Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Inside the Playbook: Meshing OSU's Modern Spread Offense with the Single Wing of Yesteryear

Ohio State and Urban Meyer are best known for their spread offense. Meyer though, has taken the run-based spread and brought it full circle. Today what I want to do is compare Ohio State's offense to Michigan's offense. No, not to Al Borges's offense. No, not even to Rich Rodriguez's offense. I want to compare Ohio State to Fritz Crisler's 1947 Single Wing offense. In this article we're going show you one of the most innovative offenses of the day, by comparing it to one of the most explosive offenses of yesteryear. It will be light on words, but heavy on diagrams and old timey video.

Getting the Differences Out of the Way
Let's start by getting the differences out of the way. No offense to Crisler, but his passing concepts wouldn't cut it in today's game. While Meyer has a relatively simply passing playbook, it's vastly more advanced than the single wing playbook. Well, besides the jump pass; that's straight from the single wing.
Another significant difference is the personnel. The single wing looks like this


While a typical spread formation in Meyer's system looks like this

So Meyer is running a sort of spread out single wing. Well, I guess that makes sense.

Within the run offense itself is two fundamental differences. The first is the blocking scheme. Meyer is a big proponent of zone blocking, as most spread coaches are. If zone blocking existed at that time (I'm almost certain it did not), then it certainly wasn't prevalent or understood well enough for major universities to be using it.

The second thing, a thing that is both fortunate and unfortunate, is the distinct lack of a spin series from OSU. Here's an example of what is referred to as the "spin" portion of the single wing:

A couple schematic notes: the dashed blue line shows who the snap is going to. Typically, the ball will be snapped straight back and the back will adjust to it, but this is the easiest way to show who is receiving the snap.

The green lines and dashed lines indicate an option. In the OSU version of the plays, the option will actually be options from a single play call. From the old single win plays, each option will typically be its own play with its own blocking scheme, unless otherwise stated.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Inside the Playbook: Ohio State's Two-Back Offense (PREVIEW)

LINK to full article.

In 2013, Ohio State had one of the best run offenses in the nation. Part of their success came from two-back sets, or more accurately, by motioning a slot receiver - their Percy Harvin role - into the backfield. Losing, in my opinion, the best college RB in football last year, but returning the dynamic Braxton Miller and all their Harvinites, two back sets will likely become more prominent in this year's offensive iteration. In this piece, we will look at why these sets are so difficult for defenses to defend, both from a pre-snap standpoint, and after the snap.

Pre-snap Dilemma
The Buckeyes base set will present four vertical threats. Often times, this will be with 11 personnel, with two split ends, a slot, an H-back, and a RB. At times Meyer will deploy more of a true TE look, and involve a flanker and slot or show a trips type set.

Motioning 11 personnel or 10 personnel to 21 or 20 personnel presents a very different look for defenses. Let me explain.

From 11 personnel, the offense has four vertical threats, along with maintaining a horizontal threat and the potential overloading one side of the field.


Most likely, in this circumstance, the defense will be forced to utilize a nickel look. On top of that, a cover 3 defense can be exploited in multiple ways, most dangerously, with four verts. So defenses are forced to communicate and make adjustments in order to mitigate the potential dangers these four vertical threats bring to the table. Nick Saban's matchup zone is the product of his Cleveland Browns team's Cover 3 being exploited by four verticals from the Pittsburg Steelers. Mattison adjusts his Cover 3 by having the flat defender (typically the "Backer" or "Buzz" leverage defending LB) align directly over the #2 and carry him deep and "Freeze" against a trips look (align over #2 and read through #3, to put it simply).

But now a slot motions into the backfield on the opposite side of the QB. You're defense has made all their calls, adjustments, and communication, and suddenly they are presenting with a completely different set of threats, especially in the run game.



All your old option plays, and wide variety of run situations, now come into play. Your Cover 3 or Cover 4 must now adjust appropriately to a new look. Perhaps you change your leverage call to a nub formation (for example adjust Cover 3 to what I term "Cover 5", which is a three deep coverage with a "cloud" CB leverage perhaps; adjust your Cover 4 to a quarter-quarter-half Cover 6). So it's all new communication and checks that need to be made in a hurry, and all new threats that you have to quickly pop into your mind with the new look. But you have to have personnel that can cover both, and be smart enough to adjust to both looks quickly.

Two-Back Run Game
Now we will simply look at the different run plays that OSU will deploy from a two back set. We'll briefly describe the theory behind each play, and how they work in concert with the whole, but to keep this post somewhat in check, we'll keep it fairly succinct.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Follow the link to Maize n Brew to learn more about the Inverted Veer package, Read Option, Triple Option, and Sail Passing Concept that Ohio State will utilize out of their two-back set.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Inside the Playbook: Nebraska's Single High Defense vs Run Heavy Offenses

Originally Posted at Maize n Brew on July 26, 2013

In the summer of 2013, Nebraska was coming off of one of their worst seasons in terms of run defense. Their DTs struggled mightily, their DEs weren't enough to counter the problems on the interior. This post discusses some of the basic Pelini defenses, and the adjustments he made when he realized his team struggled to stop the run. While Nebraska's run defense improved over the course of '13, these are still tactics that Pelini will go to in times of need.

For what it's worth, an added bit of information is that Pelini prefers to 2-gap his two DTs on the interior. By the time much of the film seen below was taken, it had appeared the Nebraska defensive staff had stopped asking the Nebraska DTs to 2-gap, and instead focus on maintaining a single gap. This simplification of the defense makes it easier for the DTs to do their job, but tends to make the defense as a whole a bit less effective.

Over the years, Bo Pelini has proven to be one of the defensive minds in the game. With great success at Nebraska, Oklahoma, LSU, and then Nebraska again, he was able to transform middling defenses into stout defenses, and good defenses into great defenses. And last year was no... wait a sec... what the hell happened? Last year was, well... let's be honest, it was rough. I went back in search for something to write about here, what was going on to make this defense struggle, what changes needed to be made. But the answer is painfully obvious on film. The defensive tackles were atrocious last season for Nebraska; the defensive ends were alright, not great, and I'm honestly not sure how the linebackers were outside of not outstanding. Why can't I tell you? Because they had linemen in their face three yards downfield every time the other team ran the ball. And I said linemen for a reason. They didn't just have offensive linemen, they had their DTs pushed right back into them time and time again.

I could write a bit about some things Nebraska could do to be a little more effective on defense, the pressures they used at times last year to attempt to offset this problem, and some of the other adjustments. But what it boils down to if Nebraska wants to fix their defense, or even just make it so they don't give up 60+ points twice in a season, is they need to not suck at DT. If you not only can't win at the point of attack, but always flat out lose, it's not going to be pretty. Nebraska lost way too often last year, which is completely out of character for a Bo Pelini team. I'll still go over some of the things they can do compared to Pelini's comfort zone, but I also want to discuss some of the adjustments Pelini made to try to stop the run despite his DTs.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Inside the Playbook - Meshing the Zone Run with Simplified Pass Concepts

Originally published at Maize n Brew

This information is applied to the Bill O'Brien PSU teams, but the concepts are familiar throughout the Big Ten. Many teams, such as Iowa, Wisconsins, etc, will utilize zone running schemes. And the mesh concept described below will apply to many teams with young QBs, and will be utilized by coordinators throughout the Big Ten.

This piece will be a bit shorter today, but hopefully it will still be informative. Penn State has given me absolutely no full game footage, making it very difficult to grasp a whole lot about scheme and patterns. But they do have some pretty good game highlights, and for whatever reason some guy from Nebraska has some all 11 footage from when they played Penn State, so I got some nice stuff coming your way (thanks Alonzo Whaley).

Anyway, Bill O'Brien has done a great job in a short time taking many of the offensive philosophies from the Patriots, very much simplifying them, and then teaching those concepts very well. Penn State's offense is not complex, but it's varied enough to keep defenses honest, and the performance of the players from a fundamental standpoint is very good. In this piece we will discuss the Nittany Lion's zone running scheme and their favorite pass concept: the mesh.

Zone Run Concept
Essentially, Penn State has three run plays: inside zone, outside zone, and draw. It's a fairly easy yet adaptable run offense, and information on it can be found everywhere on the internet. I'm going to try to give a bit more information on the zone blocking runs.

Outside Zone
As Smart Football writes, the difference between inside and outside zone isn't assignment, but rather technique. The assignment itself is dependent on if the lineman is covered or uncovered.
Let's first start with the covered concept.

The first step will be nearly completely lateral, with the second step aiming for where the defenders playside foot will be. You then continue to gain width and start moving downhill, with the playside armpit as the aiming point. The goal when getting to the defender is to get the head across the body and staying low. If the defender a far shade playside (for example, on the backside shoulder of the O-lineman directly playside), the O-lineman will rip through with his backside arm, gaining height while doing so. If the defender is only slightly shaded or at a point where the lineman can effectively reach him. Note that this is different for every lineman's ability level. If the lineman can't reach, he must first at least execute the rip through technique. If he can reach, then he will execute what is called a push-pull technique. What this means is that he will punch and press the defender's playside breast plate while pulling and turning the backside shoulder. This allows for the offensive player to remain square with the defender, gives the blocker leverage, and then allows the blocker to start driving downhill.

Now let's look at the uncovered linemen.

The uncovered blockers have three reads:

1) The slant. If the defensive lineman to the playside slants away from the play the offensive lineman that is uncovered must adjust because the defender is now coming at him. Typically, the uncovered O-lineman will assist the O-lineman to his playside by attaching and gaining momentum with the defender by latching on with one arm, before releasing to the second level. But if the DL slants into the uncovered blocker, he must bring two hands and then attempt to control him alone so that his offensive lineman counterpart can begin working to the next level.

2) He must be alert for an immediate fill from the LB level. A blitzing linebacker getting penetration can quickly kill any run play. The OL must check for that LB and square up on him. If he tries to slip the block playside, he must be stuffed dead in his tracks. If he tries to slip behind, use his momentum to carry him upfield and out of the play.

3) Climb to the LB level and seal inside.

The backside OT will generally be considered "uncovered" but will have his own technique. He will tend to hold off the DE while gaining depth and trying to reach the backside LB by the time he reaches the midline. If the DE tries to cross his body, he must lift with his rip technique before getting to the next level.
The goal of all these linemen is to get his body between the sideline and the man, first and foremost, and continue to work downfield until squaring up and driving the defender out of the play.
The running back is usually going to aim at the inside shoulder of the TE. Now, the defense is going to try to beat the offensive lineman to the spot. If that's the case, the offensive lineman must use the defenders momentum and carry him to the sideline. This opens up cutback lanes for the RB, which is what he is going to read. What you really want from the RB is a guy that will patiently wait for the opening, whether that's from the line sealing or in the form of a cutback lane, and then plant the foot and in one cut get downhill and squared to the LOS quickly.

Hit the jump for more

Thursday, July 3, 2014

PODCAST - Breakdown of Wisconsin's Run Game

First image that comes up on Google for "Buck Around", probably associated with the Wisconsin Blog linked below... their Podcasts go pretty hard.

Over at Buck Around, I took part in my first podcast, discussing the X's and O's of Wisconsin's run game.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Inside the Playbook: Northwestern's Offense With Two Different QB Types


There are many odd and unique things about Northwestern. They're the only team in the Big Ten that is private. They wear purple. Their home games are every other teams Chicago home game. These guys have been the most annoying team that hasn't been that good but somehow has been good over the past decade. They have two quarterbacks capable of starting... and they're nothing alike. I introduce to you: Kain Colter aka The Runner and Trevor Siemian aka The Passer. In the words of Vince Lombardi, "What the hell's goin' on out there?" Well, I guess I can at least try to explain some of their spread offense and how it starts to differ with their two QBs. The rest, well, not so much.

The Run Game
Bear with me, I just spent an hour thinking up bad section title puns from classic movies (‘Citizen Kain' anyone?) then spent the next hour trying to convince myself that they weren't as stupid as they seemed. They were as stupid as they seemed.

Anyway. The biggest change in the run game when Colter is in the game is that there is a run game. OK, that may be a stretch, but against Michigan with Kain Colter in the game, the play ended up being a designed run or a scramble over 80% of the time. The favorite style of play by far was the option; the specific play: the speed option.

Here, at the snap of the ball, both the QB and RB are going to sprint to the outside of the field. The offensive line zone blocks, but leaves the playside EMOL free. The QB will attack the outside shoulder of the EMOL and read him. If the EMOL gets flat footed or attacks the QB, the QB pitches. If the EMOL starts cheating out, the QB will cut up between that man and the zone blocking of the offensive line. For the RB's part, he must maintain correct pitch relation to the QB. For the speed option this is about 1 yard deeper and 5 yards outside.

Another play that was featured with Colter only was the veer triple option, almost always run from the same exact formation out of a pistol set, and almost always with the ball going on the dive. In fact, I'm not exactly sure it was even a read, as several times keeping it would have been the correct read. Still, he did actually run through the progression at least once.
Here, I show the whole option so you get the concept.

Triple option video

Let's assume that the read progression is being made for now. Now let's number the box players, essentially the players lined up inside 8 yards off the LOS and not covering a WR. So typically, your DE, OLB, and SS. We will number these players 1, 2, and 3 from the inside out. #1 is the "read defender", #2 is the "pitch defender", and #3 is blocked. The QB will receive the snap and his first step will actually be away from the play and up. With his next two steps he will square himself to the sideline and read the #1. If #1 stays home, he gives the veer, or dive back. If #1 crashes, the QB pulls the ball from the belly and attacks the outside shoulder of #2. From there the play is much like the speed option. A difference is that Northwestern tends to inside zone block away from the option look.

These types of option plays are exclusive to Colter because of his legs. Siemian can execute the rest of the run game as well, which includes outside and inside zone reads and a true veer play.

The key is, with Colter in the game, the run sets up easy passes and makes defenses commit to the varied running attack. When Siemian is in the game, the run is used to keep the defense honest, with the RB and screens being used to attack the field from sideline-to-sideline, rather than the legs of the QB.

The Pass Game
Much like how the whole run playbook is open to Colter in the run game, and a portion of that playbook is available to Siemian, the opposite is true for the pass game. While the QBs are very different, the playbook doesn't suddenly get overhauled. The play selection, yes, but the actual plays and concepts are pretty much the same.

Check these out:



Note that I believe this was the only time Colter even attempted to throw a pass in the middle of the field.

But this is the concept:
The play is picking on a single defender, the LB. The dip route (dipping into the middle before breaking back out into the flat) keeps the LB flat footed and respecting the shallow cross. The WR likely being quicker and having better acceleration, then gets an even better jump when he breaks back outside. Behind that play, a WR is running a dig route. The QB is simply reading that LB. If the window opens up between LBs, hit the dig. If the LB stays in his zone, look for the dip. Note here that if the SS begins cheating up on the dig route, the go route by the #1 WR can be adjusted to more of a post/seam route, and the QB can just move his progression down field to the deep receiver.

With Colter in the game, much like when Denard was in the game for Michigan, the pass game is mostly focused on the outside. This is because Colter doesn't really have the arm strength that's desired to throw the ball in the smaller windows. He also doesn't have the vision or height to see well over the middle. Instead, it's a lot of safe throws. Smash routes are used constantly because it utilizes corner routes that don't need to be thrown with a lot of velocity and hitch routes that can be shortened a little by half roll outs. Things that give Colter easy passes.

One thing Northwestern does is run a ton of rub routes to beat man coverage and then a lot of short and intermediate routes combined with quick, three step drop passes, to pick on zone defenders. Diagramed below is a simple hitch route.

Rather than threatening over top of the safeties or attacking the field vertically with well timed throws put into small windows, Colter is really only asked to throw vertically with plays that are designed to get the defense out of position. Because they throw the ball short so frequently, defenses begin to undercut the flat routes and cheat on other short passes, what that tends to mean is you get hit with the wheel route.

But with Siemian in the game, the whole field is open. The LBs are much more threatened to make correct drops and gain depth. The safeties need to gain correct leverage on receivers. Here, you see a LB put in a bad position, still have pretty good coverage, and still get beat.

Here, the WRs are getting deeper than the LBs and picking on the safety. Motioning the RB out of the backfield essentially forces either a safety out of center field or a LB to cover a RB in space. To the play, the QB is reading the SS as the two posts split the safety. One attacks the middle of the field, the other the seam. Either way, in any sort of man coverage a WR will break open behind coverage. And, even if the defense backs into a zone look, the WRs will have cleared out the middle of the field for the #1 WR to run his dig route and settle in a void.

Siemian can also put velocity on the outside pass, giving him the ability to hit out routes and back shoulder fades. This is a very different way of spreading the field.

And even when the two run the same play, one thing you notice is that Colter is making one, maybe two reads, and then being told to scramble. He is often tasked with only looking to one side of the field, typically the side with the simplified coverage. In fact, the Siemian TD pass play above was also run by Colter in the game. But rather than look the safety off and then come back to the double post, Colter only read the opposite side before scrambling. The reason for this is three-fold: 1) because Colter doesn't have the vision to make good reads over the middle of the field; 2) he doesn't have the arm strength or accuracy to make the throw at a high enough success rate, without a just as likely turnover rate, to justify even attempting the pass; and 3) because he is a true threat with his legs.

These simple adjustments are interesting when taken over the course of a season, let alone a single game. Both QBs, perfectly capable of starting and having success at Northwestern, are working from the same playbook, but both with limitations. The whole run game is free-game for Colter, while the pass playbook is partially closed. For Siemian, the opposite can be said. Watching Northwestern has always been interesting, but watching how Northwestern molds their offense to fit their strengths of their two very good QBs should make for another odd and unique thing to look for from Northwestern this year.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Inside the Playbook - Defending the Speed Option with a Two-High Defense (BDS Exclusive)

Last time we looked at how Michigan attempted to stopNebraska’s speed option attack with a Cover 1. Not finding much success, the very next week, facing Northwestern, they turned to more two-high coverages in the face of the Kain Colter lead spread attack. In this post, we’ll look at how Michigan utilized a two-high man under and Cover 4 to defend the speed option.

How the Speed Option is Run
Be it under center or from the shotgun, the speed option is essentially the same. The offensive line, in the case of most modern day offenses, will run their standard outside zone blocking scheme. The one difference is that the offense will bypass the defense’s EMOL toward the play and instead work to the 2nd level. The defender left free with be the option defender, the player that the QB will read to determine if he will keep the ball and run it himself or pitch the ball to his RB.

Here is how it looks:

Northwestern will also occasionally run a true triple option from the pistol. To the pitch side, it is run similarly to the speed option, with the “dive” portion of the triple option acting as the seal block to the pitch side. Here’s how it looks:

Defending the Speed Option with a Two-High Defense
While the man under defense and a cover 4 defense have their differences in coverage, they are very similar in terms of how they are used to defend the option. In both cases, the defensive EMOL, who will also be the pitch read defender, will have QB responsibility. Often times the rest of the DL and likely a backside LB will also flow to the QB. The safeties, meanwhile, will be responsible to sprint down the alley and take the RB. The frontside LB and likely any coverage defender will also support the effort.

So, responsibility goes to
RB: Safety, frontside LB, coverage
QB: EMOL, DL, backside LB.

The EMOL, typically a DE, has QB responsibility. Because the rest of the team is in pursuit, a cut back against the grain is potentially disastrous. At the snap he must square up to the QB and squeeze as tight as he can into the player next to him, making sure to leave no run lane inside of him. He doesn’t want to gain depth or width, but let the QB come to him in a good, fundamental, break down position. As the QB approaches, you must keep proper relation so that you are even with his playside (outer most) number by strafing. If he finds it useful to close the gap before pitching the football, make him not want to do that.

The responsibility of the safety and outside LB will depend on the coverage, formation, and checks within the coverage. Ideally, however, you will always have a force defender preventing the play from escaping outside, and an alley fill defender responsible for the RB from inside to outside.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *
Hit the jump to look at specific defensive examples