SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

SportsProf as Your Next Offensive Coordinator?

The recent talk, particularly in Sports Illustrated, on innovation in college football reminded me of this post, which I wrote over four years ago. In it, I wrote of the single-wing offense of years ago and my proposal for a SportsProf offense that would rely upon six skill position players who all have the ability to run, catch and throw. The reason? Well, unless your team is blessed to have a transcendant pocket passer in Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, you might not have a chance to win the title for years. Okay, so Trent Dilfer did win a Super Bowl with the Ravens, but he's the exception, not the rule. More importantly, evolution in football is fierce. Coaches work around the clock to design defenses to throw offenses for a loop. Most of those offenses rely upon a strong-armed quarterback who can throw the ball into tight spots and lead their teams to victory. It stands to reason that defenses catch up with offense mindsets every day. Hence. . .

the SportsProf offense. And here's the thing: as SI writes in its current issue, many coaches -- from high school to college and even the pros -- are adapting elements of the single wing to throw off defenses, gain yards and win ball games. There are many reasons for this, but it's all about deceiving the defense. And, with a single-wing type of offense, the defense doesn't know who's getting the snap or what he's going to do with the ball once he gets it. So, it would stand to reason that if you run a generic set, but with a multitude of skill set players who can do it all (see Kordell Stewart, Antawn Randle-El, and a host of guys who were quarterbacks in college or high school), you can snap the ball to any one of them and call a nifty play that paralyzes the run stuffers and makes the super-fast linebacker of today go the wrong way.

Stuff like that used to be called gadgetry. Remember that the spread offense that many college teams now use once was derided as the "chuck and duck." Also, it wasn't as though when introduced the West Coast offense mustered a ton of respect. It was only when these offenses started to work well that they garnered the respect of those raised on the theory of "three yards and a cloud of dust." The old joke, of course, was that the "No Passing" signs near Ohio State's stadium were references to the preference for the running game and not traffic.

Today, though, athletes who play defense train year-round. Defensive coaches study film so much you wonder what they could do if they assisted General Petraeus with the surge in Iraq. They blitz corner backs, have down linemen drop back into coverage, play seven defensive backs at a time, call "house" blitzes and all the rest. The reasons that they do so are a) when they study film, they can predict to a degree what the other team will call depending on how the offense sets up at scrimmage and b) because each team has a relatively immobile quarterback (sorry Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, John Elway) who either has to hand the ball off or throw from a formation that suggests a tendency.

So, if you want to innovate, it might make sense to run plays from symmetrical formations that reveal no intentions or assymetrical ones than can support weakside plays. If you have not one but four quarterbacks on the field, some of whom might run when the ball is snapped to them, you can fool the defense. After all, it's hard to design defenses when you have trouble discerning from the way a team lines up how the team will break from scrimmage.

Multiple skill sets. Symmetrical formations. Intricately functioning assymetrical ones. Figuring out not only which linemen are strong, but which are mobile. Not relying upon one player -- the strong-armed quarterback -- for too much of your success. Not relying upon one lineman -- the left tackle -- to keep your quarterback healthy. If you're about to lament that this type of offense will eliminate the long passing game, it might not. It might change it, but it won't eliminate it. Besides, how many teams run more than a half dozen "vertical" long pass plays each game? Not as many as you might think.

So that's the SportsProf offense. Deception. Quickness. Smarts. Not relying too much on one player for your team's success or failure.

Welcome to the offense of the next decade. Many teams are adapting their playbooks to incorporate this type of thinking. I submit that it's only a matter of time before teams scrap their whole playbooks and design their offenses around their best athletes, not just their best passers.

2 Comments:

Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...

Prof:

Let's allow the "Wildcat offense" - aka the single wing - to stand more of a test of time before we anoint it as a successful strategem. The second time Miami played New England this year, the Dolphins didn't manage to score 4 TDs out of that deployment.

I assert that the "spread offenses" run in college football are not preparing QBs there to be successful in the long term in the NFL. The reason is that the spread works in college because there is insufficient team speed and team coverage competency to thwart the spread offense. In the NFL, those elements are there...

A QB coming out of high school who aspires to becoming a first round draftee by the NFL at the QB position would be better served going to a school like Boston College or Alabama or USC than to a school like West Virginia.

The "run and shoot" offense - - what Buddy Ryan called the "chuck and duck" - - is only one form of the spread offense and it lost its glory at the NFL level when QBs there were clobbered far too often by very large and very aggressive defensive players. Note that Mouse Davis - - the most visible proponent of the run and shoot - - is not displayed prominently in Canton Ohio. There's a reason for that.

8:56 PM  
Blogger rhickok1109 said...

A couple of technical comments: First, the "Wildcat offense" is not the single wing, it's merely the shotgun with a running back instead of the quarterback taking the snap.

Second, the offense described (designed?) by SportsProf in the original post sounds much more like Knute Rockne's Notre Dame shift and Notre Dame box than the single wing.

In the single wing, the skills of the four backs were pretty well defined. The tailback had to be able to runs and pass; he was often also the punter and placekicker. The fullback carried the ball on plunges up the middle, served as a lead blocker, and did the kicking if the tailback didn't; the wingback was small and fast, used as a pass receiver and on trick plays such as reverses; the quarterback (also known as the blocking back) functioned much like a pulling guard and was also a pass receiver.

10:39 AM  

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