Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Big Hits, Big Fines

I've played a lot of football in my day and I can fortunately say that I've never received any type of head injury. Last year when the NFL put into effect a rule protecting players from head to head contact there was a pretty significant uproar about it. Why?

I'm taking a chance to talk about the big hits in the NFL that have recently warranted a significant amount of media coverage-mostly due to the fines and installed regulations to deter players from turning themselves into highly competitive and trained missles with near demi-god strength.

Many of the arguments that i've read or listened to talk about taking away from the game and the sport or things about making the league less fun to watch. Even now i'm at a loss about why making the game just a bit safer 'takes away from the game'. Football about is about collective discipline and strategy, it's like game of human chess.

Let me start out by ranting; I was checking youtube for a hit made by Dunta Robinson (which i will show on this entry) and whether or not it warranted a fine. Callers were also giving their opinions on the NFL's swift hand of justice to limit these [near literally] train wrecks.

Anyway, back to my point; I was on youtube looking at this video clip of Dunta Robinson laying the wood and i scrolled down to read the comments attached to the video. These comments always crack me up, people get so attached to their opinions and statements that they begin to define them as a person-or at least define their internet persona.

It was shocking how many of these people made comments aimed at demeaning the sport, the league, and even the players.

As these men get older, bigger, stronger they become more likely to get injured. ACLs, turf toe, broken bones...concussions/head injuries. Don't get me wrong, i'm all for big hits. My favorite all time player is also one of the most feared by his co-workers but head to head hits are not the be all end all of the NFL or the game of football. It's shocking when people call players and the NFL 'pussies' because they want to minimize the head to head hits or protect players from suffering trauma to the head and neck.

Now think about this in perspective. Professional football players are stellar athletes that make quite a bit of money to play a game but at the end of the day, they're people. They are human beings just like us. They have feelings, they feel pain, they suffer, and most of all: they are not invincible. If anything, with the increase of speed and strength over the last 20 years, they're more likely to become injured.

Can you really persecute the NFL for trying to keep the players safe and healthy?  Not only do concussion hurt like hell, but they can cause serious long-term problems and in extreme circumstances even death. So before you say something stupid about big shitty formed tackles making football worth watching, realize what you're saying about the game and the players delivering and receiving them.

What is a concussion?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Defensive Fronts (Part 2)

In the first entry I talked about the two major types of fronts; odd and even. Most the entry was spent talking about even fronts and some variations on techniques that are used along with glaring pros and cons of the front.

This entry will focus more on the odd front and some of the basic techniques that can be used from it as well. Again, i'll try and maintain simplicity. I'll be able to cover a little more about the odd front, because we employ a 3-man front at West so i'm a little more conformtable talking about it. This is also why the majority of the information that I discuss-although applicable to other odd fronts-will mostly be in reference to a 3-man front.

One of the defining characteristics of an odd front is the NT (Nose Tackle). This is the player that's lined up in a head up alignment, also known as a 0 tech. This player can also be shaded to a strong or weak 1 tech or diangonally rotated, also known as a "jet", in any of the 3 alignments. Jetting isn't very popular in the high school level and more commonly seen at the collegiate level. Shading occurs in the high school level but not very often and even more infrequently into the lower levels of competition. In most high school levels of competition a NT lined up in a 0 tech over the center is going to be enough to get the job done in that most high school Center's have trouble snapping the ball and maintaining a block. Some Centers at the high school level have trouble getting their snaps off while being hovered over by a 0 tech let alone maintaining a block afterwards.

In the 3-man front the NT is typically a 2-gap player. This means that he's responsible for the gap on either side of the Offensive center. The Ends are way variation came set in. A bang tech is a method of play where the defensive lineman, an End in this case, attacks the Offensive lineman head on and plays a 2-gap responsibility. A loop tech is a method in which the End attacks the outside shoulder of the Offensive lineman and maintains gap control (a single gap). So the two pre-dominant methods of playing a 3-man front is a bang/2-gap or a loop/gap control.

These two variations and methods of play depend on the personnel and coaches preference. At West we play a loop or 2-gap system but at higher levels of competition, such as the collegiate level or in the pros it is not at all uncommon to see 3-man 2-gap fronts in which larger bodies are much easier to come by. Bigger bodies are prefered for 2-gap play because it's easier to fill, squeeze, or attack multiple gaps with larger players.

The glaring difference, scheme wise, between a 2-gap system and a gap control system is the use of bodies. In 2-gap the defense relies on the D-lines ability to control a gap on each side of them allowing the Linebackers to flow freely while a gap control requires the Linebackers to "check and flow". Neither system-in my eyes-is superior but simply a different way of playing.

The available players within the defensive scheme as a whole can greatly impact the method of the D-line play, for example, while Rex Ryan (Now HC of the New York Jets) was the Defensive Coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens he employed a 2-gap 3-man front because he felt that the superior speed and ability of the Inside backers (one of whom is future hall-of-famer, Ray Lewis) would be most efficient if all gaps were accounted for without the need of using Linebackers.

We've already covered that Centers covered by a 0 tech can generate problems within themselves, now let's move onto stunts and games froma 3-man front. The greatest strength of an odd technique is that it allows for more exotic blitz packages and the greatest reason for this is that it can be difficult for the Offense to identify where and if there will be an additional blitzer beyond the 3 down players.

Here are two of the more popular defensive fronts from an odd look;

Although pre-snap movement isn't as easy to do with an odd-front, it can be done and by including linebackers and defensive backs within the pre-snap movement it can become very cumbersome for a quarterback and offensive lineman to read. Many times the pre-snap movement that's done either adds a linebacker or removes a linebacker from the defensive line.

Strengths of the odd front include many of the same strengths as the even front but include the necessary use of Linebackers. In the talk about the even front, I showed the example of the 3rd down game. The same game can be done with the 3-man front while employing a Linebacker;

The thing that I personally like about the odd-front is that there are many ways to attack pass pro by dictating where help will come from. Like I had mentioned earlier and in the previous entry, the NT will generally cause problems for a Center, this will require a double team on the NT to stop any significant penetration. By using the NT to attack a gap you can dictate where the help will come from. So elaborating on this example, if the Guard on the game side is good enough to keep the levels from being split, we can use the NT to attack the game side A gap-necessitating a double team by the Center and Guard-keeping the Guard occupied and away from helping with the game.

FOR INQUISITIVE MINDS: If a Center is good enough to maintain a block on a NT and a coordinator wanted to attack with this game, sugaring the LB would be a good way to keep the Guard occupied. By creeping a LB into a shallow 20 tech (head up over the Guard but off the line), the Guard has to play the LB honest by setting early;

To continue along with the strengths of the odd-front, many blitzes can be disguised or hidden. Trumping the pre-snap blocking assignments by mis-leading the offensive line. With 3 or 4 LB's it's easy to apply pressure from a multitude of areas without taking away from pass coverage or run support v. tosses, sweeps, or reverses. Here's a good example of pressure applied from a gap control 3-man front;

Each of these fronts, the odd and even front have a strengths and weaknesses, or really a more appropriate statement would be that they each have strengths in different areas. Don't discount either front from one another-it would be foolish and you would fail to do either of them justice.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Defensive Fronts (Part 1)

I'm going to talk a little about defensive fronts and their strengths. Because there's a lot to cover even while trying to keep it simple so i'm going to cover this subject in two parts. I'll try and keep it simple, but being a defensive guy and doing a lot of recent research on how to utilize fronts to attack pass protection I may get a little excited and go off of a tangent or two.

Traditionally speaking, there are two major defensive fronts; an odd front and an even front. The odd front is what we run at West and typically consists of the 3-4 defense-a popular choice by The Patriots HC, Bill Belichick. In the high school ranks the 3-3 stack is becoming increasingly vogue, this defensive front also employs an off front. Even fronts are more common in larger collegiate programs and at the professional level. In high school, they aren't uncommon but the number of backers (4-4, 4-3, 4-2, etc.) and types of personnel within the front change greatly.

For familiarities sake, i'll try and keep this on topic in reference to high school and college. Odd fronts employ a 0-technique NT (0-technique in most systems refers to the position head up over the center and NT is short for Nose Tackle). This 0-tech is used to take advantage of the experience level of a high school center. A center will only ever snap with one hand (although two handed snapping happens its not common-certainly not at the higher levels of competition and rarely at the college level).

We'll use a right handed center for example. A right handed snapper will need to fully commit his right hand to the snap and his off hand (left hand in this example) will have a rubberband type effect during the snap. It will snap up in order to stop the rush of a defensive lineman. In the event of an odd front this will put a NT in the centers grill as soon as the ball moves in even the slightest. A lot of high school centers lack the ability to snap the ball and immediately dominate a block. A good D coordinator can use this to an even greater advantage by using the NT to attack the centers right side. Since the Center's right hand will be commited to the snap the Center will need to cross his body to get his left hand over to slow the rusher, worse case scenario he'll become off balance and lose the LOS before the battle's even started.

We'll address more of the odd front later.

The Even front takes away this immediate threat of the NT/Center but adds a definite rusher by having a fourth man on the Defensive line. This additional rusher can seem like a great idea-following the mantra "more is better", however, an even front takes away blitzing combinations/possibilities and allows an Offensive line to identify another rusher-as opposed to not knowing who will be rushing from an up position in an odd front. Some of the advantages of the even front are; D-line games, pre-snap movement, and one-on-one's.

Defensive line games are crossing stunts or false movements stunts that can be used to mix up blocking responsibilities of the Offensive line. Here's a very simple D-line game that can be effective on a passing down.

 This type of a game is even more effective with a stunting Defensive End that possesses exceptional speed. The goal for the End is to get the Offensive Tackle in a retreating state. The Defensive tackle is attacking hard on the inside shoulder of the OT and drawing in the Offensive Guard that he's lined up over. When the OG has been pulled outside with the DT the End will come inside of the gap created by the space. This is called 'splitting the levels'.

This is a simple game but the coaching is very distinct and should be called only during situations and may require some setting up of the offensive line before success is seen. It can be countered with a good center that's able to peel off any inside threat and pick up the End coming inside but that simply adds to the chess match that is football. SIDE NOTE: For those with inquisitive minds, a good DC would see the Center peeling off and would either sugar a backer (bluff a blitz by a Linebacker) or actually blitz a backer.

Pre-snap movement can cause a significant amount of confusion for an offensive line that struggles with adjustments or varies their blocking responsibilities. There are two dominant blocking styles; man and zone. Some more complex schemes can run a variation of zone/man. Both of these schemes can be challenged by movement up front before the snap which takes away the O-lines ability to adjust they're calls and ID their blocking responsibilities. Even the movement of a defender from the outside shoulder to the inside shoulder of an offensive lineman can greatly effect where and how he needs to adjust his blocking. For example, this is the same basic play but because the defense is line up differently blocking responsbilities change. If a D-line were to come out in one look at quickly shift during the snap count the Offensive line may not be prepared to make the necessary adjustments;

One-on-ones are another strength of the even front. With proper technique and coaching faster defensive ends can be placed on the edge and put in charge of coming off of the edge as fast as they can with Offensive tackles being placed on 'an island'. Double teams are primarily used by the interior 3 offensive lineman, Guard, Center, Guard. These 3 are usually less athletic than Offensive tackles and it's the shortest distance between the ball and a defender.

The personnel brought in for these types of fronts can vary a lot depending on the defensive style and philosophy of the coordinator but a common style of philosophy for body types has become prominent through the success seen by Monte Kiffin and his legendary "Tampa 2" defense using smaller defenders (keep in mind that a small defensive lineman in the NFL is still 6'2" 265lbs) with superior speed.

A lot of this changes when referring to the high school level, which can be effected by location, common body styles in the school and area, level of competition, and offensive sets seen. For example, when I played in high school we ran a 4-4 defense because we had smaller bodies with a higher level of speed and played at a smaller level of competition but on the other hand West Linn plays a 4-3 defense at a high level competition and they have the bodies to fill those interior spots and see a lot of passing oriented offensive attacks. The larger bodies at their disposal means they don't have to run a 3-man front [if they don't want too] and rely on LB's or Safeties to rush the passer. 

The style of the defensive front that's being used has a rationale behind it and is dicitated by many things. When you watch football, whether it be Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, make no doubt about it there's a rhyme AND reason behind the defensive front. Defensive coordinator position across the nation at many different levels are filled based solely on the type of kids in the program and how they want to use them.     

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Spread offense

I'm gonna talk about the spread offense. Because we run the Spread at West Salem and i've come to know quite a bit about it. There are a number of misconceptions that I want to take some time to clarify.

Whenever I talk with people about the logisitics of football and I say something the to effect of, "we're a smash mouth team--that's why we run the spread." They usually think i'm talking out of my butt and feel like I threw my credibality into the front of a movie train. I can hear the gears turning in your head, "how is that?"

A little bit about the spread offense; There are a few different styles of what people consider the "Spread Offense". For example, in the 70's and 80's the Houston Oilers ran a version that's come to be known as the 'Run 'n' Shoot'. This version of the spread is very pass oriented and designed to determine the passing routes based on how the defensive coverage develops during the play. This offense focuses on a lot of choice routes instead of your typical 'set in stone' patterns and takes a great degree of mastery before recievers and QB see the same thing. It's usually ran with the QB in the gun position, no Tight End, and a single Running Back (desired Runningback types depend on coaching but can range from a small agile reciever type to a large blocking type).
This version of the spread is very different than what Texas Tech ran in the mid 2000's which is different than what modern day Oregon runs. Along with the Houston Oilers high powered Run 'n' Shoot, there was the development of deep attacking Air Coryell offense. Which featured similar formations but was focused more on finding the tallest fastest guys you could find, lining them up on the perimeter and making them run faster than the Cornerbacks and jump higher than the Safety's.

These two offenses arguably made way for the West Coast [which has no connection to the West Coast outside of that fact that it was first installed by a west coast team] Offense which was perfected by the legendary 49ers coach, Bill Walsh. This is also the snowball that helped project QB salaries. The West Coast offense put the decision making solely into the hands of the QB, who coincidentally enough had the ball in his hands every play of every game. At the time Walsh had a smaller undersized QB that didin't feature a rocket arm but had accuracy. His name was Joe Montana. Smaller and undersized but a field commander with a comptitive spirit and had the intelligence to throw the ball where te defender was not.

The Run 'n' Shoot offense was focused on knowing, pre-snap, where the defense was going to be while the Air Coryell offense was to find the open reciever through progression and get him the ball. The West Coast offense was a novelty at the time because it took these two concepts and combined them. The idea of the West Coast offense was for the QB to identify the basic idea of the coverage he was seeing and check to the best recieving option (determined by the coverage).

Now the moder era Spread. The West Coast offense not only helped pave the way for modern offensive concepts but it forced defenses to re-think their personnel and strategy. Defenses were forced to find Linebackers that were able to cover rush the passer AND drop back into coverage. For the pre-West Coast era football players this required two very different skills. Because defenses were required to respect the 4 reciever threat, Linebackers were usually the most likely defenders put in charge of defending the shallow routes (usually < 10yds). When defenders are forced to leave what's known as 'the box' (the 10yd x 10yd area around the Center) this opens up the running game. It's basic mathematics, less defenders makes for less guys to block which makes for more room to run. Here enters the moder day spread.

Texas Tech runs a more pass oriented spread with more Coryell concepts than the type of Spread that Oregon runs. This entry is aimed more at talking about the Oregon style spread and it's affect on the running game. Spreading out the field and taking guys out of the box leads to better run opportunities and mixed with good run game schemes it's a force multiplier for the run game. Think of the most basic Zone run. The Zone is an Option type concept. The QB either keeps the ball or hands off the ball based on what the defender does. In this picture QB is reading the red highlighted Defensive End. The QB is going to watch what he does during the play, if the Defensive End comes at him he's going to hand the ball to the Running Back, if the Defensive End stays shallow and follows the Running Back the QB is going to keep it.

This way of playing the spread puts a great deal of emphasis on exceptional QB coaching and Offensive line coaching. It also gives a greater degree of freedom for the QB. Playing this style of offense it's not neccessary to have a tall QB with a big arm much like Texas Tech. At the college level that means you can go after smaller more athletic guys without as much competition in recruiting. At the high school level this means you can open up and diversify your offense. You don't need to rely heavily on the Running Back playing from the I-formation.

The true strength of the run oriented Spread Offense is that it evens out the responsilbility among the team. Before the Spread became vogue, you needed a good set of triplets [refering to the Cowboys cliche term], a solid dependable Running Back, a tall fast Receiver, and a prototypical QB. With a Spread scheme you can take an athlete, put him at QB and let him shine doing what he does best; being an athlete. It allows a team to rely more on it's athleticism and solid fundamentals than being elite and physically superior by way of height, weight, and overall size.

This of course, will lead to defenses re-aligning how they do things and in-turn will perpetuate the cycle of football evolution.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The NFL's Money: Player salaries

I had this idea of writing about the NFL and where the money comes from and how it's distributed. My degree minors in Sport Management so i've taken a number of classes that discuss the financial aspect of major sport leagues. There's a lot to be learned and I think a lot of people aren't real savvy to it, I think this will help a lot of people get a better idea of what the NFL work stoppage is all about as well. So the next few entrys are going to be about basic financial concepts in the NFL, this going over player salaries.

First off a little bit of history about professional football, you have to know where it came from before you can understand where it's going...right? In the late 19th century (1800's) professional football began as a student operated venture of one school versus another school with little more scheduling than a, "Hey, you  wanna play a game next week?" These games were played primarly by the 'good ol' boys' from schools like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, etc. Mostly schools that are now part of the Ivy league. These were the schools that had been around the longest and had the capital to do such things.

(i'm going to begin being vague with dates, they are of little consequence and I don't want to have to source my information)

As popularity of the sport slowly grew more schools became interested and the first instances of recruiting were seen. In the day in age when college football was beginning, professional football and collegiate football was not different. It wasn't until the 1920's and 30's that schools began distancing themselves from what could be considered professional football. This is also about the time that the adminstrative boards at the schools required a more concrete and organized approach to the sport. The sport was growing as were fatal injuries. There was also pressure from the government, the first Roosevelt if i remember correctly was threatening to ban the sport if something wasn't done to make it safer.

From 1930 to the early 60's there was massive reform in the sport. Professional and Collegiate had made significant strides away from one another. MANY teams had been fielded and folded under severe financial obligations, unsecure income, and bankruptcy via flaky owners. By this time the NFL had also become a central figure of football and spent the 50's financially squashing rival leagues, even though the NFL itself was very unstable and wasn't even able to dream about their fiscal future that was in store.

In steps Pete Rozelle. (Rozelle did far more than build the modern day NFL, but this blog will be reserved primarly for the modern day finances of the NFL)

Because so many teams would come and go the league was very unpredictable. Rozelle instilled in the owners a "League think" concept and was able to convince owners to sacrifice a little for the betterment of the league as a whole, eventually building them all a greater fortune. Rozelle was also able to build the NFL a more stable financial income. TV contracts. He negotiated gate and ticket incomes between teams. As I write this I keep coming up with things that Rozelle did for the NFL and realize that I could just keep going.

Now on to modern day.

NFLPA is the National Football Players Association, a lot of syllabuls for 'labor union'. I hear a lot of people talk about NFL players as though they don't need such things. On the contrary. almost 90% of NFL players are dead, bankrupt, or divorced within 5 years of retiring. These same players that make lucrative amounts of money don't make nearly as much as one thinks they do. Their contracts are also set up to minimize the amount of money that they make. Let's use simple numbers to make things easy. You want a player on your team, we'll say his name is Adam. Adam is good. Really good.

When a player is brought in to sign his contract they will levy his participation and roster spot with a signing bonus, this is a kind of guarantee to the player that whe won't get cut. The signing bonus is paid to the player regardless of his playing time, status on the team, and regardless of how long he's on the team. Therefore the team isn't going to pay a $10million signing bonus to someone they are unsure of. Now onto the actual salary of the player. Adam is a younger guy who has yet to hit his prime in the league and could really be an impact player for a few years to come so the team wants to sign him to a 5 year contract. With the projection of success in ticket sales, his jersey sales, and other apparel the team will say that he's worth $100 million over the next 5 years.

This is where many people lose scope of what a player really has to deal with. Adam's deal is 5 years $100 million. NFL contracts are heavely back loaded, meaning that, the major of his money is made his last year, so this is more appropriately what his salary will look like:

Year 1: $2 million
Year 2: $8 million
Year 3: $15 million
Year 4: $25 million
Year 5: $50 million

Back loading the contract is the way that the teams are able to sign such huge contracts that may never be filled. See, if Adam gets into his 3rd year with the team and hasn't lived up the expectations that team had for him when they first signed him, they have the right to cut him in which case they aren't obligated to pay him for the last 3 years in his contract.

On top of that I think people neglect to realize the expenses of an NFL player as well. I'm not talking about the cars, the houses, or personal bills-i'm talking about their financial obligations. Labor unions cost money, they have labor dues just like Safeway employees or Lowe's employees, except they are more expensive, significantly more expensive. NFL players pay taxes just like anyone else, they also pay for agents, personell/media reps, nutrtional guidance, personal training during the off-season, etc. I've never read a statistic on this but I have read some sources that suggest that a typical NFL player will only see about 20-35% of his salary. That percentage goes up as salary increases, because higher profile players make more money and therefore require more services, such as financial counseling, financial lawyers (to protect from that best friend in 3rd grade that claims he taught the players everything he knows), investors, etc.

I know that many people don't care about this and still feel that they make far too much money and they have little sympathy for their problems. I'm merely trying to enlighten people about the topic. I also have a question for those nay sayers, rarity many times constitutes a higher price. These men get paid as much as they do because they're incredibly physically gifted and put their health on the line and commit themselves to something they love for 24/7, literally eating, breathing, and living the game. If any one person were to do that they too would probably also make a lot of money doing something they love but most people don't truly love anything enough to do it as long as NFL players do.

Let's try this again.

Since my last blog was deleted for some reason or another [which I'm still investigating] I have to start over. It's a bit frustrating due to that fact that I was veyr satisfied with my first entry. I felt a good segway coming on for another entry about onside kicks, at the request of Sara Seed via Facebook, but no I'm left with little to no transition from one topic to another.

Either way, I've gotta start over and there's no point in complaining about the situation.