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Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Shotgun, The 'Gun, and the Shotgun Spread Offense

Ferment is abroad in football. The possibilities widen; new ideas are accepted and implemented within hours of conception. People are interested now in not just who their favorite players are, but what are these fascinating schemes. With the internet comes accessibility: now your high school runs what your favorite college team is not sophisticated enough to do. The ideas come from everywhere. The innovators are born on disparate staffs and the ideas ebb, flow, and crash together constantly, daily, hourly. Now even the big, famous schools must wade into the waters to hire those comfortable with its movements: Rodriguez to Michigan, Tony Franklin hired by Auburn.

This ferment is ideal. A decade ago ideas were stagnant. Football was only for the purists, and if you failed to replicate the Platonic ideals, then you hadn't been schooled properly. Five years later, the beginnings of the ferment - turbulent, muddy, a vigorous undercurrent. Ten years later - today, now - the waters are flooding, spilling onto that once sacred ground.

Rich Rodriguez, the Johnny Appleseed of the Spread, has been hired by Michigan. The Pundits talk of the "the Spread," the "Gun Spread," the "Gun Option," the "Airraid," the "Zone Read," and the "Pistol." The coaches talk of these too, but they also talk of the "Gun Jets Sweep," and the "Gun Jets," the "Gun Veer," and the "Gun Triple."

The ideas stir. They stir football itself. This reexamination of all that came before - restless, relentless. The search for good ideas, new ideas, ideas never before dreamed of. This - the ferment - is not a fad. It cannot be. It is football itself: there's been a synthesis.

The 'Gun and its history.

The shotgun itself, the perceived center of all of this "newness," has its roots in the beginning of football, however.
Most commentators, of course, seem to deify the "shotgun" itself as an entire offense rather than what it is - a particular way to align your quarterback and perform the center-exchange. Ironically, however, they also take a restricted view of the gun’s presence in football history, presuming it was invented, alternative, in the 60s (Red Hickey), the 70s (Tom Landry), the 80s (pick somebody), the 90s (pick somebody), or the 2000s (whoever they root for, or often Urban Meyer or some passing coach). Regardless, it's somewhat silly.

The point of this article is to show that (a) the shotgun itself has ancient roots, and is not some passing fad, (b) and, thus by inference, the ferment and change I spoke of in the introductory paragraphs is not as limited as how you align your Quarterback.

Indeed, I imagine that the shotgun's history would surprise many such commentators. The “gun” was in many ways the standard back in the early days of football. Especially consider that the under-center snap was not invented until at least a decade or so after football itself was invented, if not longer. In fact, in the fairly early days, players had to actually short-kick the ball with their heel (don’t ask me!) back as a form of snap. Also, the gun and the pass have been around since 1908-1910 or so, since the forward pass was legalized and encouraged by rule changes due to the “brutal” nature of football at a time when the “single-wing” and almost all offenses involved shotgun type snaps which lead to melees resulting from attempts to advance the ball.

To demonstrate the trends, I think there are four good “watershed” type games that either were representative for the time or helped us get where we are today, though there are surely others.

1. Notre Dame vs. Army Part I

In 1913, Notre Dame traveled to West Point to face the heavily favored Army. Final score: 35-13, Notre Dame. Knute Rockne, the famous future coach but then little-known end, caught an array of passes from one Gus Dorais, who that day nearly revolutionized the position. The legend grows larger over time, and the forward pass had been legal for roughly eight years, but that day Dorais completed 14 of 17 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns. Dorais even completed a pass to Rockne that, at the time, was the longest pass play ever. But more importantly, this game was the coming out party for the forward pass. Although this story might be collateral to the shotgun story – indeed Dorais was already operating out of the “gun” – but few would question that the forward pass still defines football today.

2. Notre Dame vs. Army Part II

By 1925, Rockne was Notre Dame’s coach. We all have heard these famous lines:

Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.

The four horsemen were four backfield mates who played for now-coach Knute Rockne. Most people forget the next few lines from that paragraph:

They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on the green plain below.

Notre Dame won 13-7. To our story, this game was not so much a watershed as it was representative of the time: Notre Dame ran an all-shotgun offense known as the “Notre Dame Box.” The “box” was a shotgun formation where the center could snap to any one of four guys, depending how they lined up. So, the most famous galloping backfield of all time played in the Gun, however bizarre it would appear by today’s standards.

This should serve as a firm rebuttal to the argument that the shotgun is currently new or (more popularly) was invented only to pass. This is flatly wrong. From the beginning of football, the shotgun was about running the football and faking. Indeed, it was even about power. Just ask the Four Horsemen.

3. Chicago Bears vs. Washington Redskins – The day the shotgun died.

In 1940 Bears Coach George Halas unleashed his under center offense on the Redskins on the way to a modest 73-0 victory. The Bears utilized the then-fairly rare “Tee Formation,” where the Quarterback (remember, he was originally so named because of how far back he aligned - the term was a rugby term before it was a football term) would in line up under center with three backs behind him in a straight “Tee.” Using this formation, along with a series of fakes, counters, traps, bootlegs, and other deception Halas’s Bears crushed the Redskins to win the NFL title. Note that the Redskins had beaten the Bears earlier that season.

For the next thirty to forty years, the unequivocal primary method for hiking the ball was the under center snap. This game is also important because it shows that faking, deception, and using multiple ball carriers is not new, nor is it exclusive to the shotgun. It is simply a distinct concept.

After this game the shotgun made a few appearances, most famously with Red Hickey with the 49ers and Tom Landry with the Cowboys. And in the 80s and later in the 90s teams as disparate as the Miami Dolphins with Marino, Purdue with Joe Tiller and Drew Brees, and the Hal Mumme Kentucky Wildcats (with the support of Mike Leach) set quite a number of passing records in the gun. But this modern revolution came about, I believe, because people had to see how you could throw and run from the shotgun.

Although Rich Rodriguez probably deserve smore credit than anyone for spreading the concepts themselves, it was Northwestern’s late-coach Randy Walker who I think turned the football coaching world on its head one blue-skied afternoon in November, 2000.

4. Northwestern vs. Michigan – The Modern Era Dawns.

Northwestern defeats Michigan 54-51. This is shocking enough. Northwestern scored fifty-four points against a Michigan team known for great defense and great defensive talent. Doubly shocking. Quarterback Zak Kustok threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns. Not so shocking from a spread QB in victory. Don’t they always have to throw for this much to win? That’s why they get in the gun, right?

But wait, there’s another stat.

Northwestern Rushing: 332 Yards; 6.64 average per carry. 332 yards.

What? Three-Hundred and Thirty Yards rushing?

How did they do that? Yes their running back had a huge day, but the yards that also made everyone sit up and take notice were the 55 yards from Northwestern’s quarterback, Zak Kustok – hardly Vince Young or Pat White in raw athleticism. But the light went off across the country. If Zak Kustok can do it, maybe my guy can too. And even if he’s not Vince Young, just the threat that he can make the defense pay if they over pursue by getting me eight yards, then let’s do it.

Obviously, not everyone running the spread now saw this game. Even Gun Guru Urban Meyer didn’t start running this offense until his Bowling Green days sometime after this game, and he admittedly went out to others to learn the offense. The shotgun run-game didn’t bubble up inside anyone like a well-spring. But this was the game that changed the landscape.

Where we are are now.

So Randy Walker and Rich Rodriguez blew the doors off. The gun is now fully part of the arsenal for nearly every team, and the sky is the limit on what you can do. The all-eleven offense, the pistol, and the single-wing itself are all part of the calculus. Who knows, maybe we’ll see a major team running the Notre Dame box.

I thought I’d provide a quick summary of some of the factors in the calculus for when you want to use the gun. Observe that many of the factors come from Coach Homer Smith, so I can’t too much credit.

Advantages of the Shotgun

- The QB can get deeper in a given amount of time (whether the 3 yard “pistol” snap or a 7-8 gun for passing)

- Lateral play faking (but not drop back style play action, at least so easily) can be achieved

- Relatedly, the zone-read is a kind of “bootleg-plus” in that instead of calling a blind bootleg, you make the backside defensive end wrong every time)

- Some QB's can see better (i.e. wider field of vision)

- The depth of the QB often forces the defense to expose its pressure plans more clearly

- The RB might be able to pick up a blitz better (i.e. no dropping QB to bump into)

- It does not need a snap count and helps mitigate crowd noise factors (though many still use a snap count)

Disadvantages of the Shotgun

- The QB has to take his eyes off the pass defense and has to watch the ball into his hands. This effect also somewhat reduces the QB’s ability to see the coverage and read changes (Cover 2 to 1, etc.) until after the snap. This is particularly acute for 3-step passes, where you have to catch and throw almost immediately. The read becomes almost exclusively pre-snap.

- The Shotgun alignment makes some lead-plays more difficult. I also would argue that the “gun-option,” as such, is not completely structurally sound in the way other veer plays are. Some gun teams have tried to develop the veer from the gun. Time will tell whether they are successful. (This requires more discussion than I have space for.)

- It becomes a crutch for the QB and an easy way to avoid improving footwork and play faking. I think this is an underrated problem. Footwork in the gun is (a) easier, because it is less, but is (b) prone to getting very, very sloppy. If there is any knock against “spread gun” QBs who go to the Pros, this one of the few viable ones, but can be simply overcome with good coaching.

- It retards the notion of a power run game and shifts more towards deception based delays, options, or draw type run plays. This is not a bad thing, though true.

- It can amplify your QB’s athletic skills, in either direction. If they are very athletic, it can improve their ability to make plays, but if they are not athletic many traditional QB plays – bootlegs, play action, and certain lead-option type run plays - are almost entirely out of the question.

- The footwork of the QB changes as does timing for pass plays. The "mesh" point for hand-offs to the RB change as well. Now Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen says this is one reason they run shotgun almost exclusively, so they can practice just one thing and get good at it.

So there are pros and cons. What this mostly counsels is a commitment to what you do, an organized, systematic approach to your offense, and an acknowledgment of where your weaknesses are as well as your strengths. The great shotgun teams work on this consistently, the haphazard teams will consistently both live and die by their sword-of-the-moment.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Switch It" - Put a Little Hawaii In Your Offense

While the Run & Shoot is over twenty-years old and I have even discussed its demise from most levels of football, the obvious recent R&S success story has been the Hawaii Warriors under lifelong 'Shooter, June Jones. With Colt Brennan (and seemingly anyone else they put back there), they have lit up opposing teams and broken a few scoreboards along the way. It's a great offense.

But let it be known that Jones has adapted some aspects of the traditional Mouse Davis Run and Shoot to his liking, discarding some concepts, adapting others, and overhauling the pass protection. (Hence why my "What Killed the Run and Shoot" thread doesn't keep Jones up awake at night - they simply do different things now.)

In the traditional shoot, there were only a few pass packages, but each had multifarious adjustments for each receiver. They did this by requiring each receiver to identify the defense and each would adjust his route on the fly. The QB would synthesize this information and hit the proper man. As June Jones said when he was still in the NFL: "When our receivers run up the field, they are going to look for one of five coverages. A team may use 50 defenses, but to us it will be one of those five."

Those five coverages were: "(1) Three Deep Zone; (2) Two Deep Zone, (3) Two Deep Man Under; (4) Man Free [One safety deep with man-to-man underneath]; (5) Four Across Man (Blitz)."

Now, this was quite successful for many years. Without overemphasizing the impact, the rise of the zone blitz muddied the waters for many of these reads and hastened the R&S's retreat. I say I don't want to emphasize this too much, because the zone blitz has been around for at least as long as the Shoot, so it wasn't just that.

But there has been a definite trend among Shooters to reduce the number of reads that receivers must make. Even Jones has reduced the amount of reading in his offense and appears to have discarded a few of the concepts completely, while only adjusting others. And yet, the "reading" is what makes the Shoot the Shoot. So that is my topic today.

I have said many times that regardless of whether you see teams run the "Run and Shoot" per se (and I am talking about the "Run and Shoot" as a distinct system, not just a generic term for any ol' spread team), you will constantly see the R&S concepts and you will continue to see them for a long time. So in this post I want to discuss one of the most common and successful concepts, the Switch.

The Switch

The Switch is one of the Shoot mainstays, but the concept has transcended the offense and now chunks of NFL and College playbooks are dedicated to the "switch" - often from coaches who would otherwise show nothing but disdain for the now supposedly discredited offense. But to many coaches, players, and fans, the play is still shrouded in mystery.

The concept is, at core, a two man concept. Two receivers release and "switch": The outside guys angle inside for 5-6 yards before pushing vertical, while the inside guy runs a "wheel route" under the outside guy, rubs right off of his hip, and then turns up the sideline. That's when they play gets interesting.

In the original R&S, each receiver had the five delineated options depending on what coverage he saw. They could break it quick on slants, run vertical routes, post routes, curls or in cuts. When it worked it was beautiful. But sometimes, to borrow Yeats's phrase, "things fall apart." Or simply it took immense practice time for receivers to get good at running the play.

Indeed, it is simpler to teach this kind of thinking when all of your routes adjust. But it's not quite so simple if you run curl-flat as your bread and butter play, with no reading, as many teams do. And yet. the play thrives.

The Reads

Some coaches have installed the switch and simply eliminated the reads entirely. This is a sound approach, and it captures the initial beauty of the play: the "rub" the two switching receivers create against man. And it still works as a kind of "vertical stretch" where the two receivers can put deep defenders in a bind with one down the sideline and another in the seam, especially if a backside receiver runs in the seam as well.

But the play's potency is in its variance. And you can be variant without overly complex reads. How? Here is how I suggest running the play, as dithered from the best College, Pro, and High School minds who use this concept.

The Routes

Below is a basic diagram of the route.

The reads are as follows:

Inside Receiver: The inside receiver will come under the outside guy on his route, and wheel up the sideline. All he is looking for is whether there is someone deeper than him in the deep one-third of the field. Or, if the guy on him is playing him in man, he just asks: "He's even? I'm leaving! (Running deep) He goin? I'm stayin." It's as simple as deciding whether you could get open deep or not. If the defender stays deep, the receiver will stop at 10-12 yards and settle and curl back to the Quarterback.

Outside Receiver: The outside guy will stem his route inside and then push up the seam. His read is simple:

- Middle of the Field Closed (I.e. Is there a single deep safety in the middle of the field, like in Cover 3?) - Run a seam.

- Middle of the Field Open (I.e. Are there two deep safeties with no one deep down the middle?) - Run a square in at 12 yards.

I have previously described the nuances of this MOFO/MOFC read. Now, this might sound a bit tricky, but this is the one, core "reading" principle that any receiver can quickly identify both before and after the snap, and in most cases it is quite intuitive: don't run into coverage.

Below is the route against a few coverages to show how it would play out.

Cover 3

And Cover 2

QB Read:

The QB's read is not difficult. It is a pure progression read, though pre-snap and post-snap he will identify 2-high and 1-high so he knows what he's looking for. Against 1-high he will look at the F/S (deep middle safety's) movement. He will peek for the backside seam but read (1) inside switcher, (2) outside switcher, and (3) outlet to running back.

Final Concerns

One of the purposes of this article was to show that this concept, native to the Run and Shoot, can be run in many offenses. I have shown it so far in a very Shoot friendly formation. But do not be fooled: this route can be run by any two line of scrimmage receivers, in nearly any offense. See the diagram below with the Switch with play-action from the I formation. Again, you can run this from any formation you like.

And finally, if one did adopt to their offense (or you begin to notice it on television), there are further adjustments you can make. One of the long-time best has been the "Switch-Smash," shown below.

On this route the outside receiver stems inside and then pushes to 12 yards before running a corner route, while the inside receiver "wheels" out and pushes to 5-6 and then hitches back. He then delays briefly, and if the QB does not immediately deliver the ball, he will work to find the opposite spot or burst and lose his man to man defender. This is a great change up, particular against a team that runs Cover 2.


As a final parting shot, I will show you a few more variations with what you can do with this play. The concept is simple, so you can build on it or combo it as you like.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Runningback on the Shallow Cross Route

The shallow crossing routes have become very popular recently. A recurring question is how to use the running back on the play. Send him to the side the shallow is going, or where he came from?

For an earlier discussion of the shallow cross, see my article on how Mike Martz uses the shallow cross in various ways here. Martz is a pretty comprehensive guy and this covers most of the bases.

But here are some thoughts on how to use the runningback in the route:

Depends what you're doing on the play.

The Airraid (Mike Leach/Texas Tech, I think Kansas with Mark Mangino, Troy St., Hal Mumme) guys let him "leak" out to the side the shallow came from. This creates a nice "triangle" for their hunt route coming over the middle and works as a nice hi/lo read. They look at the shallow first.

Some other coaches will send a shoot/swing/wheel to the side the shallow is going. Petrino used to do this at Louisville a lot (especially with a no-back protection, shallow came from trips side, single rec side (TE or split end) would run a post or a square-in).

The reason is that the RB will pull the flat defender on that side out. That way the shallow will come open in the void he has created.

Another good option is to have the RB run an angle route to the side the shallow came from. Mike Martz often does this. Any hesitation by the Mike backer can create a nice void for the RB to get into. The "crease" concept is built around this.

Purdue and the Airraid guys will also send the running back on a full swing or shoot to the side the shallow came from. Both will usually have the outside receiver run a curl. (This also relates to the drive or "stem" concept but without the rubs.) The reason for this is that the curl essentially fits into the same void as the "leak" or "short hook" RB just outside the tackle, but obviously he's farther downfield. But it's the same passing window. There they just use the RB to widen the flat defender out.

So the point is there is no one right way, just different ways to attack the defense. This gets back to the notion of "concepts." In other words, the "shallow" is not a concept, it is a route to be used within those various concepts.

While a pro team may use each of these and more, a high school team may only have room for one. But each affects the defense differently so what you choose to do may depend on what you already do, what defenses you see, and what you can fit in well.

Building Stretches

The question was: How do you build downfield routes that stretch defenses horizontally (from sideline to sideline)?

An example of a short stretch is all curl. There you have 3 "short" receivers (tight end over the middle, backs in the flat) and two curling back receivers (outside guys) who come under the deep shell of the secondary and stretch four underneath defenders with five guys. Sid Gillman invented the play and Bill Walsh ran it for years and years.

See this article for further discussion on concepts and horizontal and vertical stretches.

Here are some thoughts on applying this procedure to routes farther downfield:

Examples of "downfield" routes that still use horizontal stretch concepts are the three-verticals (corners and a post) which is used to "horizontally stretch" two deep safeties. Also the four verticals play is a deep horizontal stretch, where you use four receivers to stretch three (or, more simply, the two inside receivers to stretch the middle safety).

I'm not sure it counts as sufficiently "downfield" but other common ones would just be a 10-12 yard out by #1 with a curl or seam by #2. You read this out to in. Often the RB sits over the ball so you get a kind of 1-2-3 horizontal stretch.

Note that several of these routes (like the three verticals with the corners and the post in the middle) employ both the horizontal stretch and the vertical stretch. For example on three verticals you stretch the two deep safeties horizontally with the two corners and the post, but you also stretch the cornerbacks/flat defender hi/lo because you send the runningbacks or a TE type player to the flats.

A final thought on this question, however.

This may seem like a simple question, but it really gets to the heart of how good passing concepts are built.

They are built with sound stretches, often layered over each other to put the maximum pressure on the defense. They are finished by making each route good versus man to man, or including a man to man concept.

You cannot build pass concepts that beat all potential coverages, but your goal is to make the defense work at stopping you and make them pay for their mistakes.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

On Bill Walsh

Bill Walsh passed away. Much has been said about the coaching tree that flows from him, the West Coast Offense, or even Walsh as a coach or sometimes business consultant, having taught classes at the Stanford Graduate School for Business.

His most lasting influence on me, and very likely the best chance for his future influence lie in his method and approach to football, which were laid out nearly in toto, in his book Finding the Winning Edge. This is why I have pasted the following two articles.

Belichick on "Finding the Winning Edge"

The first is an article about Patriots Coach Bill Belichick's appreciation of the book and of Bill Walsh's approach to the game. The article says it well. But if I could summarize, it would be that at some point, you honestly can't work harder than the other guy. Certainly not in the NFL. So what do you do? You work smarter. Both Walsh and Belichick epitomize this approach, though from vastly different starting points. Both also have three Super Bowl rings.

Bill Walsh - A Method For Game Planning

The second post is intended to give you a flavor of Walsh's approach in the form of a mid-1980s lecture he gave. Much has been said about the West Coast Offense, its origins, the pass plays it involves, the formations, the Pro Sets, the motions, the slant passes, etc.

To my mind, however, the West Coast Offense, or maybe more appropriately the Walsh Offense, has nothing to do with formations, nothing to do with routes or pass plays, and only a notional bit to do with "passing to set up the run." (As a digression, TV announcers often say that any team that throws it a bit "passes to set up the run," but when Walsh said it, he was very specific. He literally meant that he threw certain passes to certain areas to influence particular run defenders, he dropped back so he could run specific looking draws, and he would run play-action passes to set up those corresponding run plays for later in the game.)

Instead, the Walsh Offense is about two interrelated ideas: (1) A meticulous and thorough approach to building a gameplans, and (2) a calm, planned out approach to calling the actual plays in the game so that all your gameplanner is actually useful on gameday. Walsh didn't revolutionize Saturdays or Sundays, he revolutionized Sunday night through Thursdays. He figured out what would work when the pressures weren't on, he had his players practice those plays they had determined would work best, and then he actually ran those plays they practiced in the games they played, as opposed to some seat-of-the-pants calls made by other coaches.

The whole approach can be summarized by two quotes from the article below:

(1) I have been afforded the experience that allowed us to conceive an offense,
a defense, and a system of football that is basically a matter of rehearsing
what we do prior to the game."


(2) I know this, your ability to think concisely, your ability to make good
judgments is much easier on Thursday night than during the heat of the game. So
we prefer to make our decisions related to the game almost clinically, before
the game is ever played.

Unsurprisingly, one of the things that separated Walsh from the rest is that he spent a career devoted to perfecting and achieving this goal, rather than using it as a mere hope. This is what I took from Bill Walsh.

Belichick on "Finding the Winning Edge"

An article from Yahoo Sports, written by Charles Robinson.

If Bill Belichick were to loosen his cerebral grip, ever were going to empty out the folds of gray matter hidden under that gray hoody, he'd do it the way Bill Walsh did.

He'd teach. He'd write a book explaining it all. He'd spin the game of football forward by giving it all away. He looks at how Walsh did it, and out of admiration, it has become one of Belichick's hidden desires, too.

Walsh, who passed away Monday after a lengthy battle with leukemia, left an indelible impression on the man who has taken his place as the NFL's reigning genius.

To this day, Belichick insists Bill Walsh: Finding the Winning Edge is the greatest piece of football literature regarding a franchise blueprint ever written. Belichick read the book in the nuclear winter of his own coaching career, between the disaster with the Cleveland Browns and resurrection with the New England Patriots. At a time in his life time when Belichick was forced to re-examine his basic truths about team building, he wrapped his hands around the second of several books by Walsh.

When he was finished, Belichick's philosophical foundation as a coach had once again solidified beneath his feet.

"Saying it was outstanding wouldn't do it justice. For a coach, it's a Bible," Belichick said. "That book reinforced most of what I thought as a coach. I was glad to see Bill write it and say the things he did because a lot of it was either what I was trying to do or what I believed in. Between the book, the clinics, talking to Bill and picking things up from the (San Francisco) 49ers organization, there was certainly a confirmation in my mind that this is the way to do it."

They are words of deep respect, born of a relationship that few have known about over the years. Unbeknownst to most, Walsh has been one of the men who helped Belichick hone his coaching compass over the years. Separated by coasts, specialties and maybe even social personalities, Walsh somehow became a beacon, a sounding board and a geographically distant friend to the man who has authored the league's latest dynasty.

"Even though we never worked together and were really rivals in the 1980s – myself as a defensive coach and Bill as an offensive coach – and even with a lot of distance between us, we've had a very good relationship," Belichick said.

You wouldn't have made the match, with the two seeming so different. Even with the often tribal relationship of coaches, Walsh seemed more of the philosopher poet while Belichick has seemed cut from the cloth of a Cold War scientist. But their mutual knowledge and abilities as thinkers created the bridge. Much in the way that Miles Davis found inspiration in the styling of Charlie Parker and Vincent Van Gogh found motivation in the artistic kinship of Paul Gauguin, Belichick discovered a bond with Walsh through ideologies.

It wasn't always that way, of course. Belichick spent the greater part of the '80s playing Walsh's foil as a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator for the New York Giants. It was Belichick who spent his nights burning through film of Walsh's West Coast offense, tinkering with defensive game plans that often meant the difference between a run at the Super Bowl or heading home for the season.

It was during that time that Belichick's appreciation for Walsh took root. His players were disciplined. His system was painstakingly precise and well-practiced.

And his players fit "(Walsh) did such a good job of getting Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler and the tight ends, Russ Francis and John Frank and Brent Jones, . . . to execute that offense," Belichick said.

Even now, so many years later, he feels the pangs of satisfaction from his lone playoff victory over Walsh – the 49-3 bludgeoning in 1986 which arguably is the best game Belichick ever has called as a defensive coordinator.

Years later, when Walsh had retired and Belichick became coach of the Browns, the respect for Walsh developed into a bona fide friendship. Belichick sought to understand more about the San Francisco 49ers as an organization and the West Coast offense as a system. Phone calls on strategy and personnel became a staple. At one point, Belichick dispatched an assistant coach to spend time with Walsh at a coaching seminar. When the assistant returned, he carried with him 30 pages of Walsh's personal insights.

Eventually, the days in Cleveland went bad, and Belichick was left in the years that followed to dissect what went wrong. He's not particularly fond of the topic even now but allows that when he read Finding the Winning Edge, it armed him with renewed conviction.

Released in 1997 and written with the help of current Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick, the 550-page book is classic Walshian theory. While most coaches were penning lyrical accounts of players and teams and Super Bowl victories, Walsh enlisted Billick to help him write a how-to manual on building a franchise. And when it was finished, it was as complete as any outline ever has been.

From how to hire and fire coaches and scouts to refining a quarterback's footwork, the book dissects every nook of an NFL team. Taking all his notes, thoughts, clinics and even vital portions of his playbook, Walsh laid bare all that amounted to San Francisco's greatness in the '80s. And with a touch of his own personal teachings, he laced it with nuggets on leadership from presidents, generals, coaches, philosophers and theologians. In the chapter on designing a winning game plan, Walsh draws from Sun-Tzu's The Art of War:

"Rapidity is the essence of war; take advantage of the enemies' unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots."

Boiled into offensive terms: Keep your opponents on their heels and throw the ball to the open spot.

"If I were an owner, first of all, I would read that book," Belichick said. "Then I would make that book required reading for my head coach, general manager or any other key executive in my football operation."

That's with the assumption an owner could find enough copies. The book sold out all of its 36,000 copies. Now, securing one at vintage bookstores or on the Internet costs anywhere from $90 to $180 (more than six times its original price of $29.99). There even is a leather-bound edition, autographed by Walsh and limited to 300 copies, that fetches anywhere from $600 to $1,000. And on the rare occasion that several copies pop up at a bookstore, they typically are scooped up in an instant by coaching staffs.

Over the years, Billick has been approached by businessmen who have used the book as a business model, professors who have used it as a textbook in sports management, and, of course, coaches like Belichick who leaned on it to shape the principals of their own teams.

"Bill envisioned it as something on every coach's desk that he could refer back to," said Billick, the 49ers assistant director of public relations from 1979-80. "And I think he did that. Some people might say that it was a self-ingratiating concept, this whole 'the world according to Bill Walsh' thing. But Bill genuinely just wanted to put into print his observations about this league. And there really is no other book out there like it."

In that vein – the proliferation of ideas – there have been few like Walsh.
"Most of us are kind of private and aren't too helpful to outsiders – I guess that's a nice way of putting it," Belichick said. "But Bill was kind of like Johnny Appleseed. He was throwing those seeds out there in a helpful way to anyone who was interested."

And though Bill Walsh is gone, it's the seeds he bestowed on others that will keep him from ever being forgotten.

Bill Walsh - A Method For Game Planning

This is a transcript of a lecture given by Walsh during the mid-80s. Hat tip: Gunrun.

Planning for a football game today is somewhat different than the original concept of the game in which the quarterback was the field general and saw weaknesses during the game and called his plays accordingly. Obviously the game is much more complex today. I was fortunate to be involved with some of the great football coaches and programs. I have been afforded the experience that allowed us to conceive an offense, a defense, and a system of football that is basically a matter of rehearsing what we do prior to the game.

What we do is call the plays. When I was with Paul Brown and the Cincinnati Bengals, his trademark was sending in messenger guards. He had great success. Paul Brown was the man that changed the game from one that was a rugged, slugging it out type of play, to a more sophisticated method. The advancing of teaching techniques, coaching techniques, the use of teaching aids, the use of film, the black board, etc. All were originated and developed by Paul Brown just after World War II. Part of his concept was a strategy in which virtually everything was spelled out. It was a system in which the plays were called from the sideline. He was criticized for it at the time, but today it is virtually done by everyone. One of the problems you have today is that you don't have trained quarterbacks who can call plays because it has always been the coach who called the plays. At Cincinnati we had a young quarterback, by the name of Greg Cook, who had a short career, but may have been the greatest single talent to play the game. It became my responsibility to call the plays from the press box. Paul would always ask, "What are your openers?" He wanted to know how we were going to start the game. He was thinking about two or three plays that he would start the game with; an off tackle play, a pass, etc. So we began to develop our franchise. When I left in 1975, we had a 11-3 record and the number one offense in professional football. A lot of it was related to disciplining a quarterback. At that time it was Ken Anderson. It was disciplining an offense to know what to expect when we called a play. Consequently we could call a play with the assurance that we could get something done.

My next employment was with the San Diego Chargers and I was fortunate enough to have someone like Dan Fouts to work with. Now the list of opening plays began to number 10 and 12. In other words, we began to plan the opening sequences of the game. From there I went to Stanford and the list went to 20. We would have our first 20 plays to be called. Now with San Francisco we finally stopped with 25. What we have finally done is rehearse the opening part of the game, almost the entire first half, by planning the game before it even starts.

Now why would you do such a thing? I know this, your ability to think concisely, your ability to make good judgments is much easier on Thursday night than during the heat of the game. So we prefer to make our decisions related to the game almost clinically, before the game is ever played. We've scouted our opponent, we have looked at films, we know our opponent well. If you coach at the high school level, often you are in the same league with the same coaches and you know them like a book. With out question you can make more objective decisions during the week as to what you would do in the game than you can spontaneously as the game is being played. To be honest with you, you are in a state of stress, sometimes you are in a state of desperation and you are asked to make very calculated decisions. It is rarely done in warfare and certainly not in football; so your decisions made during the week are the ones that make sense. In the final analysis, after a lot of time and thought and a lot of planning, and some practice, I will isolate myself prior to the game and put together the first 25 plays for the game. They are related to certain things.

What are the reasons for pre-planning your offense before the game?

1. ESTABLISH FORMATIONS. To see the adjustments the opponent will make. You can't wait to find out when you are on their five yard line. Early in the game you are going to show certain formations to see what adjustments are. The coach in the press box knows what formations are coming up, so he knows what to watch for concerning adjustments.

2. BASE OFFENSE. You have to establish in your own mind how you are going to handle a base offense. In other words, you want to have certain plays to start the game in which you take on your opponent physically, man to man, and the coach upstairs as well as the coach on the field, is observing that. You get a better feel which way to run and what kinds of plays work best. Part of your plays are where you attack your opponent physically and find out where your matchups are. You want to find that out early in the game, so that some time later you have an idea of just what you want to do.

3. SET UP CERTAIN THINGS. In our case we will run a given play so that later we can run the play pass that can win the game for us. Occasionally we will play an opponent in which we will run the play pass first, faking the run and throwing; so that later we can run the running play itself. In our case we want to set up the play pass.

4. SPECIALS. One of the interesting things about Paul Brown Football is that he would always be terribly upset if someone would run a reverse before we did, or a run pass before we did. He would grab the phone and scream in my ear, "They did it before we did!" This was very distressing because it sounded so dated. But you know something, over the years, I found that Paul was 100% right. If you run your reverse first, and you can make 5 yards or more, the other guy won't run his. If you have a special play of any kind, get it into the game quickly. How many of you have had a ball game and you have practiced two or three things that you thought for sure would work. The game is over and you didn't try them or you are so far out of it, it doesn't matter whether you try them or not. Paul was right. Set up your special plays early and run them early. Get them done, it affects your opposition.

This approach to the game has a good track record. When I was at Stanford, I was told by our student manager that in seven straight games, we scored on our first drive. This year in virtually every game, we scored early. Against the Raiders, a game we lost, in 17 plays we had two touchdowns. Our problem was later on. The point is that in every game, we will move the ball early. A year ago we moved the ball throughout the game. Last year, we just moved it early. Planning can make the difference. Those first twenty five plays can make the difference.

5. ESTABLISH SEQUENCE. If you have running plays with any sequence to them at all, you will want to start the sequence so you can establish something to work from. If you can do this at home, or in your office, think and visualize yourself how you would like to see the game develop. Write down your plays and the corresponding formations. Believe me, it takes tremendous pressure off of you. If you feel confident going into the game, it makes you that much more confident. If you have the feeling that a lot of us have had before a game, that you are going to lose the thing, you are out gunned, etc., it certainly takes a lot of pressure off the out-gunned coach to know that you have done everything you could before going into the game. If you want to sleep at night before the game, have your first 25 plays established in your own mind the night before that. You can walk into the stadium and you can start the game without that stress factor. You will start the game and you will remind yourself that you are looking at certain things because a pattern has been set up.

6. ISOLATE THE SECOND HALF. In our particular case we have already gone into the second half, not in the detail that we did at the start of the game. In our particular level, every game is a tight one. If you win a game by a big score, you never expected to. If you lose by a big score, you never expected to. There is just never a game that you can count on. You might as well plan part of the second half. You hold certain things back that you think will be effective in the second half. Some are related to your original plan, others are related to your opposition in regard to what adjustments you think they might make. I will tell you this, I think we can do a better job with halftime adjustments on Thursday than we can at halftime the day of the game. It's that simple.


The question comes up how can you have 25 starting plays when you don't know what the down and distance will be or where you' 11 be on the field, etc. Let's get into the other part of the plan because that's the difference. We have 25 plays we have basically decided upon. We have talked to the line coach, who may handle the running end of it. Basically you look for a formula to win in those 25 plays. Let's talk about things we seldom practice but they win or lose a game.

1. BACKED UP OFFENSE. You won't worry about it until you are backed up, but one of the things we do as part of our plan, the offense will run any where from your own one foot line out as far as your own 8-10 yard line. What are you going to do when you look down at the far end of the field, you have the ball, your players seem like they are a mile away from you and you have to drive out. The defense certainly has a feeling about that. They feel if they have you in the hole, the defensive charges are going to be lower and harder, you know the Opposition is going to be blitzing. You know that who ever is supporting sweep plays is going to be up near the line of scrimmage. You know that the linebackers are ready to plug as quickly as they can because, obviously they have you in a jam. There are certain factors such as that that you look for when you scout the Opposition. In our case, we have probably four runs and two passes for the backed up offense. The passes, you hate to think of throwing, but you may be behind and have to throw. You do certain types of passes from that situation. Things that you can do the best with very little chance of interception.

We know when we are backed up, we can't fumble the ball. Certainly when we are backed up, we can't take a loss. We know that when we are backed up, a penalty against us is far more damaging, and we know when we are backed up we have to have room for out punter to punt the ball with a certain amount of poise. If he doesn't have the room, the ball is snapped very quickly to him, it's a bad punt, the return is good and it means 7 points for the Opposition. So backed up offense means something to us in our game plan, but also it means something when we practice. This all comes from experience, men. It wasn't ordained to me or any one else. It came through 25 years of coaching and some bad experiences with it.

Generally when you practice this kind of work it has to be contact. It does not have to be scrimmaging where there is tackling, but there has to be full speed blocking where everybody gets a feel. You take your offense to the goal line, put the ball on the six inch line, offense huddle up in the end zone, defense huddle up and wait. Now the offensive coaches and the defensive coaches will discuss backed up football. The defensive coach will talk about the advantage they have and how to maintain it and what you must not allow the opponent to do. The offensive coach talks about the things I just mentioned. Now, the team has been spoken to, here are the plays we will be running, probably all year, we are going to fight our way out of here. And so you will practice it. You may be able to get that done twice or three times during the first two weeks of practice. What you are going to do is to back up your team to the six inch line, move the ball out to the two yard line, move the ball out to the four yard line, and in each case, talk about the things you are going to do and how to practice them. The defense, of course, is doing the correlating thing. Each week in practice when you play a given opponent, you have four plays, line up your team on its own one yard line and you run four plays to remind everybody if the backed up offense and what the problems will be.

Most often the problem comes just inside the tight end. The linebackers or ends as you may call them, come underneath the tight ends. Often we will go to two tight ends, as part of that offense. But we practice it. Believe it or not, when your team is on the field and somebody punts the ball out of bounds, of some other disaster occurs and your offensive team runs out there, you can hear them talking about the backed up offense, what they have to do. When that starts to happen, your team is prepared to play football. You are doing the best job you can do, a thorough job.

2. 3RD AND 3 OFFENSE. The next thing we talk about is the 3rd and 3 offense. Naturally this is in your game plan. 3rd and 3 is a tough situation. We will practice it. We will allow certain amounts of time in our training camp for 3rd and 3 football. We set up the down markers, we line up the defense, offense, we have lectured it to our team as part of our situation football. Most often you are going to go to your best back with your best running play and you are not going to fool anybody at that point. You are going to depend heavily on that running back to get the extra yard or two with his ability, figuring that the block for the first two yards of it. 3rd and 3 to us may mean a pass in our style of football. We may throw 3 to 1 over running the ball because of some of the defenses we face. 3rd and 3 means something and you practice it. The first two weeks of practice you will hit on that. You will say, one of the toughest situations we have, men, is when it is 3rd down and approximately 3 yards to go. The opposition is not in their short yardage defense at that point, but they are going to come after you and it is a critical down. Occasionally the defense isn't quite as aware as the offense of how important it is. In our 3rd and 3 offense we will probably have four runs. They may be the same as your backed up offense, and in our case, we will have two or three passes. You will practice those each week. You will say it is 3rd and 3 as part of your situation practice. We are going to have four plays, defense get ready. It will be live, not tackling. We are going to block it and we are going to make it. The runner will have the feeling of what he is after. He will come out of the huddle and see those 3 yards are the difference in this ball game, we win it or we lose it. He will learn how to control the ball, not take any silly chances, stopping, dodging. He has to bust up in there, use his blocking and get his three.

3. 3RD AND SHORT. 3rd and short can mean anywhere from 1-6 inches all the way to 2 yards. In this situation the 6 inch play may be different than the 2 yard play. Often there are plays that are somewhat different than your other plays. Most teams will stay in their same defense but they will have a way to play it. Everybody will pinch down, linebackers scraping, corners at the line of scrimmage, safety at the line, whatever. As we list our short yardage plays, we will list the play and we might list the formation, a 16 Power for example, may be the play that we use from 1 inch to 1 1/2 yards. Often 6 inches to go, we are going to quarterback sneak. Often 2 yards to go is too much for a sneak, who are we kidding, we are going to run an off tackle power with double team blocking. I really don't worry much about the play because everyone runs a slightly different offense. I do know, that you as a coach better anticipate the degree of what we call the short yardage situation. Again, you talk to your team during the two week period before your first game, you are probably only going to get about 10 minutes of it, and you are going to practice it. You are going to line up your team, you're going to have your down markers, you are going to show right now, we've got 2 yards to go and it is 3rd down. Here are the things we do, here's what to expect from the Opposition. We are going to move it right up to the tip of the ball on that yard marker. Meanwhile, the defensive coach is doing the same thing. Talking about it. Each week you are going to get four short yardage plays. To be honest with you, it would be more than that for us.

4. SHORT YARDAGE PASSES. One, naturally, is the one you try to score a touchdown on. The short yardage situation is the only time you are sure what the coverage is. Teams won't play around with it. If you are sure of the pass coverage, the time you might be able to score is on 3rd down and one yard to go and your team knows it. This is where we have them, they know the coverage, we know who is going to be blitzing and how to block it. We will also have a play, most often with the quarterback rolling out, running or passing to make the yard or two as one of our passes. So we have a TD play and we want it every week and we practice it every week. You may not use it for 7 weeks and you will win a game with it the eighth week.

By and large, if you have gotten to your opponent's 20 yard line with one or two first downs, the opposing head coach is desperate. The defensive coach is trembling because the head Coach is walking toward him. The head coach says, "Blitz, stop them now. Blitz, they are killing us." The defensive coach doesn't have time to explain that they have only made one first down and it was the silly offense that got them there. Most people get desperate, some people panic. Teams go to a man to man coverage, teams will blitz. So, on the plus 20 yard line, we are going to throw the ball and make a touchdown. Now we have a better idea of what the pass coverages are. We know the man to man coverage is far more likely than a pure zone coverage. We know that teams are more likely to blitz 50 we are looking to throw for a touchdown. I don't recommend that unless you have a skilled quarterback One week it may be the 18 yard line or the 25 yard line, but that part of our football is special. We will have four passes that would be scoring passes. You might go the entire game and not use them because that situation doesn't come up. You move the ball from the 45 down to the 2, you are never there. You have passes and you are looking to break man to man coverage. You may have some special runs because a blitzing defense, if you trap it just right, you can score against it. Again, the first two weeks of football practice, you show your team. You show your team what you think is best in this situation. We will use the same ones all year, but we are going to practice them. You talk about it for ten minutes, you practice it offensively and defensively. During the week of practice before a game, there is situational football. You move the ball to the plus 15 or plus 18, wherever that breaking point is for you and your opponent and you run those passes. Now when your team comes out of the huddle on the 18 yard line, the guys are saying, "Look out for the blitz, here's our chance to score." The receiver is saying, "Throw the ball out front of me, don't make me stop for it." Whatever it is, you have those plays. In our case, most of our touchdown passes will come from this area. If they want to zone you, we have outlet people who we would throw to against the zone. We know that it gets tougher and tougher to score as you go in closer.

This is when your opponent hasn't got into his goal line defense. Often you will go to your backed up football. There are certain base block run plays against the three man line that you are going to run right at that point. You are looking to see if they have substituted their goal line defense. If they haven't substituted their goal line defense, you are looking for your 8 yard line or your close offense. You have certain plays that you would run. Again, going back to your two weeks practice before your opening game, you talk about it. "Men, there is a point from that 10 yard line in that they are going to stay in their basic defense. They are going to blitz us and we are going to have certain plays that we are going to run." We know that people can get underneath the blocker and make the stops. We know that we don't want to lose yardage.

In this phase they have substituted their goal line defense. I suppose there are teams that don't substitute, but by and large, let's assume they do. They use 6 linemen and the gap charge. Often you have to make a change in the blocking patterns that you'll use to face up to that goal line defense. Like our short yardage offense, when we talk about our goal line offense, we are talking about what we need. Certainly there is certain situation where we need inches. So we would start our list with those plays where we need inches to score. We would move our list down to let's say the six plays we might run if we are sitting with 3rd down and 3 on the 3 yard line and they are still in their goal line defense. You will see varied charges. When we get to the six inch line or the 1 foot line, we are going to see everyone in the gap, coming straight ahead. When we are on the 3 yard line with 3 yards to go, often there is an out charge. There is a substitute man coming in for one of the linebackers. There is a free safety back in the game, those kind of things happen. We have to account for those situations. You can't account for these situations if you haven't planned to do it because you will look down at that far end of the field and you will just see a bunch of bodies and rear ends facing you. You can't tell where you are. You have to have a method you have worked with and your coach in the press box has to tell you just where you are. We talk to our quarterback about signaling distance. He will put up his hands and you think it is something that it is not. He will signal and it looks like we need 3 yards and later you will see the film and we only needed 1 yard. You have ways to talk to him about what that means to you and then you have that part of your football developed. The first two weeks of practice you have to have some goal line football. Every week you have a certain number of plays. You place the ball on the 3 yard line, the 2 yard line, the 1 yard line, the 6 inch line, and the 1 inch line. Bring it out to the 3 and it is 3rd and 3 on the 3. Here's what we are going to run. Practice it that way and often these plays run together. Your players have so much more confidence, coming out of the huddle knowing what they have been in those situations before. Obviously, line splits make a difference. Hopefully there is an extra blocker on the weakside, the tight end or some big wide rear ended guy, to help protect his gap. But whatever you have, if you have planned it and fail, you can't blame yourself for losing your poise. You can't blame yourself for panicking if you have planned these things and they fail. You may really search yourself for the kinds of decisions you made on Thursday night, but you certainly can't make the decision during the game. As a coach, one of the things you are always fighting during the game is the stress factor, breaking your will. The stress factor will affect your thinking. I have been in situations where I could not even begin to think what to do. From that point on, I knew that I had better rehearse everything.

To save your own sanity, you'd better practice the last three plays of the game. I don't worry so much what they are. Don't get yourself in a position to try to think of something to do with just a few seconds left because you will always wonder why you didn't do something else. Through experience we said that we were going to have 3 plays. Often they are the kind of plays with a very low percentage. I have seen the Atlanta Falcons win their division in three consecutive games, I think it was, throwing the ball way down the field on their so-called planned play with a tipped pass. I won't talk about those plays in detail, but certainly one would be catching the ball and lateralling it. Our team has practiced those last three plays and when it gets down to that point, they go in the game knowing just what they are going to do. I say, "Good luck" and amazingly enough, a couple of those have worked. We walked off the field with our heads up. "My God, we almost pulled it out." Rather than throwing the ball up in the air and having it intercepted and humiliating you.

You have plays that you are going to call for that kind of situation. A lot of high school teams will run the ball on 3rd and 8. If they can run it, they should run it because it is certainly the best way to attack somebody. 3rd down and 8 should mean something to you. Number one, the best single pass in Football is the hook. It's not an out. Percentages throwing an accurate out drop considerably compared to a hooking pass. Obviously, a receiver can adjust to a hook. The receiver can see the ball leave the quarterback's hands and the receiver can adjust to coverages. You will need some type of a hook pass that gets you 8 yards on 3rd and 8. You hear the sportscaster comment that the receiver did not run the distance he needed to make a first down. You have to school your team on the fact that half of the yardage you make forward passing is after the catch. If we have 3rd down and 15 yards to go, it does not mean we are going to run a 15 yard pass pattern. We will generally throw the ball 10 and get up into the 20's. We remind our team, it is 2nd and 20, 3rd and 25, we are going to run a basic pattern, get all we can out of the completion and run for the rest of it. We are constantly reminding our receivers what their stats are running after the catch. Dwight Clark might be 4.2; Fred Soloman might be 9.3. This is one way you measure a receivers performance and his contribution to the ball club. 3rd down and 8 does not mean you have to throw an 8 yard pass.

What are you going to do when you have 15 yards to go on a given down? You count on your best receiver catching the ball and then have running room to make the yardage. In each of these situations, you will practice them.

The next thing you talk about is the time factor in a game. There is a dramatic difference for example, between the end of the first half and the end of the second half. Obviously at the end of the game if you are behind, you are not going to be very cautious. You have to do certain things. Some of the gross errors are made at the end of the first half.

So often teams leave the field after attempting to drive and score with time outs remaining. I suggest, if you have a so called two minute offense, you first decide whether you are going to score or run the clock out. You can run the clock out in a way that your principal and students won't notice. You have to call certain sweep type plays, but you are looking at the clock and you want to get the heck out of there. We know, we may try to go for it with a two minute offense, but the minute I see the odds start to turn the other way, I signal to our quarterback and now we watch the clock run. We want to get out of there. Let's say that we feel we can get into position to score and we have been a reasonably effective team in doing that. We are a team that uses our time outs. We want to use our time outs even if it is at the wrong time as far as the clock is concerned. What we really need to do is discuss strategy with the quarterback. We will give the quarterback two or maybe three plays to call. We will talk about what the defense is doing, what defense they are in, remind him what our game plan was. We are not going to be able to send plays in at that point. So we will set our strategy at the expense of the clock. We know that with a minute and 20 seconds left in the half, call your time outs if the clock is running because if that clock is running with a minute and 20 seconds, if you have any kind of play, by the time you run the next play you have probably run 20-25 seconds off the clock. You do that twice and it is now third down and you are really in trouble, because the other team is going to get the ball back. I say use your time outs and don't wait too long.

Almost the first day of practice you install your basic running game. It might be a 16 Power or a 17 Power, whatever it is, you simply talk to your team in a meeting and tell them that we are going to call two plays. The quarterback is going to call the formation, the plays are going to be on a certain snap count, for us it is on set which is the second sound, and the quarterback is going to say "two plays" 16 Power twice. You come up to the line of scrimmage and you run 16 power on set. You don't jump around, you take your time and run it again. If you will do that in your early camp once or twice a day, just a couple of plays, you have established a system in which you can call your plays. Most two minute offensive plays are not elaborate plays. You can repeat the same one three or four times. It could be a very simple hooking type pass or an out. The point is, all you need is the facility to do it. You simply say, two plays and name them. The next thing you might do is call your formation Red Right, check with me, you come to the line of scrimmage and say 16. Now you can run two plays. Remember if you huddle up it could cost you at least 25 seconds. The two minute offense is related to one, being able to call two plays in the huddle; two, to use your time outs; three, know when you are not going to make it. Those are the key things.

Four minute offense does not mean you are trying to score. In the two minute offense you want to score points. Four minute offense, you want to use the clock and control the ball. This was brought home in 1972 when I was with the Cincinnati Bengals. With four minutes left in the game, we had an 11 point lead and had the ball. We lost the game. We know this, we can use 35 seconds on the clock by simply not going out of bounds, not throwing an incompletion and not being penalized. But 35 seconds is 4 forward passes that your opponent can get if you don't use it up. In a four minute offense, every play can use 35 seconds. All we really have to do is make a first down and we are going to win that thing. You must practice the four minute offense. It has to be live, you don't tackle people necessarily because you can blow the whistle when you think the man would have been stopped. You have to talk to your team about it. You are going to win the game and here is how you are going to do it. You are going to have the lead with four minutes to go and you are going to have a first down. You will win if you can maintain control. You know you have 35 seconds if you don't go out of bounds. You know the clock will stop on a penalty. You know that a fumble is disastrous, that if you can just squeak out a first down by good play calling and aggressive blocking, you will win.

Always feel that when you go into a game, the other team has a one point edge on you. As a coach even if they have a 40 point edge on you, don't think about that. You figure every time you play, you are a one point underdog. They are one point better than you are. You will be a little more alert about it. If you think the opponent is one point better, you have to control the ball. We have plays that we are going to run. We are looking at the clock and unfortunately, we may have to throw a pass to get that first down, which we have had to do and have been successful. But we have practiced it and our quarterback knows the fears he can have with a mistake. Your four minute offense can win you the game. If you will talk about it, you will be surprised. If you practice it each week, four of five plays. You can say, here we are, on our 30 yard line, four minutes to go, let's see what we can do. Let's see if we can get a first down and how we will use the clock. Throughout much of this situational football, there is pressure on the offense.

One of the big mistakes you can make is to play around with the snap count. Any time we are backed up, we are going to snap the ball on set. Any time we are sitting there in short yardage, we are not going to play around with the snap count. We have seen teams try to draw teams offside and one of their own linemen moves and then it is 3rd down and 6 to go. We are going to snap the ball on the regular count that makes sense. Paul Brown has a certain snap count for every play and Paul was right because with certain plays it makes a dramatic difference in the way you use your cadence. The first thing you remind yourself, don't outsmart yourself. Give the offense every chance to come off the ball together. Further down the list you might say, let's disrupt the defense by getting them off balance. Your snap count is very important to you.

If you are talking about offensive football, the running game is the most vital part of the game, but when you talk about your running game, what you are saying is you have to be able to run when you are backed up. You have to be able to run on 3rd and 3, you have to be able to run on short yardage. You have to be able to run through tough situations. In the professional level, the forward pass dominates the rest of the game. But if you can't run in tough situations, your chances of success are minimal.

So what do we do? We take a sheet and list our first 25 plays. We keep a sheet and on one side of it are listed 25 plays that we are going to run. We have one square accounting for the second half of the football game and we have a block where we write in our adjustments at half time. I will show you two charts at the end of this talk.

You start the game with the first 25 plays, but now it is 3rd and 3. You turn the sheet over and go to the 3rd and 3 list. You have listed the plays in the order that you would call them on 3rd and 3. You take it; turn the sheet over and go to your next play. Trouble; long yardage, you turn the sheet over and go to the long yardage category. Punt; get the ball back. You have your first 25 plays listed, but of course, somewhere in here you are going to be backed up. You have the ball on your 1 yard line; so don't fight it. Turn over the sheet and look at your BACKED UP

You make a first down, turn the sheet over and now we are on play number 5. It works; go to number 6. It works; go to number 7; we are in pretty good shape. Oh, you got to the 20 yard line. You have another choice now. You can stay with your original list which might have been a basic run; or you can decide to try to get into the end zone with a pass. Say you don't quite make it and you are on the 8 yard line. You are on the 6 inch line. You look at these categories. You score a touchdown. By the time you get back to the sheet, you are behind 21-7, but don 't worry about it. You have a lot of plays on your list to call. So continue to go through your list.

This is a way to pre-plan the game. We feel pretty solid about this. Write on the plan the opponent and the date so that you don't end up using last years plan. This is a format that establishes how you practice.

The next thing is when do you practice these things. Obviously we have more time to practice than you do. But I will fake a plan for the high school coaches. If I remember right, you play on Friday night. On Saturdays you are cutting the grass, if I remember right. That is not a bad life.
On Sunday you should go to church with your wife.

MON. - Review, etc. Install plays.
TUE. - We will not cover the situations that much.
WED. - 6 plays (4 minutes) 6 plays (3rd & 3) 6 plays (short yardage) 6 plays (goal line) THU. - Last 3 plays 6 plays (long yardage) 6 plays (3rd & 8)

When we plan our practice we don't talk about how much time we are going to practice. We figure that one play is one minute. So we go by the number of plays. In a given practice we will have 5 plays of short yardage, and 6 of long yardage. We will say "get 12 plays in 10 minutes" of drills. Each day you will have one segment of your game plan that you will practice. There is obviously time when you are going to cover your base offense and your base defense. But, you plan on certain days for these things to be done. You can live with this much easier than second guessing yourself.

On the other side of the sheet is where the difference is. This is where we categorize all of the things we have talked about. Thank you very much.

Monday, July 02, 2007

What Killed the Run and Shoot?

Q: What killed the Run and Shoot? Why don't you see "the shoot" anymore in the NFL or major college football?

A: First, you have to distinguish between the
"Run and Shoot" as a specific, delineated system, and the individual Run and Shoot "concepts" or routes. And I'm not just referring to spreading with four wide receivers. I'm referring to the specific "Choice," "Go," "Switch," and the broader design of the system.

The first answer is that even if the "the Shoot" is dead, the Concepts live. This is so whether any of their current benefactors would admit it (or, in some instances, whether they even realize they are using run and shoot concepts). Indeed, the concepts are here to stay. Mike Martz with the Rams and now the Lions consistently use forms of Choice and Switch. Petrino at Louisville (we shall see in Atlanta) has used a couple R&S concepts. Even Charlie Weis at Notre Dame uses a play very similar to the Georgia concept. Moreover, the famous four verticals so common today where the slot receiver reads the coverage to attack the seam or the deep middle was largely developed and expanded upon by the R&S. Everyone who seriously considers passing offense should study the Run and Shoot.

The Shoot as a specific, delineated system with the four wide receivers (or two split ends and two slots), a single back, half-rollouts, certain run plays, the protections, the screen, and the like was countered. Offenses responded and have disguised their run and shoot philosophies by calling them different things and showing different looks. There is nothing magical (or surreptitious) about that; it is the West Coast philosophy and it is a good one. The reason people question this is because, for a time, the Run and Shoot had nearly unparralleled success.

As the typical story goes, the zone blitz killed the R&S. The preface to this story is that for twenty years, the Run and Shoot did not get blitzed. Well, it did, but Run and Shoot teams (like the U of Houston) would score 60 or 70 on those teams, and the NFL teams that tried it would give up after a quarter or half touchdowns raining from the sky.

How do you employ a four-wide pass-happy attack that was blitz proof for twenty years? And then why did it suddenly get blitzed out of existence?

The history of the Shoot is a lesson to all offensive coaches, and this same principle can be applied by all manenr of offensive coaches, and is often applied by coaches like Joe Gibbs and teams like the Indy Colts in the use of Tight ends and H-Backs.

The R&S used the RB in the protection. The quarterback would do a half-roll to one side, the line would do a kind of sprint-out/turnback protection, and the runningback would often block the defensive end or end man on the line of scrimmage to the half-roll side. About 8-10 times a game, however, the running back would block the DE for a 1001 count, and then slide off and release for a screen pass as his linemen got downfield to block for him. Against an all-out blitzing team, no one covered him because he had already engaged a defender, so everyone assumed he was in the protection, they would rush upfield, and the runningback would release out into the open field.

It becomes a study in game theory and reading and reacting. So defenses responded to this tactic. They had to keep at least one safety or another defender back to spy the RB. Why does this mean no blitzing? If the RB is able to block the end man on the line of scrimmage while another player must sit back and not blitz, simply to see whether or not the RB releases on a screen. The net result was that R&S teams rarely, if ever, saw Cover 0 blitzing man defenses. They could always release four receivers, block with six (assuming their six could block the other teams' six) and not face any overload blitzes.

Enter the zone blitz. Back in his days with Texas A&M, Bob Davie was an innovator. Against run and shoot teams like the University of Houston, he would run his 3-4 defense, blitz his outside LBs (thus forcing the RB to stay in and block), and drop off defensive linemen and interior linebackers so he could still play zone with six to eight defenders. As a result the R&S's protection and formation scheme broke down. They blocked with six, had the running back on a bad matchup with a good OLB, faced an unblocked rusher, but the defense still had 6-8 guys in coverage, so the R&S's "hot reads" and breakoffs did not work either. The run and shoot finally had to adapt. Sure they could do things like certain quick breakoffs and other gadgets, but free rushers and seven guys in coverage was a losing battle for the QB.

So it was not merely "disguising coverages," (as Run and Shoot QBs and receivers were well coached and could still find the voids or the single man), or the blitzing (as shown above, Run and Shoot teams could defeat the blitz), it was the defensive combination of always being able to always get an unblocked rusher, eat the RB, and run a disguised zone that eventually rattled and slowed down the "pure" Run and Shoot.

So did the R&S die? In a sense. Even those who still swear by it, like Hawaii's June Jones, both do not run the same "Shoot" in exact form, have changed their protections, and remain bitterly secretive regarding the system, fearing another breakdown.

But in another, perhaps larger sense, the Shoot is stronger than ever. More teams and more teams use its concepts. And, for a "dead offense," it still stirs up quite a bit of discussion, no?

Passing Concepts

I've had a few questions recently regarding passing concepts. For a primer, here are a few previous posts on the subject:

Organizing Pass Plays as Concepts
Further Note on Concepts
Packaging Concepts

Q: I have some questions concerning different passing concepts. Unsurprisingly, I've found many different opinions concerning number of concepts and names for them. I've heard some coaches say that every passing play falls into one of four different concepts, including: vertical stretch, horizontal stretch (outside in, inside out), flood concept, or a single receiver concept. However, I did read the Norm Chow article on your website and saw how there are coaches who believe there are many more than that. This seems confusing. For example, some coaches have a "Quick Game" concept. How can that be a single concept when most of the plays in the quick game use a different concept? In our quick game we have a four verts play that is a vertical stretch concept. [Ed Note: Is it really a vertical stretch? Or a "deep horizontal stetch" on the F/S?] I am aware that a single play can have more than on concept in it and I understand that different coaches have different names for the same plays/routes/concepts etc. I am just looking for some more clarification on ways to tell which category a certain passing play fits.

A: Passing concepts are intended as a tool and a framework to attack defenses. I put up multiple approaches to show that there isn't one hard and fast way to go about it, and to demonstrate that it's just a way of thinking about passes that can improve your approach. I think you can keep the number of concepts fairly small.

I will note that I think there is something to Norm Chow's "oblique" or "triangle" concepts, (which really is just the combination of a hi/low and a horizontal stretch). So my advice is to just tinker with it and come up with a framework that works for you. On one level, I'm convinced that there are really only three "concepts" - vertical stretches (hi/lo), horizontal stretches (in/out or out/in), and man concepts (rubs, option routes, or just plain old routes good against man). Then from there you break them down further (two level or three level vertical stretches; 1-2 in/out reads or 1-2-3; triangles which are both 1-2 hi/lo and 1-2 in/out reads).

In the end, it's about finding a way to structure your offense so that it (a) makes sense, (b) is tight and efficient with a core set of plays, with the best way of achieving this being to eliminate duplicative concepts, and (c) gives you a quick framework to draw upon when attacking defenses.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Norm Chow - Reads and Concepts

This is from Norm Chow in 2002 (@ NC State when he had Phillip Rivers at QB): You can see that on SOME of these - he mixes 2 or even 3 concepts within 1 pass.

To better understand this post check out the BYU plays/numbers here, and compare these routes. He used these same routes at USC and NC State and still does in the NFL.

1. "QUICK GAME CONCEPT" = entire 3 step drop series ("50 SERIES") except for "4 Verticals".

2. "QUICK VERTICALS CONCEPT" = 3 step game with 4 verticals.

NOTE: "60 SERIES" = 5 step drop (SOME but very little 7).

----A) 61 Y Choice
----B) 66
----C) 64

----A) 62 = MESH ROUTES

----A) 67

----A) 68 = SMASH )

----A) 63

----A) 65

----A) 69

These passes (the "50 Series", and "61 thru 69") were the same he used at BYU

He was also experimenting with things he called:


THESE (ABOVE) were used on some "TAGS" that aren't in the base passes listed above (WHICH CAN BE FOUND IN JUST ABOUT ANY OF HIS BYU BOOKS).

The QB READS on the "60 Series" (his "bread & butter") were:


“61 Y OPTION” – 5 step drop. Eye T.E. and throw it to him unless taken away from the outside by S/S (then hit Z), OR inside by ILB (then hit FB). Don’t throw option route vs. man until receiver makes eye contact with you. Vs. zone – can put it in seam. Vs. zone – no hitch step. Vs. man – MAY need hitch step.

“62” - MESH – 5 step drop. Take a peek at F/S – if he’s up hit Z on post. Otherwise watch X-Y mesh occur – somebody will pop open – let him have ball. Vs. zone – throw to Fullback.

“63” - DOUBLE-IN (split end post, Y-10 yard in, Z-15-18yd dig) – 5 step drop and hitch (7 steps permissible). Read F/S: X = #1; Z = #2; Y OR HB = #3.

“64” – SPEED OUTS - 5 step drop. Key best located Safety on 1st step. Vs. 3 deep look at F/S – if he goes weak – go strong (Z = #1 to FB = #2 off S/S); if he goes straight back or strong – go weak (X = #1 to HB = #2 off Will LB). Vs. 5 under man – Y is your only choice. Vs. 5 under zone – X & Z will fade.

“65” – Y-SAIL/STRONG FLOOD - 5 step drop and hitch. Read the S/S. Peek at Z #1; Y = #2; FB = #3. As you eyeball #2 & see color (F/S flash to Y) go to post to X. Vs. 2 deep zone go to Z = #1 to Y = #2 off S/S.

“66” – ALL-CURL- 5 step drop and hitch. On your first step read Mike LB (MLB or first LB inside Will in 3-4). If Mike goes straight back or strong – go weak (X = #1; HB = #2). If Mike goes weak – go strong (Y = #1; Z = #2; FB = #3). This is an inside-out progression. NOT GOOD vs. 2 deep 5 under.

“67” – 3-VERTICAL/DOUBLE CORNERS- 5 step drop and hitch. Read receiver (WR) rather than defender (Corner). Vs. 2 deep go from Y = #1 to Z = #2. Vs. 3 deep read same as “64” pass (Will LB) for X = #1 or HB = #2. Equally good vs Cover 2 regardless if man OR zone under.

“68 SMASH” – SMASH - 5 step drop and hitch. Vs. 2 deep look HB = #1; FB = #2 (shoot); Z = #3. Vs. 3 deep – stretch long to short to either side. Vs. man – go to WR’s on “returns”.

“69 HB OPTION” – Y-SAIL - 5 step drop - hitch up only if you need to. Eye HB: HB = #1; Y = #2. QB & receiver MUST make eye contact vs. man. Vs. zone – receiver finds seam (takes it a little wider vs. 5 under). Only time you go to Y is if Will LB and Mike LB squeeze HB. If Will comes & F/S moves over on HB – HB is “HOT” and will turn flat quick and run away from F/S. Otherwise HB runs at his man to reinforce his position before making his break.

NOTE: BLITZ AUDIBLES IN “60 SERIES” when we want “Y” to enter in protection on widest rusher (S/S or OLB) his side: “MAX PRO”.

1. “67 Stay”
2. “63 Stay” – gives X on post if F/S lines up strong on Y.
3. “62 Stay” – gives Z on post if F/S aligns weak on HB.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Rock-Paper-Scissors, Edgar Allan Poe, and Play Selection

Despite the lofty title, this post focuses on the narrow topic of calling the right play in a football game. Coaches spend an enormous amount of time studying film, determining tendencies, creating gigantic scouting reports for each opponent, and then distributing them to their other coaches and to players who do not read them. Barely sleeping is a badge of honor, particularly at the highest levels, we are sure that more work equals more success.

This is surely true, but how is time best spent? And how should the entire idea of "play-calling" be thought of? Despite all the time spent on preparation, when asked most playcallers, such as Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, say that playcalling is "more art than science." If so much of it is gut feeling and chance during the game, then maybe the better strategy is to get some sleep during the week. I'm kidding, as I put a high premium on preparation, but can active playcalling do more harm than good? And what are the boundaries to knowledge and insight into what the other guy is going to do? Is it ever better to pick your call or choice randomly? Don't we already do that quite often?

Poe's Purloined Letter

In Edgar Allan Poe's the Purloined Letter, a character recounts a story of a young man who excels at game called "odds and evens," more popularly known as "matching pennies." The game is a two-strategy version of rock-paper-scissors: Each player secretly turns their coin to heads or tails and then both reveal their choices simultaneously; if the pennies match (both heads or both tails) then one player gets a dollar, if they do not match then the other player gets the dollar. As told in the story, the young man quickly sizes up his opponents, gains a psychological advantage, and amasses a fortune by outguessing his opponents.

I suppose all playcallers think themselves like the young man, but most are probably more similar to the suckers. But here's the rub: The suckers could nullify the young man's psychological advantage.


By choosing randomly. If the suckers put no thought into whether they chose heads or tails, they would do better than if they tried their best to outthink him. They would break even--a fantastic result against the world's greatest matching pennies player--an unnatural genius who, according to the story, would go through lengthy Sherlock Holmsian deductions to determine if his opponent was going to choose heads or tails.

This is a breath-taking result. But it is also scary--would I be better off picking my plays entirely randomly?

Rock-Paper-Scissors and the Bend-But-Don't-Break-Defense

Playcalling, at least oversimplified, is a lot like matching pennies, or--for a more common game--rock-paper-scissors. If I choose rock and you choose scissors, I get a first down. If I choose rock and you choose rock, I maybe gain a couple yards. If I choose rock and you choose paper--whoops, I just got sacked and maybe fumbled too.

A lot of football games come down to who has the bigger rocks and scissors (more talent), but tough, highly competitive games really do come down to whether you picked paper vs. his rock or vs. his scissors. But how many supposedly great calls were just luck? Probably a lot. We try to make educated guesses, but there's something to be said for going random.

Let me backtrack for a moment. John Wooden, the best basketball coach ever, talked a great deal about focusing on his team. Norm Chow, now offensive coordinator with Tennessee, mentioned how very often he really does not know what the other team is even running right then, and it would be hubris to act like he always knew. When a playcaller says that it is more art than science, he's really just saying that he's out there making (educated) guesses, but guesses nonetheless. Wooden's insight about focusing on his team is that time is best spent byfocusing on what you can control: developing your own talents and self-scouting--to avoid situations where you do become predictible.

The message? When you're scouting you're looking for sure things. Times when you know the other team is going to blitz, or is going to run that one screen pass they like or whatnot, and the best thing you can do to win games is make sure that you don't have any of these true "tendencies" that your opponent can act on. The fact that the other team knows you run it 37.4% of the time on 3rd and 4 1/2 on your own 43 is simply not useful information because it doesn't materially narrow their decision-making. If they know you only run it 3.74% of the time, that is material.

To carry the metaphor, you help yourself the most by preventing your opponent from ever knowing that if you lose twice in a row, you always shoot rock. You may still lose three in a row, but you've given him no advantage. Again, this is powerful. Even if you are playing the world's greatest playcaller or rock-paper-scissors champion, you can still break even, and then wait for those rare times when you know they are going to blitz, or come out with scissors, and hopefully carry the day.

So what's that about the bend-but-don't-break? Imagine: You are playing rock-paper-scissors. Whoever wins gets $1, if you shoot the same no one gets anything, but if rock wins over scissors, the winner get $10. What will this do to the game? Anyone with any sense is going to try to play rock more often than anything else and rarely, if ever, play scissors. If you shoot scissors you can win $1, break even, or lose $10. If you shoot rock you can lose $1, break even, or win $10.

This is the theory behind the bend-but-don't-break defense (and to some extent the more wide-open offenses). The idea is that if you play a gambling type defense, you may win more than you lose, but when you guess wrong, you give up a TD or a big play. The bend-but-don't break will concede by giving up many short passes and runs, and hope not to give up the big play. I am not saying this is a superior strategy, and in fact may be a long-run loser, but it's important to understand the theory. The person practicing that defense recognizes that they will probably be wrong more than they are right, but they think it will be worth it in the long-run--the risk is acceptable to them.


This "mixed strategy" thinking is not meant to supplant gameplanning. (Offensive Coordinator: "Sorry Coach, I'm not doing any work this week, Chris's website told me to just go out there and 'wing it.'" Head Coach: "You're fired.") Indeed, much of gameplanning should fit into your estimates of what will and won't be successful, and then you can engage in a bit of the decision to run or pass I detailed in this post.

What it does is it gives you a place to start. You should have a general equilibrium strategy based on your talent and what you emphasize going in week to week. You can hope to be a 50/50 run/pass on 1st and 10 team, with focuses on quick and intermediate passes and power runs. This is your so-called "identity" and your practices will focus there because it is what you do the most. Then you "kink-it," or skew your weekly plan to the things the defense is weakest against. Who do we run against? What coverages will we see the most? Do they blitz a lot?

Another important application is the "intelligent" mixed-strategy. For example, you face a team that runs the gamut of coverages: Cover 1, 2, 3 and 4 and man and zone and every kind of blitz and they also drop 8 guys into coverage sometimes. But you notice that if you line up in a "trips formation" they will only play Cover 1 or 3, then you have significantly improved your chances. You still don't know for sure if they will be in Cover 3 or 1, or if they will or won't blitz, but you r mixed strategy has been narrowed to a better range of possibilities.

Yet, most teams know their own weaknesses. Most defenses match their weakest defenders with their strongest, not content to let half their defense get run over every week. Further, you get into that neverending mental game: I want to throw quick routes because he likes to blitz. But he knows I know he likes to blitz, so maybe I will throw off deeper drops because his defenders will be looking for my quick passes. But then maybe he knows that I know that he knows that I know he likes to blitz, and thus will blitz anyway countering my counter. And so on. Do I have any special proficiency for this? What if the defensive coordinator is straight out of the Purloined Letter? Remember Norm Chow: if you are so certain of what the other team will do or you have a true read on the opposing coach, it's probably just you being arrogant.


Imagine you are a wing-T youth coach, and you have only three plays: the dive, the bucksweep, and the waggle (bootleg). You can win a lot of games simply by selecting those three plays practically at random; each perfectly counters the other. Then, every so often, you'll see that moment when you know that the waggle will be there. The corners are coming up for the run, the receiver has a mismatch, you know the QB will break contain, so you call it--TD.

Simplified, this is where gameplanning, play-calling, and deception all intersect. Although I've focused on play-calling from the sidelines, I recognize that in modern football playcalling differs from rock-paper-scissors in that it is not a static, simultaneous "now show it" game.

In football you call the play, then show a formation--thus narrowing the range of possibilities--then the play begins, and with good recognition both the offense and defense can react to what the defense is doing and put themselves in position to win. Many very good offenses try to "cheat" on good playcalling by calling everything from the line of scrimmage, and the run and shoot and the triple option try to "cheat" even further by putting a premium on "reading the defense" to make themselves right all the time. Many good defenses operate on similar principles. The important thing to remember for now is that deception and duplicity are your best weapons to prevent this kind of targeting, and once you've done that, you tilt the advantage back in your favor, and the "mixed strategy" reemerges as your best course. And again, if you can limit their strategies by formation or design, then you can improve your mixed strategy by being able to choose the things that defeat their known range of possibilities, rather than than having to be totally random.