Yes, I have another thread about the 2018-2019 season, but I want to use this thread more for random thoughts and ideas, specifically about football in general. For example, the first idea I want to write about involves evaluating pass protection. (Note: I started a 2019 thread, but I’m going to close that one.) With that, here’s the idea:
The Range of Pass Protection–From Good to Bad
I can’t remember if I’ve written about this before, but I would like to see categories for different types of pass protection. Here, I’m referring specifically to the quality of pass protection, from the worst to the best. Good and bad pass protection have certain qualities, qualities that can be measured by time to throw and the space of the pocket. The qualities also can be seen–good pass protection looks a certain way, bad protection looks a certain way, and the quality of pass protection in between also looks a certain way. For example, if the pass rushers seem stuck at the line of scrimmage for a relatively long time, creating big space between the QB and the pass rushers, this is probably the best type of pass protection. If one or more pass rushers get in untouched or virtually untouched (and not be design), that’s really bad pass protection. Pass protection ranging from competent to great almost always involve the OL starting in a straight line and bending into a “U” or a pocket. The O-linemen are in front of the defenders. In the best pass protection, the line bending into the “U” occurs gradually or even slowly. Pass protection that bends quickly isn’t good, but it’s still not the worst. In the worst pass protection, the O-linemen often look like a mass of bodies. Now, sometimes good pass protection can look this way, maybe if the defense has a really unbalanced line or something funky. But generally, good pass protection involves the orderly formation of a “U.”
After identifying the various types of pass protection, I’d like to count how often each of these occur in a game and then look at the performance of the QB. In the ideal situation, I’d control for the QB and the WRs–that is, they would be good. If you gave them good pass protection, you’d expect the passing game to be successful. What I’d like to examine is if there is a minimum number of certain type of pass protections in order for the QB and WRs to perform well. For example, maybe you at least 10% of the passing plays to have great pass protection. And if you have this you could expect a really good game. Or maybe the situation is more complex. For example, 10% may not be enough if 10% of the pass plays involve the worst pass protection. In that case you would need 15% of the pass plays to have great pass protection. Additionally I suspect the distribution of the various type of pass protection might also make a big difference as well. For example, here’s a possible sequence, with the numbers representing the order in which the pass plays occurred: 1(terrible), 2(decent), 3(terrible) 4(great), 5(decent), 6(great),….
My hypothesis is the quality of pass protection and the sequence of this has a huge impact on the QB’s confidence and ability to get into a groove. If a QB gains confidence and gets into a groove over a few games, that can be hard to shake. Such a QB can be more resilient to when bad pass protection occurs. On the other hand, a series of games with bad pass protection can damage a QBs confidence and they can get into a rut–a rut that can be just as hard to shake.
Bend Fast But Don’t Break Defense?
We all know about the bend-but-don’t break principle in defense, but watching the Seahawks made me wonder about another twist on the concept. What if your defense allowed an opponent to move quickly down the field, but you were really stout in the red zone, and was also good at creating turnovers? Wouldn’t that be better than allowing your opponent to run a lot of plays and eat up a lot of clock? The former will lower the number of snaps and time on the field for the defense, while the latter does the opposite. If you’re offense is good at controlling the clock, then your defense will have even more time to rest than if they had to play a lot of snaps in a long drive. If you could build a defense like this, would this be a desirable thing?
I’m not sure about the answer, but I wonder if you could design a defense like this. How would you allow the opposing offense to bend quickly while also preventing them from scoring TDs? That is, if the offense is making a lot of explosive plays, would have a lot of control over preventing from scoring on these plays. And if part of your strategy is allowing opposing offenses to get down the field quickly, I would think you’re forgoing three and out opportunities. You would also be losing the field position battle as well.
Why does the running game require so much committment?
More from Pete. I wonder what leads people to hold these beliefs about the running game and not the passing game pic.twitter.com/3TT3mGJiSt
— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) December 12, 2018
(Note: I wrote the above a while ago. I want to start this thread because I want to talk about some other things first. Hopefully I’ll answer the question about the running game at some point.)
90 thoughts on “NFL Notebook (2018-to the present)”
Have Teams Figured Out How to Defend the Rams?
Robert Mays, from the The Ringer, mentioned that since the Lions basically have ignored jet sweeps and running game when playing against the Rams, basically daring them to run on both those plays, and that other defenses have copied this, and it seems to have been effective. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, it raises some interesting questions.
For one thing, it supports the claim that McVay is a more of a pass-first guy, even though he’s running a more pro-style offense. If teams are going to dare you to run, well then run the dang ball! If he doesn’t, it strongly suggests he’s not really a pro style guy. To me, most pro style coaches, while they may lean toward the running game, they’re ultimately about taking what the defense gives you. Even for these run-first coaches, if the defense dares you to passs, I feel like most of them will pass. Pete Carroll, one of the more conservative coaches, fits this mold in my view.
Another question I have relates to whether an uptempo offense can truly be run-oriented. Running was a crucial feature of Chip Kelly’s offense as well, and he set up the offense so that both the running and passing would augment the other. But I always got the sense that the offense was predicated on the passing game, and that Kelly preferred to pass. I sort of have the same feeling about McVay. Additionally, I have the sense that uptempo offenses are mostly used to enhance the passing game. I don’t think I’ve seen or heard of a uptempo offense that runs the ball for 30 times. If that’s accurate, I’m curious to know exactly why that is.
Now that we’re finished with the playoffs, I’d like to revisit some of two questions I raised above–namely, 1) is McVey ultimately a pass-first guy, and 2) can a team that relies heavily on no huddle/quicker tempos also be an effective run oriented team?
Let’s take the first question. My conclusion is that McVey is a more pass-first guy. That is, he’s going to be very reluctant to run 30+ times, just because that’s not how he likes to play. Now, I believe this was not the case against the Cowboys, but my sense is that this is an exception that proves the rule. While McVey likes the pro style offense, he’s in line with coaches who have a more pass-first mindset (e.g., Don Coryell, Denny Green with the Vikings, maybe even Joe Gibbs with the 3 WR, 1 RB offense).
As for the second question, at this point, I’m skeptical that a team that relies a lot on no huddle and speeding up the tempo won’t be consistently good at running the ball, especially when they need to (e.g., the four minute drill) or in the playoffs.
If this is true, what’s the reason for this? Off the top of my head, I’d guess that playing fast is difficult in high stakes situations. When players feel pressure, playing at faster speed can be harder. Pressure also tends to slow players done, making them more hesitant and cautious (because they’re afraid to make a mistake or worried that the play will fail).
Okay, just to be clear: when you say “I’m skeptical that a team relying a lot on no huddle … won’t be consistently good at running,” is that what you mean? Or do you mean you’re skeptical that a fast-tempo team will be consistently good at running? From past conversations I’m guessing the latter, but I don’t want to bite back unnecessarily.
I meant the above–and I meant running consistently well in the playoffs and/or predictable moments (e.g., when the offense needs to protect a lead). Chip Kelly’s Eagles could run the ball and run well. They seemed to run less well to protect the lead in the second half.
Is It Critical for a QB to Throw Well From the Pocket?
For a long time, I have believed this to be the case. I’m fine if a QB runs the ball in option offenses or even relies on improvised scrambling–IF the QB can play well from the pocket (not only complete passes but protect the football as well).
Why is that? The main reason is that, at some point, especially in the biggest of games, the QB will have to throw from the pocket. On a related note, the QB will have to pass the ball in predictable passing situations–e.g., when his is down at the end of the game or in two minute drills. If a QB can’t perform well in these circumstances, their value diminishes greatly because the chances of this type of QB taking a team to the Super Bowl and winning it is extremely low.
In 2018, a few QBs are likely to put this theory to the test. I’m thinking specifically of Lamar Jackson and MItch Trubisky, and, to a slightly lesser degree, Patrick Mahomes. (I guess I could add DeShaun Watson as well, as we’ve never seen him perform in the playoffs.) What’s interesting about these QBs is that they play in an offensive system that relies on misdirection, schemes that can really help the players. The thing is, at some point, against the best teams, these teams won’t be able to rely on these schemes–the QBs will have to play well from the pocket. The plays from the pocket may not be a lot, but they often will be decisive.
Right now, based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think Trubisky and Jackson will pass this test. I tend to think Mahomes can do this, but I’m less certain–and I could see committing crucial turnover. I’m most confident about Watson at this point.
By the way, what I’m talking about is the difference between QBs like Russell Wilson and Cam Newton and QBs like Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick, and RGIII.
Thought Experiment: What if games were decided by who scored a predetermined number of points first?
Pick-up basketball games are usually won when when team scores a certain amount of points first. What if football games were decided that way, and eliminate the game clock. (Actually, you could also keep the game clock and allow two ways to win–either score the predetermined number of points first or have the most points at the end of regulation time.)
I don’t have the time and energy to flesh this out, but I think the value of this exercise would be to show how important the clock is and how it impacts the way teams play. I suspect this could also reveal the importance of running and defense.
You would need a clock and a whichever-comes-first rule, or you would for sure see your clock-chewing teams ditch that strategy. Without the clock wouldn’t it looks like arena football, or those touch football games we played in 8th grade PE?
You might also need a clock just as a mercy in those 12-9 games where neither team seems able to get the ball in the end zone. No clock works in volleyball and golf and (to a lesser extent) baseball because those games aren’t as brutal on athletes’ bodies.
I can see why this setup might appeal to you; you hate turnovers, and turnovers in a first-to-30 game (or whatever) would be a lot worse than they are in the current game.
Would speedy players be even more valuable than they are now?
It sounds like you think I’m advocating for getting rid of the clock, but I’m not. I actually think this thought experiment is one way to show the value of running and ball control.
If you did something like this, I think you need a clock, in a whichever comes first situation. But I wasn’t really thinking about the brutality of the game, although that is a valid point. I was just think the game might take too long to finish. Think about two really bad offensive teams, or two really good defensive teams. Now, while the game might be brutal in some situations, I could see it being far less brutal in others. You mention 8th grade football, and my guess is that the pass-first offenses would shorten games. Think about the Rams, Chiefs, and Saints (at least early in the season). Then again, not all teams are going to have that kind of explosiveness, even if they want to.
I think, in some ways, there would be less pressure on the players, which doesn’t appeal to me. Part of what separates great players from good ones is the ability to perform under duress.
Could you flesh out your thought, here? I’m not sure what you’re thinking.
I tend to think speed would be more important than power. When the winner scores a certain amount of points first, ball control becomes far less important. Because of the clock, one win to win is to prevent a team from scoring more than you do. For example, a team can by scoring on only a safety, if they don’t allow their opponent to score any points. But that approach doesn’t work if the winner is the first to score “x” amount of points. Even if you have a time limit, the win by defense and ball control doesn’t seem like a good strategy.
Having said all this, I think the running game would have to play a role in order to allow an offense to be balanced and not one-dimensional. (I think if running is important in this scenario, that can help show why running is important under the current rules.)
In closing. my sense is that a lot of the analytics guys under value running, and they’re almost completely blind to the importance of ball control. And yet explaining why both are important is really difficult. This thought experiment might be a way to show this.
Is this a Good Way to Evaluate Whether the Quality of the Run Game Impacts the Effectiveness of the Play Action Pass?
I don’t think it is, but I don’t have time to explain my reasons, now. I’ll try to come back and do so later. In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing what you guys think. Also, do you guys think the quality of the run game does have an impact on the play action effectiveness? On this question, my position is that while the play action pass can be surprisingly effective, even when the run game isn’t great, I do think a really good run game can make the PA more effective. From what I understand Baldwin’s position is that it has no effect.
How do you know when to credit or blame the players or coaching (scheme)–especially in the trenches?
There has been a lot of discussion about the way Belichick’s/Flores’s defensive scheme/gameplan shutdown the Rams offense in the Super Bowl. I don’t doubt that this had a big impact, but how do we know that the players–their talent, execution, and effort–weren’t more decisive? That is, maybe the Patriots defenders were just better, at least on this given day, than the Rams offensive players.
My sense is that pundits and fans, for whatever reason, attribute success or failure to the coaching, more than to the players. Offensive coordinators often seem to be frequent targets of this. “If only the OC called better plays, the offense would have been successful! But what if the opponent just had better players? Or what if the opponent’s players just outplayed and out-executed your team on that day? Is it me, or does this explanation seem rare? And how can we know when this is or is not the case?
I don’t have any clear answers to this, but here are some thoughts off the top of my head:
If know that a team has a significant weakness in a specific area, and this aspect of the team seems to have been instrumental in a loss, then I would tend to go not blame the coaching. This is especially true if the opponent had superior players in a team’s weak position group. For example, prior to McVay, the Rams strength was their front four, and the Seahawks weakest part of the team was their OL. I could argue this, not coaching, would be a big reason for the Seahawks struggling or losing to the Rams–especially if indeed the Rams DL overwhelmed the Seahawk OL.
On a related note, if a team has superior talent in the trenches, compared to an opponent, that seems like the whole story there–no other explanation seems necessary. Now, if a team with superior talent plays poorly or a team with inferior talent plays well, I think that suggests the coaching deserves more credit.
Let’s go back to the Super Bowl. Patriots DL didn’t see that great. The Rams OL did seem great. Using what I said above, that suggests we should credit the Patriot coaching. However, maybe the Rams OL wasn’t as talented as they seemed–maybe McVey’s coaching, especially the use of no huddle and changing of tempos (which he didn’t seem to do a lot of). Still, even if that’s true, I wouldn’t conclude that the Patriots DL was significantly more talented than the Rams OL. That takes us back to crediting Patriots coaching (and/or blaming Rams coaching).
Now, I should point out that this is a rather crude, and imprecise way to answer the question. A better way would rely on specific details about the scheme as well as having an accurate assessment of the talent and knowing techniques. And this information should be used to make a case attributing coaching or the players for a team’s success or failure.
Is Paying a Great QB a lot Justified When You’re Installing a Run-first Offense?
A lot of Seahawks fans like to point to Wilson’s great passing this year, and then make a snarky comment about an offense that doesn’t pass much. They seem to think this is inexplicably dumb; and it’s even more foolish to pay a lot for such a QB with this type of offensive philosophy.
You guys probably know that I disagree with this, and I’m pretty sure Don is with me. (I’m not totally sure about Mitchell, as I don’t recall him expressing strong opinions about this.) I’m planning to write up a case for my position, and what I’d like to do is quickly list the reasons for my position, and also the way I’ve arrived at it. What I’d really like to know if you guys have the same reasons and arrived at them in similar ways. I’d also would love to hear other reasons and ways you’ve arrived at your position. And if you disagree, I’d love to hear the reasons for this as well.
OK, agree or disagree with these observations:
1. Watching Marino, Elway (early in his career), Moon with the Oilers, Jim Kelly, Fouts, Warner’s Rams, Manning, Rodgers, 2007 Patriots, now the 2018 Rams and Chiefs–all pass heavy, explosive scoring offenses–I’ve concluded that these teams can do great in the regular season, but not very well in the playoffs.
2. Physical run based offenses, with good QB play–best offense for winning in the playoffs and Super Bowl. Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys probably best example of this that I can think of.
3. (Side note: I’d give slight advantage to Cowboys style offense over Bill Walsh West Coast offense.)
4. In support of run-first offenses, consider when Elway, Manning, and I think you could argue for Romo, finally had the best playoff success? It’s when they moved away from a pass-first offense. Also, Marino never did this and never had great post-season success. (I’d argue that Brady’s teams that were more run-based and defensive oriented had better post-season success.)
5. Pass-first explosive scoring offenses can lose or struggle to run-based offenses that aren’t necessarily great. Examples: Giants beating Bills in the Super Bowl; Titans vs. Rams; Patriots beating Rams (twice); Jets beating Patriots (AFC championship, twice); Ravens beating Patriots (2010?).
6. Pass first explosive offenses can win the Super Bowl if they’re facing that type of opponent–either because run-based/defensive team not that good, non-existent, or gets knocked out of the playoffs. (I would consider moving away from run-based approach if great defense and/or great run-based offenses became extremely rare).
Agree or disagree on these reasons for paying a great QB in a run-first offense:
1. Limit QB throws which increases ball security. Ball security is critical to winning the Super Bowl. Pass heavy teams has greater exposure to turnovers, which puts them at a disadvantage.
2. Winning in the playoffs/Super Bowl comes down to a handful of key plays, critical moments–say 4-7 per game. QBs often play a key role in these plays. More than throwing for a lot of yards and TDs, to win a Super Bowl, you need a QB to be able to make these plays and avoid disastrous ones. When you have a QB that can do this, this, not the volume stats, is what ultimately makes the QB worth paying a lot of money.
One way I think this became clear is to compare the careers and playoffs of Troy Aikman and all the other QBs I mentioned above. Would anyone argue that it wasn’t worth paying Aikman big money? People who argue this either don’t realize the importance of being able to make those handful of critical plays, or they think finding these QBs isn’t so hard to find. My sense, over the years, is that these QBs are almost as hard to find as a QB that can put up big numbers.. (Generally, if they can make the handful of plays in critical situations, they usually have the ability to put up big numbers as well.)
3. In some ways a great QB who is willing to hand the ball off a lot is even more rare and more valuable than a QB that is a great passer, but unwilling to accept low pass attempts. Normally, a great QB wants to throw the ball a lot, and won’t tolerate handing the ball off a lot. I point to Marino, a young Elway, Manning (until his last season), Rodgers. All these QBs are great, but would you want their post-season success? It’s not a good post-season formula.
Wilson seems to be like Aikman in the sense that he’s genuinely comfortable with minimal pass attempts. (To be fair, Wilson is not as good a passer as Marino, Manning, Rodgers, and a young Elway, but I don’t think there many QBs of Wilson’s caliber that would be content with minimal pass attempts per game. Or am I missing someone?)
4. Being able to accept minimal pass attempts is crucial because this allows the run game to flourish. I don’t think you can have a really good run-first offense without this–that is, the offense has to be willing to run the ball a lot.
It’s worth paying big money for a great QB, even with a run-first offense because
A. Run based (defensive oriented) teams have best chance to win Super Bowl;
B. Winning the Super Bowl depends on a QB making a few plays in the crucial moments
I don’t know where to put this and it’s possibly not worth a new topic, but have you guys seen any of the new AAF league? The ratings were good, but that’s a first week bump (the XFL killed in its first couple of weeks and then it was out of business after one season). I hear it looks like triple-A football, and I’d be down for that, since I enjoy triple-A baseball.
Didn’t watch the games, but I have time this weekend so I think I’ll try and check it out.
I watched good amounts (half) of the San Diego, San Antonio game. Mike Martz coaches San Diego, but they were far from the Greatest Show on Turf. What would make this more enjoyable at least for me, would to put the players draft position (if there was one) as part of the graphics? Then the “fans” would know which players were highly drafted and which players they should watch. I would also be curious to know which players were drafted first by each team. Did every team draft a QB with their first pick? I’m pretty sure they said the San Diego QB was the second overall pick. He was pretty good… The winner of the league should then set up a game against Alabama. Haha
I think the winner of the league should play Jacksonville or Arizona, but no way would the NFL allow that. There’s nothing to be gained by an NFL team playing a semi-pro team.
Did you enjoy the football?
The teams didn’t draft the players. Bill Polian and his people assigned players regionally, so stars in the SEC, for example, are playing in Memphis and Alabama. Makes sense — the local fans will know who these guys are. I looked at the rosters on the west teams and didn’t see any Hawaii guys, although I guess I didn’t look that carefully. Also, I probably wouldn’t recognize our recent guys anyway. Any chance Jeff Sydner is still around? 🙂
Oh, I read this on Wikipedia:
I thought it looked more like NFL football than college football for sure, but it could just be the coaching styles. I liked it enough to watch half of it. I fell asleep during the half and third quarter (and maybe part of the fourth), but that’s why I miss a good portion. I would definitely watch it again.
The worse NFL team should kill the best AAF team. I would think Alabama would be a better match up. Or do you think Alabama has no shot? Alabama probably has like one third NFL players, so I would think it should be close…
Idea for Changing OT Rules
1. Same as it is now, except if the team that receives the ball first scores a TD, they have to kick to the opponent, giving them a chance to score a TD. If the opposing team fails to score a TD, they lose. If they score a TD, they kick off and the next team to score any points wins.
The idea here is to minimize the importance of the coin toss.
2. The other idea was far more complicated. First, I thought OT would be additional time, with the teams just continuing where they left off. For example, let’s say if team A scores a TD at the end of regulation to tie the game. OT would begin with Team A kicking to Team B–and the next team to score wins.
That seems reasonable, right? But then I thought of problematic scenarios. For example, suppose the score is tied with 1:00 minute left, and Team A has the ball. They could try to consume as much time as possible until OT begins, and then try to score.
One way to address this is that the team with the ball last at the end of regulation would have to kick off to the other team at the beginning of OT. In the scenario above, Team A would try to score, otherwise they would have to give the ball up in OT.
But here’s a problematic scenario. Say there’s 1 minute left in a tied game. Team A has the ball on their 10. They can run a few plays and punt the ball before the end of regulation. Then Team B would have the ball for possess the ball without enough time to win, and would also have to kick off to Team A in OT.
Proposal #1 is simpler, and I can’t see too many problems with it.
I don’t like #1. But #2 is decent. What if the rule is simply whomever has the ball last in regulation will receive the kickoff in OT. That could change how games end. So if Team A had the ball with the score tied, they might not be able to just sit on the ball at the end of the game (ie: playing for OT) because Team B could call timeouts. Essentially it could add a little bit more drama and strategy to the last couple minutes of regulation of a tied game.
What? Huh, I’m a little surprised at this. I feel like there are several scenarios where this can be problematic, and rules to mitigate this are too complex, almost ridiculous.
But what if Team B didn’t have timeouts, with under 2:00 minutes, and Team A is on their 20 or less? In that situation, they’re trying to run out the clock so they can get it in OT, right? That would be a lame way to end regulation.
This wouldn’t be as bad if Team B came from behind to tie the score with under 2:00 minutes and now they’re kicking off to Team A. It seems reasonable that Team A can drain the clock and going into OT with the ball. But it would be less appealing if the game was tied for a while and Team B just punted the ball…Or would it?
But on the other hand what if Team B did have time outs in your scenario, do they call time outs? Because Team A still can score with two minutes left. I’ll just point out, no team with two minutes runs out the clock with the score tied. Would they be more willing with these rules that they would get the ball in OT? I doubt it. I think the team with the ball first wins only like fifty something percent of the time, that’s not good enough odds to play for OT.
That’s a good point. It seems like Team B is in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, which doesn’t seem very fair.
But my modification would be that the next team that scores wins. That is, the team receiving the ball first in OT could just kick a field goal to win the game.
I guess the rule could be that the first team with the ball in OT would now have to score a TD to win it (same as it is now). I wonder if this would solve the problem? So, if Team A has the ball with the score tied with 2 minutes, starting on their own 20, they’ll probably want to go down and kick the field goal, versus run down the clock, receive the kick, and have to score a TD.
But here’s one problem. Say Team is down by 7 and the tie the game at the end of regulation. They had the ball last–do they get the ball first in OT? That doesn’t sound right. I think we could just make a rule that if a team ties the game at the end of regulation, the other team will get the ball. (But the OT rules would be the same now–first team with the ball has to win by TD on the first drive.)
Is there a scenario that would make these changes problematic? (I can’t think of any, off the top of my head.)
What about this idea: If tied at the end of regulation, add five minutes and continue playing. Do you see any problem with that?
So no sudden death? Add five minutes and even if a team scores, just keep playing until the five minutes runs out? If that’s correct, five minutes gives way too much advantage to the team that gets the first, first down in OT. Because the other team will not have much time with the ball.
Would it really be a big advantage? And would that advantage be inappropriate? Let’s try one scenario, off the top of my head:
Team A ties the game, basically at the end of regulation. Team B now gets the ball with 5:00 minutes. Does Team B have a huge advantage? I guess if they could move the ball down into FG range quickly enough and then milk the clock, they would have an advantage. But that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.
What would be a scenario where a team that got the first first down in OT would have an unfair advantage?
(By the way, I’m assuming there’s a big problem with my suggestion–otherwise the league would have implemented this already. I just can’t think of the problem.)
I think the team that has the ball first now has like a 57% (kind of guessing, but it’s close) to win (and maybe tie) with the rules now.
My guess is that the team that gets the first, first down with the five minute added rule, would win or tie in the 80 to 85 percent range. You add a second first down to that, and the team would probably be in the 90 to 95 percent range to win or tie. If you asking if it’s unfair, maybe, maybe not depending on the scenario (I’m sure you could make a case for either, but same with the current rules.).
No telling if this would solve the problem of the Chiefs, Patriots overtime game because the end of regulation would have changed, but on face value I would think if New England scored in OT, Kansas City would have had less than a minute left to do anything (if that much).
I think I like the current rules over the added five minute rule if between the two.
An NFL Legends League Could Fill a Growing Niche of Players
In the older v-i, I wrote about starting an NFL Legends League, one that would be comprised of great players who can still play, but not for much longer, especially at a high level. Initially, I thought of just playing one game, as a replacement for the Pro Bowl, which I think is not very good. Players not wanting to play hard and risk injury seems to be the main problem. If you played a game with recent retirees, I think that could solve the problem. This idea morphed into a small league, with a short season, comprised of maybe four teams; they’d play a few games and have a championship game.
I thought of the idea recently, after hearing comments about players like Eric Weddle and Michael Bennett–namely, that while these players can still play fairly well, teams don’t want to sign them for a third contract due to injury concerns. Weddle is supposedly thinking of retiring.
The league I mentioned above would seem to fill a growing niche–i.e., older players who can still perform, but can’t get a satisfactory contract. While the league I have in mind wouldn’t be able to pay more than NFL teams, this would be offset by shorter season and fewer games. Some players might see his as getting the best of both worlds. That is, they can still get some money, still play the game they love, but devote far less time (and therefore have far more time to do other things). From a fan perspective, the league might be appealing because these players may actually perform at a high level, since they’re only playing a few games.
The one problem I see is that teams seem to need time to prepare and play a few games before they find their groove. That might not be possible in this scenario, and that may hurt the overall quality of play. However, this league could field four teams with really good players, I would be very interested in watching the games, especially the final championship game.
(The quality of play may also increase if players retire a little earlier than they normally would. Additionally, this might be an avenue to alleviate head injury concerns. For example, a player could shorten their years in the NFL, and play in this Legends League for several years, which should reduce exposure.
I could see this hurting the current NFL, so they may not like this idea at all. But maybe the NFL could oversee this league?)
Just for fun, I’m going to brainstorm some current and recently retired players that could be good candidates for this, off the top of my head:
Tom Brady/Drew Brees/Carson Palmer
Frank Gore (esp if he did this after leaving the Niners)
Megatron/TO (several years ago)
Dwight Freeney (a few years ago)
What Trade Deal Would Justify Trading a Great QB?
I don’t think any team has traded a franchise QB in their prime, but is there a trade deal that could make this happen? Or is such a deal something would be foolish to every offer? What about a 1st round pick for the next three years? Or 1st and 2nd for two years? Are these too much or too little?
I think one of the main issues with trading a franchise QB is the likelihood of being able to replace that QB. If you get a team’s 1st round pick for three years, depending on the team, this could give you three chances at a good QB.
Another way to look at this question: How good could your team get, other than at QB, if you got a lot of picks from another team? Could you build a great defense and running game, and would that be worth giving up a great QB? Off the top of my head, I don’t really like this plan. I’m not sure building a great defense or run game would be easy enough, even if you got a lot of picks. And even if you did, I’m a little skeptical how long you could maintain this level of dominance.
Are There Any Examples of Teams with Dominant Defense in the Regular Season That Lost to Unimpressive Pass-First Teams in the Playoffs? Are There Also Examples of Good Teams built on Defense and Running Game That Lost Badly to Teams Built on High Scoring Passing Offense?
I can think of several examples of passing teams that looked dominant in the regular season, only to lose to so-so team in the playoffs. Same with a good run-oriented team blowing out a good pass oriented team. But what about the reverse? I’m especially interested in non-Super Bowl examples.
Dallas’ two best teams in recent years lost to Green Bay in the playoffs, but Dallas didn’t have a great defense and they didn’t lose badly.
I’m guessing New England isn’t an “Unimpressive Pass-First Team”.
I know the Cowboys lost to the Packers in 2014 (the non-catch call), but when was the second time? Was this in 2016?
I think it depends on which year we’re talking about. What year and game did you have in mind?
I wonder if Elway’s early Bronco teams would qualify–e.g., beating the Browns in the AFCCG.
Yeah the 2016 Cowboys that lost to Rodgers, when he made that pass to Cook along the sideline.
Oh yeah, I vaguely remember that pass. Cook had a real good game ovearall, right. I think the Cowboys blitzed more than they usually did, too. Other than that, I don’t have a good sense of the game. Did the Cowboys not do a good job of controlling the clock? Anyway, like you alluded to, I wouldn’t really count this.
Going back to the Patriots. I don’t think they were a great passing team in 2014, when they beat the Seahawks, so maybe that’s an example. At the same time, they had the best defense they had since the early 2000s, I think–especially in the secondary. I can’t remember how good they were offensively. A part of me feels like many would perceive that as really good offensively, but they may not have been as good as their reputation. I tend not to think they were the passing version of the run-first teams like the ’99 Titans or ’90 Giants. Also, those teams were solid defensively, but not real impressive. Is there a worse team to win the Super Bowl than that Giants team. (They won with their backup, too.)
Random Thoughts on How the NFL Has Evolved
I was watching the 1982 NFCCG between the Cowboys and Redskins. (I wanted to see if the Redskins were a run-first team. I knew they had Riggins and that they went to the Super Bowl, but I knew that at some point Gibbs switched to a 3 WRs, 1 RB offense, and the offenses with similar position group that came after Gibbs seemed more pass-based (e.g., ’98 Vikings, 2018 Rams). I also didn’t realize the ’82 Redskins mostly ran a one back offense. But they used 2 TEs, not 3 WRs. I also thought the 2 TE set came in because of LT.)
But I digress.
While watching both teams, some thoughts relating to differences between the game then and now came to mind. Here are some of them:
1. I feel like the older style relied quite a bit on really good offensive line play, both in terms of run and pass blocking. In general, I think this is one of the things that distinguishes pro style offenses from college and high school ones. You can’t really run a pro style offense effectively unless you have an OL that can block and pass protect really well. (I think good TEs are also important. You also need QBs who can play from the pocket and get the ball to all parts of the field.) I think this is why you don’t see this offense run at college and pros. And the good teams that do, are able to get a lot of talented players. If this is possible, I think this is the best style. It’s balanced–the plays, formations, and players allow for effective running and passing, from each specific play.
Anyway, now think about the salary cap era. Getting all these players, plus a good QB, RBs, WRs seems extremely difficult, something that would be rare. The NFL is like college and high school in that one team can’t really get all the players to make a good pro style offense–at least not the way it was played in the past. Now, every NFL offense incorporates the spread offense, blending it with the pro style offenses, at least to some degree. Does the spread offense offset the need for the level of talent that was needed in past NFL offenses? I tend to think so, at least to some degree. You don’t need the same type of great OL, WRs, or RBs that you did in the past to be good spread offense. (Being great is another matter.)
Still, where does that leave the pro style offense? To what extent should NFL teams incorporate and be good at this? (I don’t know the answer.)
2. At some point I became aware the offenses I saw were ones that hadn’t experienced the 46-0 defense and the subsequent crazy blitzing (e.g., zone blitzing)–which reached it’s apex in the Patriots-Eagles Super Bowl (which I think of as the “blitz bowl”–Jim Johnson the Eagle’s DC and even the Patriots blitzed a lot). I feel like this blitzing style really changed NFL offenses–forcing them to find a way to neutralize it–which they did. Now, blitzing plays a smaller, complementary role, as I think it did in before the ’85 Bears.
Why is this relevant? I feel like the spread offenses played a key part in neutralizing the blitz. And I say this because I heard Bill Belichick say something like this. If this is true, then spread offenses have an important role to play in today’s NFL. In other words, even advocates of older pro style offenses should embrace spread offenses–i.e., it should be part of all NFL offenses
3. But I think for some (like the analytics crowd), they’ve embraced spread offenses too much, and been too dismissive of the run-first, pro style offenses. I think current NFL offenses need to be able to run the ball especially in short yardage situations, and to protect a lead. Spread offenses or pass-first pro style offenses can have decent running games, but I tend to think they can’t run well in these situations.
4. A part of me feels like the ideal offense is one that is good at both the spread and pro style offense, and does a good job of balancing the two. And when the offense needs to use one over the other, it can and will. (I really liked the way Tom Coughlin’s best teams did this. I also think the Patriots did this fairly well, at least in the Super Bowl.)
Is Running the Key to Ball Control?
I get push back from this claim from the analytics folks. Their argument is that making first downs is the key to extending drives and eating up the clock. They seem to imply several things from this–either running isn’t critical, or that passing is actually superior way for making first downs….
…Actually, if I can pause here for a moment to make an observation: The issue isn’t strictly about running or passing, but the nature of the offense. I believe a good offense built on a physical run game (Note: such an offense would have a good QB and WRs) would be better than a good offense built on an aggressive passing game. (A dink-and-dunk passing offense is a different matter, and I’ll get to that later.)
OK, back to my original thought. The analytics advocates also seem to believe that passing is just more efficient than running–the average amount of yards per attempt is a lot higher. Therefore, passing more or an offense build around passing can be just as good, if not better, at extending drives–and thus be good at ball control.
On some level, the logic is sound, but I disagree. If you guys disagree, too, how would you explain this? I’m really interested in hearing your ideas, because I’ve been struggling to articulate the reasons I disagree.
Here’s what I have so far:
1. An aggressive offense will almost never be good at ball control. If the offense is really effective, by nature, they will be hitting on a lot of explosive plays and thus move up the field quickly. If the offense isn’t effective (i.e., they’re not getting a lot of explosive plays or throwing incompletions or turnovers), they likely won’t consume as much of the clock.
2. Good running will lead to manageable downs and distances. Suppose that every running attempt literally gained 3-5 yards. If you have competent QB and WRs/TEs, if not better, chances of converting first downs should be fairly high. If the offense is running quite a bit, that should also keep the clock running and also provide better ball security.
3. Aggressive passing is bad for certain situations–namely, protecting a lead in the second half. Acting as if running, passing or different types of offenses are essentially the same, regardless of the situation seems like a blind spot for analytics advocates. If a team has a two possession lead going into the second half, the importance of ball control (and defense) become more important than scoring, and this importance increases as the game gets closer to the end. An aggressive pass offense is unwise in this situation, and becomes more inappropriate as the game moves towards the end. Think of playing an aggressive passing style in a four minute drill.
But why is this the case? Off the top of my head, I’d say the throws are risky and not necessarily high percentage throws–the approach increases the chances of turnovers and clock stoppage, the two things you want to avoid the most. I should add that pressure on the players can decrease the likelihood of completion. When the pressure is intense, I think completing a pass is more difficult than running the ball. Additionally, the rationale for aggressive passing is to score points. But four minute situations, the goal is to consume the clock.
4.Physical, run-based offense is best prepared for situations when ball control is an important goal. In situations where ball control becomes more important than scoring, the opposing defenses often realize this. As a result, they expect more running or conservative passing. A run-based offense with a physical mindset is best prepared to run effectively in this situation. I say this under the assumption that these offenses tend to emphasize execution over tricking their opponent. In other words, they want to be able to run in spite of the opponent knowing this. This approach is perfect for situations when ball control is important. (It’s also good in short yardage situations.) Now, consider an aggressive or even a more ball-controlled passing offense. Those offense can run the ball in these situations, but they’re less likely to run effectively–because a) they’re built on the passing game, and b) they tend not to employ a physical running style that imposes its will on opponents.
Now might be a good time to say more about ball-control passing offense. I think one of the best I’ve seen are Mike McCoy’s Chargers (2013-2014?)–especially when they had Danny Woodhead at RB and Ken Whisenhunt as OC. They were great at draw plays and shallow crossing routes. Anyway, in these type of offenses, the productive running (e.g., 2-5 yards) is still critical. Passes won’t often lead to a lot of explosive plays, so I think the offense needs productivity from the run game. If the passes did lead to explosive plays, then it’s likely not a ball-control passing offense. For example, I think the Packers offense relied quite a bit on what seemed like aggressive slants. The play design and personnel was such that these plays could be explosive. I don’t think calling them a dink-and-dunk offense was appropriate. Here’s another way to think of it: The passes are more like run plays.
But not only is running important in these offenses, it’s also tends to be more complementary. These offense are built on the passing game, not the run. The offenses aren’t designed to impose their running via physicality and execution. Because of this, I tend to think their ball control isn’t as effective when they really need it. (I could be wrong, though.)
The Tension Between a Great Coach and a Great QB
I enjoyed “A Football Life” feature on Roger Staubach. (Don, if you haven’t seen this, I recommend it.)
I want to talk about one thing that stood out, and it involves what I think is a double-edged nature of having a great QB, especially a great passer. The positives are obvious. What could the drawbacks be? Generally, great QBs are phenomenal at throwing the ball, and they’re confident in this ability. Such a QB is going to want to throw the ball a lot, and will likely have less patience with running the ball. I thought of this, when hearing several comments in the film. At some point, Coach Landry took over the play calling, and you get a strong sense Staubach didn’t like this. Staubach comments that Landry thought more about ball control when it came to the offense, and Staubach didn’t. At another point in the documentary, Mike Ditka said they were good for each other. If Landry favored ball control and Staubach wanted to throw a lot more, then I agree with Ditka.
But getting back to my earlier point–it sounds like Staubach, like other great QBs, wanted to throw and was impatient with ball control. I think this is a problem. I also think the problem becomes worse if you have a coach that goes all in with an aggressive passing style–which will please the QB. Think of Shula and Marino. Warren Moon and Kevin Gilbride. Fouts and Coryell. QBs like Montana may be great, but they don’t have the arm talent like Elway and Marino. Maybe it’s easier for them to accept a more run-oriented offense. Also, back in the day, a more conservative style was the norm, so even QBs with strong arms might accept this. However, at some point that changed. Now, a great QB who tolerates a conservative offense seems rare.
The other thing that stood is the tension that exists between great QBs and great coaches. There’s a clash of egos or even who deserves more credit. I think this happened with Walsh and Montana as well. it sounds like some of this occurred with McCarthy and Rodgers. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were fairly common–except we don’t hear about it.
One last thing. There are anecdotes in hear that support the way bulletin board material can impact players. (Go to 30 minute mark–I really enjoyed the Staubach’s remarks.) Also, there are indications of the “it” factor. I’d like to go back and re-watch him play, but my impression of Staubach, from watching him as a kid, was that he had this charisma about him (although I could have been influenced by the media, more than perceptions formed by watching him).
Max Kellerman claims (from sources) that Wentz will do what he wants, with regard to the play calling–i.e., he’ll change plays to the ones he wants (3:30 mark), and this really goes to the tension between Landry and Staubach above–or really any head coach and great QB. (Go to the 3:30 mark)
If the owner, Lurie, is siding with Wentz over Pederson, this is even worse. (It reminds me of Jones-Romo-Garrett dynamic and also Snyder-RGIII-Shanahan dynamic as well.) The QB is the worst person to all that power to. A balanced offense–a truly good running game, one that can be good when you really need it–will almost be impossible in my opinion. Why? The QB–especially a great passing QB in his prime–is going to be too biased towards passing. If he’s super confident, he’s going to tend to believe passing is the better option–even if the defense is daring the offense to run. The only chance for balance offense is if the coach or OC is the one with ultimate control over the offense.
And this brings me to Russell Wilson. Carroll seems to be giving him more power and control. They’re passing more. Are they going to be able to be a balanced offense? Are they only going to be able to run the ball effectively in ideal running situations?
If Wilson has a lot of power and actually chooses to pass a minimal amount and run a lot, he’ll be, as King George III said of George Washington, the “greatest man who ever lived.” (OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but the comparison is kind of apt.)
I thought this article, but Rich Gosselin, was interesting. According to him, he’s been ranking special teams for 38 years. I would have loved to have read his top ten list of the best special teams units. But in the article, he chooses his all-time all start type of special teams units. What’s interesting is that he discusses and describes specific positions on special teams, like the holder, protector (the last blocker for punters), etc.
By the way, has NFL films or ESPN ever done a show on the greatest ST units of all time? Here’s one I found on one of the greatest ST units:
Watching this makes me think of how to evaluate ST. Obviously, if ST blocks punts and scores TDs, that’s a very good. But I’m not sure if that’s the best way to evaluate a ST unit. It’s like defense. Sure if the defense generates turnovers and points, that’s great, but if they don’t score, that doesn’t mean they’re not great (or does it?).
My sense is that we could create a list of objectives for special teams and then rank them. For example, consisting creating bad field position for opponents would be important. Being great at extra points, and pressure FGs would also be important to me. Obviously, not turning the ball over, getting kicks/punts blocked would also be critical. I’ll try to write more later.
OT rule change–extend game by 5 minutes (Con’t)
The thing is, the team that had the ball first be natural outgrowth of the game up to that point. Compare that to a coin toss. OK, maybe this scenario might be problematic:
Team A ties the game with 2:00 minutes left. Team B starts from their 20. They essentially have 7:00 minutes to score. Then again, they should want to score, leaving little or no time on the clock. But if they don’t score before end of regulation time, they just have 5:00 more minutes. Is this too much of an advantage? I’m not entirely sure, but it kinda seems that way. Of course, if they score in OT, Team A will have a chance to score as well, and they may have a reasonable amount of time to do so (i.e., leaving little time for Team A might be really difficult goal to achieve).
I can’t remember what happened at the end of regulation. Did the Patriots tie the game at the end?
Unless we’re talking 10 seconds, I think Chiefs fans would take this.
I wasn’t saying the team with the ball first but the team with the first, first down would clearly be in the drivers seat. You may be right, fans may be more acceptable to this knowing it wasn’t a result of a coin toss. But my take is once a team gets a first down, and if I’m right their chances are 80 chance of winning or tying, then it gets less exciting especially if your team is the one that didn’t get the first, first down.
I guess in comparison to what happen, but without that comparison and if there was nothing to compare it to or if there were other alternative rule changes, I don’t think they would be all that accepting of this five minute rule either.
How would this differ if the score were tied in the 4th with 5:00 minutes to go, and the team with the ball gets a first down? I don’t see how the game would be more exciting in this situation. In the OT situation, the team that gets the first down still has to score, and they’re going to want to score–because if the game is tied, an extra 5:00 minutes would be added. (Maybe in the regular season, the game could end in a time at that point.)
I’m not sure what you mean. If the Chiefs fans could choose between the current rules now or adding an extra 5:00 minutes, you think they would prefer the current rules?
I wonder how many fans would prefer the current rules to the one we’re talking about. I’d like to know the reasons for this (as I’m struggling to come up with many).
The Chiefs wanted the rule to be changed to be that both teams gets a chance at scoring, that would be preferable to them over the five minute rule, I’m sure.
Oh OK. But did the Patriots score late in the game to tie? If so, I’m not sure the Chiefs fans wouldn’t want to have the ball with 5:00 minutes, versus both teams getting one possession.
Under What Circumstances Would a College Coach Have to Adapt Their Offense to the NFL?
In the quote below, Mike Leach seems to think that no adaptations needs to occur–a college offense can work in the NFL without much, or any, adaptation. If that’s what he’s saying I disagree. Here’s the quote, and I’ll explain my position afterward.
First, if a college offense is one-dimensional (e.g., option run offense or spread offense like run-and-shoot), the offense has to change. Why? Short answer: It is extremely difficult to win a Super Bowl with a one-dimensional offense. Super Bowl winners are good at running and passing. Playoff opponents will successfully take away a team’s strengths. The team that can best go to other things besides their strengths–i.e., “play left-handed”–often wins the Super Bowl. One dimensional offense, by nature, are poorly suited for this.
Second, one dimensional offenses can succeed in college because a teams are not stacked with talent. In the NFL, to win a Super Bowl, a team will likely have to defeat at least one opponent like this. And all it takes is one. If your offense or style of play doesn’t work so well against a team with a lot of talent and a more balance approached, winning a Super Bowl will be extremely difficult.
Do you guys agree with this?
UH under Rolovich is probably a pass first (and a very college-like) offense, but I wouldn’t say they are one dimensional. You could make a claim they are no-dimensional (as in not good in either). And I don’t think UH is an exception in being willing to run and pass.
In terms of talent, isn’t the reason college football is so diverse offensively because of the talent disparity? UH can only have a chance against a better team by using a June Jones type gimmick offense right? What am I missing?
All that to say I don’t think you are wrong. There seems to be “reasons” why NFL is slow to adopt college philosophies, but at the same time, isn’t the NFL more “college-like” than ever before, especially the run-pass-option stuffs, and the way mobile QBs are more willing to keep read the defense and keep the ball on running plays.
Are you just putting down UH in a joking way? Or were you being serious? You don’t UH is one-dimensional?
Yes, this is exactly right. I’ve only recently gained a deeper awareness and appreciation for the talent necessary to run an NFL offense. I think the level of talent required to run an option or spread option is a lot less. For pro style offense, you need linemen that can run and pass block. You need a QB that can make all types of throws from the pocket, calling complex plays. A TE that can block and catch, a rarity, is important. Several years ago, I know that Farrington HS tried implemented a West Coast offense. It wasn’t clear to me why more high school and colleges don’t try to do that. I think the answer is that you can’t find enough players with the necessary skills to do so. It’s much easier finding players to run a spread or option offense.
I think the reason we’re seeing this is because the salary cap makes hoarding talent really difficult. A small number of teams can have quite a bit of talent, but none of these teams are as talented as Super Bowl winners prior to 2000. And many of the other teams have even less talent. In other words, the nature of the talent in the NFL has shifted, becoming a little more like the talent pool in college and high school.
But as long as a one or two teams can have a lot of talent–and they predominantly play in the old school NFL–I think teams based on a more college style approach will have great difficulty winning a Super Bowl.
UH are far from June Jones’ offense. When Rolo first started, UH was running the June Jones’ formation (spread) but running more option from that set (almost run-first). That wasn’t really working, but they have since move to something closer to the pistol formation Rolo ran in Nevada. They have become more pass-first with that set, but yet they run the ball quite a lot still. They run a lot of RPO as well. And there are times Rolo will keep running the ball. Unless we have different thinking of what one-dimensional means. June Jones’ offense was one-dimensional, and Rolo’s offense at least last year was far (very far) from that.
Oh OK, the clips I saw of them, they seemed pretty much like a run-and-shoot team. But if they’ve changed, take UH’s offense out of this.
You remember Saint Juste from UH? I believe he has the highest single season rushing total in UH history. That was in 2017. You think Hawaii is an anomaly in terms of trying to do both running and passing in college football?
Here’s where I should acknowledge that I don’t watch college football games, so I should really pull back from making statements about college football offenses.
To be clear, I never meant to say that all college offenses are one-dimensional. At the same time, I would guess that most are not balanced in the way that NFL pro style offense are, and I do think some college teams run pro style offenses or something similar.
With regard to Kingsbury and Leach, my understanding is that both run a form of Air Raid offense, and my impression of that offense is that it is one-dimensional. Whether that is accurate or not, here’s what I would say:
To win a Super Bowl, an offense should be balanced. That is, the offense should be able to run and pass the ball effectively. More specifically, the offense needs to run and pass the ball effectively in certain situations. For example, teams need to run well when trying to protect a lead, or they need to pass well when they are far behind.
Additionally, to a win a Super Bowl, an offense can’t rely too heavily on schemes. That is, the offense’s success shouldn’t depend heavily on confusing or tricking an opponent, nor should it count on opponents not having a scheme or the personnel to defend the offense. If this doesn’t describe Kingsbury’s offense, I think he’ll have to change it so it does.
I would say 75% of the really good teams in college football are not one dimensional or gimmicky. And I would think most teams that are, do so because that gives themselves the best chance to beat the teams with all the talent like the Alabamas, Clemsons, and Ohio States. College football now though, have very few teams that are as one dimensional as June Jones and Navy. Most of the teams I would consider one dimensional are in the Chip Kelly type offenses. Where it’s more about tempo and they are pass first. But they will run a lot of draws and RPOs. Chip Kelly at Oregon was one dimensional?
I thought so initially, but I don’t think that’s right. I tend to think the pass sets up the run, though, but his offenses are about balance. But what’s crucial about Kelly’s offense is the reliance on no huddle/hurry up. I didn’t mention this, but I’m skeptical this approach can win Super Bowls. Why? I allude to the answer in my previous post–namely, an offense has to be able to do things well in certain situations. I’m skeptical that an offense that relies heavily on no-huddle/hurry up can protect a lead when they need to.
Another thing: I suspect if the college relies heavily on QB runs, that will have to be modified–at least finding ways to reducing runs that will likely have greater contact (i.e., between the tackles).
Debate: Do Body Blows Inflicted by OL Lead to Better Late Game Results
There was a debate on twitter about this topic. I’ve posted an article about this below. I’m interested in hearing where you guys stand on this:
Here’s the caveat: A team running a lot early in the game may not wear down an opponent–if the opponent is also running frequently.To be more specific, let’s change “running a lot early” into “having long drives, with a lot of plays, especially runs, that eat up a lot of clock.” If the opponent does this as well, this will minimize their defense’s snaps and time of the field–so the strategy of attrition may not be successful.
On the other hand, suppose the opponent had a lot of short possessions. In this case, I would expect that the attrition strategy would be more likely to take effect.
The quality of an opponent’s defense–specifically their conditioning and resilience. Some defenses are vulnerable–the can “break” at a lower number of snaps than a more robust, resilient defense. Additionally, there may be a cumulative effective over the course of the season that can affect the fragility of a defense. For example, if a defenses has played a lot snaps per game, at the end of the season, they may be more worn down. In contrast consider a defense that has played less snaps throughout the course of the season. Or think of a team that has had a lot of blowouts early in games, where defensive starters can be pulled in the second half. These defenses might be fresher at the end of the season. Finally, depth of a defense and injuries can also impact the hardiness of a defense. So even if an offense has a lot of long drives, with a lot of runs, and the opponent has a lot of short possessions, or very few, the opponent’s defense may not succumb to “body blows” for all or some of the reasons listed above.
I think my previous comments provide answers to the questions, but I want to add something. Other sports employ similar strategy–including boxing, where the “body blows” analogy originates. Full-court pressing basketball teams and teams that also play at a fast tempo (Paul Westhead’s Loyala Marymount Teams) employ a similar strategy. The body blows and running, respectively, will wear out an opponent. But the strategy doesn’t always work, for a variety of reasons. That doesn’t mean that pummeling an opponent in the body early on or full-court pressing an opponent at the start of a game doesn’t wear out an opponent at the end.
As I touched on in my earlier comments, there are mitigating factors. As far as I know, there is no strategy that is 100% effective, regardless of other factors.
Running plays do tend to eat more of the game clock. But what if a passing team versus a running team had the same number of plays and maintained possession for the same amount of time based on an actual clock. For example TOP for the first half shows 20 minutes for the running team and 10 minutes for the passing team, yet both teams held the ball for 40 minutes of actual time and both ran the same number of plays. Would the defense against the passing team still have an advantage you think?
I tend to think o-linemen rather run block. In most running schemes the o-linemen are hitting defensive players, whereas on passing downs o-linemen are the ones getting hit. That would matter in terms of attrition I would think.
Would the disparity in actual time be that much different from the game-clock time? Double seems like a lot. I know you’re just making up a number, but I wouldn’t think there would be a big differential.
But let’s suppose your example actually happens. I think both teams would be equally rested or fatigued. However, one main difference is that the running team would leave less time on teh game clock–i.e., 40 minutes versus 50. Maybe a good way to look at this is that they’ve left less time and snaps for their defense. Does that sound right?
The other thing I would mention: Can a ball control passing offense execute the 4 minute drill well? Can you think of any offense like this that was really good in the 4 minute drill or just protecting the lead in general?
Wait, in your example, is the running team playing against the passing team? If so, given your example, I would think the running team’s defense doesn’t really have a significant advantage–in terms of how tired they are at the end of the half. They both played the same snaps…But if they played the same snaps, but the running team has double the TOP than the passing team, I’m guessing the latter played a hurry up offense. Generally, I would say the running defense would likely have an advantage. But now I’m wondering if the hypothetical is possible. What would the scenario look like for this to happen?
Yeah, same here. I recently listened to a podcast with Richmond Webb the former tackle for the Dolphins. The interviewer asked him about the “body blows” theory, and he seemed to support it, mentioning that the one thing he’s learned is that defenders move away from pain, not move towards it. I’ve heard Cliff Avril and Michael Robinson (former Seahawks DE and FB, respectively) say similar things–i.e., defenders don’t want to deal with a good running game, and they mentioned this is especially a factor later in the season with banged up bodies and cold weather.
A New Way to Win–Making Significant Schematic or Stylistic Changes from Year to Year
I’m not sure how much I’ve written about this, but I’m pretty sure we’ve had discussions about the roles scheme and talent plays in a team’s success. We’ve talked about the way coaches either lean towards clever tactics and schemes or talent and execution, even though both are important. The hypothesis I’m about to propose is closely related to that topic.
Here’s the hypothesis: Offenses that can make significant schematic or stylistic changes, either from year to year or even at some point in the season, can create a dramatic, winning advantage. Some examples of mid-season changes are the Eagles switching from Wentz to Foles and the Ravens switching from Flacco to Lamar Jackson are two recent noteworthy examples. In terms of a year to year change, I would site the Rams from 2017 to 2018, where they adopted a no-huddle/tempo shifting approach in 2018. Other examples include Chip Kelly’s first year, the first year the read option and wildcat entered the league.
The basic idea is to install some scheme or approach that opposing teams are completely unfamiliar with, and therefore don’t really know how to respond schematically. The result is that players and coaches may be confused or may employ an approach that can be exploited. The offense can have great success as long as this is the case. However, DCs and defenses will always catch up at some point; that is, they will find an effective schematic counter move. The key to this mostly comes down to having enough time to find and implement/teach this. In theory, if an offense makes a big enough change, either from year to year or during the season, defenses and DCs won’t have the time to adjust. In this case, the offense would always be a step ahead of the defense.
One potential drawback is that the offensive players may not have enough time to master the new offense. They may be a little confused and uncomfortable, and that can often hurt their execution. But if opposing defenses and coaches are even more confused and uncomfortable, the trade-off may be worth it. The anecdote that I always think of is one involving Dean Smith, the UNC basketball coach, when he was an assistant under Frank McGuire. Right before a game, McGuire suggests they play a 1-2-2 zone. Smith protests, saying they haven’t even practiced that. McGuire says that if it doesn’t work, they can always switch back to their gameplan. Well, it worked. The opponent didn’t know how to attack the 1-2-2. On a side note, if I were a coach playing against Belichick, I would be tempted to do something like this. That is, just do something so different, even though your team may not execute it well. (On a related note, If Belichick’s success depends heavily on morphing his teams to match their opponent, if opponents dramatically change their style, I would think that could really mess up Belichick’s approach.)
By the way, one of the teams that I think about most regarding this idea is the Rams. My sense is that their offensive success depended heavily on their no-huddle+pro style approach. Opposing teams did seem to find an answer to this. If all this is true, I tend to think McVay, who seems like a creative offensive mind, will make another significant shift. I also think of teams like the Chiefs and Ravens as well. We’ll see.
Speaking of the Ravens…
Don, remember when we used to talk about an NFL team running the wishbone (or some option offense)?
I admit, if the Ravens incorporated Johnson’s offense that would be kinda cool to see. I wouldn’t want my teams to do this, but it’s kinda interesting to see.
I thought there were comments which said Lamar will not run as much as last year, and that they were going to “try” and make him a little more conventional?
San Diego defended (and very well I might add) Lamar with seven DBs for good parts of the game. Basically in NBA terms, playing “small ball”. Is that a reason why option offenses cannot work in the NFL? It’s because DBs can avoid blocks and make plays? If it’s that simple, and NFL teams follow that game plan, Lamar may not have a great season.
I believe the owner said that Lamar wouldn’t run as much. Who knows what that means, though.
As for why option offenses don’t work so well, my sense is that the key to stopping the offense comes down to just finding the right scheme or approach to defending this. Think of the wildcat or read-option plays. Both had great success initially, but not so much now. Why? I think it’s because DCs have found a way to defend those things–they’ve found the right scheme, defense. I think this also applies to the mis-direction type of plays that the Chiefs and Texans liked at one point.
Now, that doesn’t mean these things never succeed now, but the success is often more modest. I think sprinkling in these plays, versus making it the core, can be a good move. For example, I think Dallas could use more of Prescott’s running and even incorporate misdirection. I think if Seattle added some of the misdirection that Houston and KC employed, that also could enhance their offense.
Back to Lamar. If what I’m saying is true, Lamar isn’t going to have success unless the Ravens become more balanced–i.e., become much more than an option offense. He and the offense needs to be better in the passing game, in the spread offense and in more pro style sets. They can still run a lot of option stuff (like the Panthers), but they need to broaden it out.
Now, if they installed Paul Johnson’s offense, I think they could have a lot of early success. But eventually defenses/DCs will catch up (i.e., find an approach to effectively defend that offense).
(Note: The other reason option offenses aren’t adopted is that the QBs will take a pounding.)
In terms of QB hits, when you watch college games, the teams that run the “college-type” offense, don’t really take a lot of hits. For example, Urban Meyer teams, like to run a lot of RPO or even straight up option plays. I don’t feel like his QBs take a pounding or that they couldn’t run that type of offense in the NFL because of the QB hits. They pitch the ball early enough and they learn to avoid the hits. That same logic doesn’t apply to a Navy or Army QB, that do seem to take a lot of hits because of how many times they actually run/keep the ball.
Do you think Lamar or Wilson has a greater chance injury and/or wearing down during a season? I mean Wilson is spectacular at not taking hits, but a scrambling QB has a greater chance of taking a jarring unexpected hit. At least Lamar should be able to see his hits coming and brace or avoid it.
As you alluded to in your post, QB hits depends on the type of option offense. The Ravens and Carolina have run their QBs either between or right outside the tackle at times. The QBs are going to take hits on these plays if the keep the ball. Now, if we’re talking about read-option or RPO plays where the QB goes outside, the chances of taking a hit are less, but the possibility is still there. When Wilson keeps the ball, I’d say that a fair amount to times a defender gets to him pretty quickly. In other words, he’s often not able to slide or just run out of bounds.
For Wilson, the number of hits he takes is going to depend more on the OL and the then the WRs/TEs (to what degree the pass catchers can get open in a timely manner). If both are good, I think his hits will be minimal, even if they’re including the RO. But if either or both are problematic, he could get hit more than Jackson.
For Jackson, if they run a lot of option plays, and they don’t really reduce the interior runs, I think he’s at a greater risk. But he’s also younger, so maybe he can endure those hits better.
I’ve seen the Ravens run those, but I didn’t think there were a lot of those plays for Lamar. And on those plays, it didn’t seem like he took a lot of big hits.
I wasn’t alluding to the number of hits for Wilson, but the type of hits he could take because of his willingness to scramble, add to that the fact that his back is to the defenders when he does. I’m pretty sure Romo’s injuries all came while he was scrambling. He may have took some crushing blind side hits, but I don’t recall his injuries being from that. It’s always scrambling to make a play and then getting hit unexpectantly.
But how long would you expect this? I’ll say this: If he’s running as much as he did last year, I would put this as a greater risk than Wilson getting hit on the scrambles.
But if you’re asking me which has a higher risk, getting hit while running with the ball for yard or getting hit while scrambling or in the pocket–assuming the frequency is equal–I think the risk might be the same or close. So the bigger factor is frequency of the hits, especially with regard to getting worn down. (This is why I bring up the OL and WRs for Wilson. If both are good, I wouldn’t expect him to scramble much or even get hit all that much in general.)
(I do tend to think inside runs are riskier that scrambles.)
These hits are risky, but I don’t think he gets hit like this that often when he scrambles. What’s more common is that he’s scrambling, throws the ball away at the last minute, and then gets hit or dragged down. I think these can take it’s toll as well.
To me it’s not really that close. In fact I wasn’t taking into account the frequency being the same. I was thinking one of those scramble hits is equal to like five hits if a QB keeps the ball.
Yeah and that a testament to Wilson and his ability to avoid big hits and to his durability. Again look at Romo. Same type of play, not the same ability nor the same durability.
I don’t know how you can say this. For one thing, not all hits, whether scrambling or as a ball carrier, are the same. If you’re scrambling, and a defender chases you down and tackles you by the legs, that’s not going to be as punishing as running as a ball carrier and getting hit by a safety with 15 yard run. On the other hand, if you’re scrambling, plant your feet and get blindsided by a pass rusher that could be just as punishing. Wilson doesn’t often take those type of hits when scrambling. If anything I tend to think he has more risk staying in the pocket and taking a hit after waiting until the last minute to throw the ball.
Yeah, but to be fair, Wilson is probably the greatest scrambler of all time. Put aside the successful completions, the fact that he’s so adept and savvy at avoiding hits, sacks, and turnovers is really remarkable and underappreciated in my view.
Thought Experiment: What if the Game Clock Was Eliminated and Each Team Got an Equal Number of Possessions Instead
Like baseball, teams would get a certain number of possessions–let’s say 10–and the team with the most points after the team with the last possession would win. Someone suggested this to me, and it was something that never occurred to me.
Earlier in the thread, I proposed a thought experiment that involved deciding games by who reached a certain point total first, while eliminating the game clock. I proposed this primarily as a way to show the impact of the game clock on the way the game is played now.
In this thought-experiment, I’m not sure how or if this new format would dramatically change the way teams play. Anyone have any ideas?
The one thing that comes to mind is a scenario where one team reaches a lead that is impossible to surpass at a certain point before the last possession. For example, if a team has a 28 point lead, and the opponent has only 3 remaining possessions, the game is over. The team with the lead, on their possessions, would just take knee–their possessions would be virtually meaningless. Maybe that wouldn’t be a such a bad thing? Or maybe if you add more possessions this might be less of an issue, unless the teams are really unevenly matched. And if the teams are really unevenly matched maybe ending the game earlier is preferable.
Oh, I did think of a potential effect. Currently, the way both teams play in a game can impact the number of possessions in a game. If both teams control the ball for longer periods of time, both teams will have fewer possessions. If one team controls the ball for a longer periods and the other does the opposite, the former will have more possessions than the other. (Right?) Also if both teams have short possessions, both teams will have more possessions during the game.
In this thought experiment the way they play doesn’t affect possessions. However, the number of offensive snaps can vary, and this means one team’s defense could be playing a lot more snaps than the other’s.
Here’s two potential strategies:
1. Forgo snaps, and try to score as many TDs as possible, making it impossible for an opponent to win the game;
2. Run as many snaps as possible, while also trying to score. Here, a strategy of attrition is being applied. That is, if an offense has a lot of snaps per possession towards the end of the game, the opponent’s defense would be worn out. Longer possessions can give a team’s defense more time to rest in between possessions as well. However, an offense’s number of snaps won’t impact the number of snaps their defense has to play–which is different from the current rules. As far as I can tell, only the opponent’s offense and the way the defense plays will determine this.
The efficacy of these two strategies matter. If they’re equally effective or the first is far more effective than the second, I would conclude that running would become less important. One of the virtues of good running is that it likely leads to more snaps and greater consumption of time.
Question: Would eliminating the game clock reduce pressure on teams? I’m not sure, but if the play clock is in effect, I would think not–not by much, at least if the games are close until the end.
Oh, some other questions occurred to me:
–Does ST teams plays count as a possession?
–If a team has a defensive touchdown does that count as a possession?
I’m not sure. One thought: If both counted as a team’s possessions, this would deprive team’s of an opportunity to wear down an opponent’s defense. Additionally, the team’s defense that scored on defense or ST would have to quickly come back out on the field.
Oh, there’s also the possibility of eliminating kick-offs and punts. At the end of possession, the other team would receive the ball–maybe on the twenty yard line? Actually, I think punts are preferable as this makes field possession more critical, and would make the game more strategically interesting.
Impact on Blocking from Fullbacks
If I thought long enough I might have arrived at the points made by Belichick, but maybe not. In any event, I never really thought deeply about the way FBs could impact blocking. I mostly thought they had more flexibility in who they blocked and that could really add to a run game. Also, like TEs, they can put defenses in a bind because they can appear to block and actually block and then turn into a pass catcher. Defenses can have difficultly recognizing this, and/or be put in a bad position to defend the pass.
Interesting stats about explosive plays
I’m working on an essay about offensive balance, and I’ve been looking for video clips that showcase this in a pro style offense. I’m also looking for clips featuring one-dimensional offenses, either run-oriented or pass-oriented. I’m having trouble finding ones that show a sequence of play that display either balance or one-dimensionality. If you guys see any good examples of this, let me know
Oh, for balance, I would also look for an NFL offense that has a balanced mix of spread and pro style. The 2018 Patriots might have been a good example of this. I always thought Coughlin, with Kevin Gilbride, was a good example of this as well.
Running Against a Heavy Box May Not Be Foolish
Paul Alexander was a long time OL coach for the Bengals. Here he explains how an offense can run effectively against the Bear front which is an alignment that came from Buddy Ryan’s 46-0 defense. He mentions how Corey Dillon ran for 200+, twice (!) against a bear front, making the point that it can be done.
I don’t know 46-0 well at all, but hearing this didn’t completely surprise me, as I thought about this more. My impression is that his style of defense–and I associate defenses from DCs like Todd Bowles and James Bettcher–can give me big runs. I’ve seen it happen with Bowles’s and Bettcher’s defenses with the Cardinals. My sense is that the defense may will anticipate an area and just clog it up, but if they guess wrong–i.e., the offense runs in a different spot that’s not heavily covered and/or the offense creates enough of a seam and the RB finds it, the offense can gain a lot of yards. Alexander makes the same point. It makes sense, but it’s not obvious. The first reaction is that a team will have a hard time running against a heavy box. The logic that Alexander mentions never occurred to me, not initially, but it makes sense when you think it about it.
The question I have is, does this apply to all types of defenses loading the box (not just a Bear front/46-0)?
Analytics Advocates Saying OL “Doesn’t Matter”
Since you guys have watched football as long as I have, I’m interested in hearing your response to the logic and conclusions from post.
I’m not 100% sure, but the argument seems to be something like this:
1. Who the QB is is the biggest predictor of sack rates and hits for an OL.
2. QB pressure rate is highly correlated with time to throw.
QBs far more important than the OL when it comes to pass protection. The logic behind this seems to be that no matter how bad the pass protection (well, maybe not “no matter how bad”), the QB can mitigate this by throwing the ball away. Therefore, sacks/hits and overall pass pro comes down to the QB.
Do you guys read the article in the same way? And if so, do you agree or not?
Football like any sport is a team game so it’s so hard to isolate things like this. I agree that QB is more important overall in sack rates than the o-line. But that’s just one part of the game. What about running the ball? And as Reid continually harps, a team that cannot run the ball could struggle in the passing game. I’ll also add that QBs cannot always get rid of the ball quickly especially on plays that you want the give the receiver time to get open (like running across the field or hitch moves). And the piece mentioned Carr, but The Ringer guys claim that one of the reasons Carr struggles, is he limits his receivers to certain routes because he wants to get rid of the ball too quickly, and that there are times he’s not giving his receivers time to get open.
All that being said though, Dak is a prime example of a QB that makes his o-line looks worse in pass-pro than they really are. The piece mentioned New England, and I think if Dallas’ o-line was in New England, New England would dominate even more (I believe New England o-line had either the top or second best stats.) But Dallas had the highest sack total in the league last year, I’m pretty sure.
Unsurprisingly I agree that passing and pass protection/sacks are only one part of the game, but even if we’re only talking about the effects on the passing game the OL matters a lot. Don’s point about longer developing routes is a good one. To add to that, think of a situation where a QB hangs in the pocket waits until the last second, gets clobbered right after throwing–but completes a big strike. Theoretically, the QB could have avoided the hit by throwing the ball sooner, including throwing it away, but then you gave up bigger plays. In this example, taking the hit is more of a good thing (and not always the fault of the OL). It’s something all the great QBs have the capability of doing and it’s a important part of their game.
Also, related: Supposed you had a good QB and pass-catchers, but the OL really struggles against a four man rush. The QB can still get rid of the ball to avoid sacks and hits, but I’m pretty sure the QB and the overall offense would struggle, too. But now suppose this OL gives consistently great pass pro–including considerable time to throw–against four man rush. Does anyone think the offense would not perform a lot better?
If we’re only talking about 2018, I don’t agree with this. The Cowboys OL were a bit up and down–that is, they looked really bad, especially earlier in the season, and then seemed to get a lot better. (I also think adding someone like Cooper helped make the pass protection look better. It’s important to note that if the pass catchers struggle to get open in a timely manner, that came make the QB and OL look worse than they actually are.) Dak may not be great at helping his OL and pass catchers, but the Cowboys pass protection was awful. (Also, you have to factor in penalties and loss of yards plays that really made it tougher for their offense.)
Interesting variation of the RPO
Passing on First Down
Questions for you guys:
Passing more on first down became a hot topic in the 80s, with Bill Walsh’s offense. Do you guys remember it that way?
Also, I feel like since that time, this topic has come and gone. That is, people will advocate for this, and maybe teams will do this more, and then teams will get away from this, and then someone will advocate for passing more on first down again. I have a vague feeling we’ve gone through several cycles of this. Am I making this up, or do you guys recall this as well?
Honestly I don’t remember it coming and going in cycles.
Do you remember this topic coming up in the past?
Do you think the NFL is in it’s height in terms of passing on first down? For whatever reason, I felt like the league was passing much more five years ago.
I’m not sure. It could be that teams did pass more on first down in the five years ago. I’m not sure. I’m asking the questions because the analytics guys I know having been banging the drum about passing more on first. I recall not only that this point was made in the past by Walsh, but I feel like the league would go through cycles, or this topic would be brought up from time to time.
(Moving this from another thread)
The Benefits and Drawbacks from Passing More on First and Second Downs (in Neutral Situations)
Someone told me that the Seahawks were last in passing on first downs in 2019. Even though I believe in the run game, I think they should pass more on first downs. Being last, with Russell Wilson, the weapons they have now, and an OL that seems competent at least, is too low. However, there are some drawbacks to passing more on first, and second, downs. I want to try and explore some of them in this post.
Here’s how I’d sum up the problem: If an offense is successful passing on 1st and 2nd, they’ll likely get a first down. If an offense frequently gets first down, on 1st and 2nd downs, via passing, couldn’t squeezing in run plays become more challenging?
If the offense is having success passing the ball, then generally that means gaining considerable yards per completion (unless the offense makes a lot of short with limited yards after catch). The offense could make more 1st down conversations on 1st and 2nd. If the offense is passing more on 1st and 2nd, then naturally that could lead to more passing. Running the ball may be harder to come by. This is especially true if the offense adopts an attitude I’ve heard from Mike Lombardi–namely, that offenses should play a CFL style, one where try to make a first down on 1st and 2nd, rather than waiting to convert on 3rd down. The offense could easily neglect running the ball if they took that attitude in earnest.
Now, suppose if the passing didn’t work so well on 1st and 2nd–i.e., incompletions or negative plays like sacks or penalties. That also reduces the chances of running the ball.
To be clear, I’m not saying all of this will happen if an offense passes more on 1st and 2nd, but I do think the risk is greater. Off the top of my head, I feel like the sweet spot would be if the offense doesn’t have too much success passing or having too many negative plays. A few of both with a lot more modest success–say, passing that gets between 4-8 yards. I feel like this would not tempt the offense to pass too much and also not neglect the running game.
The Benefits and Drawbacks with Running on 1st and 2nd Downs (in Neutral Situations
While drawbacks exist for passing more on 1st and 2nd downs, drawbacks exist for running more on 1st and 2nd downs as well. Unless the offense’s run game is dominant (e.g., run 3.5+ yards per run with low variance), the offense will likely punt more and score less points–at least that’s what I would say off the top of my head. Even with a good passing game, such an would lead to more 3rd down situations, and maybe more that are longer yardage. Therefore, a greater burden would be placed on their ability to convert on 3rd down, which would be harder if the yardage would tend to be longer than offenses that passed more on earlier downs.
If this is correct, why would an offense, with a good passing attack, ever choose to run more on 1st/2nd downs–that is, why wouldn’t they tend to pass more on these downs? Here are some possible answers:
I feel like this is an important detail because when these offenses want to protect a lead or face a short-yardage situations, the offenses that operate more from run-oriented formations will be more effective. Think of an offense that plays like the Texans, going into the 3rd quarter with a 17 point. How good would they be at grinding the clock? Compare that to a team like the Titans or Ravens (and I realize the Ravens operate from shotgun a lot, but they’re sort of an outlier as their core offense is a shotgun, run-option offense–they can definitely run well from this formation). I’d rather play have a style like the Titans or Ravens.
On a related note, I’ve been thinking about the adage of passing to score and running to win. With the way the Seahawks are playing, could they execute this? I’m not sure they could, if they continue to play like the Texans or Chiefs. To be fair, part of the problem is that their defense struggles to stop opposing offenses–and they can even struggle to run a lot of time off the clock. Still, even if the defense got better at this, I’m not sure how good Seattle would be at grinding the clock to protect a lead–and that’s because of this stylistic shift
In conclusion, the Ravens offense or the old school pro-style offense like the 2014 Cowboys are ideal to me because their core offense is one that can control the ball and score. With offenses like the Texans and Chiefs, they have to go to different formation/style to grind the clock. I don’t really care for that.
(One caveat. Last year, the Chief, with their style, showed they could control the ball quite well. I saw them do this well in the playoffs. My sense is that part of this is linked to the QB running, on pass plays. The Seahawks with Wilson have shown an ability to grind a lot of clock with this pass-based/running QB approach as well. This pass-based style may be viable way at ball control.)
While I think Sean McVay skews more towards the pass–he’s more West Coast Mike Holmgren than West Coast Mike Shanahan, more about scoring than ball control–his offense fits a lot of what I like in an offense. For example, I love offenses that can run and pass effectively out of the same set, and then use play action and draws to utilize running and passing to enhance the other. I like how he’ll complement the run game with constraint plays like the jet sweep or end around. (I also like trick plays and things like half back option pass or flea-flickers.) All of this is basically what I associate with pro-style offense. And I think right now he’s doing this better than almost anyone else. (I like Kyle Shanahan seems to be more diverse in terms of formations/personnel groupings. I also like Gary Kubiak, but the integration of runs and passes, plus constraint plays is not as good in my view. I think Kubiak is better at installing the zone blocking scheme, though.) I have a feeling that if Bill Walsh were alive, he’d really like what McVay is doing.
Anyway, I actually wanted to post and comment on something that Eagles DC, Jim Schwartz, had to say about defending the Rams. The one that that stood out was that he thought his game plan was too simple. Normally, he explained, a team that uses tempo (i.e., no huddle), you’d want to keep your defense simple. That’s my understanding as well. But Schwartz says he thinks that messed his players up. If he made things more complex, the team execution might be more difficult, but the players focus would be more narrow and thus better. What does he mean exactly by that? I want to explore that. Here’s Schwartz:
Here’s my guess at what he means. If the defense is simplified, you’re maybe in base all the time or nickel, but the responsibilities of every player might be potentially broader depending on each play. Whereas if he has a more complex gameplan, I would think that means he has more schemes he’ll call. Each scheme will hopefully be better counter to the specific offense play. And in these schemes, the player has more specific responsibilities. He’s thinking about fewer things. On the flip side, he has to remember more schemes and that might make coordinating with teammates–i.e., team execution–more difficult. If you have a simple scheme, the coordination should be easier as every knows what their roles and they’ll have a lot of practice with this scheme. Using more schemes means less practice time per scheme.
I really would like to hear Pete Carroll’s and Bill Belichick’s response to this.
(By the way, I’m thinking about the Rams because I’m worried about how the Seahawks will defend them.)
Is running on 2nd and 10 a bad idea
That’s what I believe the analytics guys believe. To me, it’s not so clear cut. There are pros and cons to running and passing in this situation. A long time ago, I thought Bill Parcells held the opposite view–that he generally liked running on 2nd and 10. I think you can make a strong case, especially if the run game is reliable–i.e., almost certain to get positive yards. 3rd and 7 or 6 is better than 3rd and 10. The offense would also be protecting the football and eating up some time on the clock. Less bad things can happen (e.g., a sack). Defenses may be more concerned with stopping the pass, which, if true, will create better running opportunities.
The 2020 season vividly shows the way penalties can be drive killers
In 2020, the offenses, so far, have been moving the ball, almost at will and scoring a lot of points. Interestingly, their movement is closer to methodical, than explosive, although there are explosive plays. Looser officiating, especially on OL holding, no crowd noise, and the lack of a preseason preventing defenses from practicing tackling have all been explanations. These reasons seem persuasive.
Essentially, most of these explanations come down to improve OL play and the reduction of negative plays. These two things alone can increase the chances of extending drives, and extending drives increases the chances of scoring (obviously).
Going into the future, the league should consider lenient officiating towards holding. (I think they’ve been lenient on false starts for several years, which, in general, is a good thing, I think.) Additionally, I think they should consider reducing holding penalties to 5 yards or maybe even something between 5 and 10 yards. A 10 yard penalty can almost be a drive killer, and it might be a good idea to reduce that effect.
Another indicator of a balanced offense
I was re-watching the Seahawks-Dolphins game, and I noticed that while Carson had some nice runs, the run game never really got into a good flow, and that bugged me. I realized that this is one of the reasons I think the Seahawk offense (or any offense like it) is more one-dimensional, pass first.
One way to think of a really balanced offense is if both the running and passing games seem to in rhythm. In fact, in the best passing offenses the two seem intertwined, almost in a fugue-like fashion, if that makes sense. Right now the best demonstration of this is the Rams offense. (I think the Patriots have often been like this, too.)
By the way, by “flow” I mean a series of effective plays, which creates the impression the offense is gaining momentum and the defense is struggling to stop that one dimension. The impression is strengthened if the defense seems to put more effort into stopping this one dimension, but still struggles to do so. By the way, the plays need not be consecutive, but they can’t be spread out too much or too infrequent, either. For example, on a 10 play drive, if only 3 are running plays, even if the offense gains good yardage on those 3 plays, that probably wouldn’t count as being in a flow or groove. Now, if possessions before or after this, if the offense ran quite a bit and was productive, then this could qualify–if we’re looking at the overall performance of the offense, versus performance on one specific possession.
Virtues of the 3-4 defense
Urban Meyer explains the virtues of the 3-4 defense.
At some point in the 80s, I started to prefer 3-4 defenses over 4-3 defense–for reasons Coach Meyer explains. To me, it was the variations of rushing the passer that the 4 LBs could allow. It was more of an aggressive attacking defense compared to the 4-3 as well.
But at some point in the 2000s, and basically by the beginning of the 2010s, I think the 3-4 fell out of favor–including with myself. My sense is that the spread offenses, with three or four WRs and/or more mobile TEs found ways to effectively neutralize blitzing. A Patriot game against the Steelers early in Brady’s career crystalized this for me. (I believe Charlie Weis was the OC.) In this game, getting rid of the ball quickly seemed to be the number one goal of the offense. It almost didn’t matter if they gained a lot of yards.The Patriots just wanted to make the Steelers blitzes a non-factor–and that they did. I almost sensed the Steelers frustration. They wanted to hit Brady, but the Patriots denied them this satisfaction. (I’m not just talking about denying sacks, but hitting Brady. Brady would get the ball out too fast.)
To me, this is what the spread can do. 4 LBs against 3 or more pass-catchers is not a good situation for a defense. The defense could go to nickel or dime, but those extra DBs better be good at pass coverage. My sense is that the good, aggressive 3-4 defenses generally rely more on the front seven. My sense is that they don’t have a lot of good coverage DBs. If that’s generally the case, adding another DB or two might not really be a good counter to the spread.
(If you think of the great 3-4 defenses, how many of them had a great secondary in terms of coverage? Maybe Rex Ryan’s best Jets teams are an example of this. Is it true that teams with great secondaries–particularly in terms of having lockdown coverage–were mostly from 4-3 defenses?)
I mentioned that 4 LBs versus 4 good pass-catchers is not a good match-up for the defense. I also mentioned that a counter to this is bringing in extra DBs, but if many 3-4 defenses don’t have a lot of good cover DBs, then this might not be a good adjustment. But suppose the fifth or sixth DB is solid at coverage. One drawback here is that run defense may suffer as a result. In the heyday of 3-4 defenses, the 4 LBs would not only allow for more difficult to defend pass rushes–which would enable a good pass defense–but the run defense would not suffer. Indeed, run defense for a good 3-4 might be even better than a run defense from a 4-3.
Now let’s go back to the 3-4. Suppose the fifth and sixth DB you bring in is solid in coverage, but also can defend the run. Think of a strong safety or even a physical free safety. Seattle’s two safeties–Jamal Adams and Marquise Blair made me think of this. Adams would be in all the time as a strong safety, but Blair actually converted to the slot cornerback last year. But he’s a player known for his hard-hitting.
The Seahawks are not a 4-3 defense, but they seem to be moving more to a Bear front, where one DT basically becomes a nose guard and the other DT and DE play more inside–almost like DEs in a 3-4. When I watched some videos on the original 46-0 defense, it seems more like a 3-4 defense–like a 4-3 acting as a 3-4. It’s about attacking. (Are there any good 3-4 defenses that are less aggressive? I think there are, and my guess is that these defenses will look like or function more like a 4-3.) Anyway, back to the Seahawk defense. The LBs in a 3-4, with their athleticism and versatility, make that defense work–both in terms of defending the run and pass. But what if you have a defense achieves something similar by relying on safeties, playing with three or even four at the same time? That is have a defense that functions like an aggressive 3-4, but relying more on safeties?
Yes, but the LB on the LOS can actually drop into coverage, and a different LB (or DB) could rush. Or they could send both OLB or some combination of LBs and DBs. Later, with a zone blitz, they will now drop a DL into coverage.
My sense is that 4-3 defenses generally don’t have this type of shifting of players moving to rush or drop. In a way, it seems simpler and less confusing. Do you know what I mean?
But now, I think 3-4 defenses behave like 4-3 defenses and vice-versa. In terms of the MO, all NFL defenses are a hybrid of the two. When the 4-3 became en vogue, 3-4 defenses starting behaving like this 4-3 defenses. Now, i think Fangio’s 3-4 is the thing, and 4-3 defenses are taking on that approach. (The Seahawks have shifted to a 3-4 defense. The DC is a Fangio guy. Also, I watched some of the Cowboys sacks last year. They looked like a 3-4 in those clips.)
More on 3-4 versus 4-3 defenses
I wanted to ask you guys about your understanding of the differences between 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. Coincidentally, the last post in this thread was basically about this subject. I saw some remarks in the post that I wanted to comment on, but before I do, I’m interested in hearing your understanding of the difference between the defenses?
For me, 3-4 defenses just seemed “trickier” and more attacking. That is, the defense attacks the offense with different players, in more complex ways. In comparison, 4-3 defenses seem simpler, and less aggressive, tending to be more of a bend-but-don’t break style. 4-3 defenses can be aggressive and attacking defenses, too, but the attack derives from good players more than from scheme trickery. I feel like player versatility in the 4-3 is less important than in a 3-4–at least traditionally.
I feel like one of the main reasons for the difference has to do with the 3 versus 4 DL. The odd front would lead to sending at least one other player to the LOS, with greater frequency. This creates more options for the DC, but it also leads to more adjustments by all the other players. That is, 3-4 will naturally lead to greater complexity and variety with regard to scheme/positioning. In a 3-4, if one of the LBs usually has to attack the LOS, it’s easy to see how this could eventually lead to sending a safety or even a CB. The coverage would just have to adjust to this in a different way. But the adjusting coverages, moving around players, is just a natural part of the defense. And then finally, 3-4 defenses could send multiple LBs/DBs, while dropping a DL into coverage. All this type of movement can create a lot of confusion for the QB/OC. This idea is consistent with the 46-0, which is technically a 4-3 defense. My understanding is that the 46-0 basically utilized 3 DT, which basically made it like a 3-4.
However, a traditional 4-3 doesn’t naturally lead to frequently sending a LB (or DB) to rush the passer. The even front almost makes the spacing more balanced, creating a tendency to not send another player to the LOS. (And maybe it’s harder to disguise?)
Do you guys basically have the same understanding of the two defenses?
In today’s game the 3-4 and 4-3 has morphed. “In the olden days” or “back in the day”, 4-3 would actually mean you have four down linemen, or four players in the three point stance, with one hand on the ground. Dallas plays a 4-3, but Micah is hardly ever in the three point stance.
I think traditionally though, you would be right 3-4 defenses are more attacking. They would really have five guys along the LOS, with the three down linemen and the two outside LBs. But many 4-3 teams do that now as well. They would drop the SAM and put him almost on the LOS. That’s pretty much Dallas’ base defense, with two LBs split versus having one in the middle. Or if the formation looks like there is only one middle LB, that is usually the WILL playing the middle with the MIKE usually shaded to the strong side or like in Dallas’ case, they would be in the nickel and only have two LBs on the field.
Actually the real shift in the NFL seems to be that most teams play nickel almost 70% of the time? TV coverage even introduce 12 defensive players now as part of the starters with the nickel corner being the extra guy being introduced. Dallas’ nickel on early downs is usually a safety. I’m pretty sure Dallas’ third safety had way more snaps than Dallas’ third LB last year.
Is the 3-point really that significant, though? I feel like having four players at the LOS–responsible for either rushing the passer or defending the run at the LOS. If they have Parsons dropping into coverage quite a bit, and then bringing another LB or DB to attack the LOS, then, that’s more like a 3-4 MO than 4-3.
Creating a 5-2 look? I’ve seen that a lot. When we were in high school and college, I feel like the NFL rarely gave looks like that. This was mainly something you’d see in High School or college football.
In any event, I think this is different from the 3-4 approach, though. To me, 3-4 would have more varied looks in comparison to the 4-3.
I don’t know if it’s that much, but it’s a lot more. That’s likely because 11 personnel (3 WRs, 1RB) is way more common now.
But don’t you think a nickel 3-4 is different from a 4-3 nickel?
By the way, the one 3-4 defense that is not as attacking, to me, and seems more like a 4-3 is Vic Fangio’s 3-4. This is not to say that his defenses don’t attack or blitz, but it’s more conservative than LeBeau and his disciples or the Ryan brothers or even Todd Bowles. But I actually think that those crazy blitzing 3-4 teams are really out of favor. They play more of a bend-but-don’t break/position defense–and they’re more selective when they want to be really aggressive–which, to me, seems like a feature of the 4-3. (Are there any 4-3 defenses/DCs that were “crazy blitzers?” I think Gregg Williams is the only one that comes to mind. Maybe Jerry Glanville? I can’t remember if he’s a 3-4 or 4-3 guy, though.)
So prior to LT, I thought it was easy to tell the 3-4 versus the 4-3 based on the amount of down linemen or guys with their hands on the ground. The Giants played a 3-4, but LT was almost always on the LOS and standing. I want to say he made standing on the LOS popular. In the current game, I don’t ever see a team with a 3-4 or 4-3 line up have less than four guys on the LOS. For example you never see four LBs lined in a straight line a few steps beyond the LOS.
Maybe I’m wrong, but in terms of the Cowboys I wouldn’t doubt if they are in some form of a nickel 70% of the time or more even when teams are in a normal set with two RBs. Their base nickel or the nickel defense on early downs is called the heavy nickel with an extra safety. Then on passing downs they play the light nickel or the nickel with the extra DB.
I really cannot see the difference. So all teams rush at least four, unless they are in the prevent. So 3-4 teams rush a LB and that’s the difference? Whatever the case there are four rushers, two LBs, and five DBs. In Dallas case, I feel like their nickel will only have one true LB, with Micah rushing the passer and an extra safety. So on those plays, Micah truly plays as a end, Vander Esch is the only LB, then they would have three other linemen, three safeties and three DBs. So they are playing pretty darn small.