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Playcalling vs. Performance 3: Refitting For Horsepower

Part one of this series details, hopefully, a few reasons why our offense could have struggled at key points during this past season.

The good news is, we were still an excellent offense for most of the year. We have a ton of talent backed up like water behind a dam, with the cement of bad scheming holding it back (Worst. Metaphor. Evar.). All we need are a few tweaks, and we should be a 35-40 ppg team. Here is how I would do it:

QB, Know thyself - The quarterback is the most important piece on the field. He is the king. The queen might make the strong moves and get all the glory, but your strategy is to keep the king safe. So step one is getting rid of all the QB run options. No draws, no zone reads, and if you have to run an option, make sure the QB is just as distraction to the defense, not a threat to actually run.

But then that leaves us in the same place we were last year. So what do we replace it with?

That’s where you have to make the most important decision. With your QB’s strengths and weaknesses in mind, what do you run when it’s 4th and 3 with the game on the line?

With Vince, obviously, you let him do whatever he wants. Call a pass, sit back, and watch. With Colt though, you can’t trust him to get those yards on the ground. He’s fast enough for a country grown honky, but he goes down on first contact and can’t always escape the rush from brothers twice as big and fast as he is.

So the basis of the offense has to be the pass. And since he is so accurate, and so strong making quick reads, you can get those three yards more often than not through the air with the short passing game.

With this decided, now we have to focus on personnel. Without a doubt we want our best 5 guys to surround Colt and the OL. Sweed, Pittman/Quan, Finley and Charles are no brainers. It’s the last position that we need to find. Let’s consider what each position will give us:

Fullback (Ogbanoingoboingo) - A decent blocker and a decent receiver with enough shake to break the intial tackle and get 5 yards.

Tight End (Ullman or Irby) - Decent blocker that can handle a safety in the run game. Both are question marks as receivers.

Wide Receiver - (Pitman/Quan/Shipley) - Gives us options in the passing game. Might pull a defender out of the box to give us a running game, but can’t block a LB.

So three options, all give us something, all take something off the table. We would have to specialize the calls to suit whoever we have on the field, giving the defense some help in guessing what we’re going to do. What we want is to create a situation where we can hurt the defense at any area. With Vince we had a big arm that commanded respect on the ground. We made defenses choose; do they sell out the run or the pass? Either way you’re hurt.

With Colt, we don’t have that aspect, so we need to create it. How? First, we go with the 2 TE option, since its the most suited for run and pass. Then we use our biggest weapon, JerMichael Finley:

Dual threat, JerMiFin (I think it works!) -

Study the diagram. Count the gaps, starting from outside the left TE to outside Finley. 8 gaps, 8 defenders in the box. This is what you want. With 8 in the box, you now have 1 on 1 on the outside receivers and only one safety back, limiting available coverages. You’ll most likely get cover 3 (three deep zones and four underneath) or man 1 (man to man coverage with a deep safety). This is why you run the ball, to establish the need for the defense to put 8 in the box. With two deep safeties and a 7 man front, we now outnumber them, 8 gaps to 7 men, and can run for that three. We made the defense make a choice.

If they come up to stop us, we can hit them with Finely, who no safety or LB can handle. Or, we can run something outside, where we have the 1 on 1 advantage.

If they hang back, expecting a pass, we can hit them with a draw:

If they come up to stop the run we hit them with a short option pass to Finley:

If the LBs widen, find a soft spot and sit. If you are being played closely, cut hard to the outside. As well as Finely catches the ball and as quickly Colt throws it, this is an unstoppable combination. The only way it doesn’t work is with a bad read or throw. Certainly no LB will cover Mike.

Now we have them. We are the ones putting pressure on them. Give us numbers on the ground or through the air, we have the talent to make it work.

Still need to run though - On passing downs we can take out the second TE and put it one of the WRs. Essentially we’ll have 4 WRs, with one that can block in Finley, so we can run on the same principal of making a defense choose. But, since there is no backside threat on the zone run, we need to create one:

This is a substitute for the QB keep half of the zone read. The entire front will follow the RB, leaving the WR to run free, hopefully. Even if it doesn’t work, we’ve sent the message that you cannot sell out against the zone anymore.

Another speedier option is the speed option (see what I did there!?):

This is a way for A) Colt force the DE to pay attention to him and B) get the ball outside, away from where we normally run, and fast. Since it’s the DE left unblocked, it’s generally assumed he’s the QB man. Florida did this with Danny Wuerfful of all people, so it should work. It’s just a glorified pitch.

So now we’ve created a new identity AND given ourselves more options, so to speak, on the ground. If we need four yards, we're attacking your structural weaknesses and highlighting our own strengths to get them. This is what any decent offensive mind does automatically.

We can still stay with a lot of our shotgun offense, especially in passing downs. The zone blocking we do is extremely flexible, so we can use any look we want inside our offense, but we need to make some changes for the gun to be effective. One such step is making sure the defense is properly spaced:

This is a loaded box (heh) against our base shotgun look. We can't run against this. But look at the advantage we get outside. This is where our quick WR screen comes in:

This is that little quick pass to Limas we always ran last year. It's one intelligent aspect of our offense. It basically serves as a run play, but its a quick hitter to an area on the field where we can get open space really quickly. I'm generally OK with this playcall (or audible), unless we run in on Nebraska's 3 yard line again. Now, again, the defense must choose. Do we line up against the run? Or do we line up in a front that allows us to stop that 7-10 yard pass:

Now we can run. It's up to McCoy to make sure we are running the right thing, but since he can handle that I'm sure, there isn't much need to worry. Again, this is playing off of his strength in the mental aspect of the game. Plus, when we look for 2 on 1 or 1 on 1 situations, we are using the athletic talent advantage we have over most teams, so it works for everyone.