To illustrate, we will look at a few clips involving the drag route.
First, the basic DRIVE:
As Part 3 of Developing an Offensive System nears its release date, I wanted to write about some adjustments in the way we package that have proven to be very beneficial in the past year. Late last fall, I began to adjust game plan forms in order to make it easier to recall options in the heat of battle. This spring, six primary "structures" were labeled on the coach's sheet:
We derived this terminology to make the teaching for all players easier; it also allows the offense to move around star players with no additional learning burden. The Read/ Navigation tags allow the coach to guide the passer to the easiest lane of completion. By classifying game sheets, the playbook, and cut ups by route structure, one can be extremely efficient - with an offense can now teach minimal techniques and assignments, but apply in several different ways to attack a defense. Most of all, the QB and coach can benefit from the ability to hit all eligible receivers in a pattern.
To illustrate, we will look at a few clips involving the drag route.
First, the basic DRIVE:
Next, the 9 route in front of DRIVE:
Lastly, using the 9er (Numbers) advantage principle:
Homer Smith taught us all that nothing can become more entangled than patterns, protections, and formations. To this, we must add read types, as merely having one way to read a pass defense severely limits the ability of an offense to attack. This system, as it is constructed, meets all those needs, though the number of combinations can seem overwhelming. By simply grouping structures as a means to help coaches process and assimilate the weapons at their disposal, we are able to keep the offense in manageable pieces, maximizing learning and execution.
Because of the proliferation of quick crossing routes in this pass offense, there must naturally be some "counters" to prevent defenders from sitting on these stems. Also, 3x1 sets tend to get the defense "tilted" to the 3 receiver side.
Here is a quick video describing one of my favorite Scoring Zone patterns, called "BUC", which stands for Backside Under and Cross. A frontside receiver is called to run a Deep 6 (BUC tells him to alter his technique), and we use the NINER Advantage Principle to guide the passer to the thinnest part of the pass defense.
After numerous technical challenges, I am happy to announce that my new ibook, Coaching Concepts: Developing an Offensive System is now available. It was a long road, but it will be worth it. The content is dynamic, with over an hour of video embedded. Most of all, information such as "Navigation Tags" will help your offensive system RIGHT NOW, without changing the system you are installing.
Thought I'd try this once, and see how it came out. Hopefully the volume came out OK, so you can get the coaching points as I run the video.
Hindsight is 20/20. We know this, but we also know that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. As I look back on the past Super Bowl, I am reminded of things I learned in a pro-style offense decades ago, yet can be forgotten with the preponderance of today's spread thinking. Going into the game, much of the talk of the Denver Offense vs. Seattle Defense conversation was the high percentage of "Cover 1" the Seahawks' defense would play. Many agreed that Peyton Manning's penchant for getting the ball out quickly would help negate Seattle's defensive prowess. Looking back, however, one wonders if this thinking helped play into Seattle's hands.
In the diagram above, we have a vanilla interpretation of the Cover 1, which is defines as man to man with 1 free safety deep (also called "Man Free" in football vernacular). The corners can play press, off, or "bail" in order to disguise their intentions. There is always an extra underneath defender (the M in the diagram) who can blitz, wall off crossing routes, or simply be a pest the QB must throw around. More on that in a bit.
Initial examination will call for getting the ball out quickly, on flat or drag routes -- often in some "mesh" configuration. Some forms of offensive thinking will depend solely on quick routes versus this defensive structure. Superior match-ups may allow for this, but the defense can counter vs. a limited arsenal, and pounce when they see a familiar pattern. The big hit on Demarius Thomas was proof of this:
Cam Chancellor, the frontside safety (F), rolled down in a version of 1 Robber. His depth allowed to track the shallow and make a big hit. Further examination, however, shows Eric Decker WIDE OPEN on his in cut. Had the progression called for scanning INTO the in route, as we teach, he would have seen the open route, as well as seeing Chancellor because his eyes would start in front on the flag by A (Wes Welker) and swing into the route. Homer Smith introduced this idea to me years ago, and it still resonates today -- our eyes jump (or "saccade") from one spot to the other; carefully planned progression passing should take the passer to these routes not only so he can see the "danger" out in front. Navigation Tags, as described here, are primarily for helping with zone completions (a coach needs the ability to direct his player on every snap based on game and coverage situations); defeating man coverage necessitates maintaining all possible options on a pass play.
As a collegian, the defense I saw every day in practice played press man on a majority of the snaps; here is what I know about beating man to man -- while rub/ mesh routes are great, there is no substitute for attacking with depth. The FLAG route might be the best of all routes vs. this coverage. However, a limited set of routes once again gives the defense an advantage. In another example, the Broncos are in the Scoring Zone. They have a Post/ Wheel combination to the left, with spacing/ comeback to the right. The defense shows Cover 1, then actually bails to a combo coverage, playing zone on the post/wheel side and man to man against Welker on the right side of the formation. Below, you can see the ball is already coming out -- and the potential danger awaiting. This is an example of why the ball coming out in the same rhythm (even quick rhythm) all the time is a potentially bad thing.
If the only objective of the offense is to get rid of the ball quickly, this actually plays into the hands of the defense, as cover men are not stretched to the limits of their abilities. It simply takes less talent to cover for a short period of time. For this reason, deep ins/ outs are a MUST when defeating man coverage. Depth makes a man defender, no matter how talented, turn their hips and run. Even in this one-sided Super Bowl, the Bronco's positive plays came on deep crossing routes and ins/ and outs. Below, on the same play as above, look at the comeback route at the top of the screen. The ball being gone is irrelevant; the corner covering has no idea the ball has been thrown.
Make no mistake - the game was, as they say in my hometown of Paris, TX -- "a whoopin''". The Seahawks were a more physical team, and the nature of the Denver running game didn't help, as it was too dependent on box counts rather than calling and running plays, regardless of the defensive look. Protection was a major issue, but the defense had as many pressures when in zone as they did in man; the coverage does not add time on a given play, just as adding a check-releaser (from 6-man to 7-man, for example) has no effect. Protection time can be gained with carefully programmed scan and help calls. The paradox was the plan of quick completions vs. what actually disturbs man coverage.
The premise remains: in attacking man coverage, explosive plays are a must, and are not always available when solely releasing the ball in quick rhythm.
For many coaches, there is no "OFF SEASON" -- conditioning and strength programs are in full swing, and many programs will implement QB School before team-wide football activities will take place. Along those lines, I thought I would list a few bullet points:
Feeding a great player - having a specialized section in the game plan is nothing new; one thing I feel is important is that these methods should blend with the regular flow of the offense. In other words, re structuring an entire system just to feature a single player is not the most efficient way to teach for the program's sake. Obviously, if one were lucky enough to have a once-in-a-lifetime talent, one would want to take advantage of that. However, a player can be GREAT for your level without being an NFL prospect. Below, a simple variation to free up a great run after the catch RB is shown with a complete pattern that is a staple of the offense.
Taking the same example of passing game match-ups with the back, we can augment the backside of STICK, taking advantage of W on an island:
Formationing to create stress on the defense - this is potentially the least expensive way to maximize your offensive attack. Two things that need to be addressed are:
- The method for calling plays. If the method for play calling calls for players to know their place in the formation relative to the ball (ex. inside, middle, outside), and there is NOT a descriptive way to call them, this can create chaos. If the plan to take advantage of a great player is to move him around within the formation, the coach must consider the learning burden not only to the star player, but to the players that will be displaced as a result. The ability to move people within a given formation with minimal learning burden is yet another example of the benefits of our terminology structure.
The above example isn't the only way to skin a cat; a client approached me this year of incorporating A.C.T.S. into their passing game. We were able to do so without changing ANY existing terminology for them. Whether using word or numbers -- how the core pieces of the passing game are taught remain the same, and kids are able to execute a multi-dimensional attack.
- Creating new terminology to build new formations. I have always felt that streamlining the terms used can be of a great benefit. We have a terrific system of calling formations, that minimizes the memorization required at the same time. Keith Grabowsky has also shared some great ideas here. For now, here are the very simple alignment rules we use:
The chart above carries across all personnel groupings, and really cuts down the verbiage used in calling formations, allowing for more description in other parts of the call, and allowing for the next bullet point...
The use of TEMPO - much has been said on this topic, but I feel the need to clarify a few things. We're all aware of the flashy, video game number-producing, throw it all over the park offense that gets all the media attention. But the reality is that upper level college football is pretty much the only place where teams can play full throttle the entire game and NOT hurt the rest of the team. Either that, or a program like the one I see every Friday night (Allen High School has an enrollment of 6,000+). Even Chip Kelly adjusted last season as his numbers dictated that he do so. That being said, I think analysts often miss the purest advantages of being up tempo from a coach's perspective:
- Accelerated player development. Being "up tempo" means devoting a practice philosophy to it (or at least - it should). Working at a faster pace in practice means developing younger players at a faster pace, as backups would get as many repetitions as the starter. In a high school setting, the ability to give the backup QB as many reps as the starter will pay dividends in both the immediate and long term future.
- Allows for balance. Contrary to popular belief, I really am a proponent of balance. Even more important - I think an offense has to be able to dictate to the defense. The box count theory of running the ball is great, but the thing I have noticed is this: there is NO answer when you can run the ball right at a defense. The one problem with running it 30-40 times a game? It shortens the game too much, and can potentially let a team that is inferior STAY IN THE GAME. Being up tempo and wide open does not have to be synonymous with soft; below, we see that of the top 25 offenses in Division 1 last year, only 2 huddled on a regular basis. Furthermore, only 3 averaged less than 150 yards rushing per game. The ability to speed up and slow down the game help strike the critical balance between attacking mismatches and physically deconstructing a defense.
- Allows for "Navigation Tags." Being able to guide the QB with specialized instruction is made possible when tempo is used as a weapon. I wrote a post about these tags here.
- Shifting and Motion. Having played in a college offense that shifted and moved on every snap, I saw very early on in my career the potential for stressing a defense. If there was ever an opportunity to take advantage of shifting and motioning, a no huddle offense that varied its pace could take advantage.
Being multiple, in addition to having the capacity to being up tempo, is invaluable in terms of creating stressors for the defense. In business terms, these methods can be thought of as the "delivery" side of the offense. Just as important is the production aspect -- the overall design.
Prioritizing your passing game - not only is this pass offense built on its "bedrock" concepts, but it is based on universal individual routes as well. By teaching the primary components of the passing game to all position groups, there is an enormous amount of flexibility. One such route is a DRAG, with the drill illustration below:
With every skill group able to execute these fundamental building blocks, we are able to use the DRAG in an array of presentations, giving the defense different problems to consider:
Practicing what you preach - too often, we get away from developing a kid's strength, instead focusing on his weaknesses. At most levels of football, coaches cannot afford to do this. The best coaches I've known have maximized the potential of their players. For example, much is made of the pass-catching TE at the NFL level; while a kid may not be a Jimmy Graham, he could be and effective possession receiver, or even a solid seam threat vs. 3 deep. It becomes incumbent on the coach to dial up these match-ups, not as a means of appeasing the player, but as a means of accountability to the program -- the coach must be committed to what is best for the team. Sadly, I often see coaches who are not willing to be unselfish, yet ask players to do the very same.
Taking this a step further, from a team perspective, it is imperative to commit to the development of players. Development involves strategic planning on all levels of program and player development. My last two posts, here and here, address these processes.
There is no doubt -- stability is the key to long term success; it is for this reason that a "system" needs to have all the answers, with as few "add-ons" as possible. The ability to adjust, while minimizing learning burden, can only be achieved with a methodical, well-planned apparatus for teaching.
As the season moves along into every team's "crunch time", I am busy catching up with clients, watching games and practice clips, and offering suggestions where I can. Aside from the camaraderie and relationships, this is the part I really miss: the game-planning. Getting to specific problems and specific solutions with specific players in mind is always fun.
For this reason, I've always loved studying NFL tape. While many have felt that NFL offenses were too homogenized, there are always been those who push the envelope. A highs school or a small college has more in common, roster-wise, with the NFL and than it does with a Division 1 powerhouse. I say this because a small college or high school's depth is much more similar to a pro team's roster - where the dropoff from a starter to a backup might be HUGE - in contrast to the revolving door of Parade All- Americans that can be found on top college rosters.
Further - this year in particular - those who follow the NFL have seen an overarching effort in attacking defenses. More and more teams are in the no-huddle mode on a regular basis, and still deploying a full array of pass concepts. And while zone-read concepts are in play, they are used judiciously or not at all, because of the lack of depth at that position; this is certainly a concern in many high school situations I know of. In fact, I think the pendulum has swung, with "generic" spread systems being more prevalent at the COLLEGE level with little variety from team to team.
I also think that for these reasons, the flexibility of the system we have in place allows us to take advantage of whatever physical match ups we can dictate. In the system described in "Recoded and Reloaded", I took the best ways I know of assigning pass routes, and sequencing them for the QB.
For the purpose of calling pass patterns, we use a numbered route "tree" to call the frontside receiver's assignments. This innovation eliminates confusion when moving players within a formation -- one of the keys to dictating matchups. Much is said about "dictating matchups," yet I find it interesting that few systems allow for this without an inordinate amount of memorization on the part of the player.
More importantly, these is a way to communicate WHERE THE QB PUTS HIS EYES. Getting people open on a pass play is of little importance if there isn't a corresponding way to have the passer ready to throw there in a given time. We accomplished this by designating Advantage Principles that isolate defenders, and Concepts that stretch those "2 on 1s". From there, we have "3rd Fix" outlets that break into the QB's vision. In our nomenclature, this is referred to as ACTS.
Using these principles, we can dictate (from one play to the next) the thought process we feel will best deliver the ball to the intended receiver. We built a system of teaching in which "new learning" is minimized. Still, there are situations where some defenses required extra cues for the passer. In today's no-huddle environment, the old "catch all" of sending instructions in with a messenger is no longer an option; it is also poor form for a coach to ask a player to execute something he has never practiced before.
These "cues" would be something similar to the navigation system in my car: I would have a standard route to follow (A.C.T.S.), but if there was an obstruction, the computer (the coach) could direct me to an alternate route. These "Navigation Tags" would fit right in with the normal mode of play calling, allow a coach to guide his passer mid-drive, and best of all, allow practical solutions that can be built into practice and can be called upon whenever the situation arises.
Having this means of communication allows the offense to attack a defense to the fullest extent, without the benefit of a 14-year veteran QB. This allows one to be flexible with pass patterns, and can take advantage of a great plan on the part of a coaching staff.
There are 3 Navigation Tags; for the purpose of brevity, I will give brief explanations, and go into depth with the FALCON tag.
RAIDER - code for "Read Advantage to In/Under" We are telling our passer we want to take a look at the frontside throw through the coverage, but if not, go immediately backside to a High/Low we have built for you. When developing full-field pass patterns, defenses can overplay the frontside route, and recover on the backside. For us, an "UNDER" is any check release or short route holding the window open for the IN.
DRAGON - in this system's use of half-slide protection, where the back checks frontside and drags backside on any of our Drag tags (below), "DRAGON" tells the QB to stay with the called crosser for an extra count, and go straight to the back's drag from there. In communicating, the call below would simply change to LT BROWN 8 A BADGE DRAGON.
FALCON -- our code for "Flash At LOS; Otherwise - Normal." Here, we use a WHIP tag on the backside of a standard pattern. WHIP serves two purposes: first, it allows our QB (or coach) to signal a "press man beater" based on how the defense is aligned. Below, diagram 1 is a "rub" for #1, and #2 is a "rub" for #2. Second, the man setting the rub continues on an IN route, so that the passer has a completely intact pattern, from frontside to backside.
Once the selection is made, the QB needs to confirm if the RUB is successful at the snap. If it is, he's letting the ball go. If not, he would use the same process he would on the given frontside pattern (471 is shown below). Once again, versus zone, the pattern still has the feature of a backside in as the Third Fix for the QB.
Navigation Tags allow the coach to control where the ball goes based on the game situation, without the need to wait for a the next offensive series. These tags also hold the coach accountable to the game plan by giving specific instructions to the offense in the present tense. Most importantly, it removes much of the guesswork for the quarterback; it assures that the offense will be the "last to have the chalk" on a down-to-down basis.
Living in Allen, TX and using this outlet to not only stay close to the game I love, but to help pass on what I have learned from some of the game's great coaching minds.