Want To Get Better? Start Looking For Shortcuts

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I remember when I was to be a whole lot smarter than I am now. I already had a good idea of what the opponent defense had in store for us that Friday night, and (this is how good I was) I didn’t even have to watch more than five minutes of film to be able to do it.

I already knew everything I needed to know having already completed my football education after playing hours and hours of Madden football during my teenage years (and leading the Raiders to seven Super Bowls)

Only, that’s not how it really works, and I wasted a lot of time thinking I already had it all figured it out.

As much as I loved football (and I did, I really, really did), I absolutely hated sitting down for extended periods of time and putting in the effort necessary to really learn about the game.

So the end result was that I didn’t learn nearly as much as I should have, and I knew it. I spent so much time avoiding the necessary work that I put myself at a disadvantage when it came time to reach out for more responsibility. I didn’t have the knowledge or the habits in place that might have allowed me to go even further than I already was.

There’s a great quote from John Wooden that sums up this point nice and succinctly:

“If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over?”

In other words, by looking for new and creative ways to avoid doing your job, you’re just giving yourself an extra job, costing yourself extra time, and at the end of the day those items on your to-do list still won’t get done.

The sooner you memorize and internalize this mindset the better. After all, if you were really interested in minimizing the amount of time spent working on repetitive tasks or any other kind work, you’d find a way to get them done swiftly but properly the first time around.

So if all this is true, then why am I telling you to go against everything we just talked about and look for “shortcuts” or other ways to do less work?

Well, the natural inclination of a lot of people is to be lazy and want to do as little as possible, even when they’ve got a huge to-do list staring them in the face. In the same way a lot of people need to touch that bench with the “Wet Paint” sign on it just to be sure, you might never understand how much time you’re wasting by looking for shortcuts until you make it your business to do just that.

Set aside a specific period of time looking for as many shortcuts as possible, because you’ll soon find out that doing so will cost you a lot more time and energy in the long run than putting in time and doing things right the first time.

One of two things can happen when you take this approach.

Either you’ll discover that you’re a lazy person who enjoys putting off work until the last possible moment (in which case you should do the head coach and everyone else a favor and resign immediately), or you’ll have proven to yourself that being lazy actually costs you more stress, energy, and time in the long run.

Hopefully, the next time the word “shortcut” pops into your head, you’ll associate it with the unpleasant experience of stress, wasted time, and getting nothing done.


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Be the First to Get Notified About My New NFL Strategy Site

I’ve been working behind the scenes for a while now on my latest project, a site devoted exclusively to NFL X’s and O’s called ProFootballStrategy.com.

I’ll be posting on the new site much more often than on this one, so be sure to sign up to get notified as soon as the site goes live on Monday, August 3rd.

More information will be coming soon, but if you’ve enjoyed the writing on X’s and O’s I’ve done so far, you’re going to want to sign up to stay in touch with this site.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP!

Five Reasons Why an NFL Spring League is a Great Idea

Locomotives Tuskers Football

SB Nation ran an intriguing article earlier today about the prospect of having an NFL spring league that would serve as a way to evaluate unproven talent.

They pointed to a radio interview with Jim Fassel, who said there is a possibility that we could see “a very good spring league opening next year in the NFL”

My immediate thoughts on the subject basically come down to: why not?

Every other major sport in this country has some kind of minor league feeder system, and in the case of the NBA, a Summer League that attracts a lot of attention from hardcore fans of the sport, and serves as another event on the league’s calendar to promote and sell to advertisers.

There are obviously a lot of questions that need to be answered and logistical challenges to be overcome before something like this becomes a reality, but if there’s one thing Roger Goodell is good at, it’s finding a way to make money and create extra revenue for the league.

Without getting into too complex of a discussion on all the challenges that stand in the way of something like this, here are all the reasons I think it would be a great idea.

1. Allow veterans to showcase their talents

The league is always looking for new content to sell, and one of the ideas which has been floated recently was a Veteran Combine, similar to the one held every year in Indianapolis. It’s a win-win, with teams getting to evaluate experienced NFL players in a vacuum, and the league being able to sell several hours of fresh, extra content to advertisers.

After all, if people will tune into the combine, they’ll tune into just about anything football-related.

What if that idea was taken to the next level, where veterans and younger players were put on teams and evaluated based on their performance against players of similar talent? Think the Senior Bowl or other all-star games but with multiple games instead of one.

What you gave a receiver a chance to work with a different quarterback or scheme instead of the one he’s been playing with unsuccessfully the past few seasons? What about a similar situation on the defensive side of the ball? Such a league would be a great way to introduce some different variables into the equation, and experiment with what works best for each player.

The only real roadblock would seem to be the league schedule, since in order to create a period of evaluation where players in the spring league would be able to sign with any NFL team, there would have to be enough time for a reasonably-lengthy minor league schedule, say eight games for example, as well as presumably a championship game of some kind.

We’ve seen the league make adjustments to the calendar before, for example when they moved the draft back several weeks this year to a more favorable date, so this doesn’t necessarily seem like a huge hurdle, but there would definitely need to be a few dates moved around.

2. Allow young and undrafted prospects time to be evaluated in a professional setting

One of the toughest parts of evaluating a potential prospect is watching him play in a “college” system, at least that’s what they tell me. Picking up a receiver in the fifth-round draft and placing him in a developmental league where he’d be acclimated to the expectations and the schedule of a professional team would give teams a better idea of how he would respond to such an atmosphere, to say nothing of having to learn a professional playbook and how the game is played on the next level.

A large part of the evaluation process is spent trying to figure out if the player you’re interested in has the psychological fortitude and emotional intelligence to succeed at the professional level, as well as whether or not they would make a positive contribution to the kind of locker room culture you’re trying to create. Having professional coaches, whether they’re affiliated with a particular team or not, working up close and personal with the players would be a huge advantage for teams when it comes to determining whether they’re ready for the big stage on Sundays.

3. Find and develop coaching talent

A lot of this would depend on the team affiliations for the minor league squads, for example whether the Patriots would have a minor league affiliate that they could send players to, just like baseball, but either way, if you’ve got a whole league full of players, they’re going to need coaches, and I just don’t see Bill Belichick roaming the sidelines in March coaching a bunch of second-tier players.

Sure, you’d have the Jim Fassels and Dennis Greens of the football world getting hired in some spots, but a league like this would also create more opportunity for up and coming coaches who would like to break into the professional ranks, or would like experience anywhere. Who knows where the next great coaches will come from, but one thing is certain, the more opportunities you create for such people to succeed, the more talent you’ll find and cultivate.

Which brings me to my next point…

4. Allow for more innovation in the game

This might be the most underrated but consistent part of setting up a second professional football league in this country. It’s an almost ironclad rule that when you open up another major professional league, even if that league dies out, it will still have made an impact on the world of football that will live on for some time.

  • In 1946 the “All American Football Conference” (AAFC) gave previously successful high school and college coach Paul Brown an opportunity to make an impact on the pro level. It goes without saying that a man like Brown was crucial to the development of many of the things we take for granted in today’s NFL.
  • In 1960, another large-scale effort to offer an alternative to the NFL was put together by Lamar Hunt, the son of an oilman who, when he was unable to buy an existing professional team, decided that he’d call a few of his friends and put together a league of his own. The American Football League gave innovators like Sid Gillman, Al Davis, and Hank Stram a platform to work with, and between the three of them, and through the contributions of many more, they helped change the modern game forever.
  • In the 1980’s, the USFL emerged as a spring league at first, before Donald Trump, owner of the New Jersey Generals, pushed for the league to move to a fall schedule to compete directly with the NFL. Besides giving us big names like Herschel Walker and Jim Kelly, the USFL gave teams like the Houston Gamblers a chance to develop their aggressive run-and-shoot passing attack at the professional level. (Noted Run and Shoot advocate June Jones got his first professional coaching job with the Gamblers, and his influence can be felt across the professional and college landscape as well)

Putting aside the schematic innovations that have come about from competing leagues, a minor league would also give the NFL a chance to test out different rule changes and study their effects, such as what to do about the point after touchdown, and how best to incentivize teams to go for two, which is where the league is heading anyway.

5. Break the stranglehold the NCAA has on Young Talent

This one is, I admit, a bit far fetched, but in a perfect world, there would be a real alternative to going to school for four years and being forbidden to make any real money off of your talents as an athlete. At the very least, the threat of losing major talent to a competing professional league would force the NCAA and their member institutions to bring about real reforms when it comes to the rights of college athletes, how they’re compensated, and what their time commitment would be.

The argument from the establishment of college football has always been, if you don’t like it, play football somewhere else. Providing young players with more options can only be a good thing.


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Check Out My Conversation With Chris Brooks of WingT-Coach.com

akirby

Chris Brooks runs a great site over at WingT-Coach.com and is very active on Twitter as well.

As you know, I’m a big fan of studying as many schemes as possible, even if you never have any intention of running the scheme with your own team, so it’s great to have an expert talking about the Wing-T on a regular basis.

When I was coaching at the high school level, one of our most dangerous opponents every year ran the Wing-T to near perfection, and it was always a huge challenge to prepare for them, so I’ve seen firsthand what this scheme could do.

(I also subscribe to his newsletter, which you can do here)

Coach Brooks and I had a conversation about my latest book Every Play Revealed Volume II: New England vs Seattle, as well as the process I went through to study both teams and put together the final product.

Read the whole thing here.

Figure It Out

CFB: San Jose St vs Stanford SEP 20

Let me ask you a question:

What do you think holds back more young coaches just entering the business? Is it failure to memorize every detail of the playbook, or is it when the head coach doesn’t feel like he can trust them to get something done on time?

If you’re brand new to coaching and want to find a way to break into the business, guess what? You’re gonna have to figure a lot out on your own.

Want to know how you can help right away, and more importantly, create a position for yourself? Be the guy they call when they need a powerpoint presentation put together at the last minute, or they need 100 copies made of this week’s scouting report, or the projector just went out and they need a new bulb.

I’ve written before about how when you’re starting out, you’ve got to find ways to make yourself useful, and these are some great ways to do it.

A lot of guys don’t believe me when I tell them that one of the most valuable skills you can have these days is to be able to use Microsoft Office well, or whatever program your team uses to draw up schemes for your scouting reports and playbook.

Jon Gruden used to practice drawing circles for hours, so that when it came time to draw up plays on the board, or put together the scouting report, he was the guy the coaches would put in charge of it.

Don’t know how to use a copier? Figure it out.

Don’t know how to change a projector bulb? Figure it out.

Don’t know how to put together an opponent tendency report? Figure it out.

I can’t tell you how many times I saw coaches give other young guys a job, and then watched those same guys go back to the coach 4-5 times to ask more questions about the tiniest, most insignificant details.

Figure. It. Out.

The coach is giving you that job so that he doesn’t have to spend his own time dealing with it. If you make a habit of bothering him about a job he just gave you, you’re not saving him any time at all, and you may as well wear a sign on your back that reads, “I CAN’T BE TRUSTED WITH ANYTHING MORE COMPLICATED THAN THIS.” That’s exactly the kind of thing you don’t want to become known for.

Understand that when you’re starting out, your job is to save time for everyone else. If I can’t trust you with that, how can I trust you to coach a position or call plays?

Put in extra time doing the things others won’t, or at the very least, know how to use Google, YouTube, and other sources of information online to find the answers you need in a hurry, because you’re going to have to get good at a little bit of everything. Believe it or not, that will set you apart from the majority of people in this world.

It’s not about the specific knowledge involved in changing a projector bulb, it’s about developing the ability to think for yourself and realize that once the head coach gives you an assignment, he doesn’t want to hear back from you until it’s finished.

If you become known as the reliable guy, the guy who doesn’t ask 50 million questions and just goes and figures it out for himself, you’ll have a reputation that will serve you well when it’s time to look for references for your next job.

Ultimately it comes down to the same “boring” stuff you hear repeated over and over again. Work hard, put in the time, and do everything you can to be an asset to the organization.


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Breaking Down Bill Belichick’s Super Bowl Defense

The offense lines up early in the game in a 3x1 formation with the tight end strength to the defense's left, so Hightower lines up to the left side.

Bill Belichick is famous for his ability to simplify things for his defensive players, figuring out the tendencies of his opponents, and presenting the scouting report in a way that allows his best players to play fast. The key is that Belichick doesn’t take away everything you do, in fact, he doesn’t even try. It would be impossible to try to predict and prepare for every little wrinkle that an opponent offensive coordinator will put into his game plan, so instead Belichick just focuses on the four or five things his opponent does best, and tries to take those away.

Bill Belichick recaptured his spot at the top of the professional coaching world last February thanks to an excellent game plan.

Bill Belichick recaptured his spot at the top of the professional coaching world last February thanks to an excellent game plan.

This is one of the reasons why I wanted to go as in-depth as I did into Bill Belichick’s game plan in my latest book Every Play Revealed Volume II: New England vs Seattle. I draw up and break down every single play of the Super Bowl, and I also write about specific adjustments made by both teams over the course of the game. (Click here to get it)

After watching the Seattle offense on tape for any length of time, the question becomes how do you stop Marshawn Lynch from running wild on the defense? That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about in this post.

Covering the Interior Offensive Linemen

A careful examination of the different defensive fronts that New England played over the course of the game reveals a pattern.

Belichick has the goal of covering the three interior linemen, and especially controlling the path of the center as he climbs to the second level in the run game. This may seem counter-intuitive, especially with the wide alignment of the two defensive tackles, leaving the two A-gap unoccupied, but if you watch the actions of the inside linebackers closely, you’ll notice the way they attack the center and keep him off of the opposite inside linebacker, especially #91 Jamie Collins.

A perfect example of how New England uses their linebackers to play against the zone read by attacking the center the same way many defenses cover up the center with a nose tackle. It's the same concept.

A perfect example of how New England uses their linebackers to play against the zone read by attacking the center the same way many defenses cover up the center with a nose tackle. It’s the same concept.

Bill Belichick’s game plan centers around stopping Marshawn Lynch, even at the expense of keeping more people back in the secondary for the pass defense. New England dedicates six men staying inside the tackle box against a one-back formation, and plays intense, press-man coverage across the board. Using giant defensive tackles like Vince Wilfork to control the guards and play a 2-gap technique frees up additional men to attack the ball carrier and lets the defense win the numbers game in the tackle box.

Alignments and Formation Games

It’s important to remember the importance of formations to both the offensive and defensive game plans.

The alignment of the inside linebackers is determined by the location of the tight end. When there is no tight end on the field, the defense sets the strength to the pass strength of the formation.

As you watch the Seattle offense come out with different formations, you’ll note that the Seahawks flex out their starter Luke Wilson all alone as the single receiver in a 3×1 formation. This is in order to test New England’s commitment to setting their strength to tight end. Will New England still set the strength to the lone tight end side where there are more bodies to the other side of the formation? Seattle begins to understand that the answer is yes.

Identifying the Backfield Set

When breaking down an offense, analyzing the different backfield sets play a huge part in developing the game plan. Obviously when you’re playing a team like Seattle, stopping the run game is a big part of your preparation, but even just speaking in general without any specific reference to this offense, the location of the back in the gun in relation to the QB is a big indicator of what the defense to anticipate.

Most defensive coordinators coach up their linebackers to recognize the backfield sets and classify them in relation to where the tight end is lined up. There are plenty of different terms used depending on what coach you’re working for, but for our sake, we’ll use the terms “gun near” and “gun far.”

The backfield sets are referred to as "gun near" and "gun far," with the "near/far" indicating where the back is lined up in relation to the tight end.

The backfield sets are referred to as “gun near” and “gun far,” with the “near/far” indicating where the back is lined up in relation to the tight end.

It’s also worth noting that this is a big motivation for a lot of coaches to move to a pistol offense, because the alignment of the back doesn’t give anything away about the intentions of the offense, and it’s also one less thing the coaches have to worry about when putting together an offensive game plan.

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of how a coach will break down the offensive backfield, we can now talk about the specific defensive assignments as it pertains to each alignment, and more importantly, why.

Gun Near Alignment

Here’s the play drawn up from the offense’s perspective. You can see that the tight end’s wide release with the defensive end lined up across from him is designed to influence the defensive end and open up a large space in case of the cutback run. The play is intended to hit inside of the A gap, but since it’s a zone play, Lynch obviously has the ability to go where he fits best. A run up the middle in the A gap allows Lynch to pick up a lot of speed and momentum in a hurry, and that’s the last thing New England wants.

Zone read with the back set to the strong side.

Seattle’s zone read with the back set to the strong side.

Here’s the overhead view of the formation, and we can see that Luke Wilson the tight end is lined up to the right on his own side, and the three receivers on the field are lined up opposite on the left.

The offense lines up early in the game in a 3x1 formation with the tight end strength to the defense's left, so Hightower lines up to the left side.

The offense lines up early in the game in a 3×1 formation with the tight end strength to the defense’s left, so Hightower lines up to the left side.

As a result, Hightower lines up to the defensive left side, while Collins lines up to the right. Patrick Chung #23 lines up with outside leverage on the tight end, which you can see from the wide view. While Chung isn’t heavily involved in run support in the interior of the tackle box, he is responsible for staying outside of the tight end Luke Wilson to play the edge support and force the play back inside in the run game.

Hightower (#54) is lined up to the strong side, with Jamie Collins (#91) lined up to the weak side. Rob Ninkovich (#50) is aligned over the top of the tight end, and has put his hand on the ground in a three-point stance since he's got a tight end lined up across from him.

Hightower (#54) is lined up to the strong side, with Jamie Collins (#91) lined up to the weak side.

Wilson releases outward to the strong safety Patrick Chung (not pictured) which forces Ninkovich to release even wider than usual. By this point, Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell knows that Ninkovich will be playing up the field to box in Russell Wilson, but he’s using the tight end’s wide release to influence Ninkovich to release wide enough to open up space for Lynch to cutback inside of him. Ninkovich stays disciplined and keeps close enough to the backside edge of the play so he has the ability to collapse on any play coming back to him.

Hightower reads the play and flies downhill right away.

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As the run play begins to develop in the backfield Hightower comes downhill into the A-gap, and Collins waits an extra count so that Hightower can get downhill and he’ll have a clear path to the opposite side.

As the play develops and Hightower comes downhill, Collins delays for a count so that he can wait until the path to the opposite side of the formation is clear. The center doesn’t get to Collins in time, and he watches as Collins moves to play the cutback. Speaking of the cutback, Lynch sees that the front side of the play is clogged up, so he begins to move side-to-side, cutting back to the offensive right side of the play- right into the paths of Collins and Ninkovich.

Since Hightower and the rest of the defensive front plug up the front side of the play, the cutback lane begins to develop to the defense's left side, which is why Collins comes over the top, and Ninkovich starts pursuit as well since it's clear that Russell Wilson didn't keep the ball.

Since Hightower and the rest of the defensive front plug up the front side of the play, the cutback lane begins to develop to the defense’s left side, which is why Collins comes over the top, and Ninkovich starts pursuit as well since it’s clear that Russell Wilson didn’t keep the ball.

Not only has the defense forced Lynch to cut the play back to an unblocked defender, moving side-to-side means that he’s not able to build up the kind of downhill momentum that makes him even more dangerous. So when Collins and Ninkovich get to him and wrap him up, he’s not bringing as much force with him as he would’ve been if he had been able to hit the frontside A gap downhill right away.

Collins and Ninkovich combine to bring down Lynch as he cuts back to the backside of the zone play.

Collins and Ninkovich combine to bring down Lynch as he cuts back to the backside of the zone play.

As we can see, the defense is designed to not only force the cutback, but get two guys to the ball carrier once he changes direction and moves side-to-side before he can pick up momentum. New England accomplishes this by using their strong side inside linebacker to attack the center, acting almost like a nose tackle who is supposed to control the center, only coming from the second level. In this case, big Vince Wilfork controls the right guard and right tackle, and Collins is left unblocked as he plays the ball bouncing back to the opposite side.

Gun Far Alignment

Now we come to the opposite alignment, where the back lines up away from the strength of the formation. With the change up in the alignment comes a change up in the defensive assignments, as now the unblocked defensive end Chandler Jones closes down the line to chase the “give” and take out the back Robert Turbin on his path of the zone read, and the Will linebacker Jamie Collins scrapes to the QB (Wilson) and exchanges responsibilities in defending the run game.

This is another situation that we talk about in the book, because Seattle has under a minute left in the 1st half, and they want to create a big play, but don’t want to throw a long incomplete pass and leave the clock stopped. If they stop the clock but aren’t picking up yards, they run the risk of having to punt and give the ball back to New England. So Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has to manufacture a big play on the ground, and he’s got a pretty good idea of how to do it.

Keep in mind that the objective behind most of New England’s adjustments in the run game is to keep Jamie Collins free to chase the ball carrier, and Belichick wants to keep him away from the clutches of those guys playing in the middle of the offensive line as much as possible. As a result, you’ve got to switch up the responsibilities when the back is lined up to Collins’ side, because if you play the responsibilities the same way to both sides, what you’ll end up having is your speedy guy (Collins) attacking the A gap, and the slower of the two inside linebackers (Hightower) having to get over to the opposite side to play the cutback lane.

On the plus side, you’d keep things extremely simple for your defenders when you’re coaching them up during the two weeks of preparation leading up to the game. Unfortunately, you’d also put Hightower in a very bad position when the back is lined up away from him, and you’re asking him to do something that he doesn’t do very well.

Seattle's zone read play after adjusting the back to line up to the weak side.

Seattle’s zone read play after adjusting the back to line up to the weak side.

There’s no tight end on the field, so the defense will line set their strength to the pass strength of the formation, meaning Hightower lines up to the defensive left and Collins to the defensive right.

Test

Seattle originally lines up the back to the three receiver side so that there won’t be any doubt as to where the strength of the formation is. There are four skill guys to the offense’s right side of the formation.

We’ll get even more in-depth in a moment, but just look at all that space in the alley at the bottom of the picture that is available to Russell Wilson if he can get free on the edge.

Test 3

As Russell Wilson comes off the mesh point, he knows he’s got one man to beat and then he’s into the open field.

Here’s the back (Turbin) aligned to the four receiver side of the formation, to the defense’s left, and Hightower calls out and sets New England’s strength to the left. As you can see, neither the offense or defense is set at this point, so it’s very early in the pre-snap process.

Test 4

The back starts off aligned to the pass strength and Hightower is pointing out the strength.

As the back #22 Robert Turbin flips sides, you can see the right defensive end #95 Chandler Jones and #91 Jamie Collins communicating now the back is lined up to their side, so now their assignments will change.

Test 5

Seattle then flips the back’s alignment to the weak side.

Now Turbin is aligned to the weak side, and Seattle knows exactly what’s coming, which is why they flipped the back and called this play, in order to get Russell Wilson out on the edge.

Test 6

Turbin gets set to the weak side, and Russell Wilson prepares to take the snap.

Just like he’s been coached up to do, and just like Seattle expects, Chandler Jones closes down the line to chase Turbin whether he has the football or not, and Collins comes downhill on a wide angle in an attempt to box in Wilson and keep him from getting to the edge. This scheme allows Collins, the faster of the two inside linebackers, to still play out in space, instead of wasting his speed by coaching him up to stick his nose in the interior of the offensive line and letting Hightower try to come from the other side and run to take away the cutback.

Test 7

As Seattle expects, Chandler Jones closes down the line, and Collins scrapes to the QB (Wilson). Collins takes a wide angle to cut off the path of Wilson as he’s coming off the mesh point.

Now it’s nothing but a one-on-one matchup out on the edge, athlete vs athlete, and Russell Wilson is a quicker player than Collins. All he has to do is make Collins hesitate for a half-second in order to get the edge, and that’s exactly what he does.

Test 8

Now it’s a one-on-one match up on the edge between Wilson and Collins, and Wilson makes him hesitate with a nice stutter step which holds Collins in place and gives him just enough room to get the edge.

Now, the advantage that Collins originally had at the start of the play by coming at a proper angle is gone. Russell Wilson gets the edge on him, and after that it’s no contest. Collins dives at him but he’s not touching him after that.

Test 9

Wilson escapes the grasp of Collins, and gets around the edge where there’s a lot of green grass in front of him.

Now Wilson has all that green grass in front of him that you can see in the photo below, and he has the ability to get out of bounds to stop the clock before any defender can put a good hit on him.

Test 10

Thanks to the vertical release of the X receiver to the defensive right side, there are no other defenders out to the edge.

He’s able to pick up the first down by using his legs before finally being forced out by the free safety Devin McCourty. It goes without saying, but anytime your free safety is making tackles, it’s never a good thing.

Test 11

He’s eventually forced out of bounds by the free safety McCourty after a first down.

Conclusion

One of the great things about the way Belichick approaches defense is that his scheme doesn’t require, and doesn’t set out to, shut everything down completely. He’s betting that your offense isn’t good enough to beat him with your 4th or 5th option.

Sometimes, that’s gotten him into trouble. There are a couple of memorable (some in Boston would call them lucky) catches in the pair of Super Bowl losses to the Giants that ultimately ended up costing the Patriots the game, but Belichick’s win percentage speaks for itself. More often than not, his well-coached defense is going to take away the things you do best, and leave you with a few things that you’re either not very good at, or just haven’t practiced that much. Now you have to go out on the field and beat him.

This is what the Super Bowl ultimately came down to. Belichick played an aggressive defensive front that focused on stopping the run first, and locked up Seattle’s receivers in man-to-man coverage that forced Russell Wilson into some uncomfortable throws. Some of those throws connect, like the incredible catch Jermaine Kearse made on Seattle’s final drive. Most of the others however, like the final pass intended for Ricardo Lockette that found its way into Malcolm Butler’s hands, don’t.


This is exactly the kind of in-depth analysis you can expect from my latest book Every Play Revealed Volume II: New England vs Seattle.

With over 200 pages of diagrams and analysis on not only the plays themselves, but the adjustments in between drives and at halftime, it’s the closest you can possibly get to sitting in coaches meetings and putting on the headset to listen in on the conversations Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll have with their assistants during the game.

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11 Trick Plays You Should Put in the Playbook this Fall

Jail Break Special - Rusty Pixon

This past week I asked my subscribers to give me their favorite trick plays, with the best submission winning a copy of my newest book Every Play Revealed: Breaking Down Oregon and Ohio State in College Football’s Biggest Game.

(If you’d like to see the PDF with all 11 trick plays listed and drawn up, scroll down and sign up below and you’ll have it sent directly to your inbox in moments.)

I did something I haven’t done before, I picked two winners, because they sent me two unusual plays that I’d never seen before, and both of them happen to involve getting the football to the offensive guard.

Bruce Eien – Left Guard Special

Guard Handoff

This is one of the most interesting plays I’ve ever seen, it’s almost like a version of the fumblerooski where the whole offense runs one way and one person runs the other way.  There are a lot of things I could add, but I’ll just let the video that Coach Eien has posted on YouTube do the explaining.

Rusty Pixon – 41 Jailbreak Special

This is a very interesting twist on a play that a lot of people are running these days. This is what he had to say:

I’m an OL coach for a Tony Franklin System team in eastern Washington. We have this trick play that I’m pretty proud of. 
Bring a TFS team we run a ton of screens. They account for nearly 35% of our offense. Our most successful has always been the jailbreak screen. 
The OL invites the DL up field with a vertical set, releases and gets out into space. Our BSG has the peel block looking for and DL retracing their steps. The blocking scheme is simple and more importantly works. 
After teams see us run this a few times the entire defense starts to sit. To counter this we had  the BSG carry his peel block all the way to the sideline and behind our receiver. The receiver caught the ball and lateraled to our BSG who went streaking down the sideline in all his fat boy glory. 
It’s some school yard stuff, but out of the three times we ran it one went for an 80 yard touchdown, one went for a 40 yard touchdown and the last was a 2 yard loss. 
My lineman love it. They get to celebrate a fat guy touchdown and it’s the last thing anyone would expect. Doesn’t get much trickier than that. 

Jail Break Special - Rusty Pixon

Two is better than one: How Tom Brady gets New England in the right play so often

Wagner doesn't leave the middle of the field when Vereen goes in motion out of the backfield, so now Brady has to go to Plan B.

Tom Brady’s name is all over the news right now, and not for a good reason. Regardless of your opinion of “Deflate gate,” however, he put together an impressive performance in the Super Bowl against one of the best defenses the NFL has seen in a long time.

You can deflate all the footballs you want, but you still need a sound gameplan, a backup plan in case your first idea doesn’t work, and a quarterback like Tom Brady who is smart enough to know what he’s looking at and also good enough to get the ball where it’s supposed to be.

Last month I released my latest book Every Play Revealed: Breaking Down Oregon and Ohio State in College Football’s Biggest Game, and I’m almost ready to release the next one. The title Every Play Revealed means what it says, the book is literally a breakdown of every single play of the National Championship game, along with analysis of each drive and the overall gameplan. I took the same idea and applied it to the Super Bowl, and I’m really excited to share it with you.

Before it’s made available, I wanted to give you a look at the kind of analysis offered in the book, so I took a play from the opening drive of the game, and looked at all the different perspectives on what happened and why. You may be surprised at how much goes on before and after the snap.josh-mcdaniels-8042c28649cfa58f

The Patriots have a way to basically call two plays at the line, and almost always end up in the right one. Of course, Tom Brady has a lot of leeway at the line of scrimmage, but there are certain plays that are packaged with specific formations, where there is a Plan A and a Plan B, depending on how the defense lines up. New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels gives Brady very simple rules in these situations, which takes the pressure off of him and allows he and the rest of the offense to just play.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, we’re going to take a close look at just one play. I chose this particular play not because it resulted in a big gain, but instead because it exemplifies the amount of detail and precision involved in the New England offense, and it gives you an idea of the kind of things offensive coordinators are looking at in the opening drive of a game.

Drive #1 / Play #6 / 3rd & 6 / -35 yard line / Middle / 12:20 / 1st quarter

The Patriots line up with a tight split from the X receiver, and on this play they send the lone back beside Brady, Shane Vereen #34, in motion out wide to the left. This is one of the many ways that New England has to get a read on the opposing defense.

New England begins to line up in a 3x1 set with a tight split by the backside receiver.

New England begins to line up in a 3×1 set with a tight split by the single receiver on the left.

The corner Byron Maxwell (#41) who is originally lined up across from Edelman, now widens with Vereen as he motions out to the left. The safety Earl Thomas (#29) comes down to press Edelman and replace Wright, and the linebacker in the box Bobby Wagner (#54) ends up exactly where he started.

Vereen brings Maxwell with him and Thomas adjusts for the Seahawk defense.

Vereen brings Maxwell with him and Thomas adjusts for the Seahawk defense.

The goal behind sending Vereen in motion out of the backfield to a wide alignment is not only to see who the defense sends with him, but also to find out whether or not, by removing the only real run threat from the backfield, whether or not Seattle will remove the linebacker from the middle of the formation, which would leave the short zones underneath in the middle undefended.

You may ask, “Who cares as long as the defense drops to take away the deep ball? It’s 3rd down, so isn’t the goal of the defense to force a short throw by Brady and then rally to the receiver to make the tackle?”

There are many cases where this would be a valid strategy, but in the biggest game of them all, knowing your opponent is the difference between hoisting that Lombardi Trophy in front of the entire world and watching from behind the ropes as the confetti rains down on the other team.

New England makes a living attacking the defense with the shallow cross concept, which is specifically designed to get the football to the receiver right about where the middle linebacker is standing in the picture below. In reality, the offense is trying to get the ball to the receiver once he crosses the formation and reaches the opposite hash mark which will let him turn up field to pick up the first down.

Wagner doesn't leave the middle of the field when Vereen goes in motion out of the backfield, so now Brady has to go to Plan B.

Wagner doesn’t leave the middle of the field when Vereen goes in motion out of the backfield, so now Brady has to go to Plan B.

Once you understand what New England is looking for on this play, it makes perfect sense why Seattle leaves Wagner in the box. Patriot offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wants to find out as early as possible whether or not he can get the defense to vacate the middle of the field and make room for the shallow cross and other concepts which attack the middle.

On this play, he and Brady get their answer, which brings us to what happens next.

Brady points out Wagner, the middle linebacker, and makes his call based on that.

Brady points out Wagner, the middle linebacker, and makes his call based on that.

Once the defense has finished making adjustments and all players have “declared” who they’ll be lining up across from, it’s now time for Brady to make sure the offense is in the best possible position to succeed. He’s not going set himself up for failure by running a receiver on a shallow crossing route, only to be beaten up by Wagner who is sitting there waiting for the receiver to come underneath. Instead, after surveying the look of the land, Brady makes a check at the line to go to the alternate play that New England has in this situation.

Just like a lot of passing plays have a particular read, usually a specific defender, the Patriots also have a specific package of calls where they will line up a certain way, and sometimes send a man in motion, observe how a specific defender reacts, and then adjust the call based on that. What it basically means is that the Patriots call two plays, one being the default play call, the other being “Plan B.”

Brady signals to Vereen and Edelman that the offense is switching to play #2.

Brady signals to Vereen and Edelman that the offense is switching to play #2.

What was the original play call? The offense had planned to send a receiver, either Edelman or Vereen, underneath on a shallow crossing route, with another man coming from the opposite side to run a dig route at ten yards to stretch the middle of the defense.

Obviously it’s impossible to know for a fact what the Patriots had planned at first, but it’s safe to assume that the original play was designed to attack the middle of the field underneath as well as a defensive structure that kept both guys deep in a two-deep look. The diagram below should give you some idea about the kinds of things the offense was looking to do on this play.

Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola go vertical on the right side to clear out space for Edelman once he makes the catch and turns up the field for the first down.

Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola go vertical on the right side to clear out space for Edelman once he makes the catch and turns up the field for the first down.

In this scenario, the defense has sent Wagner out to follow Vereen in motion, leaving the middle wide open for Edelman to come underneath and make some good yardage after the catch, especially since Amendola (#80) and LaFell (#19) take their defenders with them and leave nothing but green grass and room to run on the right side of the field for Edelman.

Now that the call has changed, however, the offense is now attacking the areas outside of the hash marks, since the middle of the field looks to be crowded once the ball is snapped.

Still, to keep up appearances and give the impression that the shallow cross is still coming just like Seattle expects, Brady brings Vereen in short motion back inside where he is extremely close to Edelman and the two of them are almost “stacked” like the Patriots often do.

The corner (Maxwell) follows Vereen back inside and starts to give depth as well.

The corner (Maxwell) follows Vereen back inside and starts to give depth as well.

At the snap, Vereen comes underneath the vertical release of Edelman, and takes a few steps toward the hash as if he’s going to run the shallow crossing route, but once he gets to the hash he pivots back out to all that wide open space underneath to the outside. The corner (Maxwell) is disciplined and doesn’t allow himself to be out-flanked, staying with his man.

Vereen is actually Brady’s final read on the play, since his eyes are moving right to left while in the pocket. Once the ball is snapped he peeks over at the wheel route by Amendola, who is trying to gain leverage on the defensive back over him, but is unable to do so. Next he looks for Gronkowski, who should just be making his break to the outside once Amendola’s wheel route starts to turn vertical, and LaFell’s post route gets Richard Sherman out of the way, but K.J. Wright (#50) is playing with outside leverage and Gronkowski can’t break free.

Edelman gets a good release inside, and ends up on the same level as Gronk, coming in and replacing him over the middle, but Wagner has dropped into the passing window and it’s an easy interception if Brady tries to jam it in the tight window. So finally, Vereen is breaking to the outside and looks to have some room even though Maxwell has kept great leverage on him.

Because of how close the two receivers are, the corner has to give ground, which opens up space underneath to the outside.

Because of how close the two receivers are, the corner has to give ground, which opens up space underneath to the outside.


Maxwell does a great job of recovering and getting to Vereen so that Brady has to put it low and away from the defender, and Vereen can’t bring it in. The pass falls incomplete and New England has to punt the ball to Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense. You can see the actual play diagrammed below.

New England found space outside but Maxwell does a great job of staying with his man and forcing an incompletion.

New England found space outside but Maxwell does a great job of staying with his man and forcing an incompletion.

The Patriots get a lot of valuable information on their first drive of the game, but they still come up empty.

Conclusion

Even though it wasn’t a successful play, all the decision-making that went into putting the Patriots in position to get an open man on 3rd and 6 is still an interesting study for coaches and fans alike.

If you want to know when the book will be ready, just sign up below and you’ll receive a notification when it goes live on the site. You can also check out the original book that broke down the National Championship Game by clicking here.

 

What’s your favorite trick play?

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It’s Monday, which means it’s time for another question of the week.

A lot of people really seemed to like last week’s topic, where I asked coaches what their best play on the call sheet is for 4th and goal from the 1.  For that reason, I decided to ask another X’s and O’s question this week:

What’s your favorite trick play?”

It could be a play you’ve called in a game, one you’ve seen run on TV or in person, or maybe it’s one you’ve got hidden away in the playbook that you just haven’t decided to pull the trigger on (As always, you can choose to remain anonymous when answering this question so you don’t tip off opponents on your schedule and give them extra information).

If you’re already a subscriber, check your inbox and reply to the email to submit your answer.

If you’re not, you can sign up below for free. Just enter your information, confirm your email address, and you’ll be able to enter to win a free copy of any of my books, including my latest Ebook, which breaks down the National Championship Game between Oregon and Ohio State.

I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!

14 Coaches give their best plays for 4th and Goal at the 1

Jet Spacing

Each week, I ask my subscribers, most of them coaches, a football-related question.

This past Monday, I wanted to know what play they would call if they were facing 4th and goal at the 1 yard line. One play left, one yard away from a score. In that situation coaches usually go back to what they know best, or at least that’s what I thought. I was surprised by how many coaches had a special call up their sleeve for just such a situation.

As always, I picked my favorite response to feature here on the blog, and the winner receives their choice of my latest book Every Play Revealed: Breaking Down Oregon and Ohio State in College Football’s Biggest Game or my next one coming soon, a similar book that breaks down the Super Bowl.

This week’s winner was Everett Adams, offensive coordinator at St. Thomas Moore in Canada. He shared two of his favorite plays for just this situation, both built off of the jet sweep package.

You can get all of the best responses to the question by scrolling down and signing up at the form at the bottom of the page.

Jet Spacing Zone Cut

If you want to read the whole thing, sign up on the form below and once you confirm your email address you’ll have it sent to your inbox instantly!

 

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