

I thin Brophy is correct, though. The key is to have an answer for the defense- take what they give.

Zone coverage has seams...Man coverage can be crossed and matched up... A zone pressure has a hole somewhere...

The trick is finding the simplicity/diversity balance.