Thursday, January 27, 2011

Justin Fuente: TCU Offense Key Concepts

After spending considerable time delving into the defensive approach of Gary Patterson at TCU, it would only be right that we spent a little bit of time on the other side of the ball. Since the Rose Bowl, offensive coordinator Justin Fuente has been a hot property, with unfounded rumors of him being approached by LSU for the same position.

In this post, we will take a look at a few key concepts TCU carried with them every week and explore how versatile they can be. With the help of these simple adaptations, since Fuente took over in 2009 TCU has ranked 4th and 5th in scoring in the nation (2010 and 2009, respectively).

Fuente, a former RB coach, was looking for a way that accentuated their run-heavy approach, with an emphasis on simplicity and efficiency. Without having a dominant receiver at the time, the challenge was trying to find the simplest way to get the ball into a variety of player’s hands without spending an inordinate amount of time diverting from their core offense.

DOUBLE PIVOT (trips to the field)

Usually run out of 5-wide, this 5-step concept features enough answers to afford the quarterback clear reads for a smart throw. While an adaptation of the standard Post-Dig run by everyone, Fuente uses this as an effective way to manufacture space to the field. By attacking/occupying inside underneath defenders with the double-pivots (pivot draws the inside linebackers outside, to open the dig), the combination of a deep dig-post creates a middle-of-the-field conflict for the safety.

This is a great play when you want to avoid the corners by creating an inside Hi-Lo going down the field (whip/dig/post) and feature your running backs in space. TCU is so confident in this concept that they don’t feel they don’t need a specific defensive look to run it, so when they run freeze / OC check tempo, they never have to check out of it.

The base concept features the boundary #1 receiver running a 14 yard dig with the #2 receiver aggressively attacking the alley defender (WLB here). Fuente’s coaching point for the whip/pivot player is to actually try to grab this overhang defender, as this exaggerates the separation for the routes the quarterback will be keying (“push in – whip out”). If this receiver gets “turned loose” by the defense (if defender drops), the receiver should just stop. As they say, “ if you’re open, stay open”.

The offense is looking to attack the WLB on the 2-man side whip and the MLB on the 3-man side whip. This combination will stretch these two inside defenders outside, chasing the receivers after they stick and break for the flat. By moving these two inside defenders, the dig opens behind them in the (middle) hole.

To the field, the inside receiver will run the same whip route being run by the boundary #2 to hold the safety or linebacker that could rob the dig. The #1 receiver will just run a ‘take-two’ route (fly) to coverage away from the dig and threaten the deep safety. Its crucial that this receiver takes an outside release or will risk defeating the defensive stretch in the middle of the field. The field #2 receiver runs a modified post, actually trying to get all the way across the other side of the field. This ensures that if the linebacker takes the whip and the safety takes the dig, you still have an answer.

Pre snap, the quarterback will find space to anticipate where the open grass will be (coverage shell / leverage alignment). At the snap, he will look to the field first and then to the boundary. The decision logic will look to qualify the vertical by #1. If he cannot make this throw, he will then go immediately direct his focus to throw the away-side whip outside.

As a change up to the ‘double pivot’ (and one that TCU uses a majority of the time now), and to feature a better receiver on the dig; the Y and the outside receiver can switch routes. Nothing will change for the QB, as the Hi-Lo occurs on the same 3 man side inside the hashes.

The first explosive play in the Rose Bowl this year (video) from TCU was Double Pivot Y and is a perfect example of what the running back on a linebacker matchup looks like.

PORSCHE (trips to the boundary)

This is TCU’s way to matchup with teams that are just better than they are by using rubs and leverage in the quick game. This cheap 3-step concept premised entirely on featuring a backside split receiver to the field. The backside receiver can be featured in whatever route he runs well (hitch, fade, speed out, etc), but commonly will run the slant because of its simplicity.

Fuente will run this out of 3x1 or 3x2, with the rationale being coverage will either be rolled to the 3 receiver side (away from the featured receiver) or be deficient in numbers against trips. As most defenses will respect the 3 receivers, with a single receiver split to the field, the space created provides a clear path to the ball/throw.

At presnap, the quarterback will qualify the receiver split to the field (is this throw viable? Is there an overhang defender in the path of this throw).

If there is no overhang defender and the corner has a sizeable cushion on the receiver, this is the throw the quarterback will make. If there is no overhang defender and no safety over the top and the corner is tight, the route will be converted to sluggo. If it is a press corner with a safety over the top (Cover 2), then the quarterback will work to the trips side as the defensive numbers cannot support covering 3 receivers into the boundary.

The 3x2 version of this includes an inside receiver to help divert the alley defender (having the #2 receiver immediately break inside across the face of the defender) away from the slant.

If the field receiver is disqualified, the quarterback simply diverts his attention to the curl-flat combo in trips. The trips combo features a hitch by #1, a hunt/In route (6 yards over the ball) by #2, and a flat by #3, into the boundary. They can achieve this look in many different ways and often times with motion to the trips with zone-read play action. Into trips is just a defender read over the #2 receiver;

  • If the boundary linebacker still hangs and doesn’t chase the IN, then the curl is not open (throw the In route)
  • If the boundary LB chases the flat, the curl is open
While not a successful play in the video provided, as you can see, its just a simple read off the cushion of the defender over #1 to the field. With as much distance established with the split receiver, there won’t be anything to challenge the short-inside throw (slant).


The “cheetos” play is very similar to how many spread teams are using the quarterback as a between-the-tackles runner (Dash), when the passer isn’t the most gifted ball carrier. In 2009, Fuente called this play 40 times for a total of 400 yards. This play developed by mistaken (much like zone-read) and actually works better when your offensive line is struggling with blocking stretch. This is simply a 3x1 (power) zone read, “run backwards”. The back will run his stretch course (aiming at the hip of the tight end), but the offensive line will block power. This action provides a dual-threat, optioning off the playside defensive end.
  • If the DE gets upfield, the QB goes upfield (keep)
  • If the DE squats or squeezes, the QB gives
The severe angle of stretch angle (perimeter threat), the playside linebacker will usually fast flow with the defensive end, creating the wide path for the quarterback to run inside.
Where the defense comes in conflict is not just the defense end (C gap defender), but also the safety. Because the horizontal stretch becomes so great (one true inside threat plus a wide perimeter threat), the alley defender can be put into a bind as to the proper path to take on this action.

The beauty of this play is that there really are no additional concepts to be taught to the players (you’re just combining power and stretch) and it can be applied to Wildcat looks simply by changing the player taking the snap. The offensive line will simply down block into their inside gap-track, with the backside guard pulling for the playside linebacker (he’ll end up picking up the first man that shows on give).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Wide Receiver Drills (Bobby Kennedy)

I’ve been lacking in sharing position drills lately, so to pick up the slack here are some basic drills courtesy of former UT coach, Bobby Kennedy (now at CU).

Just like the Texas Tech drills shared before, a majority of these drills are focused on pushing the stem, getting out of the break, and body control (and little to do with actually catching the ball).  In high school ball, this is probably the most undervalued and under-coached aspect of developing receivers.

Super Bowl XLV: Packers / Steelers

This is the first ‘official’ post using our YouTube account, so we’ll see how this goes here on out.
From their meeting last year…..enjoy Dom Capers vs Dick LeBeau

After enduring underwhelming offenses of Chicago and New York, both teams advanced through convincing execution.  What can we glean from this matchup and what should we be looking for?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Riddle Me This...

Hey, this is Coach Hoover.  I have been running a series of articles on my site about the Defending the Flexbone.  I have not revealed any of the identities of the guest writers as of yet, but I will provide a clue about tomorrow's (Saturday at 1:30 EST) guest writer.  
You will probably be able to guess this certain individual by his affinity for a certain sports network.

...but if not, I provided another hint.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Manny Diaz: Bulletproof Fire Zone

"I always think that schemes are overrated....We're going to attack out of a multiple array of fronts. If I had my druthers, I'd like to play a 5-4-5, which you're not allowed to do. But I want the offense to we've got about 13-14 guys running around. We want to look like we have an unfair advantage."

The youth movement injected into the University of Texas program has generated a lot of buzz recently. The hope is that the new found energy translates to on the field production after a lackluster performance during the 2010 season. One reason to be especially excited is that replacing legendary defensive mind, Will Muschamp, is Mickey Andrews / Chuck Amato protégé, Manny Diaz. Diaz’ eager hustle, passion for fundamentals, and keen attention to details is apparent in his body of work through NC State, Middle Tennessee, and Mississippi State and are what have propelled him on the fast track to success. Having never played college ball, Diaz doesn’t get caught up in over-complicating the game, but keeping his scheme idiot-proof.

“Offense and defense is about asking questions and having answers.
When an offense presents something, the defense has to answer.”

With the advent of the versatile 1-back gun in today’s offenses, defenses need to account for so many attacks that they must figure out what exactly they are looking to defend. Diaz believes that to stay ahead of the curve, to, a defensive coordinator needs to force the ball to go where he wants it to go, rather than attempting to just ‘defend the whole field’. With this approach, you are left with even more reason to include fire zones.

“Dare the offense to run – then make them run into something they don’t want to run into”

Throughout the 90s by the way of Miami, defenses transitioned to the mantra of speed, with the defensive ends becoming the most disruptive players on the field. The more offenses game planned and tried to deal with these athletes, the more they realized they just couldn’t block those guys. This is what has brought us to the current flavor of offense, where they don’t even block the defensive ends (read game).

“Don’t let them make decisions – with fire zones you make all the decisions for them”

Combating the gun option, Diaz feels the fire zone is the perfect RUN defense because of the key-breaking look it presents. In most fire zones, you will overload one side of the ball with 4+ rushers with the backside dropping into coverage. For a quarterback, you are faced with a confusing picture.

If you read the backside end on zone-read, a defensive end that crashes (attacks the back) will tell you to pull the ball and run. If the backside end hangs or stays lateral, the quarterback should give to the back.

The problem is, against the fire zone, “none-of-the-above” is the answer. As you see in these pictures, if a quarterback sees the backside end hanging (not attacking the backfield) as he would if he were dropping, the quarterback would give to the back, who would be running straight into the teeth of the blitz.

With the fire zone, Diaz feels he can get the best of both worlds as it is an 8-man front with middle-of-the-field support with 6 defenders covering 5 potential receivers.

“Its just Cover 3 with a hook player blitzing – that’s a fair exchange.
It is the most stable thing I can run”

A large part of the success Diaz has experienced with fire zones is due in large part to the way he employs them. Simplicity is the key, contrary to most defenses, Diaz believes in spot-dropping with his 3-deep, 3-under to prevent his defenders from thinking or making mental errors. In this post, we explore how he defines and installs his foolproof approach to the fire zone.

Much like how Nick Saban installed his middle-of-the-field coverage principles (curl-to-flat / hook-to-curl players), Diaz teaches ‘jobs’ instead of specific instructions. There are only 3 positions to be defined for this to work. The only thing that a defender needs to know is which one of the three will he be (and adhere to the simple rules for each).

The basic 3 deep fire zone features a long sticking defensive line away from the blitz with two backers or a backer and a defensive back rushing. The simple rules of this scheme allow you to mix and match who will be the rushers.

 Diaz has found that when running fire zones, they eliminate front calls (less for the defense has to worry about) with the only thing the defensive line has to know is that there is a fire zone going on and which side the blitz is coming from. When you know that, the line will just align away from the gap they intend to stunt to.

The rules and integral pieces of the fire zone are as follows:

“Hot 2 to the field”
Defender is a curl-flat player. “Hot 2” means #2 receiver will be the hot target versus blitz (receiver will stem 5 yards and turns around against blitz). This defender simply has to control #2 (or whoever becomes #2) hot versus a pass read. The landmark will be 2 yards outside the hash (or the hash to the field in high school).  If the quarterback continues to drop, he will get to 12-14 with his eyes on the quarterback.  Versus a run read, this player is the contain / force, and will outside-in leverage the ball.

“Hot 3”
This is a simple job.  On pass, he is simply to get to the middle of the field (regardless of where #3 is) defending space in the hole. If the quarterback continues to dropback, he will fall to a depth of 12 yards.
Versus the run, he simply has to recognize who #3 is and relate to him and spill with inside-out leverage.
Versus option, he is a dive player only.

The Hot 3 player is the only player that can exchange assignments with a defensive end (called “switch”).
Switcher – is the linebacker away from blitz that will be the Hot 3 player (DE away is the Hot 2 player). If there are two receivers removed, the DE can’t possibly play the curl (Hot 2) so the Hot 3 player (linebacker) will make a “switch” call. All this does is ensure that the offense doesn’t make you check out of the blitz or out-leverage you. The Hot 3 and Hot 2 will switch assignments and the linebacker will walk-out and align inside #2.

“Hot 2 to the boundary”
This player will drop to 4 yards outside hash (2 yards outside the high school hash) to the boundary. Like the other Hot 2 player, he will drop to 5 yards against quick step and 12 yards against drop back pass and will be contain on run with outside-in leverage.

Usually the Hot 2 to the boundary will be a defensive end (brining field pressure). The coaching for the defensive end is simply, “Just go backwards” – that’s it.  When in the boundary (“hot off of #2”) if #2 is in the backfield (i.e. some type of 3x1 to the field), this player must tackle him if he runs an inside run. In the boundary, this technique is exactly like you would play as an outside linebacker in a traditional 44 defense.

*Once you declare who #3 is, all of the pieces fall into place and there remains no more thinking involved in the defenses.

Outside Blitzer
When bringing extra pressure with backers and backs, one of the rushers will be the outside (or contain) blitzer. This player is geared to get after the quarterback, but must recognize how he fits into the blitz. On back flow away, he will have the quarterback outside-in. With flow to, he will tackle the running back (on play-action or not). Versus lead-option, this blitzer will immediately take the quarterback (as the Hot 2 player outside of him will take the pitch).

Diaz will teach how to drop to the field for a month to build competency, then will acclimate his players into counting guys and understanding the support fits against the run game. The beauty of this approach is that the fire zone now becomes an “offensive play” for the defense and can be practiced during 7 on 7.   The rationale here is to install it (all of it) quickly and just run it over and over to work out the details on the fly.

Effectiveness of Blitzers

The most underrated element to Diaz’ approach to fire zones, is the coaching of the blitzers. With the fire zone, the defenders are attacking PEOPLE (not gaps).
The stunts tell the players how to penetrate, then attack the passer. The mindset here is to treat blitzers like ball carriers (the blockers are tacklers), that after taking the proper path, the blitzer should “find the open grass”.
Instead of telling a player to “blitz the A gap”, he will sell it as “you blitz the guard”. The philosophy is to take the path of least resistance; the quickest way to disrupt the passer. The blitzer will fight the soft shoulder of the blocker (not try to struggle where the blocker is strong). If the blocker sets hard inside, the blitzer has the freedom to bounce his path and fight the soft (outside) shoulder and take the easiest way to the quarterback.

With any good attack, you need a counter-punch, a change up. With playing MOFC coverages such as Cover 1 and 3-deep fire zone, it is important to keep an answer up your sleeve for when the offense gets wise to what you’re doing. The TRAP fire zone is strong where fire zone coverage is weak. With Trap Coverage, Diaz uses man-match coverage (not spot dropping….except for the flat defender).

Trap fire zone is just a changeup that will have two blitzers outside the Mike linebacker (which can play havoc on protection that adjust to the MLB). Just as detailed above, once you define the jobs within the coverage, plugging and playing defenders can be simple.

“SEAM PLAYER” – Defender will be inside and on-top of whoever is ‘seaming’ unless he goes to the flat (look up inside cut to the curl).

“BUZZ / TRAP PLAYER” – This will be the strong end to the call and will be the buzz defender (playing from inside-out position) that shoots to the flat away from the trap defender. The corner to the blitz side will be the trap defender (corner is playing from wide position). This corner should be trying to show that he’s 3 deep as he is in fire zone coverage, but will be hanging on the flat. The rationale here is to make it look like a blown assignment by the corner. He will plays the gap inside #1 on run. As a trap player, the corner will rob the slant or he will carry #2 on the wheel. Again the simplicity here is what is important; when the trap player doesn’t even move, he ends up in a better leverage position.

“½ FIELD DEFENDER” – This will simply be the backside corner and safety. The rules are simple, seam #1 by remaining inside and on top #1 unless he goes to the flat (even on a shallow by #1). The deep half player will act as the eyes of the corner. Versus a Hi-Lo (CHINA) concept, the safety yells, ”CHINA”, so he can match him. If the offense comes out in 2 backs the safety will seam the back away from the blitz (if he blocks or is free releasing)
Because you have 4 underneath defenders, there is no switch call in trap coverage.
With trap coverage, there are some basic guidelines to ensure everyone is on the same page and aligned for success:
  • Vs empty…..LB has to walk out
  • VS 1 back – MLB has #2 and the WLB has #3
  • VS 2 back – WLB takes #2 weak or #3 strong
As you can see there is nothing revolutionary to what Diaz is doing, but the method he uses to simplify his scheme and is something that can be picked up by young players and develop a hyper aggressive defense that appears multiple and complex but remains easy to digest.

Additional Resources:
2010 Ole Miss vs Miss State
2010 Arkansas vs Miss State
2010 Bama vs Miss State

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Controlling OLB's without the bubble -- Charlie Means

     The stock answer for controlling outside linebackers in the spread offense is having the ability to run the bubble.  The purpose of this article is to give alternatives to a spread offense that doesn’t want to run the bubble.  For starters I will discuss why our offense chooses not to major in bubbles as our “hanger/flat area defender” controller.  It comes down to a what-do-you-want-to-do argument.  Our base philosophy is to be multiple with 4 wide sets with a mix of  T.E. sets using the same personnel grouping.  To make it as easy as possible for our full-time receivers, we keep the on/off the L.O.S. alignments the same. It doesn’t matter if it is a T.E. set or not, all they need to know to get properly aligned is how many eligible receivers are on their side of the ball. 
     We are shotgun 100% of the time. It doesn’t matter whether we are on the 1 yard line coming out or going in, or taking a knee.  We do not want to spend practice time with a center/QB exchange.  With our base alignments of our slots, you can see that one of them will be on the L.O.S. and one will be off.  We tried to have them run the bubble route the same (from on/off the L.O.S.) but the throwing angle was different for the QB.  Doesn’t seem that drastic, but you try it.  We then had the slots off the L.O.S. run a typical J-step, crossover run route.  The guys on the L.O.S. did the “crawfish” route backing away from the QB towards the sideline angling slightly away from the ball.  These changes were not what we were looking for either.
Bottom line……
We could dabble with the bubble and have some moderate success, or control the hangers with other things in our offense that we already practice and run more efficiently.  That was an easy choice. Bye-bye bubble.

Option 1 Outside Zone
This has been covered many times by many zone gurus.  Rule it up and run it. With or without a T.E., strong or weak, 1 back 2 back no back, fly no fly.

Option 2 Boot
Again covered many times with a gazillion route combinations. Waggle it, naked it, whatever floats your boat, but it will give you some hanger control.

Option 3 Stick
1 back spread, T.E., 21 personnel, swing and an option, or 2 quick outs with a clear by #1.

Meat & Potatoes
The following are our 2 best hanger controllers, a run and a pass.
The run is a “pin & pull” scheme that Appalachian State shared with us in Spring 2007.  It is run by many at the collegiate and NFL levels (see google vid of Alex Gibbs--language warning). 

Appalachian State called it truck, so we do too.  We can and will run it to any front.  App State ran it to a 7 technique (inside shade of the T.E.) and choose counter to a 6 technique (head up on T.E.) or a 9 technique (outside shade on the T.E.).  We have ran the counter, but have found we would rather spend our time “tricking up” truck and pulling as many as 3 to the front side.  Truck has a “buck sweep” look.  I can get technical if needed with the oline techniques.  We have also ran it weak away from a T.E. to a 4i technique (inside shade of the offensive tackle) on an open ended side.  The #1 reason for us running truck is the advantage we get when defenses try to walk up the hanger to give a “solid” look.  More times than not, these OLB are designed and personneled as “space” players. They have limited practice time playing close to the L.O.S. in a true run support role.  Advantage offense.

Truck has been our best play (avg. yds per play) since it was put in our offense, whether we were 25-3 combined in 2008-09 with four D1’s on offense (T.E., QB, RB, OT), or 2-8 in 2010.  Check out the cuts and fire away with comments/questions.

Our best pass for flat area defender control is what we call “hole.”  It has a scat feel that works versus any coverage.  We see 1 high 65% of the time, but it has proven effective versus 2 high as well.  The protection is our base quick game protection.  We have ran this play for years but really tightened it up after a visit with the Texas staff consisting of former OC Greg Davis and former WR coach Bobby Kennedy(now @ Colorado).  Hole is a 3 x 1 route (with or w/o a T.E.).  The #1 receiver runs a “must outside release” clear.  The “must outside release” is especially true with a hard cover 2 corner.  He must turn the corner’s eyes or you risk getting a guy hit in the mouth.  The #2 receiver is running an inside-angled-route, finding a “hole” between the hanger and the Mike LB at a depth of 7-8 yds.  We initially ran this route to 5 yards, but found pushing it just a couple of more steps made the Mike LB work vertical a little more creating a bigger hole.  At 5 yds the Mike squatted all over this route.  If the Mike does squat, hug up, or as Texas calls it “match” the  hole route, he should pivot and work flat to the sideline careful not to lose ground from the L.O.S. giving an interception angle to the LB. The #3 receiver runs a shoot route.  His aiming point is hitting the sideline 2-3 yards beyond the L.O.S. flat and fast.  The QB reads the first LB outside the box.  If the LB squats on the hole, he works the shoot right now.  If the LB chases the shoot he looks to the hole route.  The QB also has the option to throw to the single WR on the backside.  We tag this route as either a slant/fade/hitch. Texas runs a 8 yd curl, cut we choose the other options because we do not run a 8 yd curl as a quick and we wanted to keep it consistent with all other quick game concepts for the QB. 

We have run a couple of variations in the past. 
#1 - switch routes of  1 & 2 WR.  1 runs the hole, 2 runs the clear.
#2 – 3 runs a shoot-pivot working back to the middle after 7-9 steps, with an automatic “matched” hole route by 2.
#3 – 3 runs a shoot pivot, and 2 runs his hole, bounces for 2 counts and then takes the post.

We also ran hole with a play action fake & protection successfully this past season.

Please fill me in with your hanger/flat area defender controllers.
Charlie Means - Denison HS (TX)  -

Friday, January 14, 2011

How To Watch An NFL Broadcast (and not lose your mind)

Who Are Football's Chattiest Announcers? .
Enough already about which NFL team will win the Super Bowl. Let's focus on an important question: Which set of announcers is most likely to give you a headache?

A study this season by The Count looked at every major NFL announcing outfit and counted how many words-per-minute the play-by-play and color men said. Hats off to CBS's Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots, who amassed 189.2 words per minute in our study. NBC's Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, the preeminent present-day announcer team, were the quietest at 137.33 words per minute.



If you have a Dolby Digital receiver just unplug the center speaker (the broadcast commentary will be omitted and you'll just receive the audio feed from the stadium).

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Coach Hoover: Defending Oregon Spread

There are some extremely insightful and in-depth articles created by Coach Hoover leading up to the National Championship Game.

43 vs Oregon Spread (DL play)

43 Fire Zones vs Oregon Spread

43 vs Oregon Spread (LB / Nickel play)

43 vs Oregon Spread Bash and Midline

43 vs Oregon Spread (DB play and coverages)

Be sure to check out his subsequent series on defending flexbone option with the 4-3
DT Play
DE Play
MLB Play
OLB Play
FS/SS Play
CB Play

For updates and goings on or what not, feel free to follow (this site) on Twitter at!/GetBack2Fundies

or join the Facebook group (instead of following Brophy) at

Friday, January 7, 2011

Weird stats

I was checking out smart football, and I enjoyed Chris' recent article on underdog strategy (great stuff).

However, Mr. Brown ends his article with some troubling findings, courtesy of the gentlemen over at Advance NFL Stats.

Given the choice between kicking or receiving, conventional wisdom is to always take the ball. The only time you consider kicking is when you defer your decision to the second half, as a strategic tactic. If you use that strategy, then you always elect to receive after halftime.

This is not ground breaking to anyone……you want the ball, unless you can get it later.

What Advance NFL Stats discovered, however, is the team that receives to open a half will actually LOSE a majority of those respective halves.

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, even challenging that long held, irrefutable tenant of successful football: maintaining possession.

I have only one plausible justification, albeit an anecdotal explanation (and I am wide open to other thoughts).

I'll take the word of this man:

You may recognize this gentlemen (Elmer Layden, Notre Dame Head Coach 34'-41') from a more famous picture from his playing days:

I remember reading "It Was A Different Game: The Elmer Layden Story" when I was in high school (I highly recommend it both for history of the game, and insight into Coach Rockne), and in the chapter where the late coach was espousing his football strategy, he mentioned he often considered a quick kick on 1st down when backed up against his own end zone.

Being 18 and knowing it all, I immediately wrote this off as archaic football strategy from the days of no facemasks and 7-3 thrillers.

Maybe, without the use of the internet and fancy algorithms, Coach Layden knew something we lost………that field position, not possession of the football, is the prime asset.


The average NFL kickoff return nets 22 yards.

If the defense forces a punt inside their opponent's 40, and given an average net punting yardage of 40 yards, then the starting field position for the team who kicked off can be expected anywhere from their own 30 to mid-field, segments of the gridiron where the odds of a drive ending in a touchdown increase substantially.

In short, it is (or may be) better to kick-off and then receive a punt, because of the relative real estate you are afforded in those respective situations.

This also serves to underline the important role garnering explosives plays in stemming the field position tide. If one can complete a 20 yard pass during the drive, and subsequently can punt from their opponent's 40, then they have relieved their burden and placed it on the other team.

Finally, in another fine article from Advance NFL Stats, this dynamic serves to highlight the importance of a player like this.

I don't think it is enough to make me not want the football, although I have some serious rationalizing to do to overcome the weight of these findings.

If anyone has any other ideas, feel free to share.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A desperate act......

Per Mr. Brophy's latest post, I have been added to the faculty here at Cripes......

I am a lay coach at West Washington High School, a small corporation in Southern Indiana. My primary football interests center around Offensive Line play, offensive scheme and philosophy, offensive tempo, and program development.

I do not claim anything more than a novice level of understanding in any of the aforementioned subjects, but I am honored to be part of one of the best football blogs on the net.

I'll try to contribute some intelligent insight, but at times the truth may become painfully obvious.......

Dubber: Effectively Measuring Offensive Efficiency

brilliant perspective and analysis courtesy of new author and face-melter, dubber

In "Developing an Offensive Gameplan", Brian Billick, using years of statistical data, identifies the four main areas critical to an offense's success (or attributable to its failure).

They are:
  1. Turnovers (pretty self-evident)
  2. Explosive Plays (defined as runs over 12 and passes over 15, given an even turnover margin, teams who garner at least 2 more explosive than their opponents will win about 80% of the time)
  3. Red Zone Efficiency
  4. Success on First Down (success defined as 4 or more yards). (The math behind this is a successful 1st down will populate a shorter 3rd down, which is easier to convert.)
I kept statistics concerning these four areas while watching the Seahawks and the Rams. This was an excellent game to apply this study to, because I generally feel the respective defenses of these two clubs are better than their offensive counterparts, and both punters, kickers, and coverage units had excellent games.

This puts the onus on the offensive gameplan and decision making.

As a side note, I have done this a couple of times now, and while the reports are getting better, I think keeping track of a couple other items (1st down run/pass ratio, and 3rd down conversions by distances) would be helpful. For the future.....

  1. Turnovers were even (one each)
  2. Explosive plays............few and far between, but they were correlated to scoring drives, notably the only touchdown in the game, which was set up courtesy of the game's biggest play (61 yard pass play)----------the Seahawks garnered this bomb, as well one more total explosive overall.
  3. 2 visits apiece, with the Seahawks coming away with 10 points to the Rams 6. The penalty in the red zone for the Rams was killer..........
It was probably these two categories that won the Seahawks the game.

I really didn't care who won this game, but of particular interest to me was the first down statistics, which bear out an important lesson from which coaches can learn.

4. First down

I took note of the yardage gained on every first down of the game. I computed an average. More importantly, I also took note of what happen from a conversion standpoint (IE, getting another first down) on first downs that garnered 4 or more yards, AND those that did not.

If I may put the cart before the horse, the Seahawks had 30 first down opportunities to the Rams 19.
  • The Seahawks averaged 5.5 yards on first down
  • The Rams averaged 4.2
While that tells the tale, it is also slightly misleading........obviously, whether the offense gains 13 or 50 yards on 1st down, they get another first down........and that 50 yarder can bolster my average enough to cover up my overall inefficiency on first down.

More important is to observe the RATIO in which I experience success on first down, not my average 1st down yardage.

  • Of the 30 times the Seahawks had a first down, they gained 4 or more a total of 17 times (57 %).
  • Of the 19 times the Rams had a first down, they gained to gain 4 or more a total of 9 times (53 %).
A big advantage for the Seahawks was their ability to overcome gaining less than 4 yards on first down.........they went ahead and converted 38% compared to the Rams 22%.

This was not due to a proficiency on 3rd down and long (in fact, both of these teams were generally sucky on 3rd and medium to long)..........a large part of this game was actually won and lost on SECOND DOWN!

The Rams (perhaps due to that first quarter bomb and the way the Seahawks were able to recognize and attack man coverage) played softer, zone coverage on 2nd down. Couple this with the Seahawks willingness to throw high percentage, risk averse passes on 1st and 2nd down (which is pretty ballsy when you are rolling with your backup quarterback), and you have a recipe for getting back into a manageable 3rd down situation.................
Here's the real kicker, and if you take nothing else from this, take this (remembering these teams are very poor offensively): Combined, the two team had 26 first down plays that gained 4 or more yards, and of those, only 6 failed to result in another first down.

That means that 77% of the time either of these teams gained 4 or more yards on first down, they ended up converting for another first down.

So, how is this helpful?

Go back to those couple of games where you felt like you didn't execute offensive, but should have. Not the game you blew a team out, and not the game where you were blown out........but that game that was close, or that you should have won, but your offense just struggled. Go back and look at just the yards gained on first down..................see what that tells you.

Charting first down is really the most time consuming part of this exercise. Turnovers are easy to count, as are red zone visits and explosive plays. Charting first down production means I must be completely focused on the television (something that rarely holds my full attention for hours on end).

I think 1st down run/pass ratio would be a huge addition, but I want it to be more structured than merely listing percentages........I would like to have some way to account for variance. For example, if I say a team threw 75% of the time on first down, that may be misleading if they throw a ton of screens. Also, there is a difference, in my mind, between taking a PA shot on first down, and taking a 3-step and throwing quick game. As a side note, while I believe the overarching theme of successful first downs should be unpredictability and balance, I would (personally) skew my first down gameplan more toward quick passing game than PA. I'd rather have the higher probability of 2nd and medium than risk an incompletion and leave 2nd and long.

Remember, an incompletion means you failed to gain 4 yards on first down, and are now off schedule...........and when the defense is better than you (a situation both offenses faced last night), you MUST stay on schedule.

Not that I wouldn't (and don't) take shots on first down, it just wouldn't figure predominantly into my general gameplanning practices.........

The type of PA also makes a difference........booting and throwing the comeback or the flat route is higher percentage than dropping straight back and throwing the NCAA route off run action.

And I understand, most PAP's have check downs, but I would like to have some way to delineate between taking a shot, and moving the pocket/still throwing high %.....which, given TV's horrible angles, would be hard.

At any rate, I would love anyone's thoughts on how to break this down.

Maybe the following 5 categories would work: quick/short passing, Verticals, PA's (maybe look at the difference between "going deep" and "high %"?), Runs, and Screens?
As I think about, perhaps screens could be sub-divided even further, as perimeter screens and slower developing slip or middle screens have entirely different functions for an offense.
Personally, a perimeter screen is like call sweep, and I consider it a safe way to get the ball in space (and get my 4 yards). Meanwhile, the latter mentioned screens are more like "home run" swings against a pressuring defense (lump them in with "PA shots").

3rd down

The really interesting thing Billick found about 3rd down is the conversion ratios for long, medium, and short were pretty standard. There wasn't a ton of deviation from the best to the worst offenses. For example, most teams convert about 80% of their 3rd and 1 situations, and convert a low percentage of 3rd and longs.
Doesn't matter if you are the Patriots or the Dolphins.

The difference?
The better offensive teams excelled at have MORE 3rd and short opportunities, while the bad offensive teams routinely faced drive killing (and turnover riddled) 3rd and long..........a direct result of good teams have first down success.

Still, it would be fun to chart that conversion ratio, maybe doing that a couple of times would reveal something about 3rd down philosophy.

As a final note, it was evident on 3rd down how much the Rams were still holding Bradford's hand...........their gameplan called for them to run only one formation on third and long (3x1 open with a compressed 2 and 3).........this kind of simplicity works just fine in high school, but in the NFL it's a different story.
I plan on taking some of the ideas in this second section and applying them when I do my next study (I'm thinking Colts/Jets), so if any of you have categorical or organizational suggestions, I'd love to hear them.