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Playcalling vs. Performance

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I sure hope nobody else gets arrested so we can talk about something other than our gangsta ass team.

This thread got me thinking. Football isn't a chess game, it's a poker game. The rules are simple, the layman can watch and understand what is happening, but much of the mechanics are hidden underneath layers and layers of complexity. If a running back busts a 30 yard run, it probably had much more to do with a good block, a good play call, or a missed tackle than anything the RB actually did. No one factor is a mystery, everyone knows what bad defense looks like (Thanks Mackovic!), but people seem too willing to erroneously point out one element to a team or game to single out for scrutiny.

Here is what we know. Our 2005 OL shredded everyone put in front of them. Jamaal Charles showed as much promise as any freshman running back ever has, including the ones with lighting bolt shooting, cow transforming statues in front of the stadium gates.

In 2006, that all vanished. We couldn't get a yard when we needed it against KSU. SHSU held us to under 4 yards per carry. Our once invincible line is getting shredded by the likes of anonymous Baylor DTs and Super Soldier Mark Dodge.

What changed? Obviously, Vince left. That's going to be the first answer given by anyone. But ask the follow up, HOW did that change the offense, you'll get blank stares. It's my contention that it wasn't an underperforming line or runner that held us back, but the hastily assembled neo-Vince offense that emerged after it became clear that Colt either couldn't or shouldn't run the ball (both are true, which one caused the conservative change in the offense is left up for debate. If Mack and Greg thought Colt could survive running against Big 12 teams after the spring, then I really doubt anything that happened after changed their mind. If they couldn't plainly see what any casual fan could, then they probably never will. Odds are, they gave him the Vince-in-2005 red light to protect him from injury. Great idea, as it turns out).

So now Colt has no running options. The zone read, QB draw, option, gonzo. Our hopes and dreams in 2006 are reduced to an astounding two plays.

PROBLEM ONE: We only ran two plays.

And with a shout out to my friend and a free 30 day trial of Flash Pro 8, here they are:

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This is the zone. One of the goals is to prevent penetration with quick, hard double teams of the DL. The playside OL (The LG and RG, who are initially striking back from the point of attack) tries to hold the DL long enough to let the back OL (The LT and C) slide underneath him. Having achieved that, the playside OL moves on to his target on the second level, and now every relevant defender has a body on him.

We aren't trying to blow anybody backwards, but put a body on each of them and seal them off in one direction. We made two plays to illustrate this. The first diagram is the result of the "stretch" that the play puts on the defense. The running back needs to remain patient and pick his way through the crowd. Everyone is moving to the right, cracks and creases will open up as it his quite hard to maintain gap discipline between 7 guys when everyone is moving and fighting. The second diagram is what happens when a LB wants to pursue. The RG simply pushes the LB where he wants to go and the RB cuts in behind it. The defense is given enough rope to hang itself. If you're wondering why our RBs were meandering in the backfield so long, this is why. It's a patient man's game.

Our other play is a counter:

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The first key to the play, as it relates to us, is that the left side of the OL has to sell the zone blocking. They aren't zone blocking, but they have to look like they are so the WLB will follow them. The second key is the block of the pulling guard, and it's his decision that is the difference between the two drawrings. If he kicks out the end as in the first picture, is creates a lane through which the RT can lead the RB. If the end gets caught in too far, the RG can seal him inside and allow the RT to lead the RB outside.

This is our 2006 rushing offense. I wrote that in 15 minutes. That is a problem. The basic theory behind all of it is fine, but in a practical sense, it all comes crashing down.

PROBLEM TWO: Predictability is a bad thing.

Being simple is ok. A&M is simple. OU is simpler. T. C. Williams high school ran 4 plays and won the state title with Denzel in charge of a bunch of actors. All of those offenses are simple, none of those offenses is predictable. We are.

The difference is that the defense doesn't know where the ball is going. Our opponents do. It's either off tackle to the right or off tackle to the left and you don't need to make a choice between which one to defend.

Step one in destroying us is simple alignment changes:

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5 defenders for 4 blockers. Because the MLB is so well protected, the LG is the only one with a real shot at getting to him, which of course isn't going to work, it's just too far to run.

And there you have it, the first thing our coaches asked of our players that was undeliverable. It goes on.

Lining up like above does leave you open to things like counters, if that team runs them, so it's not entirely practical to do. Fortunately for our poor opponents, they didn't need to line up like that. They could disguise their destruction with post-snap stunting:

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The first zone is theory, it's what you teach is going to happen. This picture is what actually happened, time after time. Notice that on the snap, the defense is slanting hard to the left. This has two effects, we'll call them effect A and effect B, since the diagram was made before the description.

A is the result of the DT's slant killing any chance the C has of controlling him. The RG has to choose between continuing on with the DT or leaving to get his target. In this case, he chooses to move on and leaves the C with an impossible task of running down a DT with a head start. The slant creates the penetration that we so try to avoid, and either swallows the RB in the backfield, or forces him to slow down and change directions, giving pursuit time to . . . well, pursue.

Effect B is the OL deciding not to move on. Since the slant leaves the DT on top of the guard, he is unable to move to the second level, leaving his target, the WLB, untouched. Because of this the WLB is free to press the line and fill the gap, gathering the RB for no gain.

This is but two examples of defenses being able to attack because they know what's coming. We cannot block this consistently, and blame falls on the person who has us stuck in neutral, not the players asked to do things like move 5 yards to the left while the DT only has to move 3 or 4 in the same time frame.

One more thing before I move on. If Vince were still QB, this is all moot, because at the end of that play he's ten yards downfield. The play above is a sellout by the defense because they no longer have that dual threat to worry about. This is why it was so stupid of us to stay with that base. A running QB can only work if the guy can run. Seems obvious. This is why our 2005 offense worked, along with the variety and unpredictability Vince's legs brought. You can't sell out against dual threats.

So maybe you're asking, if a team wants to slant so hard to our right, why not run the counter at them? Good question. It's a fine idea if the counter is truly a counter. If the defense is geared to stop one thing, and you do another. That is a counter. We ran way too many counters and it killed the surprise element. If you know a reverse is coming, it'll be a disaster for the offense, right? No different.

PROBLEM THREE: A counter is as a counter does.

On paper, our offense works. On the field, we are playing against teams that spend all week game planning specifically for us. They know all about our little game. They can find rock solid, 100% accurate reads that gives them a huge advantage on us, and we aren't even making it hard.

For one, the ball ALWAYS goes where our RG goes. Always. If he moves right, it's a zone, if he moves left, its a counter (obviously real life is more complicated because he have more than one formation and don't always line up strong right, but the point is the same). If Greg Davis thinks the WLB is watching the LG, he's wrong. He's watching the RG. A&M's LBs in particular were awfully active in disrupting our run game, because they were always in the hole before the running back was.

The other problem is the lack of accountability we put on defenses. The end could crash every time with no penalty because there was no one there to hurt them for it (remember Jevan Snead's first snap against KSU? He kept it on a zone read for like 15 yards. They were not prepared for that).

Counterfail

So effect A this time is the end crashing hard as he often does and creating a problem for the pullers before the RG even has a chance, creating interference for the play to be executed. The WLB is once again untouched to make the play.

But even if he gets blocked, and the tackle find room to slip by, there is another, letterless problem. The LBs know its a counter from the get go. And for such a slow developing play, thats a kiss of death. Assume the RT gets around the end and blocks the WLB. The MLB recognizes so fast that he can get over top over the play and run it down. Charles has the speed to still get yardage out of this mess by outrunning LBs, but Young didn't, so we suffered extra when he was in.

So even if the play doesn't end as it does above, there will be someone else right behind the WLB. One of them will make the play because both know exactly what to do and can act faster than we can.

That's a bad thing. What's worse is, we are only making them remember two freaking reads. RG right = right. RG left = left. If you can't pass that test then you probably can't tie your cleats anyway. It's one thing to be predictable but so multiple that you get the delay you need just from sheer overwhelmance, which is a new word I just made up.

So who deserves blame? The OL who can't even reach the guy he's supposed to be on the other side of, the RB who has no place to run, or the OC who is in charge of the whole mess?

PS - If you want to see picture perfect zone blocking, go to 00:43 of this clip and watch it over and over again. Particularly the LG and C.