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…”

Jun 082014
 

It is always important for an offense to put the defense in conflict.  The throwback screen (note that this is not the only name for this play, but it is what I will use) is a classic – and underutilized – way to do so, particularly for a team that often uses sprint action with its quarterback.

The 1992 Houston Cougars were one such team. A record breaking run and shoot offense, Houston was known for lighting up the scoreboard with an offense that almost always had the quarterback sprinting to one side or the other. Not surprisingly, this forced Houston’s opponents to flow and devote more defenders to that side.  This is where the throwback screen comes into play.

The assignments on the play. The quarterback sprints to the right (as on a typical Houston pass play) while the linemen touch their defensive linemen and go.

The assignments on the play. The quarterback sprints to the right (as on a typical Houston pass play) while the linemen touch their defensive linemen and go.  After making his sprint, the quarterback turns and fires to the wide receiver on the left, who bends inside of the block by the left tackle on the cornerback.

The first step is the sprint itself. The defense must respect this movement and act accordingly to account for the possibility of a quarterback run or receivers flooding in the direction of the sprint.

Texas takes the bait, with the defensive line rushing hard and the linebackers blitzing to pressure the quarterback. Everyone moves in the direction of the quarterback sprint.

Texas takes the bait, with the defensive line rushing hard and the linebackers blitzing to pressure the quarterback. Everyone moves in the direction of the quarterback sprint.

We can see Texas doing just that, with linebackers blitzing and the coverage sliding in the direction of the roll.

All 6 Texas box players are now behind the Houston line, while the Houston offensive linemen move down field to make their blocks.

All 6 Texas box players are now behind the Houston line (wasted on the play), while the Houston offensive linemen move downfield to make their blocks.

This leaves the backside vulnerable.

The left tackle gets just enough of the corner back on a cut block to give the wide receiver a clear lane to the inside

The left tackle gets just enough of the cornerback on a cut block to give the wide receiver a clear lane to the inside.

Next, we see the ball being caught. The left tackle cuts the cornerback, giving the receiver a clear running lane. Four more offensive linemen head downfield to block – on only one defensive back.

More blockers than defenders = something good is going to happen

More blockers than defenders = something good is going to happen.

From there, there is nothing but open space ahead.

Highway to the end zone

Highway to the end zone.

The true value of the play goes beyond the 6 points that go up on the board. The defense must always be wary of the throwback (coach John Jenkins was known to run it repeatedly in the same game, using it as a staple play). This opens up the field for the basic offense to the sprint side – which is what Houston wanted to be running, anyways.  It also slows down the rush, by penalizing a defense who pressures the quarterback with too much abandon.  This, in turn, gave the Houston quarterbacks more time to throw.

The throwback screen is difficult to execute and requires extensive practice commitment.  The offensive line must be athletic and have great timing, the quarterback must be accurate enough and with a strong enough arm to spin under pressure and hit the receiver in the chest with the ball, the receiver must be fearless enough to take a hit if the defense isn’t fooled and fast enough to exploit them if they are, and the coach must be dedicated enough to install the play with patience.  If those elements are present, the throwback screen is a valuable investment for any team who uses sprint action extensively or who faces over-aggressive opponents.

The link to the play (at 9:00) as well as great end zone footage of the Houston run and shoot against Texas:

Below, Tony Franklin and Sonny Dykes show us a modern version of the play with the 2013 California Golden Bears: