June 27, 2010

What I Hate Defending: Series Based Football

Well, If You're Gonna Stop That...
If you ask a defensive coach what they hate to defend, you'll get a lot of similar answers, some of the most common being: triple option, the doublewing, and unorthodox schemes (frequent unbalanced formations, archiac offenses like the single wing, warp-speed no huddle, etc). And there's good reason for all of that, all of those things are a mother ****er to defend. Triple option makes you wrong, even when you're right. Doublewing takes your normal approach to defense and turns it on its ear.
But what I don't see much of and don't relish seeing, is true, series based football. When I say that, what I mean is that the plays being run are part of a progression and are made to take advantage of defensive adjustments to the base play. If you can't stop the base play of the series, you will continue to see it until you do stop it or until you adjust to it in such a way that you're exposed elsewhere.

Then We're Going To Do This...
An example of this would be the Belly Series in the Wing-T. The Belly Series offers a base play that is truly a bitch to defend, Belly Crossblock. Run and read correctly, the play can hit almost anywhere on the defensive front and have success. Stopping it in practice is just brutal for my D because our LBs have to fit precisely and trust others to be where the have to be, our DL needs to play with phenomenal gap integrity, and we have to wrap up on a tough fullback (we've got 3 GOOD FBs, too) when we are in position to make the play. But what makes it rough is that Belly Crossblock is just phase 1.
If you're stopping Belly Crossblock by having your OLB fold inside (assuming a typical 4-4), then the next step is to run Belly Option. Belly Option shows the exact same backfield, the exact same playside blocking scheme, and the exact same mesh as Belly Crossblock. Your OLB folds inside, our QB pulls and runs option with the motioning WB. If you're stopping B-C with great backside flow from your BSLB, then the choice is to run Tackle Trap. If you're stopping Tackle Trap by chasing it down, we can run Trap Option. If you're just doing a phenomenal job playing the run in all it's phases, we can run Belly Keep Pass and make you wrong.

So you drank the Kool-Aid, huh?
Kind of, but that's beside the point. As Chris Brown at Smartfootball.com likes to say, these are great examples of constraint plays, plays designed to keep the defense from effectively shutting down what you want to do. These plays are designed to have the same backfield action, same mesh, the same LOOK to the defense for the first precious moments before suddenly becoming something else. It's misdirection, it's opportunism, it's efficiency in action. What is important about these is that you aren't calling them based off of a hunch or a gamble or "because I want to". There are very specific defensive reactions that you can look for and use against the defense in order to make them wrong for trying to be right.
There's nothing imprecise about it, it's all about observing the defense and then taking advantage. The big question becomes Who made the play? and then your decision making process is much more simplified. If the OLB made the play, you run either Option or Keep Pass. If the BSLB made the play, you run Tackle Trap.

Ok, That Sounds Difficult...
The long-term effect of playing a truly series based offense is that your players will inevitably fall victim to the dread of all defensive coordinators: TRYING to make the play. For a long, long time, my alma mater has read the same "10 Commandments" before every game, a 10 item list of what our players need to do for us to get the win. One of the most important commandments has always been, in my eyes, #7 which simply reads: Do your job.
When your 3 technique stops trying to step and strike and follow his BD-SD rules and instead starts trying to make the play, you lose some defensive integrity. When the WILB starts watching the backfield instead of keying his guards, a little more is gone. When your FS starts getting tired of tackling a RB who has a full head of steam at 8 yards and starts trying to get him at 4 or 5, more is gone. Your players get tired of incorrectly defending the same series again and again and again and your defensive discipline is lost. Frustration sets in, people start trying rather than doing (Yoda knows his shit), and the snowball starts turning into an avalanche.

So Who Are The Worst Offenders?
That's just the thing! Potentially ANY offense is a series based offense if the OC has the foresight, creativity, and PATIENCE (!) to make it so. The Wing-T is a fairly complete offense in that it has several main series (Down, Sweep, Belly) with at least 3-4 constraint plays to each series, in addition to other minor series (Rocket and Jet, to name a few more popular ones), but it by no means has a lock-down on the concept. Spread to throw offenses can be series based, spread to run offenses can be series based, as can I formation offenses, veer offenses, single back zone offenses, all of them CAN BE. What I think separates the really good OCs from the rest is that they have the ability to recognize what defensive adjustments can happen, they have the creativity to figure out how to put those adjustments into conflict, and they have the patience to exploit them when it matters rather than right now.
A popular saying that I've heard from offenses coaches goes "Run your reverses early and your leads (FB iso) late". By following that piece of advice, the theory is that you'll have the defense off-guard from the get-go and unable to make effective adjustments when you want to pound it home at the end of the game. But the good OCs are the ones who see an adjustment and tuck it into their back pocket for later. Maybe not later as in 2 quarters from now, but maybe just later on in the drive. For example, after running Belly Crossblock for a 3 yard gain on 3rd and 3 and noticing that the OLB made the play, rather than going to Belly Option immediately, waiting on it until there's a better chance to score (+25 yardline) or a more important situation (crucial 3rd down).
A particular OC in my league had a bad, bad habit last year in his playcalling with regards to his passing game. In the first drive, he would ALWAYS run a 3-step hitch play, without fail. If that drive lasted to a 3rd series of downs, he would call hitch-and-go nearly every time. If not, hitch-and-go was coming on the next possession. He's always been an impatient playcaller, but this was a particularly glaring tendency. He had the fastest and most dangerous collection of skilled players in the county and loved to "hang a half hundred" like Bear would say, but they underperformed against disciplined teams. If he'd thrown the hitch more often and waited for a better moment to run hitch and go, they would have assuredly had more success.
Case in point: against us he ran one hitch for 4 yards and FOUR hitch-and-gos for 0 yards because he didn't have the patience or discipline to establish the play we HAD to stop. We had no business being competitive with them if you were to compare rosters, but we squeezed out a 20-16 win with 1 offensive TD allowed by staying disciplined and opportunistic. It wasn't because of any particular schematic brilliance on my part. They run a pretty vanilla offense and we had a pretty simple game plan, our guys simply played fast and loose because they didn't have to worry about effective use of constraints. Our guys were simply allowed to be more confident in themselves because they hadn't been given reason to not be.

So If You're Such An Expert...
Not even close. I just know what I hate to defend. If I were an expert, I'd have written a book titled "Effective Use Of Constraint Plays and When To Not Use Them" or some jazz and I'd be hailed as an expert. Come to think of it, I don't know that I've ever seen such a book, so maybe I will some day, after all, I'm definitely in this biz for the fat checks...
But yeah, I've never called an offense, I've only been a DC. I realize that on the whiteboard, everything appears to work. But all things being equal, an OC who has a well-planned offense that compliments itself while constraining the defense's adjustments and the discipline to keep from panicking and try to solve things RIGHT NOW will be working with the upper hand.

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