Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rants from an idle coach #2

Meaningless end of year breakdowns

Nothing gets me to chuckle more then when a coach rattles off his end of year statistics with no caveats. They take all their games and lump all the stats together. They spout this play averaged this and that play averaged that. They had this % here and that percentage there. We led the league in this and we were last in the league in that. What gets lost in all of it is that it is an average. An accumulation of ALL your games - those against horrible opponents and those against the people you have to beat to win your league and district.

I remember when I first starting coaching listening to Woody Hayes talk about designing an offense. He talked about you start with your schedule and rank all your opponents from one to ten in terms of toughness to beat. Then you base your offense on beating the top 3 or 4 teams. That's it. Once you are done there you just make sure you're sound against everything else.

This logic really makes sense when you analyze it. If you can beat the 3 or 4 best teams on your schedule - you should have enough to beat the rest providing you're sound. (He did say that he also threw in the rivalary game as that usually meant somebody's job.) You shouldn't need any more.

Now let's take that to the statistics we talked about above. They should also be filtered in their use in analysis. Don't include your game with "Sister Mary's School for the Armless and Blind." Filter out your top three or 4 opponents and see what your stats we're against those teams only. If you average 50% conversion rate on 3rd and short for the year but only 20% against top competition - the 50% is a meaningless number and you better come up with some answers.

The same filters can be used in any aspect of football. I was just reading in "War Room" where Bill Bellichek thought that a key component to designing an offense to win the super bowl meant to design it to play in "playoff weather" in the Northeast. To analyze and tweak his system - he needed filter out his stats for games played in what he considered "playoff weather." Only then could he get a true meaning of the success of his offensive design.

So when yuo analyze your offense at the end of the year (or defense for that matter) or are listening to a coach espouse the statistical merits of going to his offense, take out the "give me's." You will get the same results vs. those weak schools regardless of what you run. The key is how you do / did vs. the games you must win.

Hope these rants make you think a little.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Running the rocket with downhill blocks Part III

(Note: Images can be enlarged by clicking on them)

Okay - so let's take a look at how we blocked the rocket in order to get downhill blocks. In this article we'll talk about the perimeter (WR and HB) In part IV we'll talk about the interior blockers and show it against many of the traditional defenses flexbone teams face. In Part V we'll deal with formational and blocking variations. (I know that this is a little change from my original schedule but when I did part III it was a little longer then expected and I was forced to cut it up.)

Three concepts to understand with our blocking:
Concept #1
We are a man scheme that applies some zone principles on the run. By assigning a man and then applying zone principles (they only have the defender on one side - the outside) we can be more aggressive with and quicker to our blocks. We also don't have to spend a lot of time reading the "daisy chain" to the sideline of the run and reach concept. Additionally, the blocks are made with the shoulders up field allowing us to be more physical.

In a fifty or 4-3 defense (assuming the secondary is balanced) we will have three defenders outside the tackle for our two blockers (HB and wide receiver) so somebody will be unblocked. (see fig.1 and #2) With this in mind, we will allow the non-support player to go free. I know people hate to let people go but in this case there are a number of reasons the play works so well this way:
  1. We are letting the player go who has the deep pass. We will throw the pitch pass on him if he gets nosey.
  2. In many cases these are small corners who don't want to / can't make the tackle. In today's football world many of these are picked for their pass covering ability first.
  3. Unlike when you do this in a traditional toss sweep or option (we do this to crack an alley running safety in the option game but with less success.) the play does not have to get to the edge - it's there now. When you run the option and set the non-support free, the defender has time as the ball comes down the line, it is pitched back and the halfback has to get his shoulders up field. Often the corner will make the tackle within 4-6 yards of the line of scrimmage with, because of pursuit, the back's shoulders not square restricting the cuts the the defender has to honor. The rocket however gets out there immediately and, because of the fact we try to create a pivot point on the defense (see below #4) with a leverage block, the back can turn up and square his shoulders almost immediately making the defender cover a large area and defending a two way go from depth.
  4. We always try to create leverage with some sort of a downblock / crack. (see concept #3) This allows the back to to turn upfield in space (I guess this comes with the wing-t background)
Concept #3
We will always create a pivot point around the defense with a crack or leverage block where available. We do not want to outrun the defense to the side. We are already outside the defense - we want to get upfield and get yards.

Base Recognition:
To a wide receiver flank we must have somebody make a 2 or a 3 call to tell the blockers and the quarterback if we are going to leave somebody free. It also tells the halfback if the crack affects his blocking and alerts the quarterback if he may have to check opposite. We use code words and let the quarterback make the call using his option count system. However, I've seen coaches let their halfbacks make the count call

Base Rule:
Playside Halfback: I block # 2 (option count) Aim 3-4 yards outside and attack. I do not have any hard inside moves.  If I get a 2 count call and the wide receiver says he can crack I will exchange assignments

Wide Receiver: I have the support player. If he is not blockable - signal in and block non-support. (Yes that is the corner in 2 deep and he has to read leverage as to who supports but it will happen very quickly.)

Quarterback: With a 3 count and the wide receiver signaling he can't block the support player - check opposite.

System mechanics
First: Wide Receiver signals if he can block support and quarterback give count

2 count - wide receiver's signal affects halfback and means nothing to the quarterback
3 count - wide receiver signal affects quarterback as far as flank is concerned

Okay, lets take a look at a couple of examples. (Then we'll talk about the halfback's technique)
1. 4-3 level coverage - a 3 count. The HB has number 2 and the wide receiver will block force. We will leave the corner go (fig.3)

2. The same is true vs. a 5-2 with level coverage. Again a 3 count. we will let the corner go. (fig.4)

3. In a 4-4 or reduced front the count is now 2. If the WR can crack #2 the halfback will arc on #3 (Note: This is not a traditional drop step arc but should get up field as fast as possible off the hip of the Wide Receiver as the halfback is turning up also. (Fig.5)

4. The same 4-4 and the WR can't crack the halfback and wide receiver will block their man by rule (fig.6)

5. Let's look at a 5-2 with 3 deep. If the strong safety could be cracked we will let the halfback go (we can also check away from numbers by a tag but we want to control where we run and we like the wide side.) (Fig.7)

6. In the same scenario as 5 but the strong safety is too tight to crack. Now with the 3 count and the "I can't crack" signal the qb knows to check "opposite" (When there is a 3 count you will and you cannot crack you will always have a reduced front backside. With the SS that tight they cannot rotate back out of it in time. (Fig. 8)

(In Part IV I'll also deal with 2 deep)

Halfback's technique on #2.

When are halfback is assigned #2 we do not want him turning his shoulders and going lateral to the line of scrimmage. Instead we borrowed something from my jet sweep days. We tell him to attack a spot 2-3 yards outside #2, keeping his shoulders as square as possible to the line of scrimmage. As the defender moves he keeps on a course for 2 yards outside of #2. By doing this we feel we have three advantages over the lateral run and reach technique. We also tell the halfback that he doesn't have any hard inside move. We let that go as we don't have to block anything C-gap or in. Basically he is beating the defender to a spot.
  1. We can be physical and not get knocked back. Blocking is always easier going north south and with the ability to let the c-gap move go we can be extra aggressive.
  2. We get on the block quicker. With the ball already outside the block you only need to tie up the defender for an instant. Many times the halfback will just get headup on a running defender but with the ball outside already that is enough to give us a great advantage.
  3. By having a man assignment there is a sureness in his execution and by giving him zone concepts of not having the inside move he can work levels and has a better chance of cutting off the alley runners (Linebacker and free safety.) If you break down your film you'll see these usually make the tackle on a stretched out rocket.

(Note: If I was able to cut I'd still do it the same way as you must get your shoulders square when cutting. It's easier and more jolting to cut going forward with your shoulders square. Additionally, as I mentioned above - if you only got the back leg of this technique but got it quick enough and, going upfield, forceful enough - with where the pitch is caught you already have speed in space.)

As added safety catch, anytime the defender is on the line and too far for the halfback to reach - he will make a "HOT" call. This usually happens in a eight man front. The quarterback knows that any hot calls are automatic checks to our midline double lead. (He will first look to check opposite if that's any better.) With #2 on the line and wide there is no way for the defense to outnumber the midline. You have a hat for a hat. (Figure 9) This is a call the halfback can make on any of our plays where he arc's or leverages #2 and the quarterback's checks are consistent.

PART IV will focus on 2 deep (including the inside corners that are commonly displayed nowadays.) and the guard and tackle assignment and techniques.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rants from an IDLE Coach #1

With time on my hands from being out of work, it has allowed me a lot of time for thinking, introspection (Both personal and professional), analyzation, and reminiscing. Professionally, you get to really analyze what you do and why you do it.  You also get to go back and relate what you do to the lessons you've learned. With that I've decided to add a new feature - "Rants from an idle coach." In it I'll take 1 or 2 points - maybe a lesson I learned a long time ago, an analysis of something I see, or just some thoughts on the profession. For you that are here strictly for the technical aspect - don't worry - these will just be fill ins. (Part III of the rocket article will be coming next.)

Rant #1
A lesson learned:
It's not unsound if you can't exploit it!

How many times do you look at a film or see a defense  or even face one that the first thought to come to your mind is "That's not sound!" Maybe it doesn't have gap integrity vs. the run. Maybe it doesn't keep contain vs. dropback. Maybe it just can't line up to certain formations.

But is it unsound or is it just a "tilted" perspective?

Like you I use to  complain vehemently. It was common to hear me say "I can't believe they played me like that. It was totally unsound. And they beat me!" In my desire to fit everything neatly into a nice "fundamental" view of football - I just couldn't believe that people could play me in and beat me with these bastardized defenses. It was also a way to justify what I was doing.

What I was really doing by putting the blame on the opposing coaches ineptitude was taking away my ability to see the real problem: my offenses lack of an answer or the ability to get to that answer and I also took away a chance to make our offense better. Basically, I was justifying my own ineptitude.

That all changed with a post game conversation with Tony DeMeo. As we usually did , Tony and myself would have these conversations often after games. One day, the conversation about unsound defenses came up and Tony made the statement "It's not unsound if you can't exploit it." Light bulbs went off. I had it all wrong. What I was pointing as the culprit for failure was not the reason at all. The reason was my offense was incomplete. All the defense was doing was stopping my offense. If I couldn't take the "unsoundness of the defense" and use it to my advantage - it wasn't unsound.

Lets give a couple of examples:

First look at the bastardized pass rush defenses of Rex Ryan. The infamous third down defenses where he puts 7 on one side and 4 on the other creating a supreme overload. Are these defenses gap sound - absolutely not but if NFL teams pass 100% of time on third and long - then they're sound. It's the offense that's unsound for not exploiting this.

If you look at Indianapolis a couple of years ago they ran every time they saw these defenses making them unsound, gashing them, and in essence making them all but disappear.

In a second example, lets take an extreme that would never come up but will illustrate this concept. Let's say the defense puts all 11 players on one side of the formation (again this is unpractical but just used for an example.) but your offense could only run the ball to that side - who's unsound. By structure the defense but not in this scenario. The object of defense is to stop the offense. There are no style points for following a preset pattern and looking sound. In this case the defense stopped what the offense did.

So how do we use this? First of all if you face a defensive structure that you cannot exploit it should send bells and whistles off that you need to tweak your offense. The key here is that you have to be able to get to it when they're in it and not a play late. If they lined up in that extreme defense and the next play you ran a play to exploit it you are basically a play behind. (Think about the 7/4 Rex Ryan defense and the offense decides to run the ball on the next 3rd and long only to find the defense has aligned conventionally.)

So not only do you have to have the plays to attack the weakness (Or as Woody Hayes said "attack across a broad front.") but you have a method of recognition to find the weakness and a packaging / audible system to get you into the right play at the right time.

(To further illustrate this think about the 46 defense in its popularity. It certainly had many flaws but was a bitch against certain things. The teams that had the most success and eventually drove the 46 out as a "Main line" defense were those that ran a small handful of plays against it, recognized it, and checked when it appeared. They made the 46 "unsound."

In the 90's, vs. Florida state UVA did this by checking into speed option on a Thursday night game every time they saw the 46. They scored 2 TDS on long runs vs.the 46 which FSU had crushed people with up to that point. I remember the announcer saying "There something unsound about the way FSU is playing that defense." UVA is what made it unsound.)

Hopefully, this gets you to thinking a little bit about the way you do things.

Next up Part III of the Rocket series

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Running The Rocket with "Downhill" Blocks - Part II

In part I of this series we discussed the parameters we used as our blocking scheme developed for the rocket in relationship to the "traditional" "run and reach" blocking of the rocket sweep. (See figures 1, 2 and 3) Every scheme has flaws - every system has holes. This does not make it bad - on the contrary, Navy and Georgia Tech have thrived in this scheme. But as any good coach should we want to keep evolving and trying to find answers.

When analyzing schemes we always feel it's important to look at a couple of questions
  1. Numbers - will a blocker be left unblocked and who?
  2. Leverage - do we have an advantage to does the defense have a advantage before the start of the play
  3. Personnel - who are we asking to make a block vs. a defender and what is the skill set we asking our player to perform? Does it fit his base job description.
  4. Timing - does the entry point of the back time up with the blocks made so as to maximize the efficiency of the block both in duration (least amount of time held) and in scoop. (Does the block have to be at a specific point or does the back have a chance to "option" run off of him.
  5. How does the scheme enhance our offense in terms of sequentiality (in scheme along with backfield series.), techniques, and overall efficiency? (does the scheme give US the best answer of are we just using it because other people use it as their answer?)
  6. How does the scheme fit in as to where we are in as far as rules (in high school you can't cut, the hashes are different, etc.) practice time, personnel (sometimes a great scheme answer is not an answer for you because of your given personnel (at Langley we did not run the rocket because of the type of halfbacks we had.) and learnability and carryover.
When the base system is run against a reduced front (that is 2 guys outside the tackle - see 4-4 above) the numbers are natural. That simply means that you can get a hat on a hat.(WR on Corner, HB on SS / OLB, Tackle on DE or inside backer) Given the additionally fact that the ball was pitched outside the tackle meant the offensive tackle would only have to slightly tie up a running 5 tackle. If the tackle was able to get around the end and to the inside backer that was a bonus that just enhances the efficiency of the play. The play against the reduced front was basically a "downhill" play with a fairly positive payout.

After years of film analysis of this play, only negatives we felt to the scheme were the flat reach by the halfback and tackle and the fact that there was no other play in our offense where the tackle pulled flat taking away any conflicts from the defense. The reach scheme,essentially, gives the defense time to catch up - stretching the play further to the sideline where the defense may have time to catch up or you may run out of real estate. You are even bringing the C-gap out to the play, a defenderthat by the play's design you didn't have to block in the first place. (A real problem if forced to run the play into the boundary in high school - i.e. free safety over to the field.) Additionally, pulling to the sideline mismatched our halfbacks and tackles vs. physical blockers who kept themselves gap sound and knocked our undermanned players back. (If we could have cut in high school the problem would have been eliminated. Look at Navy and Georgia tech tapes and you see the offensive player barely getting into the legs of these two players but that's enough to get gain leverage to the outside quickly due to the wide pitch.)
The biggest problems from this scheme come against the 50 and the 4-3 look and this is what forced us to diverge from the norm. If you look at figure 2 and 3 above, the first thing you notice is that there are 3 people aligned with defensive leverage on the slot. (the SS / OLB / and Corner with just the slot and wide receiver to block them.) This means that you have 3 defenders equal to or wider then the point (Outside leg of the slot) that the carrier receives the ball. Somebody from the interior has to make these blocks. It certainly does not put the blocker in an advantageous situation especially given the entry levy or the back (He receives the ball a full man outside the tackle already running full speed!) and the aim of the play (to circle the defense.) This is totally different then asking a halfback to tuck inside the kick out of a sweep or to be almost directly behind an arc block with an option to make a two way cut. In this scenario, in order to match numbers, two interior blockers (guard and tackle) will have to block a player with a full man (and sometimes more) head start on him. (see fig 4a and b below) Certainly these blocks are considered uphill but add to the fact that you cannot cut in high school and you are asking you tackle to block a skill player in a race and in space (OLB) the advantage fails clearly to the defense. (Once again, in studying many years of college cutups of this play, you see these players nipping at the heels of the defender just barely bidding time for the halfback to outrun the defense. You also notice that against these defenses there are just as many zero yard plays as there are great gains.) Against the 5-2 the problem is even more pronounced with the tackle trying to catch up to and hook an OLB ON the line of scrimmage.

(I know you can change formations to change numbers but for this section we'll deal strictly with 2 x 2 formations. In section IV we'll deal with formation variations.)

Additionally, if the defense was sound and kept its gap integrity with the OLB in D and DE in C etc. you end up with nobody on the support player. The very player the defense places the responsibility of stopping this play. (Fig 5) Usually a strong safety that is placed in that position to make tackles and support the run in the first places

The play also featured the pulling tackle again, making it readable to defenses.

One additional note that made us evolve away from this scheme was the inability to veer block or place the 5 technique in a bind. (We always felt that this would cause hesitation and either open up the fullback in our triple or shorten the flank on the rocket.) If you veer schemed this vs. a seven man front it was virtually impossible to match numbers since the guard would now have to block the OLB giving him a two man advantage and starting the guard in poor relative position to block in front of the halfback. (fig 6)

Three thing that this play did accomplish were that it 1) slowed down option stunts between #1 and #2, 2) give the offense a way to run away from garbage inside now in an instant, and 3) gets the ball in a good halfback's hands in space when option defenses wouldn't allow that. These positives we wanted to keep. We also didn't want to teach zone blocking which would require more practice time. (If you read my last thread on cost vs. rewards, you would release that any play that involves the reading of defensive reactions requires more practice time.)

In part III we will discuss what scheme we evolved into, how this has helped us, and how it has even simplified the practice and learning of this play.