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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Smart Notes - June 15, 2009

1. Mark Richt on the shallow cross. Trojan Football Analysis has a great article on Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt's shallow cross series. I have discussed the various forms of the shallow previously here, here, and here. (Also, Wayne Wilkes's book, Coaching Fast Break Football: Adapting the FSU Offense to High School Football, which is about the Charlie Ward era no-huddle spread Richt and Bobby Bowden used at Florida State, dedicates several chapters to this route and its variants.) TFA breaks the play down, and includes over forty minutes of Richt's presentation on the route, where he describes its history and application. Below is a diagram of the base concept, along with the shorter cutups. Both courtesy of TFA:

The shallow, in all its forms, is a great route. Indeed, in some ways it was the foundation for the early spread offense; as teams began to employ four receivers on every play and opened up the formation, they often found it useful to have at least one receiver on a deep route (to threaten the coverage as well as to clear it out) and one shallow cross (to work well against man and as a "hot" route for the quarterback against the blitz) on every play. But with the rise of robber coverage with a "floater" over the middle, better covering interior defenders like nickel backs and linebackers, less all-out man blitzing and more zone-blitzing, and overall better pattern recognition, the shallow has seen its effectiveness wane a bit. It is still a go-to play, but it has a different, more limited role. Art from TFA actually asked Richt about all this:

I spoke very briefly to Coach Richt later on during the day when he was taking questions from attendees in another room before he left. I asked him a follow up question about the plays somewhat declining effectiveness compared to the Florida State years. Coach Richt replied that he used to think it was easy to make the play work. However in reality and with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight it was also special players like Charlie Ward and Warrick Dunn that made it so effective in the past. Also he thought the best defense versus the play is a Cover 2 scheme which is now so common. This defensive alignment often makes the play essentially just a Hi / Low “Smash Route” type read to just half the field versus the flat defender. This adjustment can be accomplished either on the front side or back side with minor alterations to the play call. Still the Shallow Cross is a very effective play but not quite what it used to be in the past. Also Coach Richt conjectured that many defensive coordinators down South learned not to blitz the play (he wishes they would however) as that gave up many big gains and easy TD’s in the past.

2. Coaching timidity. Advanced NFL stats has a great follow-up to my articles (here and here) on underdogs and risky strategies. Money quotes:

In the NFL as a whole, visiting teams average about 19 points with a [standard deviation] of 10 points while home teams average about 23 points with a SD of 10 points. But unlike basketball, football opponent scores are negatively correlated. This makes intuitive sense because the better one team does, the worse the other should do. . . .

Here’s why underdogs should play aggressive and risky gameplans. Take an example where one team is a 7-point favorite over its underdog opponent. Say the favorite would average 24 points and the underdog would average 17 points. With a [standard deviation] of 10 points for each team, the underdog upsets the favorite 31.5% of the time. . . . [I]f the underdog plays a more aggressive high-variance strategy, increasing its SD to 15 points, it would upset the favorite 35.3% of the time.

. . . . So what does any of this mean in the real world? Simply put, to win more often underdogs should employ a high-variance strategy from the beginning of the game. It shouldn’t wait until the 4th quarter and become desperate. Go for it on 4th and short, run trick plays, throw deep, and blitz more often. Roll the dice from the get-go.

Amen. One of the real insights of the article is the proof that variance is good of its own right, even if the "riskier" or higher variance strategy doesn't net the underdog any more expected points, the simple act of variance will net it more wins over time (though with the trade off being more blow-outs).

3. Life as a game. Every Day Should Be Saturday waxes elegaic about the rigid morbidity of football and why this sometimes reassures us, and other times is unsettling. I quote at length, because any less would not do:

This all comes back to your focal event . . . , or the instant where you realized the game had some kind of parasitic, infectious grip on you that no amount of treatment would undo. . . .

No injury time, no second chances: just a minute and change left on the clock bleeding because the rules dictated it and demanded you respond. Every football game dies one second at a time, bounded by a thousand rules, and played out by teams of fragile people working under pressure to be as good as they can possibly be under the circumstances.

Its stricture gives it its drama, its limits force creativity, and its scarcities give it is masochistic cost/benefit payoff. More relevantly, football’s economy gives it emotional resonance. If you’re watching it, you watch it because you see a neatly packaged simulation of life itself–ruled, defined by a beginning and an end, and often chaotic in spite of all the rules–with two satisfying twists.

First, an actual victor is declared, something very rare in life. Second, you know roughly when it’s going to end. Because of this football, for all its violence and terror, will never be as deeply terrifying as life itself. (Even when Terry Dean throws four interceptions in a single game.) Without the clock, without triple zeros set between the bounds of a field precisely 160 feet by 360 feet awaitig you, meaning is debased, and we’re not left staring at the death sentence spelled out in incandescent bulbs on the Florida Field scoreboard 15 years ago wondering what the hell just hit us.

All of life is in these moments, captured and replayed for us every weekend, every fall.

4. EDSBS to CBS? In the wake of the block-buster (for the sports blogosphere at least) deal between NBC and Pro Football Talk, might CBS Sports be interested in the blog run by a good Mr. Swindle just mentioned?

5. Maybe, Definitely; Brett Favre is coming back. So says Shutdown Corner after watching John Madden's adopted son on Joe Buck's new show. (Which had a rather interesting opening episode, featuring Artie Lange.) I don't have Favre rated all that highly, but I suppose from the Vikes' perspective the question is merely, "Is he better than Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson?"

6. Lane Kiffin death-watch. The verdict from around the web is increasingly in, and it is that Lane Kiffin must be insane and there is no way the Volunteers can succeed, and that he cannot be credited with knowing what he is doing. For some of the best weigh-ins on this, see Dawg Sports, mgoblog, and Senator "I just don't get it" Blutarsky. I am not sure if I completely agree, but I will say that, after watching the man commit NCAA infractions on national television in front of a live film crew, I find it difficult to imagine what he does think he is doing, exactly. And, surprisingly enough, he is beginning to make Al Davis look smart for firing him.

... But ... but . . . his coaching staff is so credentialed. How can Jim Chaney, Orgeron, and Monte Kiffin not know about this? Not have an opinion? Why would they accept this job if they didn't think this was going to work? Why can't they, apart from their supreme leader, make it work?

Maybe Lane will turn it around, maybe he'll be proved a genius. But his tenure at Tennessee might be a study in management, as much as anything else. If a sort of CEO-style figurehead head coach had Kiffin's staff -- like Joe Paterno, for example -- I think everyone would have to assume that it was all going to work. There might be benefit in Kiffin's just getting out of the way. But that's not his style, and it is ambiguous right now what exactly he's bringing to the table. Maybe the excitement and all that is enough, though. Time will tell. Very bizarre though. But so long as they have that staff, you can't count them out.

7. Tweetin'. Smart Football is on twitter now. Sign up and check it out.


Tyler said...

Yeah, Lil' Kiffin sometimes seems like a turtle on a post, but one need only look at (A) his team of aforementioned coordinators, and (B) his recruiting resume from USC: three years, three number one classes.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Homyrrh, that is the exact point many people are trying to make, that a group of individually praised recruiters does not equal a championship team. How many times does the name Ron Zook need to be mentioned before it finally sinks in?