Jul 302015
 

Check it out here:

“Mazzone’s snag concept is one of the best in the game at achieving such consistency.  The concept is simple, hard to defend, and easy for the quarterback to read.

Essentially, the snag puts the outside linebacker in conflict (as spread offenses so often do), forcing him to either defend the snag route (a route run at a 45  degree towards the middle of the field by the outside receiver, who stops at five yards and looks for the ball) or the swing route by the running back.  The number two receiver (second man from the outside) runs a vertical route (usually a corner), which is difficult for the safety to defend if the cornerback gets involved on either the snag or the swing route.  The middle linebacker, who (in many defenses) opens towards the number three receiver (the running back), has a long way to run to get involved with the play, especially if it is run to the wide side of the field.  The play is not only effective because the quarterback is given easy passing targets, but because forcing the linebackers to vacate the box so often helps the Bruins to establish their prolific run game.”

Jul 132015
 

I’ve recently been in conversations with californiagoldenblogs.com, and will now be writing posts for them in addition to totalamericanfootball.com. This means that totalamericanfootball.com will become somewhat Cal centric. It does not mean that there will only be posts about Cal.

Aside from being my favorite college team, Cal is also an exciting team to watch from a coaching perspective; Tony Franklin has long at the forefront of the offensive game (his “Tony Franklin System” is used by high schools across the U.S.), and Sonny Dykes is on the path towards a successful (and complete) program makeover/rebuild.

My latest post is up now, and details how talent + execution = probability of success in the context of a key third down conversion for Cal. Check it out here.

“…Colorado, however, does not stay in a two high safety shell.  They tip their hand just before the snap.  One of two high safeties creeps towards the line of scrimmage, while the other walks towards the center of the formation.  They have disguised the coverage for most of the pre snap period, but now their options are more limited.  Realistically, in this one high shell, only one defender will defend the out route by Stephen Anderson: the outside linebacker/nickelback who is aligned just to the inside of Anderson.  This is because Colorado must account for a vertical route by the #1 receiver (the widest receiver); the safety has too far to run from the middle of the field to cover this route by himself (or to help with an out route by #2), thus meaning that the cornerback must cover a vertical route by #1, therefore leaving only one man who can possibly defend an out route by #2: the inside linebacker/nickelback…”

Nov 082014
 

Many coaches and fans believe that a man pass coverage scheme leads to better run defense. This is because – the thinking goes – primary run defenders are given more freedom to attack the run with aggressiveness, while primary pass defenders focus on covering receivers. If the defensive coordinator is willing to play with limited help over the top, it also allows the defense to load the box to stop the run. For example, in a common “man free” scheme against a traditional two wide receiver set, the two cornerbacks lock up the wide receivers and the safety plays over the top, while the remaining 8 defenders can play close to the line to stop the run.

Such thinking has extended to defend spread offenses. Against a “spread to run” opponent, one strategy is to lock in man coverage on the receivers to take away quick patterns, while giving your team a numerical advantage inside the box. Because of this numbers advantage, the defense can be aggressive with run fits, blitzes, and stunts. The numbers advantage can often be achieved even while keeping two safeties on the field, because of pattern matching principles, which allow outside linebackers to stay closer to the box and safeties to play the run more aggressively (further explained below).

Man coverage principles can, however, weaken a run defense.

The primary reason is because it is very difficult for a defender to play man coverage and maintain proper run discipline and pursuit. With responsibility focused on a receiver, a defender is much more likely to be run out of a play by a receiver simulating a pass pattern. Edge defenders will have difficulty preventing the ball from being run outside when they also have to defend routes that take them inside. The offense can also more easily manipulate defensive alignment in order to break contain. For example, a trips formation to one side with a tight end on the other side may lead to only a linebacker standing between the offense and the sideline on the tight end side of the field. If the offense can break that contain (against a linebacker instead of a defensive back), they have a big play on their hands.

Enter California and their prolific offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin, against the Oregon State Beavers. Oregon State under Mike Riley is and continues to be one of the most sound and well coached programs in the country, consistently fielding rugged, overachieving teams. They came into the game with a strong pass defense that seemed to match up well against Cal’s powerful air attack. In this game, however, their man principles hurt their ability to stop Cal’s running game.

As one can see below, Oregon State lines up in a two safety shell against Cal’s four wide receiver (2×2) offensive set. The outside linebackers split the distance between the #2 receivers (the 2nd receiver from the outside) and the offensive tackles. The safeties play inside shade of the #2 receivers, while the cornerbacks line up in press coverage on the wide receivers.

What is not clear is whether the Beavers are playing true man coverage, or pattern matching principles. Pattern matching is a method by which particular defenders lock in man coverage against certain offensive patterns, while playing zone against others. For example, a typical pattern matching scheme is for the outside linebackers to cover any short out route by a #2 receiver in man coverage, while they would re-route any vertical stem by the #2 receiver, and then look to help in the flat. The safety would cover any vertical route (more than 7-10 yards) by #2, while the CB would cover any vertical route by #1. In many ways, pattern matching combines the best of both zone and man coverage – nobody has to cover every pattern, so they can be more aggressive against the run, while maintaining the benefits of man coverage against the pass. Teams such as Michigan State (which bases out of a 2 safety, cover 4 pattern matching defense) and the Seattle Seahawks (a primary 1 high safety [Earl Thomas, perhaps the best safety in the game], cover 3 defense) have built dominating defenses on such principles (see http://www.totalamericanfootball.com/improving-cornerback-play-with-cover-3-and-cover-4-press-the-rise-of-richard-sherman-darqueze-dennard-the-seattle-seahawks-and-the-michigan-state-spartans/ for an in depth explanation of how such principles aid cornerback play). Michigan State’s defense has – in particular – taken the coaching world by storm. Simply put, the Spartans have laid out a blueprint that allows safeties and linebackers to play the run aggressively (thus effectively creating a 9 man box) while having less fear of being burned in the passing game, because they do not have to cover every pattern by a particular receiver. The Spartans defenders are terrific at reading run or pass and reacting accordingly. Unfortunately for the Beavers, even if they were using such a pattern matching scheme (it is unclear if they were), they were much too quick to jump into man principles on any particular play against Cal.  Franklin exploited this over-zealousness on many occasions, both on run/pass neutral downs and on obvious passing downs.

Whether or not the Beavers were playing man or a pattern matching zone on this play, their defenders locked in on receivers in man coverage as soon as those receivers ran their routes. When Cal ran the ball, Oregon State was left with little support.

Oregon State is lined up in a typical 2 safety shell, with safeties on the inside shade of the #2 receivers, OLBs splitting the distance between #2 and the offensive tackle, and the cornerbacks in press coverage.  With the outside linebackers so close to the box, Oregon State would appear to have a numbers advantage against the run.  Their front seven remains close to the ball (though both OLBs are slightly outside the box), while Cal only has 5 offensive linemen to block the interior, with no lead backs or tight ends to help counterbalance the Oregon State front.

Oregon State is lined up in a 2 safety shell, with safeties on the inside shade of the #2 receivers, outside linebackers splitting the distance between #2 and the offensive tackle, and the cornerbacks in press coverage. With the outside linebackers so close to the box, Oregon State would appear to have a numbers advantage against the run. Their front seven remains close to the ball (though both outside linebackers are slightly outside the box), while Cal only has 5 offensive linemen to block the interior, with no lead backs or tight ends to help counterbalance the Oregon State front.

Cal quarterback Jared Goff turns and immediately hands to running back Daniel Lasco.  There is no pass fake from the backfield action (though Goff does fake setting up for a pass after he hands the ball to Lasco).

Cal quarterback Jared Goff turns and immediately hands to running back Daniel Lasco. There is no initial pass fake from the backfield action (though Goff does fake setting up for a pass after he hands the ball to Lasco).

After the ball is handed off, we see that the Beavers have already lost both CBs.  Both have their backs turned, defending pass patterns.  Even worse, their playside outside linebacker has turned his back to the ball, and is covering a slot receiver on a quick out route.  Both safeties are eyeing the slot receivers.

After the ball is handed off, we see that the Beavers have already lost both cornerbacks. Both have their backs turned, defending pass patterns. Even worse, their playside outside linebacker has turned his back to the ball, and is covering a slot receiver on a quick out route. Both safeties are eying the slot receivers.

As Lasco reaches the line of scrimmage, the Beavers have lost their advantage.  The playside outside linebacker is almost beyond the hash marks, still chasing the quick out route.  The playside safety IS outside the hash marks, most likely looking to help with the vertical route being run by receiver #1 to his side.  Both cornerbacks are completely removed from the play, as is the weakside safety, who is also likely to be helping with the vertical route by his #1.

As Lasco reaches the line of scrimmage, the Beavers have lost their advantage. The playside outside linebacker is almost beyond the hash marks, still chasing the quick out route. The playside safety IS outside the hash marks, most likely looking to help with the vertical route being run by receiver #1 to his side. Both cornerbacks are completely removed from the play, as is the weakside safety, who is also likely to be helping with the vertical route by his #1.

Notice that the Cal offensive line hasn't manhandled anybody - they simply put bodies on bodies.  The Oregon State middle linebacker has filled his gap decently well - but there is no help from the playside linebacker or safety to squeeze the play, and Lasco easily scoots outside.  No support means that nothing is squeezed to the middle of the field, effectively rendering meaningless any pursuit from the Oregon State front.

Notice that the Cal offensive line hasn’t manhandled anybody – they simply put bodies on bodies. The Oregon State middle linebacker has filled his gap decently well – but there is no help from the playside outside linebacker or safety to squeeze the play, and Lasco easily scoots outside. No support means that nothing is squeezed to the middle of the field, effectively rendering meaningless any pursuit from the Oregon State front.

Lasco heads towards the secondary.  The playside safety has now reacted, but - as with his middle linebacker - he has no help from his opposite safety, allowing Lasco to veer easily away from his pursuit.

Lasco heads towards the secondary. The playside safety has now reacted, but – as with his middle linebacker – he has no help from his opposite safety, allowing Lasco to veer easily away from his pursuit.

As Lasco cruises into the end zone, neither the backside safety nor the backside cornerback has come into view - both have been occupied by the #1 receiver.

As Lasco cruises into the end zone, neither the backside safety nor the backside cornerback has come into view – both have been occupied by the #1 receiver.

Every defense has its weakness. This post is not meant to say that man coverage and man principles cannot produce great defensive football. The aim of the post is to point out a (perhaps) hidden weakness in man coverage that many fans and coaches do not consider.

See the video here:

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:11807066