Thursday, December 1, 2011


A couple of weeks back, just before the holiday, I was in Washington DC for another profoundly boring, tedious, and ultimately, pretentious academic conference. After giving my talk and fielding an hour or so of numbing questions I went to the hotel lounge to unwind with the help of my two best friends, Mr. Jameson and Mr. Glenfiddich. I was lucky that night because I managed to grab the TV before the fireplace and monopolize it – a good move indeed because the boors who eventually descended like locusts would undoubtedly not have wanted to watch something as stimulating as the game between Iowa State and Oklahoma State that fine evening. Now, no doubt because of the good company of my two aforementioned friends, I was just a bit distracted and unable to fully digest and appreciate what was unfolding in Ames that night, but I knew I had found something quite appealing to my oh so prosaic senses, especially when the Cyclones had the ball.

I got back the next day to Madison in time to watch another interesting match – that between Baylor and Oklahoma. And this is when, with the help this time of two other friends, Earl and Lady Grey, along with a healthy dose of lemon combined with a quick shot Ms. Brandy (muddled, of course), it all started to dawn on me, almost like the initial testament Joseph Smith experienced somewhere in New York state. It all began when one of the prophets, Matt Millen, declared in no uncertain terms that if Baylor wanted to be successful against OU that they needed to move RGIII around so as to change his launch points and prevent the Sooner D from teeing off on him. For a moment, I agreed with the prophet and considered myself, with bit of self-loathing, fortunate to be in a position to take in his divinatory powers. But then something happened: the game continued, Baylor continued, by and large, to keep RGIII in the same place, and eventually the Bears won.

That night I went back and watched the ISU-OSU tilt again and noticed the same thing; hardly any pocket movement. This jogged my memory a bit and sent me back to my Arizona State cutups, which brought my attention to something I had completely taken for granted at some level or another: none of these teams protect their QBs by changing their QBs’ launch points. Does that mean that they do not move the pocket? Of course not. Only that when they do so it’s primarily to isolate a single receiver on an easy throw, usually in a short yardage situation; in other words, when they move the QB it is not because they necessarily believe that it will help them protect him more effectively.

For anybody well-versed in the fundamentals of protection, this all seems counter-intuitive, right? I mean, after all, a stationary QB is a sitting duck just waiting to get blown apart by a defense that simply needs to stay in its lanes in order to bring their pressure home? How then do these teams do such a great job of protecting their QBs, especially when they are most of the time releasing not three, but four and five guys and are thus never protecting with any more than six people? If we pause to think about it for a second or two, the answer becomes self evident: all these teams secure their QBs by ensuring that the A and B gaps are always solid and by protecting their edges by way of their KEY screen games that come off of their inside zone schemes. Since Baylor, OSU, ISU, and ASU aggressively use their KEY games they are able to displace rushers and thus widen the edge thus increasing the distance a potential rusher must cover in order to get home. But this is only applicable if the defense continues to roll the dice, as it were, because the KEY game itself forces a defense to consider the potential costs and benefits of bringing such pressure.

This is yet another example of concision. By formulating and integrating packages so that they protect one another, not just the QB as a physical being, but concepts in and of themselves, they are able to reduce the number of things they need to carry in any given game. For all these teams, the KEY game along with whatever versions of ROSE and LINDA they run work to protect not only their respective 2 and 3 man SNAG games, but also their Shallow and Drive packages as well.

In a perverse sense then, protection is as much about the periphery as it is the center.

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