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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fond memories of Ryan Leaf and the Washington State offense

The Ryan Leaf saga has taken its most tragic -- and possibly final -- turn:

CANYON, Texas (AP) -- Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf has been indicted by a Randall County grand jury on drug and burglary charges.

The indictment handed up Wednesday in Canyon charged the 33-year-old former San Diego Chargers quarterback and former West Texas A&M quarterbacks coach with one count of burglary to a habitation, seven counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and one count of delivery of a simulated controlled substance.

The indictment said Leaf presented an incomplete medical history to several physicians between January 2008 and September 2008 to get or try to obtain the painkiller Hydrocodone. . . .

Canyon police Lt. Dale Davis said Leaf is suspected of breaking into a Canyon apartment on Oct. 30 and stealing Hydrocodone, which had been prescribed to an injured football player. . . .

"We have not found any evidence implicating anyone other than Mr. Leaf in this case ... but believe there's additional evidence implicating him in other events," [Randall County district attorney James] Farren said. He would not elaborate.

(H/t Dr Saturday.) Leaf of course was a world-class bust in the NFL, as much for personality reasons as for physical ones. But in college, he was a beast: He led Washington State to a 10-2 record and a Rose Bowl appearance, he threw for 3637 yards (over 330 a game), and 33 touchdowns. (Team stats here.)

And, particularly in historical perspective, that Washington State offense was dynamic. Mike Price designed it based on, in part, by what he had learned from Dennis Erickson's one-back attack at Washing State and elsewhere. Indeed, this one-back offense was one of the predecessors for the modern spread attack, both in terms for passing and running. Mike Leach and Hal Mumme visited Price to learn his offense before they went on to break every SEC passing record in 1998, and Price shared his offense's precepts with coaches like Purdue's Joe Tiller, who had also worked with both Price and Erickson.

Price, of course, experienced his own rise and fall. He was hired to coach at Alabama and, after some kind of stripper-scandal (aren't all the best scandals stripper-related?), was fired before his first season could even commence.

But, for a time, especially in 1997, the two, Leaf and Price, coach and quarterback, combined to put on a show worthy of the sliver of immortality reserved for all such successful seasons. In this post I will give a brief overview of the theory behind the Washington State offense that year. Mike Price liked to joke that he could explain it in five minutes on the back of a napkin. An exaggeration, but not much of one.

The Washington State one-back

Price employed a lot of formations that year, but they used the "double slot" the most: two receivers to either side of the quarterback along with one running back. Many now will recognize this as the basic spread formation (though Leaf was usually under center rather than in the shotgun), but back then it was somewhat of a novelty still. Price used it because of its then relative rarity, but also for practical reasons: Washington State's fourth wide receiver was better than its tight-end.

The basic theory behind the offense is the one that has been adopted by almost all spread teams: count the safeties, identify how many defenders are in the "box" to decide whether to run or pass, and call your bread and butter stuff until defenders get of of position, then when they do hit them with the constraint plays like bubble screens or play-action. As my article on Urban Meyer's offense explains, Meyer's offense follows the same basic pattern.

To begin with, assume the defense has just one safety back. That means that, if they cover all the receivers, the defense has only six guys in the "box" -- i.e. the interior defenders. The offense has only five blockers, and Leaf was not much of a threat to run. They did however have good matchups on the outside. So the first thing WSU looked for was the leverage of the cornerbacks: were they playing soft or tight? If they played soft, Price (or Leaf via audible) would call a quick, five-yard hitch to the outside receivers. Leaf needed only to pick the best matchup and fire the ball out there. Let the receiver catch a quick one, make a defender miss, and make a big play.

If the defense played "tight," however, Price and co. dialed up one of their "option routes." The outside receivers were to run deep and try to get open deep (which happened with some regularity, as the highlight against UCLA above showed). The inside receivers were to burst upfield to eight to twelve yards depending on the call. Against man-to-man, they cut inside or outside depending on the defender's leverage; against zone they found a hole between defenders and settled in it.

What if the defense put two safeties back, to guard the deep pass and play the receivers tight? Well, then it only had five in the box, so it was time to run the ball. In 1997, Washington State had a good running back, Michael Black, who ran for over 1100 yards in 11 games.

And that pretty much covers the bases. Where it gets trickier is when defenders try to "cheat" -- and that's when you get into the constraint plays. First, the defense might line up with two safeties back but the outside linebackers over the slot receivers will cheat in to stop the run. In that case, the offense can throw the bubble screen.

Alternatively, the inside linebackers or the outside linebackers might cheat in or be watching the run, so that's when the bootleg is often effective. The quarterback looks to hit either the man in the flat or the slot on the deep crossing route.

Finally, if the safeties want to cheat up, well then it is home run time. The quarterback will fake it to the runningback and run the four-verticals concept or another deep attacking play.

That's really about it. an incredible amount of their offense was spent just cycling between that sequence. And Leaf, at least that year, showed a great propensity to read defenses and make the right read on passing plays. But obviously he was helped by having a smart, simple framework to work from.

Other applications

Of course there are other concepts worth mentioning briefly. One was Price's version (or one of his versions) of the shallow cross. Price combines the shallow with the deep cross. The quarterback reads the play by first looking at his deep routes as his "peek" or "alerts" -- i.e. if the home-run is there, take it. If the go and the post aren't open, the shallow cross is "hot," against a blitz, otherwise he can read the deep-cross as his "high" read and the runningback as his "low" read. See the diagram below.

And you can see Leaf hit the deep-cross or "hunt" player against Michigan in the Rose Bowl, with heavy pressure in his face.

And another nice route is what Spurrier called the "Mills" play. It is designed to either be a simple curl-flat read, but with a post route over the top of it. In a lot of coverages -- especially four-deep across -- the safeties play very aggressive, and will jump routes in front of them. This gives the play its big-play potential: if the safety jumps the curl, the post route is wide open behind the defense . . .

. . . and that is exactly what happened in 2002 when Washington State played Pete Carrol's Southern Cal team. (Washington State upset USC, led by Carson Palmer, and probably cost them a shot at the national title game. WSU's quarterback was Jason Gesser, though Price was still the coach.) See the video below.


Exceedingly simple, but those were the spread's gestative years. Maybe history would be different had Price managed to stick around at Alabama, and brought his unique one-back to the SEC before Meyer had set foot in Gainesville. (Though Price's subsequent years at UTEP haven't been spectacular.)

But the larger point is that football, especially in modern times, offers some degree of immortality for those who succeed. Leaf's more recent infamy as NFL bust and low-level criminal will now never leave him, but his full record will always include 1997, when there was no better triggerman in the Pac-10 -- maybe the country. He didn't have an all-star cast around him, just some shifty, tough guys, a well-designed playbook, and the confidence, maybe arrogance, to be great, even if only for a time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Judge Sotomayor and football

In announcing Judge Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court, President Obama cited her ruling, while a federal district judge, which effectively lifted the 1994-95 baseball strike. But Judge Sotomayor has decided some cases involving football, as well: she sat on a panel of federal judges who decided a case brought by former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett, challenging the NFL's rule requiring players to wait three full seasons from the time they graduated high school before they could enter the draft.

Okay, so far so good. The case -- like most federal appellate cases -- is not so much about Clarett or football as it is about the substantive law at play, where the parties happen to be a football player and a sports league. Yet the coverage of this case from the sports media has been, well, erratic. Most notably, Sports Illustrated has committed some rather basic errors. Here is its synopsis of the case:

By 2004, Sotomayor had moved onto the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District [*] when she ruled on a case involving the NFL's age minimum. Maurice Clarett, a star running back at Ohio State, and Mike Williams [**], a wide receiver from USC, had sued to be allowed into the NFL Draft before they had been out of high school for three years, as mandated by the NFL's rules. A lower court had ruled that the age-limit should be overturned, but the appeals court granted the league's request for a stay of the ruling [***]. During the hearing [****], Sotomayor asked Clarett's attorney, Alan Millstein, why players who were already a part of the NFL Players' Association should risk losing their jobs to non-members. "Those 1,500 players want to protect themselves," she said. "That's what unions do: protect those in the union from those not in the union."

The NFL age-minimum remains in place.

(H/t Dr Saturday.) I have added asterisks where there are errors or at least questionable statements of fact.

* - First, it is not the "Second District," it is the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. A google search turns up the Wikipedia page and the Federal Judiciary's website. That might seem a trifling error, but (a) Sports Illustrated is supposed to be comprised of actual journalism, and (b) had they said Maurice Clarett played for Michigan, or played for the Ohio University Wolverines, sports fans would be up in arms. Details matter.

** - Second, Mike Williams was not a party to the case; indeed, he did not declare for the draft until much after Clarett. The confusion I suppose stems from the fact that Williams and his agent jumped the gun. Clarett initially won his ruling at the district court, only to be unanimously overturned on appeal before Sotomayor and the two other judges (one, another appellate judge like Sotomayor, and the other a district court judge sitting on the case by designation). Williams quit school at Southern Cal midway through a semester in reliance on the first Clarett ruling, and after that decision was overturned he had committed too many NCAA infractions to return. But to imply that Sotomayor and the Second Circuit had before her Williams's case is inaccurate. Again, details matter.

*** - Third, the court did not issue a "stay of the ruling," but instead vacated it -- much stronger medicine than a "stay" which merely delays the effect of something. The Second Circuit rendered the lower court's ruling a nullity. [Update: Fair is fair, and a reader points out that the Second Circuit did in fact grant the NFL's stay after the oral argument, but before it issued its ruling vacating the lower court's order. And the stay is what would affect Clarett the most, as that put an immediate halt on his plans to enter the NFL draft. And, obviously, after the Second decided his case he still had some avenues remaining, including trying to get the entire Second Circuit to rehear his case (called an "en banc rehearing"), or to have the Supreme Court intervene. So the stay was of some relevance, but I still think it not entirely accurate to focus solely on the stay when they later in fact vacated the ruling.]

**** - This is a minor point and, if not for the others, would have gone unmentioned. But appellate courts -- at least federal ones -- don't have "hearings," they have "oral arguments." A hearing implies witnesses, evidence, and all that good Law & Order stuff. Appellate courts are simply conversations between lawyers and judges about the legal principles; the only facts are what is contained in the record. This is less a sin than the first three (which were all flatly false -- an amazing quantity of false statements in such a short paragraph), but it is worth getting the terminology right.

Finally, the larger point is how the article ends. It somehow implies that the decision was made at the "hearing," off of this one out of context and kind of vague statement that labor unions are important, which is meaningless in the context of the SI piece since it failed to explain what the case was about at all.

But that failure to explain a rather technical case pales in comparison to SI's Peter King's pitiful attempt to explain what the case was about:

Clarett's attorney, Alan Milstein, argued keeping Clarett out of the NFL would unreasonably restrict his client's earnings. Of course it would restrict his earnings, because it would keep him out of the NFL for another year. But the question for the three-judge panel was whether this was unreasonable or unfair.

(H/t Deadspin.) Maybe I'm being "unreasonable or unfair," but I can't help but assume that Peter King failed civics. That's not the kind of question federal judges are asked to answer. He should know this.

So what was the question before the Sotomayor and the other two judges on her panel? Broadly, Clarett argued that the NFL was unlawfully keeping him out of the league -- i.e. restricting his ability to ply his trade of being a football player -- in violation of the federal anti-trust laws. The NFL argued that the federal anti-trust laws didn't apply because another set of laws, federal labor law, preempts or basically knocks the anti-trust law out from applying. Federal labor law governs companies who have entered into collective bargaining agreements with unions, which of course includes the NFL which has an agreement with the NFL Players union.

Many politicians like to ask of potential Supreme Court Justices: "Will they simply apply the law, or will they impose their own views?" Well, in this case, the actual question was not about whether to apply the law (nothing is ever as simple as the slogans make them appear to be), but rather: what law applies?

Somewhat complicating matters is that Sotomayor, who wrote the opinion in Clarett v. NFL, had to look both at what the laws Congress passed in the anti-trust and labor contexts said, but also what the Supreme Court has said as it had tried to reconcile these cases. Specifically, the Supreme Court had recognized certain "exemptions" where anti-trust did not apply because certain labor law provisions already governed. (A common thing -- unions restrict trade to favor employees, which anti-trust is designed to prevent restraints on trade; regardless of your views of it, Congress has for over a century legislated in these areas and that legislation embodies a balance between these interests.) But the Clarett case was so difficult because the Supreme Court had identified a "non-statutory exemption" to anti-trust law but had not completely delineated its contours.

That's enough of a preview. Let's go to some excerpts of the text of the opinion. Sotomayor began with the facts of Clarett's case, but also background behind the laws at issue. (The full text of the opinion can be found here.)

Clarett, former running back for Ohio State University and Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is an accomplished and talented amateur football player. After gaining national attention as a high school player, Clarett became the first college freshman since 1943 to open as a starter at the position of running back for OSU. He led that team through an undefeated season, even scoring the winning touchdown in a double-overtime victory in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl to claim the national championship. Prior to the start of his second college season, however, Clarett was suspended from college play by OSU for reasons widely reported but not relevant here. [Citing Mike Freeman, Buckeyes Suspend Clarett For Year, N.Y. Times, Sept. 11, 2003, at D1.] Forced to sit out his entire sophomore season, Clarett is now interested in turning professional by entering the NFL draft. Clarett is precluded from so doing, however, under the NFL's current rules governing draft eligibility.

Founded in 1920, the NFL today is comprised of 32 member clubs and is by far the most successful professional football league in North America. Because of the League's fiscal success and tremendous public following, a career as an NFL player "represents an unparalleled opportunity for an aspiring football player in terms of salary, publicity, endorsement opportunities, and level of competition." But since 1925, when Harold "Red" Grange provoked controversy by leaving college to join the Chicago Bears, the NFL has required aspiring professional football players to wait a sufficient period of time after graduating high school to accommodate and encourage college attendance before entering the NFL draft. For much of the League's history, therefore, a player, irrespective of whether he actually attended college or not, was barred from entering the draft until he was at least four football seasons removed from high school. The eligibility rules were relaxed in 1990, however, to permit a player to enter the draft three full seasons after that player's high school graduation.

Clarett "graduated high school on December 11, 2001, two-thirds of the way through the 2001 NFL season" and is a season shy of the three necessary to qualify under the draft's eligibility rules. Unwilling to forego the prospect of a year of lucrative professional play or run the risk of a career-compromising injury were his entry into the draft delayed until next year, Clarett filed this suit alleging that the NFL's draft eligibility rules are an unreasonable restraint of trade in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, and Section 4 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 15.

Not much to say here, other than that, almost five years later, the fact that Clarett is an "accomplished" football player is no longer so indisputed. (Of course she was just referring to the amateur ranks.) I also did not previously know that the age limit was imposed on account of Red Grange. (Highlights of him here.)

Judge Sotomayor then recounted the history of the NFL and the players' union's collective bargaining agreement, including changes through history. Ultimately, she reached her framing of the question (which, uh, differed from what Peter King thought the case was about).

Clarett argues that the NFL clubs are horizontal competitors for the labor of professional football players and thus may not agree that a player will be hired only after three full football seasons have elapsed following that player's high school graduation. That characterization, however, neglects that the labor market for NFL players is organized around a collective bargaining relationship that is provided for and promoted by federal labor law, and that the NFL clubs, as a multi-employer bargaining unit, can act jointly in setting the terms and conditions of players' employment and the rules of the sport without risking antitrust liability. For those reasons, the NFL argues that federal labor law favoring and governing the collective bargaining process precludes the application of the antitrust laws to its eligibility rules. We agree.

She then explained the two sets of law here that intersect and ran into conflict (I have removed some of the citations for ease of reading; the full text contains them for those so inclined):

Although "[t]he interaction of the [antitrust laws] and federal labor legislation is an area of law marked more by controversy than by clarity," it has long been recognized that in order to accommodate the collective bargaining process, certain concerted activity among and between labor and employers must be held to be beyond the reach of the antitrust laws. Courts, therefore, have carved out two categories of labor exemptions to the antitrust laws: the so-called statutory and non-statutory exemptions. We deal here only with the non-statutory exemption.

The non-statutory exemption has been inferred "from federal labor statutes, which set forth a national labor policy favoring free and private collective bargaining; which require good-faith bargaining over wages, hours, and working conditions; and which delegate related rulemaking and interpretive authority to the National Labor Relations Board." [Quoting Brown v. Pro Football, a 1996 U.S. Supreme Court case]. The exemption exists not only to prevent the courts from usurping the NLRB's function of "determin[ing], in the area of industrial conflict, what is or is not a `reasonable' practice," but also "to allow meaningful collective bargaining to take place" by protecting "some restraints on competition imposed through the bargaining process" from antitrust scrutiny. [Quoting Brown.]

The Supreme Court has never delineated the precise boundaries of the exemption, and what guidance it has given as to its application has come mostly in cases in which agreements between an employer and a labor union were alleged to have injured or eliminated a competitor in the employer's business or product market. In the face of such allegations, the Court has largely permitted antitrust scrutiny in spite of any resulting detriment to the labor policies favoring collective bargaining.

Again, this is the classic federal appellate case, for which football, Maurice Clarett, the NFL, and all that merely fade into backdrop, as legal concepts intersect in strange and sometimes surprising ways. It's not that they disappear, it is that it is no longer about Big-Time-Football-Star and the National Football League, but a person who would like to ply his trade whereas an employer owes duties to its existing employees that the law protects. How does this play out? Labor law protects a union and employer's ability to restrict some entry of new workers; anti-trust law otherwise applies to prevent any restraints on trade. Congress has made many moves to shift this balance throughout, and courts struggle to keep up. In the next paragraphs, note the shout out to Justice White, who knew a bit about the NFL himself.

. . . .Contending that these cases establish the applicable boundaries of the non-statutory exemption to be applied in the present case, Clarett argues that the NFL's eligibility rules lack all of the characteristics that led Justice White to apply the exemption in Jewel Tea. Clarett, furthermore, maintains that the boundaries of the exemption were properly identified in, and thus we should follow, the Eighth Circuit's decision in Mackey v. National Football League. Mackey involved a challenge brought by NFL players to the League's so-called "Rozelle Rule," which required NFL clubs to compensate any club from which they hired away a player whose contract had expired. . . .

Relying on Mackey, the [lower court which had held for Clarett] below held that the non-statutory exemption provides no protection to the NFL's draft eligibility rules, because the eligibility rules fail to satisfy any of the three Mackey factors. Specifically, the district court found that the rules exclude strangers to the bargaining relationship from entering the draft, do not concern wages, hours or working conditions of current NFL players, and were not the product of bona fide arm's-length negotiations during the process that culminated in the current collective bargaining agreement.

We [i.e. the Second Circuit Court of Appeals as a whole], however, have never regarded the Eighth Circuit's test in Mackey as defining the appropriate limits of the non-statutory exemption. Moreover, we disagree with the Eighth Circuit's assumption in Mackey that the Supreme Court's decisions in Connell, Jewel Tea, Pennington, and Allen Bradley dictate the appropriate boundaries of the non-statutory exemption for cases in which the only alleged anticompetitive effect of the challenged restraint is on a labor market organized around a collective bargaining relationship. Indeed, we have previously recognized that these decisions are of limited assistance in determining whether an athlete can challenge restraints on the market for professional sports players imposed through a collective bargaining process, because all "involved injuries to employers who asserted that they were being excluded from competition in the product market."

Clarett does not contend that the NFL's draft eligibility rules work to the disadvantage of the NFL's competitors in the market for professional football or in some manner protect the NFL's dominance in that market. He challenges the eligibility rules only on the ground that they are an unreasonable restraint upon the market for players' services. . . . [O]ur cases have counseled a decidedly different approach where, as here, the plaintiff complains of a restraint upon a unionized labor market characterized by a collective bargaining relationship with a multi-employer bargaining unit. Moreover, as the discussion below makes clear, the suggestion that the Mackey factors provide the proper guideposts in this case simply does not comport with the Supreme Court's most recent treatment of the non-statutory labor exemption in Brown v. Pro Football, Inc..

Whew. And this is really just lead-in: the opinion goes on for several more pages, exhaustively recounting the various Supreme Court and lower federal court cases that bear on the issue. It ultimately comes together though, as Sotomayor and her colleagues conclude that the non-statutory exemption under labor law is broad enough, per the Supreme Court's dictates, to bar Clarett's challenge brought under the federal anti-trust laws.

Clarett would have us hold that by reaching this arrangement rather than fixing the eligibility rules in the text of the collective bargaining agreement or in failing to wrangle over the eligibility rules at the bargaining table, the NFL left itself open to antitrust liability. Such a holding, however, would completely contradict prior decisions recognizing that the labor law policies that warrant withholding antitrust scrutiny are not limited to protecting only terms contained in collective bargaining agreements. The reach of those policies, rather, extends as far as is necessary to ensure the successful operation of the collective bargaining process and to safeguard the "unique bundle of compromises" reached by the NFL and the players union as a means of settling their differences. It would disregard those policies completely to hold that some "particular quid pro quo must be proven to avoid antitrust liability," or to allow Clarett to undo what we assume the NFL and its players union regarded as the most appropriate or expedient means of settling their differences, id. at 961. We have cautioned before that "[t]o the extent that courts prohibit particular solutions for particular problems, they reduce the number and quality of compromises available to unions and employers for resolving their differences." Clarett would have us disregard our own good advice.

The disruptions to federal labor policy that would be occasioned by Clarett's antitrust suit, moreover, would not vindicate any of the antitrust policies that the Supreme Court has said may warrant the withholding of the non-statutory exemption. This is simply not a case in which the NFL is alleged to have conspired with its players union to drive its competitors out of the market for professional football. Nor does Clarett contend that the NFL uses the eligibility rules as an unlawful means of maintaining its dominant position in that market. [Citing Allen Bradley Co. [Supreme Court Case, including the quote: "The primary objective of all the Anti-trust legislation has been to preserve business competition and to proscribe business monopoly."] This lawsuit reflects simply a prospective employee's disagreement with the criteria, established by the employer and the labor union, that he must meet in order to be considered for employment. Any remedies for such a claim are the province of labor law. Allowing Clarett to proceed with his antitrust suit would subvert "principles that have been familiar to, and accepted by, the nation's workers for all of the NLRA's [sixty years] in every industry except professional sports." We, however, follow the Supreme Court's lead in declining to "fashion an antitrust exemption [so as to give] additional advantages to professional football players ... that transport workers, coal miners, or meat packers would not enjoy." [Quoting Brown v. Pro Football]

Of course, needless to say that this is not the only possible conclusion. The law is vague, it involves several ambiguous Supreme Court precedents, the intersection of two sets of extensive legislative schemes (labor and antitrust law) that cut against each other, and Clarett's case and the NFL's rule present a somewhat novel issue. No doubt there are those that sympathize with Clarett -- Peter King thought the case was just about whether the rule was "unreasonable" -- but that was not the issue: it was, instead, what law controls? And in this case, the Second Circuit thought that the Supreme Court had made clear enough that it would be labor law in this context. (Indeed, while the district court ruled that Clarett had shown an injury under the anitrust laws because the NFL's reasons for its rule -- protecting young athletes both physically and by keeping them in school and away from performance enhancing drugs, etc -- the Court of Appeals simply said all those concerns were irrelevant: "“Because we find that the eligibility rules are immune from antitrust scrutiny under the non-statutory labor exemption, we do not express an opinion on the district court’s legal conclusions that Clarett alleged a sufficient antitrust injury to state a claim or that the eligibility rules constitute an unreasonable restraint of trade in violation of antitrust laws.”)

And so Sotomayor moved on to the next case, Clarett now sits in jail, Mike Williams is god knows where, and the NBA wound up following the NFL's lead and imposing its own eligibility rule. Life moves on.

[Note that comments are disabled because I don't want them to get into political sloganeering about politics or Judge Sotomayor, in either direction. I just thought this was an interesting case, on a football relevant issue, and in the news. Plus I got to learn something while writing it. If you have comments that you feel are worthwhile, either about football or the law or both or whatever, please feel free to send them to me and I will post them myself.]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Assorted links and notes - May 26, 2009

1. I guess the lesson is "Never turn down the President": Steelers linebacker James Harrison, in capping one of the unlikelier weeks in recent memory, had to put down his pet pitbull after it attacked his son.

2. NFL outlaws the "wedge formation" for kickoffs. It will be interesting how teams respond:

On a whiteboard in Westhoff’s Jets office, the sketched-out kick return looks markedly different now. In one version, the wedge has essentially been cleaved in half, two men separated from another pair by a couple of yards, heading upfield in lockstep. He also has a version in which two players are together with a lone blocker running alongside, until all three converge on the player who once would have been the wedge buster.

"You're going to see more man schemes," Toub said. "Everybody will have a man. There won't be any more zone blocking with the wedge."

Yet, the story is still sort of complicated:

Don't be surprised if some clubs try taking advantage of a loophole in how the banning of the wedge will be enforced. April recently spoke with NFL director of officiating Mike Pereira, who explained that officials will watch how the blocking forms at the time the return man fields the ball and determine whether there is a violation at that point. A flag won't be thrown if only two blockers are within two yards of each other, on the same plane, in front of the returner. And it wouldn't be a violation if two additional blockers were positioned in front of the other set of two, turning the wedge into sort of a box, when the ball is caught. That is a conclusion that special teams coaches have drawn from watching a DVD that league officiating crews have been showing to coaches as examples of what will and won't be penalized.

4. Facebook for football?

5. The New York Giants' David Diehl does a spot on impression of Brett Favre:

6. Phil Birnbaum points out that sometimes coefficients need not be "statistically significant" to be, well, significant.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bear Bryant: spread offense innovator?

A reader passes along a video of Alabama's 36-6 victory over UCLA in the 1976 Liberty Bowl (known to Alabama fans as "Southern Discomfort"). In the clip, Bear Bryant dials up what looks like -- to modern viewers at least -- the "shovel option" made famous by Urban Meyer. I have discussed this play previously.

In Meyer's version, the quarterback begins to sprint out and reads the defensive end. If the end attacks him, he pitches or "shovels" it up to either a runningback, slot receiver, or H-back. If the end stays home the quarterback can simply continue around him, and often has a pitch read as a third option. The backside guard also pulls and leads. It's a great play; see the diagram and video below.

But the shovel play itself has been around for a long time. Compare the video of Florida this year with the video of Bryant's Crimson Tide below. All things are cyclical.

Note that in both the teams leave the playside defensive end unblocked. I can't tell if Bryant's quarterback is reading him or just baiting him, but in any event it works.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

FSU receiver Corey Surrency: denied

FSU receiver Corey Surrency was denied eligibility for next year. This, sadly, was as I predicted. For those unfamiliar with the story, I previously wrote about this case:

Florida State wide receiver and senior-to-be Corey Surrency's life has taken several twists. As the Orlando Sentinel reports:

Surrency dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, he said, to support his family. He served jail time, 90 days, after being charged with various crimes, some felonies. He decided to make something of himself. Earned his diploma. Began playing football. Wound up at a California community college, then at Florida State.

. . .

Before enrolling at Florida State and before enrolling in El Camino Community College, where Surrency played for two seasons, he played with the Florida Kings, a South Florida "minor league" football team that has helped athletes with troubled pasts to earn opportunities to play in college.

Quite the saga. But there's a new twist, and it's the cruelest yet:

A little-known NCAA rule has jeopardized his future.

The rule is No. in the NCAA Division I Manuel. It is titled, "Participation After 21st Birthday," and it mandates the following: If an individual participates in an organized sport after his 21st birthday, but before enrolling in college, that participation "shall count as one year of varsity competition in that sport."

. . .

Surrency played with the [minor league] Kings after he had turned 21. Had he not, he might never have had the chance to go to college. Regardless, though, his time with the Kings has cost him his final year of eligibility — at least for now. Florida State is appealing on Surrency's behalf.

If FSU loses the appeal, Surrency's college football career would be over. It's likely, too, that his pursuit of earning a degree in criminal justice — Surrency would become the first member of his family to earn a college degree — would also be over.

The rumor mill is that he is trying out for the UFL. Good luck to him.

The "jerk" route and "follow" concept from bunch

The NFL Network has a nice video on a play the Broncos used to beat the Chargers here. (Sorry no embed capability from the NFL site, apparently.) The focus there is on the so-called "jerk" route, where the shallow cross receiver fakes like he is going to settle in the zone hole but then continues. (I'm not so sure that this isn't a read for that receiver, but in any event you'll get the idea.)

Readers might however find interesting the extended discussion of the concept I previously wrote up here. It is known as the "angle" or "follow" concept. In other words, although the Broncos throw it for the touchdown and conversion to the same guy, the quarterback's secondary reads are to the corner route and the receiver who begins like he's running to the flat but then pivots and comes back inside. The Broncos also use a corner route to the other side as well, unlike the post route I have drawn up in the diagram, above.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hello! Plaxico is going to jail

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Bears are interested in signing Plaxico Burress, who "has a June 15 hearing stemming from felony gun charges." That is a bit of an understatement. Yet, the NFL community -- and not just fans -- seem rather blind to the reality that Plaxico faces gun charges with a mandatory minimum sentence and the prosecutors do not appear interested in granting him grace, and so he is going to serve some real jail time. Who he signs with is rather beside the point. As sentencing law expert Doug Berman has observed:

Given that New York state prosecutors seem disinclined to let Burress plead to anything that does not include at least a year in prison, I find it strange (and perhaps telling) that NFL teams and reporters still do not seem to fully realize that Burress could end up spending as much if not more time behind bars as Vick has simply for possessing a gun in the wrong place and the wrong time.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Week in Review - May 9 - 15, 2009

Normally I don't put up a "Week in Review," but then again I normally don't publish eleven articles in seven days. So this is just a review for those of you who only check the site irregularly.

Triple Shoot - Coach Manny Matsakis guest appeared this week to put up a series of posts on his "Triple Shoot" offense. (Sample flavor diagram and video below.)

Check out all four parts in the series:

Goliaths, Gladwell, and Davids: I was also somewhat fixated on the new Malcolm Gladwell article. If you can only read one thing, read David strategies and Goliath strategies, though this post highlights a good point as well.

Assortments: Also check out some of the assorted links and notes posts here and here. Lots of good links to other sites in those, and also discussions of Rich Rodriguez and Michigan's quarterback situation, Gus Malzahn, the BCS, and of course, some Mike Leach odds and ends.

That's all for now. I'm out of pocket for the weekend, so feel free to leave any comments discussing any of this or anything else -- including ideas for future posts.

Triple Shoot Part 4 - Conclusion

[Ed. Note: This is the final installment of Coach Manny Matsakis's Triple Shoot series. I want to thank him for contributing. Check out the Triple Shoot website here. See the previous posts here: Parts one, two, and three.]

Part 4 - Conclusion: The Triple Shoot Offense from Yesterday to Today

The Triple Shoot Offense started out as a pass-happy offense at Hofstra University (NY) in an attempt to compete versus scholarship schools during our Division III to I-AA transition. We were able to put up some gaudy numbers (42 ppg and 405 ypg passing) and a rather impressive winning percentage. At Emporia State University (KS) we realized that putting up the big numbers was not that big of a deal, what was more important was winning games. In order to do so, we researched and developed an explosive running game (Belly Series) to compliment the pass attack. The results speak for themselves, as we led the competitive MIAA in Rushing, Passing and scoring during the same season and were able to get our Superback to rush for nearly 2,000 yards or more three years in a row (Brian Shay broke Johnny Bailey’s all-time collegiate rushing record in this offense). Not only were our players able to achieve this in a team-oriented setting but our two inside receivers (Pobolish & Vito combined with Shay to garner over 15,000 yards during their careers together, the NCAA doesn’t keep records like that but we have yet to see career production like that in college football).

After making a go of it at the small college ranks, we tested the concept at the Division I level at the University of Wyoming. In a single season, we were able to go from last to first in total offense in the Mountain West Conference versus conference opponents. As my good friend Tony Demeo (University of Charleston, WV Head Coach) said, “You put the Ferrari in the garage after that year.” I got out of running this offense for 3 years as I spent some quality time with Mike Leach (Texas Tech University).

After the stint with the Red Raiders, I took the head coaching position at Texas State University to once again coach this system. In a single season, we were able to go from one of the worst offenses in the Southland Conference to a single season finish of #1 in total offense and were ranked #7 in the nation with this balanced attack. I was relieved of my duties after that season for not taking full responsibility of all aspects of my program and at that point chose to leave the coaching profession.

For the next four years I went into private business to develop regional football magazines. During this time, I also spent time reflecting on my career and the Triple Shoot Offense while consulting with coaches from high school to the professional ranks. On one visit to see my friend Hal Mumme, he made a statement that I should at least start to clinic the offense again and see if it would inspire me to coach again, I did and it worked. I am excited to coach the offense again (Capital University in Columbus, Ohio) and look forward to taking the next step with the Triple Shoot. The offense has since been simplified, codified and developed to a point whereby I really feel that the system can be replicated by underdog teams anywhere in the country.

At this point, I have put together an online coaching clinic to help coaches throughout the country in implementing this system. All the video is in there, the teaching progressions, cut-ups, drills and even archived game clips. If you have any interest in this system, check out the promotional website or the actual online seminar website get started. There is even a blog that chronicles issues relating to the offense

I have enjoyed taking the time to share with you and clarify some areas of the Triple Shoot Offense. Good luck this season and if you want to reach me, please feel free to contact me at


Manny Matsakis

Thursday, May 14, 2009

David strategies and Goliath strategies

Malcolm Gladwell's new New Yorker piece is called "How David Beats Goliath," and professes to describe what strategies underdogs -- or "Davids" -- can use to defeat Goliaths. His basic premise is that Davids all too often fall into the trap of playing Goliath's game, which is rarely going to lead them to victory: there's a reason that Goliaths are Goliaths and Davids are Davids. Instead, they should do something unique (the article's subtitle is "When underdogs break the rules") and risky:

The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful — in terms of armed might and population — as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time. . . .

What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.”

So far so good. This is consistent with what I wrote in my post, "Conservative and Risky Strategies (and Kurtosis)." The problem with Gladwell's argument, however, is that although he recognizes that Davids ought not to employ Goliath strategies because it is a game they can't win -- "Arreguín-Toft found the same puzzling pattern. When an underdog fought like David, he usually won. But most of the time underdogs didn’t fight like David. . . ." -- he nevertheless assumes that Goliaths should all be using these David strategies as well, and can't understand why they don't.

This is incorrect. Just as Goliath strategies are often sub-optimal for Davids, David strategies are often sub-optimal for Goliaths. The reason Gladwell seems to miss it is because he doesn't have a broad theory for what makes a strategy appropriate for an underdog. His primary example is of the decision of a basketball team composed of twelve-year girls to use the full-court press in basketball the entire game. He also cites Rick Pitino as an example of a coach who has successfully used a David strategy at various stops, and as further counterfactual to the unsuccessful coaches who forgo using the press. This example has been much discussed and even derided as a descriptive matter in basketball, though Gladwell responds to the basketball points here.

More importantly though, Gladwell is actually right in a sense: the press (in basketball at least), is a pretty decent example of an underdog strategy. He fails to recognize that what makes it as a good underdog strategy is also what likely makes it inappropriate for Goliaths -- it is a high risk, high reward, high variance strategy. One reason it works for underdogs may have little to do with how good it is on absolute terms; the fact that there is increased variance by itself has value for underdogs because it might give the underdog a chance of actually winning. On the flipside, however, while a full-time press strategy might increase a Goliath's chance of blowing out an underdog, it also might result in them losing a game they shouldn't. I described all this previously, but the WSJ Daily Fix (Carl Bialik) does a nice job summarizing it:

To understand why, imagine that the Goliaths — the nickname of Philistine State’s basketball team — typically beat opponents by 10 points. They’re playing an average opponent in their next game. Strategy A, a low-variance strategy will, two out of three times, yield a Goliaths victory between 5 and 15 points (with the rest of hypothetical games played with that strategy falling outside that range, including a very small number of losses). But a high-variance strategy has a much wider range of outcomes, with two thirds of games ending somewhere between a five-point Goliaths loss and a 25-point rout. The second strategy, then, will lead to more games where the Goliaths lose. And that’s particularly costly in single-game-elimination competitions such as the NCAA tournament.

For true Davids, the full-court press might help, particularly if it’s not always expected so opposing Goliaths can’t know whether to prepare for it.

I used this image to visually represent the higher-variance, flattened bell curve of expected results from an underdog strategy. (I also assumed that the higher risk strategy increased the overall expected points too, though, as stated earlier, we need not make that assumption.)

I previously explained this trade-off for underdogs and favorites. For Davids:

It's a well-worn belief that underdogs -- i.e. the kind of severely outmatched opponent that cannot win without some good luck -- must employ some risky strategies to succeed. This has long been believed but now we have a reason, though it also teaches us that there is a price to this bargain. The underdog absolutely must take the riskier strategy, whether by throwing more and more aggressively, by onside kicking, or doing flea-flickers and trick plays. They have to get lucky. In the process, however, they also increase the chance that they will get blown out, possibly quite badly. But isn't that worth the price of a shot at winning? Florida might pick off the pass and run it back for a touchdown; they might sack the quarterback and make him fumble; they might blow up the double-reverse pass. If so, then things look grim. But what if they didn't? And if the team didn't do those things, how can it beat them by being conservative? By waiting for Florida to make mistakes?

And Goliaths:

Think about when Florida plays the Citadel. The Gators have a massive talent advantage compared with the Bulldogs. As a result, what is the only way they can lose? You guessed it: by blowing it. They can really only lose if they go out and throw lots of interceptions, gamble on defense and give up unnecessary big plays, or just stink it up.

A fan or some uninitiated coach might see this as a lack of effort, but another view might be that Florida used an unnecessarily risky gameplan that cost them a victory. And since we know that they would win almost every time, what did they gain by being more aggressive? Even if they gained in expected points, this is something like the difference between a forty-point and sixty-point victory, which ought to be irrelevant.

So Gladwell accurately identifies the fact that Davids should use underdog strategies -- and thus avoid playing the favorite's game as so many do -- he fails to perceive that the corollary is also true: Goliaths shouldn't necessarily use David strategies, either.

Application to football

Basketball aficionados are all over Gladwell, trying to poke holes in his understanding of the press or basketball or whatever. With Gladwell, that's kind of beside the point. The basic premise is true: underdogs win when they make the game theirs, not the favorite's.

The question then is how to determine what are good underdog strategies. Year2 at TeamSpeedKills concludes:

"The challenges they both [full-court press and Malzahn's offense] present opponents are all the more challenging for their uniqueness."

He should have stopped there, because that's also where Gladwell's argument ends. It's solely about being different.

I disagree. I think being different is merely a dominant strategy: all else being equal, it is better for Goliaths and Davids alike to be be different. Year2 and Gladwell are correct that there are some dominant strategies that Goliaths merely overlook (and I think Gladwell may have assumed incorrectly that pressing the entire game was one of them rather than what it is, a good but high variance strategy).

Jerry of Joe Cribbs Car Wash tries to draw a direct parallel between the press Gladwell discusses and Gus Malzahn's up-tempo no-huddle offense. First, I'm not convinced that going no-huddle is a dominant strategy, better for all teams. A team definitely gains the advantage of endurance, and there is a psychological advantage and all that, but, overall it seems fairly value neutral: it's just the repetition of the same trials over and over again.

Except that it isn't, but in the exact opposite way you'd think. Going extreme hurry-up to get as many plays as possible -- other than endurance, I suppose -- is a Goliath strategy: it decreases variance by increasing the number of trials. The chance of getting only heads and no tails in five coin flips is much higher than it is in a hundred -- i.e. the impact of the law of large numbers or regression to the mean. If Oklahoma has significantly more talent, better schemes, and everything else than the underdog, then the more plays it run the more likely it is to exhibit its raw dominance over the underdog; the underdog is less likely to "steal" a few good plays and get the heck out of dodge. The principle is the same as the difference between an underdog winning a game in a single-elimination tournament and trying to win a seven-game series: the seven-game series is far less likely to produce upsets.

So mere up-tempo, no-huddle is not an underdog strategy (and may in fact be a better strategy for Goliaths).

But what strategies would be good underdog, high-variance strategies? Here are some possibilities.

  • Passing. It's very clear that passing is a higher-variance (and higher reward) strategy than running. The nature of passing can vary (if you only throw bubble screens that does not entirely count) but passing repeatedly is an underdog strategy. Now, good passing teams can reduce risk, throw safer passes, and the like. All good. And there is an open question with what mix of passes: Deep ones? Short ones? What blend is correct? That can be sorted out later. The bottom line though is that passing is a high variance strategy that can give an underdog a better chance of winning -- and a better chance of messing up and getting creamed.

  • Reducing the length of the game and the total number of plays. As explained above, the higher variance and thus David-favoring strategy is to reduce the number of "trials" -- i.e. plays. This is where a passing strategy and a strategy that involves "shortening the game and keeping it close" might run counter to each other. Incomplete passes typically stop the clock (I can't keep the college clock rules in my brain anymore), as do plays where the ballcarrier goes out of bounds, which is more common on passes (same with the clock rules). If an underdog were to get an early lead, they obviously would love it if the game effectively ended right there. Yes, there is much to say about the problems inherent in not playing to lose and all that, but those are means questions, not ends. And all can agree that an underdog would love to get an early lead in a game against a favorite and have the clock run out as fast as possible.

  • High variance defense. This is a difficult question. On the one hand, the defense could go for a blitzing, press type defense that might grab turnovers and get opportune stops, on the theory that you only need a few of these to get an underdog advantage. On the other hand, to an underdog each touchdown given up could be backbreaking, and in any event shortening the game by forcing the offense to march the ball up the field methodically, using up the clock, might be better. Yes people like to talk about "if we have the ball, they can't score" but that mistakes time of possession with possessions. If the underdog can force the favorite to use up a lot of clock and, at minimum, not score a touchdown, and then the underdog can somehow pull of a touchdown itself, then huge advantage to the underdog. On the other hand, pressing defenses that give up big plays periodically might play right into the Goliath's hands because it can score without taking much time off the clock. There is more to this but that is enough for some preliminary thoughts. Likely some mixed strategy is best.

  • Other high variance strategies. Although much of the focus is on offensive and defensive strategies, the best bet for the David strategies is likely in the realm of truly high-variance strategies like trick plays or onside kicks. Onside kicking is particularly promising, because it is something an underdog can get better at, would be unique, and can be disguised. There's at least a chance -- unless data proves that it remains a fool's strategy, like throwing lots of hail marys (high risk but not beneficial) -- that a high percentage of routine onside kicking can give underdogs a real chance. Because when it works, it both gives the offense decent field position and steals a possession. When it doesn't, that's bad, but hey, we're talking underdog strategies.
So those are some options. Interestingly, it could be argued that on offense, the best strategy might be something like the flexbone or another triple-option offense like Paul Johnson uses: it has big play potential (and thus can be a substitute for passing), yet carries the benefit of keeping the clock going, which works against pass-first underdogs.

In any event, it's an interesting discussion, and an eternal one: how do underdogs beat the big guys? How do the big guys keep from getting beat? Gladwell of course can't resist bringing up that greatest of underdog stories, the American Revolution, where a definite David strategy birthed a nation. And now we're the hegemony, the Goliath. I don't necessarily think any of this is relevant to our country's place in the world, but there's a reason why it all fascinates us so.

Triple Shoot Part 3 - Passing

[Ed Note: This is Part 3 of Manny Matsakis's series on his "triple shoot" offense. Check out the triple shoot website here.]

Part 3 - Passing attack and screens

The drop-back passing game is initiated by our QB taking his drop to the inside hip of the play side Tackle (6 yards deep) while receivers are running route adjustments based on the coverage they are going against. We throw the ball out of a normal snap formation or a shotgun alignment. Throws are made to the receivers based either on “looks” or “reads”. A “look” is a progression from one receiver to the next, based on who should be open in sequential order. A “read” is the process of a QB reading the reaction of a specific defensive player (depending on the scheme that has been called), which in turn he will throw off of that defender’s movement.

Our drop back passes are all scheme-based as opposed to receiver’s running a passing tree. When a scheme is in synchronicity receivers will break on their adjustments as they are moving on the stem of their routes. Our receivers are trained to know what coverage they are facing by the time they are into the third step of their route. In the past, we would make a pre-snap determination of the type of coverage and execute routes accordingly. The benefit of our current system is that it is impossible to disguise coverage this late into the play. Regarding coverage recognition, this is taught by quickly assessing which family of coverage the defense is playing and then “feeling” our way to the appropriate breakpoint. This sounds much more difficult than it really is and we have developed specific drills that make this as easy as playing sandlot football.

Pass Schemes

There are six primary passing schemes which all “route adjust” based on the coverage we are facing. We can run many of these out of Even or Trips formations and we can even motion to Trips to change up the look we give defenses. The base schemes are called, Slide, Scat, Choice, Hook, Curl and Outside. Each scheme is named after the route run by the outside play side receiver. In every practice, we work on every scheme versus all coverage adjustments. “Tiger” Ellison once told me, “If you can’t practice the whole offense in a single session, you are doing too much.” Since the day he told me this in 1989 I have followed his advice to never add something without taking something away.

To write about all these schemes and adjustments would take a book or an instructional video. To give you a taste of the offense, let me share with you the top two schemes we most enjoy running, Slide & Choice! Slide has evolved from what “Tiger” Ellison called the Frontside Gangster and Choice comes from what was originally called the Backside Gangster.


The Slide scheme is the basis for all the passing game, in that we use this as a drill to teach 80% of our passing attack. The reason for this is that the route adjustments in Slide are executed at some point in the other schemes to a great degree as the QB rolls to the three-receiver side of the formation.

It all begins with the Slide route (In trips) versus a Nickel look (Cover 3 or Man-free). This route starts off with an outside release for 3 steps and from that point the receiver will read the coverage of the defender over him (Cornerback). If the defender bails out, the receiver will execute a Post on his 7th step. If he is playing a man look, the receiver will proceed to run a fade on this man to beat his man deep.

The #2 receiver will run a bubble route around the numbers on the field, making sure to look inside at the QB at a distance of 1 yard behind the line of scrimmage. The #3 receiver then executes a Pick route. The Pick route is designed to get over top of the outside linebacker that is covering the inside receiver. As he gets over the top of that linebacker, the receiver gets to a depth of 12-14 yards before he applies his “downfield zone rule”. The “downfield zone rule” is applied on the free safety in the following manner, “if the man in the zone is high over the top, the receiver will raise his outside arm and set it down to find the passing lane to the QB”. “If the man in the zone crosses the face of the receiver, the receiver will then run a thin post and expect to score.”

The QB will read the Slide route and throw it if it is open, if not, he can then check to the bubble and finally look to the Pick route, which has had the time to get open.


The Choice scheme is the way that we attack the single receiver side of the formation. The QB starts a roll toward the single receiver and the key to this route is that the stepping pattern of the QB must match up precisely with that of the receiver. The single receiver will release off the line of scrimmage and read the man over him (Cornerback) on the receiver’s 5th step. On that 5th step, if the man over him has bailed out he will run a “speed cut” Out on his 7th step. If the receiver has closed the cushion and the cornerback is outside leverage on the receiver, he will run a post and if he is inside leverage he will adjust his route to a fade.

On the backside of Choice, the three receivers will spread the backside of the field. We run a Go route by the #1 receiver (up the sideline) the #2 receiver will run a “backside stretch” inside the hash mark and the #3 receiver will run a control route at a depth of 5 yards to find a passing lane to the QB.

The QB will read the front side of Choice and throw it if his man is open, if not, he will look backside to the Stretch, then the Go and finally to the Control.

The Choice scheme is a great way to spread the field with our receivers and get the ball into the open seams on the backside, especially if the front side is cloudy.

[Ed. Note: For more on the "choice" concept, see here.]


The Exotic plays are of two types, either a Screen to the Superback or a Convoy to one of our receivers. They are both set up with a pass protection simulation and we generally leak out three offensive linemen to block up field as the QB will influence the defense with his pass-action roll before throwing the ball to the back or the receiver.

Super Screen

This screen is a pass thrown to the back out of the backfield. Our line blocking is as follows: The front side tackle will influence the Defensive End for a 2-count before coming up field to block the first linebacker he sees inside. The play side guard will step to the direction of the screen and then release to block the support player while the Center will snap the ball and go down the line to block the first threat he sees, if there is no threat, he will turn around and block any defender that may be chasing down the screen.

The Superback must really sell this play by engaging the Defensive End momentarily before settling up in a passing lane behind the line of scrimmage. Our QB will either shovel the ball to him or pop it over the top of a defender depending on the rush of the defensive line.


Our Convoy has been successful because the action of the QB is rolling away from the direction that he ultimately throws towards. The blocking scheme for Convoy works in the following manner: Our backside tackle will use a draw technique on the Defensive End and stay on him all the way in order to clear out a passing lane backside. The backside Guard will step to the direction of the QB roll and then release backside to block the support player. Our Center steps to the side of the QB’s roll and then releases backside to block the first linebacker he sees on the backside. The front side Guard will step to the QB roll before releasing backside to get the first man he sees, if there is no threat, he will turn in to block anyone that may be chasing down the receiver carrying the ball.

A convoy receiver will take two steps up field before coming behind the line of scrimmage and down the line into the passing lane for the QB. He will catch the ball and get up field to gain yardage through his linemen’s blocks.

Tomorrow, I conclude with a bit more on my background and the Triple Shoot's history of success.

- Manny Matsakis

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Assorted links and notes - May 13, 2009

1. Bring back the old Spurrier: “I used to think I was pretty good coaching quarterbacks,” Spurrier said.

2. The Department of Sporting Jurisprudence: Do you have a right to be punished when you commit an intentional foul in basketball late in games?

3. Holy A-11 batman! The ACC now allows less than seven men on the A-11? Yes and no. As the good Doctor explains, they still can't have more than four players in the "backfield" (i.e. anyone not on the line) -- the idea is to prevent penalties when the offense has only ten men on the field.

4. Let me just go ahead and say no: I spent a substantial amount of time this offseason researching Michigan's offense (the results of which are to published, but not necessarily on the web -- though I hope to eventually get it out here or elsewhere that can be linked to). I will admit that I went into it thinking that there was some looming structural/strategic problem with Rodriguez's offense -- that's just my bent. Players win games obviously but I like blaming coaches more, and in any event all coaches have to work with what they have. But I quickly decided that, yes, there were things for Rodriguez to work on, but the biggest thing for Michigan was just to find a quarterback, any quarterback really. And, though he is but a wee true freshman, and a rather wispy one at that, Tate Forcier does appear positioned to at least be better for Michigan and Rodriguez than anyone they had last year.

Which is why I found recent transfer Steven Threet's comments so surprising:

Threet said he has no indication what will happen in fall camp but figures the tipping point will be decision-making, which gives Sheridan a chance to play.

"I feel like Tate has a good opportunity coming in early with the extra reps in the spring and that should be beneficial," he said. "But Nick does a good job of executing the offense the way they want it to be run. People may point out the physical things Tate or Denard may have at a physical advantage, but a lot of time at quarterback in this system comes down to decision-making."

"Nick" here refers to Nick Sheridan, who was statistically the only quarterback in the Big 10 worse than Steven Threet (unfortunately neither could run, and both of course played for the same team). Brian Cook convulses at this thought, as no doubt he still has night terrors about last season:

I can't seriously believe Sheridan executes the offense the way the coaches want it to be run . . .

. . . unless Threet means they've given that side of the ball a cigarette and a blindfold. Sheridan's decision-making last year was not a strong suit. . . . Why am I even spending time on this? The chances Sheridan takes a snap over a healthy Forcier are 0.001%. Seriously, people.

I agree. Yet, Forcier could always get hurt, and what had been relegated to nightmares of 2008 could, Freddy Krueger-style, reenter the real world. (H/t mgoblog and Dr Saturday).

5. How much does passing predictability (i.e. the more likely it is that an offense will throw) affect the offense's success rates? Lots of wonky stuff at Advanced NFL stats, but the punchline: "Going from about 50% predictability to 90% predictability costs at least 1.0 Adj YPA." Read the whole thing.

6. Mike Leach interviewed by Bitter Lawyer. Breakdown: Law school had far fewer "gorgeous girls running around" than undergrad; although in law school he discussed contracts, they were "kind of like a Leprechaun. I had heard of them, but I hadn’t actually seen one"; he wants a 64 team playoff to replace the BCS, with the remaining teams playing in some kind of NIT substitute; and he actually comes across as rather normal in the whole piece. (H/t doubletnation).