"Like I said before, if you werent in the room with Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne, then you stole it from somebody"
- Chip Kelly
I like so many things about Coach Kelly's approach, but this quote might be what I like best. Football is a game of handed-down knowledge, and few coaches have had his recent success. Whether or not he continues that success with the Eagles is beside the point (I am interested to see how they handle personnel turnover, with released players singing with other teams and giving signal/ procedural information to calling the offense); his innovation is well documented, but the credit he gives to his past experiences is also apparent.
This made me start thinking about the people who I was lucky enough to learn from, and where different components of what I consider as "my" offensive system evolved from:
- I learned John Mackovic's system as a college player. His system had its roots in Tom Landry's offense, as he was an assistant for him. The system contained everything, including KEY screens that are so much a part of today's spread environment. Also, as the Cowboys and 49ers dominated the NFC in the early and mid-90s, influxes of those passing games trickled into our own, using NFL film as a teaching tool. Multiple shifts, motions, and personnel groupings were a focal point of the attack. Cleve Bryant, my position coach, fostered my thirst for knowledge as he let me handle our passing game quality control. Gene Dahlquist (OC/QBs) was an excellent teacher of passing mechanics and the progression-based passing game.
- My first boss, Kurt Nichols, taught me how to be in a single-back, 3-receiver environment on an every-down basis. I learned the constraints of the zone running game from a spread out environment. At the same stop, a former GA for John Jenkins, Wes Cope, taught me the inner workings of the Run & Shoot passing game.
- My second post reconnected me with a former assistant at Texas, Jack Kiser. I will forever be endebted to Jack for feeding my thirst for knowledge; while there, he flew in both Norm Chow and the late great Mike Heimerdinger for clinic sessions. For any young passing-minded coach, these sessions were a dream come true -- I learned the BYU system verbatim, and 'Dinger's take on the staples of the West Coast Offense, and its evolution to one-back sets. Coach Kiser let me install the passing game, and this experience proved invaluable.
- Along the way, Bill Mountjoy served as a constant resource. As I was trying to mold the axioms I beleived in into a system, much of the focus was on Joe Gibbs' offenses in Washington. This would not have been possible without Bill. Bill also introduces me to John McGregor, a longtime Henning assistant. No matter how crazy the idea, I could be assured of constructive feedback. Also, John helped use his connections to get all-access exposure to Mike Martz's Rams in their heyday, as well as Bruce Arians' translation of the Colts vaunted system. To this day, the exchange of ideas is constant.
- At the age of 25, Phil Wickwar gave me total autonomy of an offense, as did Tommy Felty in my next job at 27. Our teams were a laboratory of sorts, and both these coaches gave me the authority to experiment as I saw fit. For example, our athletic dropback passer Billy Malone had two 80 yard runs on the zone read in 2000. It is during these stops where the vertical reads of the run and shoot were streamlined and rhythm became more defined to fit with the rest of our progression- based passing attack. The numbers advantage princple came to fruition in our "3" pattern - our version of the Run and Shoot CHOICE route. Moreover, an extended no huddle attack was used for the first time.
- While at North Lamar, I corresponded with the late great Homer Smith. Always willing to answer questions and send me drill tapes, I will be forever grateful. He taught me the most in terms of using backside receivers and thus attacking with all 5 receivers on every play.
- Though several years removed from college, my connections with my Alma Mater were still paying dividends. My friend and teammate, Todd Ford, began working for another Longhorn -- Todd Dodge. Coach Dodge's system and QB/WR methods are legendary in Texas, and being an annual coach at his camps exposed me to some tremendous knowledge. For example, I got to meet (among several others) Clayton George, who elevated the way I taught receivers. Also in this time, Greg Davis' openess to share his insight is evident in looking at my offenses. A former teammate of mine (former Texas QB and current MD Richard Walton) called Coach Davis the best teacher he has ever had. The UT record books reflect this as well.
- At Lenoir-Ryhne, I met John Patterson, who encouraged my constant evolution in the passing game, tirelessly searched for ways to protect for all the routes I was diagramming. In 2002, we boasted the league's leading passer and school record holder, Brett Meuneir. It was during this stop when we began combining 3 step patterns with backside outlets that came open with 5 step timing -- blending some Run and Shoot ideas with Homer Smith's. Also, during the 2003 season, JP and I began developed a highly evolved read system to take advantage of our running QB, Scott Branton.
- Also prior to the 2002 season, Steve Kragthorpe let me come up and sit in on meetings with the Bills. Drew Bledsoe had just been acquired, and on his way to a Pro Bowl season in Kevin Gilbride's newly installed system. Many of the Run and Shoot patterns were obvioulsy familiar; I did discover some protection adjustments that would pay dividends in the future, as well as the principle of always throwing away from the MLB as a means for throwing levels-type patterns this would go on to become our Mike tags in the first book and RAM principle in the second.
Anyone who had followed the evolution of my passing system can see that the X's and O's didn't change from the first book to the next; the organization is the driver of change. Much of the language is my own, although the idea of numbering receivers on a side comes from Marty McClintock, who was the head coach at Borger High School in Borger, TX. My parents had moved to Borger during my college years, and Coach Mac was always accomodating enought to talk ball with me back then. Of course, none of this would have happened without my high school coach, Allen Wilson. He's the man who taught me how to win, how to have faith in the face of adversity, and how this game can influence the lives of many. None of the previous would have been possible without Coach Wilson.
We categorize the scoring zone as beginning at the +25. We will have four field zones:
- +25 to +15
- +14 to +10
- +9 to +6
- +5 to GL
Here, we will create a mini-field of sorts, as we now consider down and distance as well as field position. Run and Pass situations are studied here separate from the open field (especially from the +9 and in), as the lack of depth to defend allows the defense to play more aggressively.
As we approach the +25, we will closely examine any opportunities we have to CREATE big plays. While this is true for any strategic situation, the Scoring Zone obviously is different because of how defenses look at this area of the field. One example of MANUFACTURING a big play would be the use of play action tags on pocket passes. Below, the stacked formation gives assures the X of great leverage on the corner (who must play outside). The quick run fake can help hold LB drops momentarily and isolate the B safety.
Another example of MANUFACTURING a big play would be a thorough examination of EMPTY SETS. It isn't uncommon for a defense to check to some sort of pressure package vs. no-backs, especially in this part of the field. We can use this tendency to our advantage:
In the diagram above, we align with in an empty set to encourage the defense to make it's standard empty blitz check. Our play call is a standard 3 level pass with a six man protection, but we start with an empty look with a predetermined motion back into the backfield. If we had simply lined up in the one back set; the defense in all likelihood played its basic 2 high defense. Here, we give our offense the extra look at the post by getting the defense to check to a blitz (and thus a vacant middle)...
Conversely, many zone-based defenses will stay in the called defense versus motion. Thus, we can get to empty sets by MOTIONING TO the desired formation. Below, the late movement can cause some confusion as the B safety must go from cross keying (in a 3-1 set) to having 2 receivers on his side. At any rate, he is not a factor in the play, as we want the confusion to be on the defenses part, not the offense. In the play below, we are hoping for a shot to the post, but if not, having a standard SCAN concept from the drag to the middle.
As, the team approaches the +14 to + 10, we lose the ability to run traditional FLOOD routes, and things happen faster in the decision process. The Scoring Zone thought process of thinking "Touchdown to checkdown" is nothing new; what we are able to do in this system, however, takes this a step further, as we are able to COMMUNICATE the desires to the QB as part of the play call. Here, the REDSKIN tag let's the QB know he is thinking B to Y if the seam is not thrown. It is a departure from the normal thinking on DRIVE, and one of the benefits in having this play calling flexibility.
One of my favorite Scoring Zone plays from the +14 is something I learned back when I was a player at Texas. The structural tag is FIT, which stands for FORK INSIDE A TWO. The featured route, the Fork, is a post or flag option off of the Deep Safety. Using a formation with a wing can help isolate the backside safety as the front must cover two extra gaps; a single-high coverage will be vulnerable to the T's seam.
From the +9 to the +6, the use of fast motion here can also give favorable leverage and a more decisive read for the QB when using the RAM advantage principle. The linebackers bumping with motion will give a pre-snap indicator of direction (hopefully to the TURN/ FLAT), and if the Y can cross the defender's face, a quick-rhythm touchdown can be had.
The "mesh" play is an obvious choice in this situation, although our system offers an interesting twist: using the numbers advantage principle, we can attack a defense that will man up the backside corner and try to roll the coverage strong:
Using the NUMBERS Advantage Principle, we are able to direct the QB to backside crossers vs. 1 high (in this instance, we are treating the backside safety inside the hash as 1 high). The corner chasing X gives us a clear shot to Y. If it is 2 high, the QB still has a complete pattern available that will defeat that coverage.
It's important to note in these two examples how the presence of Advantage Principles allows the coach to control the defense, but also lead the passer into the most advantageous combinations possible. If a passing game consisted of simple progressions only, it would be difficult to get the ball distributed without special learning. Our intermingling of Advantage Principles and Read Concepts allows for a seamless transition in attacking multiple defensive looks.
As we get to the +5, many of the classic staples are present, including play action passes and quick fade routes attacking the back corner of the endzone. We will also build patterns that will take advantage of "banjo" techniques that defenses will employ to prevent being "rubbed" in man coverage. One such pattern can be seen below:
If the "ANGLE 8" is not thrown, the passer can scan to 2 receivers working the back line of the end zone. Greg Davis taught me this combination more than a decade ago during his run of success at The University of Texas.
Pass Situation Passing will cover the following down and distance categories:
- 2nd and 10 +
- 3rd and 3-5
- 3rd and 6-12
- 3rd and 13+
The thing to note here is that while 3rd Downs are obviously important, they are not necessarily a measure of offensive success (Turnovers, Explosive Plays, Scoring Zone TD %, and 1st Down efficiency are all more tangible metrics of a dominant offense). This is because the difference between the BEST 3rd Down team and the WORST 3rd Down team is often negligible -- NO ONE is good on 3RD and 12+. Where an offense can make a difference is in the 3rd and short/3rd and meduim categories. This article is about some simple ideas for making the most of these opportunites. Again, from the first article, our mythical defense is a Cover 2/4 team...
In 2nd and 10+, the main objective is to get HALF THE DISTANCE to the first down; this way, the offense would be back on schedule with a manageable 3rd Down. This is, of course, nothing new. What I would like to offer are some ideas for making the defense play a bit more conservatively than one would think in 2nd and Long from a reaction standpoint.
Many teams dedicated zone teams will revert to their base defense in this situation, or use this as an opportunity to come after the QB via zone blitz. I see the latter as a great opportunity for the offense on 2nd Down because contrary to popular belief, fire zones are intended to make the ball come out fast (not sacking the QB); since the goal is half the yardage; this could be achieved with proper anticipation and planning.
One example of a call to consider would be something like this:
Using the NUMBERS Advantage Principle, we are able to take 2 very basic patterns, and apply them to attack the defense called. If they roll to a single high coverage (including zone blitz), the QB will work the single receiver side. Picture the big play presented as the defense sends a field zone blitz, with B and W rotating to the deep and short holes to the field, and the DE covering the back -- an explosive play to Z!
If the defense elects to play 2 high, we work the multiple receiver side combination, which should feature an easy completion to Y if Mike carries with the H. One should also notice the personnel on the field; on 2nd down, the presence of a TE/ H-back body, could help keep a defense in 4-down base personnel, rather than substituting a 3 down defense.
The popularity of "packaged" calls can also fit nicely in this situation. Though not a dropback pass, the action below can will tie in to SCORING ZONE PASS applications:
With the underlying theme being one of simplicity for the offense, a Day 1 Installation pass will serve a number of strategic situations. Here, if the Cover 4 defense will have F "cross key" to the Y's vertical release, there is another potential shot to Z. If not, the Z can be put on a "5" (Comeback) and use the Drag as the advantage route (BADGE = Advantage Drag)
STANDARDIZING COVERAGE is a key factor in 3rd and 6-12, as this is the down and distance where coverage variability will be the greatest. As an offensive coach, the challenge is to create pictures for the passer that are easy to interpret; while many do not think of 2 TE/ H-Back types on the field, a defensive coordinator concerned with personnel match ups would be hard pressed to answer the below with anything but a base defense:
If a base defense is called, the stacked receivers on the right will almost assuredly present some type of BANJO coverage, even if some type of 2 Man is called. Even if the defense did subsitute DBs to go DIME, you will likely still get a good matchup with Mike on B. Remember, Mike is often the last guy substituted. The 3 on 2 on the stack can leave a lot of room for the M to cover one of the offense's best athletes.
While Stack/ Bunch is often thought of as a man to man principle, our teams have come to use it to PREDICT a zone defense - teams will often check to a BANJO or zone principle to avoid getting rubbed off. As a result, we can get softer zone throws than we would against standard width formations.
The formation above does three things:
1. It gives a EMPTY look, while still having a 6 man protection (More on EMPTY in the Scoring Zone)
2. The formation system allows to get a bunch alignment AWAY from the TE, so the S and W can both be attacked (Strong LB from standard Bunch)
3. No new assignments for the offense!
Another thought in regard standardizing coverage is to use the RAM principle once again, throwing opposite the drop of the MLB:
Throwing opposite the MLB's drop provides great possibilities vs. Cover 4, and has been a staple 3rd 7-8 call for years.
As the yardage needed for the first down gets into the 10 or more range, ZONE BLITZ must be a part of the offensive plan. Naturally, 7 man protections are desireable from certain personnel groups; the ability for the QB (or OC in the booth) to make protection checks is of the utmost importance. Once again, the use of no huddle tempo can be an effective weapon. Picture the possibilities with 4 VERTICALS because the QB is able to re-direct his blockers...
Losing the underneath crosser to protection has been a concern; this concern gave birth to the REPLACE variation. In doing so, the passer has a full compliment of receivers, and gains a RAC possibility versus ZONE BLITZ. In the diagram below, a protection check is made, giving the OL the four down and M linebacker; the RB has the OLBs. This accounts for the "4 to a side" problem of zone blitz. Once again, without having to throw "hot," the defense is vulnerable in the seams.
For the next several posts, we'll take a look at game planning; more succinctly, I will talk about my experience, and how I learned to assemble a game plan; the mythical defense will be a standard 4-3 defense that bases out of 2-high safety coverages, and but will go to 3 down, and zone blitz on third downs, and bring pressure packages in the scoring zone.
The first REAL exposure I had to the coaching aspect of game planning came from my college coaches (Head Coach John Mackovic, OC/QB Coach Gene Dahlquist, WR Coach Cleve Bryant). Coach Mackovic was an assistant coach for Tom Landry, and much of the organizational philosophy derived from there. Each down and distance category in the open field was scrutinized, as well as field position considerations. The open field categories were
- RUN SITUATION RUNS AND PASSES
- PASS SITUATION RUNS AND PASSES
Run Situations consisted of 1st and ten, and 2nd and 6 or less, Pass Situations were 2nd and 7 or more, and 3rd and 3 or more (there are further divisions by distance to gain).
Field Position categories involved the SCORING ZONE and BACKED UP offense.
For this initial post, I'll write a bit in regard to the thought process used in regard to RUN SITUATION PASSES. As one breaks down an opponent's base defense, there are two main thoughtsin assembling patterns:
- QUICK RHYTHM, high percentage throws to stay "on schedule"
- EXPLOSIVE pass plays designed to create chunks of yardage
Both pure dropback and play action will be considered for both categories; one of the main tenets of "RUN SIT" passes is to take advantage of conflicting run/pass responsibilties that support defenders are given. While almost every offense I've seen runs some sort of NAKED or BOOT (Diagram 1), we've also a lot of success with the ZONE PASS (Diagram 2). Popularized by Peyton Manning's Colts teams, it features not only the ability to get vertical shots with the look of the outzide zone, but it adapts to multple personnel groups as well...
Also, notice that with the use of nakeds or POWER PASS as a means to threaten edge defenders, the PURE SPRINTOUT is not mentioned as a necessity; recent developments with the spread offense have negated the need for sprintout passes.
The key to this multiplicity is two-fold: First, in the protection scheme (Diagram3), which allows for a backside TE/ FB/ H-back to be on the line, or off the line towards the fake.
The second key is is the use of TEMPO in a no-huddle setting. The COLTS, when operating out of their normal 1 back, 1 TE, 3 WR environment, always ran the ZONE PASS (218 in their vernacular) as a package; any 7th rusher called for an audible to a quick pass such as this example (Diagram 4):
The use of TEMPOS can make this a relatively easy process; the players only need to practice vs. certain looks this way, and the coach controls it all.
With the mindset of quick rhythm dropback passing, passes should represent the basics of a pass system: multi-purpose patterns that feature high-percentage completions vs. zone with built-in ADVANTAGE PRINCIPLES to attack overcomensation by the defense:
Diagram 5 uses the first advantage principle to punish a man-to-man defense, combined with the most basic concept and outlets:
Diagram 6 blends the 4 VERTICAL pattern with a draw fake. No assignments change for the OL; the RB is responsible for the fake. Almost 2 decades ago, BOB SHIPLEY (Brownwood TX Head Coach and father of Jordan and Jaxon) taught me the most effective coaching point: the running back, as he sets to fake, begins yelling "DRAW! DRAW! DRAW!" the defense usually doesnt recognize the voice, but will slow to look for the draw. The passer gets a bigger hole for the advantage route on this pass.
Passes using the RAM Advantage principle should be a part of the RUN SIT as well as the PASS SIT attack versus a defense that bases out of 2 high coverage categories. To keep a defense standardized, a pass from 1RB/2 TE personnel is shown:
Passes using the NUMBERS principle can help versus control a Cover 4 scheme that cross-keys the Backside Safety on #3. In the diagram below, the QB would treat such an instance as "single high" -- and go to the singled up receiver. If the B Safety stays on or outside the hash, he has a high percentage play to the 3 receivers.
Using just a handful of combinations, we are able to mix and match formations and protections to get easy completions and explosive plays versus the defenses seen in this situation. The added tempos, shifting, and motion (the window dressing) can give each pattern 2 or 3 different looks for the defense. It then becomes very practicable to have 12 passes ready in this category, since it really only consists of 3-4 patterns, which as we will see in the coming posts, carry over to different strategic situations.
I love springtime! The weather is great, teams make strides to better themselves for next season, and coach's take this time to test the latest updates to their system. I'll spend the next few posts talking about passes by situation. So, in that spirit, I decided to talk about a few that have caught my eye in the RUN SITUATION (normal D/D) PASS category:
The popularity of the weakside SCAT or SNAG play has grown in recent years; this presentation has a slightly different twist. Using the RAM Advantage Principle, the drop of the M will determine the side the QB will work against 2 high coverages. While a lot of people have used the three man snag pattern frontside, it makes it hard to use this Advantage Principle. Using STICK on the frontside is a possibility, but the throw to the flat can be a tough one. Here, we get a nice stretch on the S linebacker, and another familiar throw to an IN route -- which, if you have read the book, is a basic component of the pass offense.
Given the emphasis my passing game has had in regard to streak reads, I'm really excited that the system overhaul features a better way to mix and match patterns, as above. The FLAG route by Y is the advantage route vs. man or 2 (any coverage where the corner chases Z down inside). This gives time for the streak read picture to develop; with the release of A widening W, the backside safety is isolated on a vertical read route. We treat object reads as "2 on 1s" while using only one receiver.
You can see many more combinations in my book, which is available here: https://www.createspace.com/4179085
Here are some cutups of 471 (or snag or spot or whatever you call it)...they
are pretty old - 2001 season, but you get to see advantage throws, then concept
immediately if the corner bails, and the last play is a 3rd fix.
One thing we told the QB was he could hitch if the flag was there...he could
pause to allow #9 (1st team all state) time to work. What he did
have to do was, as we said - be off of it by the end of the drop.
What the clip can also give a flavor for is our movement, formations, and tempo.
Given that it was 2001, we felt like we were doing some good things...
As I have shared with others before, the impetus behind "re-coding" my passing system was the desire to be able to teach my 8-year old son. This past weekend, he put on quite a show for his grandpa (a retired coach of 30 + years) showing off his 5-step drop and throwing seam routes. Because it was a little cool this evening, we weren't able to go throw, but we did take the time to talk some football. Not bad, especially considering we spend maybe 30 minutes a week (he's a baseball nut, and that's what we do). Anyway, enjoy:
Thanks to all those who have expressed interest in the release of the new book. We are on the cusp of it -- hopefully in the next few days, it will be available.
I look forward to the feedback, and also lively discussions on its content.
Been working really hard on this, and will hopefully be getting it out soon. I'm really excited because the content will apply to coaches at all levels.