Running Back: how he goes is how the offense goes – the stats show it.

running back

The Running Back sets the tone

While gathering stats to write this piece on the running back, one strange set of numbers popped up: Four of the top five fastest running backs made it to the playoffs last season. In order of fastest clocked times during a play: Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry (Ten), Todd Gurley (LAR), and Tevin Coleman (ATL).

Notice something else? Two of them were first round picks, and one a Heisman winner. None drafted past the third round (Coleman). It’s a small sample size, but worth noting.

Here are some more stats: the top five rushers in the league made it to the playoffs, six of the top ten made it (would have been eight if not for tie break rules). CJ Anderson and Zeke Elliot were numbers 9 and 10. What’s curious about those two is: 1) CJ had the 9th most yards, but his 3 TDs were amongst the worst for a starting RB who started all 16 games. 2) Elliot had 7, and played four less games. What’s telling though is how badly Dallas did without him.

The top 10 RBs in the NFL last season:
1 Kareem Hunt 1,327 4.9 Avg Yds, 8 TD
2 Todd Gurley 1,305 4.7 13 TD
3 Le’Veon Bell 1,291 4.0 9 TD
4 LeSean McCoy 1,138 4.0 6 TD
5 Mark Ingram 1,124 4.9 12 TD
6 Jordan Howard 1,122 4.1 9 TD
7 Melvin Gordon 1,105 3.9 8 TD
8 Leonard Fournette 1,040 3.9 9 TD
9 C.J. Anderson 1,007 4.1 3 TD
10 Ezekiel Elliott 983 4.1 7 TD

One could say that you need a top RB to make the play offs and that’s the most important weapon.

He helps his QB do better. However, neither the Eagles or Patriots had a RB in the top 13. Deon Lewis was 14th and LaGarrett Blount was 21st.

What they did have was the third (PHI) and tenth (NE) best running yards. Of the top 13 teams who made it to the PO’s, only Dallas, Baltimore and Denver missed them. The Ravens had the same record in the AFC as LAC and Titans, but lost out do to tie breaker rules.

Of those 13 teams, Denver had the least TD’s. Many would blame quarterbacking and OL, but those are lazy answers. Here’s why:

Jacksonville. Blake Bortles was erratic to be kind, and he was among the most hit QB’s in the league. The OL was inconsistent and yet, their run game was the best in the league. 2,262 total yards. A big part of that was Fournette, but the other guys racked up 1,222 yards.

One bad call away from a Super Bowl with a mediocre OL and QB. Yes, their defense was tops, but the offense still had to score, they ran 18 TDs in. Minnesota had the 7th most yards and 15 TDs.

The real NFL guys will tell you that the running back helps the OL, and a poor back hurts them (QB, too). When your RBs are slow or miss gaps, they do a whole lot of nothing. Coaching is also to blame. If your line has simple calls, it’s easier for the defense to read them.

There are always exceptions to stats, they only tell half a story; however, I did an article last season and the same held true. Overall, teams with good run games made the play offs and their OL ranking didn’t seem to matter much. Plus, as we saw this year, QB play was all over the place. What mattered was balance.

Yes, a great OL can help the pass and run game by making life easier on the QB and RBs, but when you get in the red zone, the rubber meets the road. The two QBs who just kill it there, Blake Bortles and Marcus Mariota, their teams each had 18 rushing TDs.

When defenses think you’re going to use Fournette (9 TD), DeMarco Murray (6) or Derrick Henry (5), it sure makes it easier for the QB to pop a TD off. Which brings us to getting into the red zone for them to score. The time between the 20’s.

The top five teams in the red zone were Jacksonville, NE*, Philly, Green Bay and New Orleans. The top seven teams in attempts went to the playoffs. It’s like hockey: the more chances on goal, the higher chance to score.

The bottom line is this: unless your team has Brady*, the run game is crucial to making it to and winning in the play-offs. This why more teams have running back by committee over a bell-cow back because if he goes down, game over. Let’s hope that Fournette can stay healthy the rest of the season.

Under Center Concepts: I-Formation, Ace Set, Pro-set – Football 101

I-Formations

In this installment on Offensive Formations, we tackle formations where the play starts with the QB under center.  Those branch out into various base formations like the I-Formation, Ace Sets, and Pro Set formations the West Coast Offense (WCO) was built on.

Before we get into each of the three, there are some concepts and benefits that each of the three share.

Unlike a RB/FB being handed the pigskin in a shotgun formation, he’s not getting the ball at a standstill.  He’s already moving when he gets it, which gives him more of a head of steam when he hits the LOS. Harder to stop a moving train.

The quarterback and back move towards each other, and as soon the hand off is complete, each head in separate directions. This way the QB isn’t in the way for the back. In addition, if the QB is scanning the field because he’s pulled the ball down and about to throw a play-action pass, he doesn’t want the back there.

It’s a dance that requires practice to get the timing right and handoffs must look the same as his fake handoffs, each and every time.

In a recent trend, some quarterbacks spend the majority, if not all of their college career in the shotgun/pistol formations, so NFL QB coaches are having to teach, and to an extent, waste time on teaching concepts. Ones that should have been drilled into their head from when he first started playing the game. Therefore, there is an adjustment to taking snaps for some.

Ace/One Back/Single Back/Lone Back:

The Ace/One Back set is discussed in greater detail here, but it is simply a single back set that offers an abundance of options for offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to dial up. He can filter through various groupings (See Chart below) of  3WR/4WR sets and then go back to a 2TE set.

The team’s base set of running plays will be able to be run out of most, if not all of the looks. Personnel can change from 4WR to 2WR/2TE but the same dive play can be run up the gut from any of the looks.
Ace set formations

  1. 11Set 1RB, 1 TE, 3WR with the TE split out.
  2. 12Set 1RB, 2TE, 2WR with the WRs in a Twins Left look.
  3. 12Set 1RB, 2TE 2WR with the LTE split out in a Twins look with the X.
  4. 10Set 1RB, 0TE, 4WR with a Trips Right look.
  5. 10Set 1RB, 0Te, 4WR with a Trips Left look.

2-digit offensive formation chartWhen Blake Borltes is under center this season, variations of the Ace set will likely be the primary concepts that are used.

A huge stable of the quarterback dropping back is the play action pass. Even teams that use an Air Coryell system with the QB is shotgun will use the PAP. Teams think he’s dropping back to hand off for a run, but instead, he keeps it and tosses it deep because the defense sucked up for the run. Or he keeps the ball himself if he’s got wheels. They don’t know what they’re getting because every play starts off looking the same. That’s its greatest asset.

West Coast Offense/WCO: 

For a West Coast Offense, most of the snaps historically came from under center however, the offense has continued to evolve from Bill Walsh’s base concepts. Coaches have added and meshed other concepts and today quite a bit of it is run from the shotgun as well.

A WCO, quickly, is a scheme that capitalizes on short quick passes, as an alternative to an underperforming running game. They dink and dunk down the field with runs and short passes and then hit a go type route when the coverage loosens to stop the short. This eats up clock so the opposing offense has less time. If a team can score in these slow marches down the field, it’s a good scheme. If they can’t, they just ate up a bunch of clock with nothing to show for it.
bill Walsh west coast offense formation

  1. 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR Pro Set
  2. 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR Far/Weak (TE/RB Opposite Side)
  3. 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR Near/Strong (TE/RB Same Side)
  4. 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR FB in a Wing Left position
  5. 22Set 2RB 2TE 1WR Double Tight

A coach can use boot-action in a spread to employ a FB and keep a defense guessing.

I Formation:
The I formation is a formation that every NFL playbook has a chapter on.  It is a bit more friendly to the pass/run ratio. The I-formation comes with the QB under center and a Fullback and Tailback, sometimes called the I back, behind the QB. It can come in variations that have 3WR, or 3 TE, or 2 of either 1 and one of the other. It’s not exactly as dynamic as the single back set above, but it is still versatile and offers more running options with the pair of backs in the backfield.
I-Formations

  1. 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR with more of a spread out look.
  2. 23Set 2 RB 3 TE with a Tight/Heavy look.
  3. 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR  with more of a tight look.
  4. 22Set 2RB 2TE 1 WR with one TE positioned on the wing.
  5. 23Set  2RB 3TE 1 WR with a Heavy unbalanced line to the right and the 3TE in a wing on the left.

It’s a big component of a team’s short yardage and goal line package simply because of the fullback. They are the battering ram that open holes and occupy defenders for half/tail backs to pick up extra yardage. Often, a FB with be in front of a RB to clear a path. It’s a lot easier if the QB isn’t in his path, which is why in the shotgun, the FB lines up differently. He’s useless if the QB is standing in his way.

 

Ace Set: a staple in every offense.

ace set

The Ace Set is a common name for an offensive formation that uses one running back. It is run with the QB under center. The running back generally lines up behind the QB but can be staggered off to one side.

Each of the generic sets shown  are variations of the Ace Set, which are also known as single back sets, lone back sets and obviously the 1-back set.  These sets have been utilized in a lot of proficient offenses from Joe Gibbs running it with the Hogs in Washington, to more pass happy versions utilized by the top quarterbacks over the last two decades . Each team has variations of it as staples in their offenses.
Ace set formations

  1. 3WR/1TE set with a four-wide look
  2. 2WR/2TE with the 2WR in a Twins left look
  3. 2WR/2TE with the LTE and X in a Twins look
  4. 4WR Trips right look
  5. 4WR Trips left look

ace set

6.   3WR Twins on the right

7.   3WR with the Y in a wing/slot opposite the TE to even up the formation

8.   2TE/2WR

9.   4WR with 3WR in a bunch/trips set to the left

10.  4TE Heavy set

The Ace Set is a very dynamic formation system since it allows the receivers to line up multiple places, giving the defense various looks. However, they can run the same routes, same play same call, just based on the various formation and where they are positioned.
Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 7.41.58 PM
11.  3WR/1TE with 2WR in a tight wing formation on the right hand side

12.  3WR/1TE with the back offset to the left and 4 receivers on the left hand side of the offense

13.  3WR/ 1TE with the TE/Z stacked in a “Queens” look and the back is offset to the right

14.  4WR and TE in the back field

15.  2TE/WR with the back offset to the right. The TE/WR are stacked in a “Queens” look.

 

AFC South Week 1 Review: Read the latest on our enemies.

AFC South Week 1 Review

AFC South Week 1 Review – Each week, I’ll be previewing and reviewing the other teams in our division. The road to the Play-Offs and Atlanta go through them. Starting this week, look for Injury reports for the four teams and the teams they play.

NE* 27 vs Houston 20

As it often happens, some rookie QB and/or first year starter rips off a few wins in a row and the NFL crowns them the next Brady*. Almost without exception, these narratives are false because the “pundits” and fans overlook their newness is why they win.

Last season, Deshaun Watson was given about ten plays, eight of them deep and Bill O’Brian let him rip. Deep balls work because in a 50-50 match-up, the receiver wins far more than he doesn’t against the cornerback (unless he plays for Jacksonville or LA Chargers).

This can work for a time, but soon defenses get enough tape and simple plays and deep balls start getting picked or batted. Add to this, QB’s who come back from injury are notoriously skittish in the pocket and panic. With a weak and injured OL, Watson was in trouble. He looked like a typical rookie.

While it was week one and a lot can change in a few weeks, the Texans D-line wasn’t great and JJ Watt looked rusty. Combined with a leaky door O-line that allowed 12 hits on Watson and it wasn’t pretty.

Points to take away for the Jags in future match-up:

  1. Brady* did better than he should have because Houston’s front 7 was pitiful. Belichick also used some creative ways to create mismatches by motioning running backs and slots changing who covered them. The Texans often found their defense caught off guard.
  2. Watson will be meat to a starving Jax line
  3. NE* pass rush will give the Jags fits

Jags 20 vs Giants 15

This game was one missed tackle by Calais Campbell, 112 yards of penalties given to the Giants in the form of 3 FGs and dropped passes. The drops can’t be overlooked and if you think so, you didn’t see the Chargers vs Chiefs game. Philip Rivers could’ve had a 600 yard day if not for drops. His passes weren’t bad, they were on the money dimes.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs had gorilla glue on their gloves, they caught everything and that was the difference in the game — catches vs drops.

Bortles isn’t Rivers and if you’re not a great QB, you’ve got to have some help. No Leonard Fournette and the dropsy triplets isn’t a good recipe for continued success. The defense being on the field that long, will take its toll. In a game and in the season.

No doubt if you’re reading this, you saw the game, but did you see how well Myles Jack made the switch to middle linebacker? Very impressive, as was rookie Leon Jacobs. Neither guy faced some plebe QB, but a longtime savvy vet. Kuddos.

Jacksonville played a lot of zone which worked, except against OBJ. This is to note as the Pats* don’t have a WR like OBJ, but rather utilize an array of different receivers/catching backs that tend to surprise.

Takeways:

  1. penalties can fixed
  2. Hackett needs to use DJ Chark against the Patriots* and if there’s a drop repeat, bring in a vet and pronto
  3. hoping that barely using FB Tommy Bohanon and the RPO being absent was Jax wanting to keep some surprises for this Sunday

Bengals 34 vs Colts 23

Indy’s defense is bad and the sun is hot. I take that back, their D-Line pass rush is ok, but the secondary and run stopping is bleh. They were no match for the weapons that the Bengals have in Joe Dixon, AJ Green, Tyler Eifert and John Ross.

Andrew Luck showed why fans marked off days on the calendar in anticipation, his accuracy is something special. He’s not the same daredevil he once was as a dual threat, but his arm is just fine in the short game.

Their run game though? Not great. It wasn’t because of Cincy being All-Pro worthy on their line, more that their stable is a little weak. I also believe they went heavy on pass protection personnel over road graters. Against a secondary as good as Jacksonville’s, Luck may not see the same the production.

Neither team has front trenches that’s making people drool.

Takeaways;

  1. Luck is the Colts. If he can’t throw, game over.
  2. he had six completions over 10 yards out of 9 passes. 5 of them within 12 yards. Of the 4 over 12 yards, a comp at 16, incompletes at 20 and 32 and a TD at 25. He threw 9 screens, was 7-9. He was lethal inside the five at 20-22. This should be stowed away for later. 20 of his 53 attempts were completions inside the 5.
  3. the way to beat him is with linebackers and a pass rush

Titans 20 vs Dolphins 27

First off, hand clap to anyone who watched the game live. I’m thankful for the NFL Game pass which boils games down to no commercials or only the plays (plus A-22) because this was an ugly game to watch.

Titans scoring summary: 2 FG’s, a 4 yd run and a kick off return. Those 20 points were ugly scores and as a Jax fan, we know ugly scores. One run points are not sustainable for a successful season.

To note* Derrick Henry is fast, he was clocked at 21.46 MPH. Jax couldn’t run down Shaquon Barkley at 19.82…Lewis averaged 4.7 yards a carry; however, he ripped one off for 26 yards which skews things a bit.

I figured the Titans would lose with a new Head Coach and staff, but didn’t think Mariota would stink so badly they’d bring in Blaine Gabbert, who didn’t do much better. The two combined for 3 interceptions, 0 TDs, 220 yards and a rating of 37.2. What’s worse is neither was sacked.

Their receivers had one catch that resulted in yards over 20. Now, it’s not like the Dolphins were burning the world, their offense was almost as pitiful, but the turnovers are what killed Tennessee. Minus that and the stats between the two teams were very close.

Takeways:

  1. the Titans are in trouble. They only had 220 passing and 116 rushing, 15 was from Marcus. If you can’t pass and you can’t run and your defense doesn’t sack or can stop Ryan Tannehil who was 20-28, you are in trouble.
  2. Mark Vrabel is a defensive coach, one could think that unit will get better.
  3. Mariota is in a bad spot and faces an uphill battle. There’s not much worse than having a parade of coaches, schemes and playbooks to ruin a quarterback. Plus to suffer and injury. I think only Cleveland and Denver has screwed up worse when developing first round quarterbacks. Shameful.

Big Nickel, Regular nickel, learn the difference: Football 201

big nickel formation

Coaching defense in the era of 11 personnel, the rewards of throwing the ball down field, and the proliferation of the fullback has forced defensive coordinators to make nickel defense as big a part of their game plan as their base defense.

For argument’s sake, nickel defense will line up in some sort of 4-2-5 look.  The 5 in back are who we should spend some time on, as well as touching on who the 4 and 2 are (as opposed to base defense).

big nickel formation
Teams that play “Regular Nickel” are playing with 2 safeties, and 3 corners.

This allows the defense gets its best “cover” guys out on the field while still being able to have 2 high safeties in the back end.  Every coverage a defense has in its playbook is in play with this personnel. The issue though is they have forsaken their run defense when they take the Sam linebacker out of the game and replace him with a corner.

Some teams have resorted to pulling the Mike out for a corner, and leaving the Sam in the game to hedge on the run game.

If Down and Distance indicates that a run play is a threat on 2nd & 4 with 11 personnel and a team likes their “regular nickel” against this particular matchup, a team may be tempted to hedge its bets and leave the Sam in and hope they can cover up his warts as a pass defender with their back 5.

big nickel formation

There has been a movement with teams to play “Big Nickel”.

Basically, instead of having 3 CB’s and 2 Safeties, teams flip it and have 2 CB’s and 3 Safeties on the field.  What this says to an opposing offensive coordinator is “we are gonna play nickel defense against your 11 personnel group, but we will not hand you the running game on a platter”.

The 2 positives of playing big nickel are

1: getting the Sam LB out of the game.  He is typically the worst pass defender, so he’s a liability in the pass game, and he can’t carry the TE (Y) on deep over routes unless he’s an All-Pro-caliber Sam LB.

2: This is hedging the bet against the run game by putting a 3rd safety in the game. This is a guy who does not mind becoming a box player if he reads run.  He also is a better candidate to blitz than a CB would be.

Teams that play “Big Nickel” will typically play it on normal Down & Distance (where the threat of the run is greater) and on 3rd & Long will look to play “Regular Nickel” or just straight up “Dime” (6 DB’s) defense.

However, there is a bit of a downside to playing “Big Nickel”. Typical 3rd Safeties are not going to be able to cover a regular S (slot) receiver man to man. They can get eaten alive by guys like Cole Beasley on shallow crosses and all the quick game routes these types of receivers will run.

To give the 3rd safety help, teams have to either help him with giving the LB’s some coverage responsibility so the 3rd safety can cheat and get deeper. They can also flip it and give him help by playing the Free Safety behind him, therefore allowing him to sit and squat on the short and intermediate routes.

Either way, a DC is really stressing out the coverage on other players to try to help the 3rd safety. In addition, the combination of coverages you can now play are reduced as opposed to when you’re playing “regular nickel”.

As with everything in defensive football, the game is to always hedge your bets and play the scouting report and film evaluation. There is no perfect defensive scheme, so there are times when teams just have to pick a poison and then make adjustments as each play happens.

Over/Under defense, learn more – Football 201

This article goes further in depth about over/under defense then a previous  one vs two gap defense. Even though that article is a 101, it covers more about gaps.

Back in the day, over/under defense was the old 4-3 front. If the front was over, the 3 Tech would line up to the Y. If it was an under defense, the 3 Tech was lined up away from the Y.

Some Okie (traditional 3-4) fronts have turned into Okie Over and Okie Under to accommodate the 1 gap pressure schemes. This means the N is now shading to and from the TE.

This defense makes the count in pass protection tricky. When a QB sees a 4-3 front, it’s really easy to count how many guys are on each side of the ball, but also helps the OL with declaring the MLB (MIKE). This helps the OL start to sort out who’s got who.

Same thing in the run game. However, when a defense lines up odd, the QB has to wonder, “are they now in a 1 gap or are they gonna play it straight up and 2 gap us?” The running back is looking at this, too. Experienced QB’s will help teach their backs how to read this.

The goal of over/under defense it to make the accounting process for the QB difficult on 2 levels.

Okie 4 defense formation

1) he can’t accurately count how many guys are on each side of the ball and
2) there can be confusion between the C and QB on who the Mike is, leading to protection miscommunications between the OL and RB.
Okie Under

Okie Under can put new QB’s out of their depth in trying to read what these defenses are doing.

The best team to use the Okie Under to perfection was Denver’s defense in 2015. They rarely blitzed, it was all 3 and 4 man rushes, but it was the speed of DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller that didn’t give QB’s time to breathe, nor did OL’s know who to block.Okie Over defense formation
The same odd man formation works in a 4-3, as well. This is why rookie O-Lines, especially with new tackles and slow processing QB’s can get slammed. To counter this, I think is why we’re seeing more RPO’s.
4-3 defense (under)
Jacksonville will be seeing 4-3 defenses this season who will shade their N away from the TE like above. The issue Blake Bortles and Nate Hackett face this season is the starting TE is new.

They practice against a 4-3, so 43 over/under defense won’t give them fits. Plus, this season the OL are a veteran bunch
4-3 Over defense formation
Where’s the pressure coming from above? Will it be a one or two gap and who is Mike? While the 4-3 Over looks like an easy read, it isn’t because any of the three backs can be Mike. A QB needs experience to know who is Mike, what look the defense is giving and also figuring out what the safeties are actually doing. This is why the longer they play, the better they get at the mental side of the position.

Scouting Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Traits the NFL looks for

scouting wide receivers and running backs

In this NFL Scouting series, we will cover each position group. In the real report I used, there are pictures of the player in various movements, with comments about each. In order to keep anonymity for the Scout, I’m only using the words, no photos, or the handwritten notes used. Scouting wide receivers and tight ends gives you a glimpse into what happens in their world.

Unlike the QB report, this is one page, but there’s less to analyze with this position group than the guys under center. Even so, when scouting wide receivers and tight ends, not only do they put together these analyses, but visit games, watch film, analyze them at the combine, any bowls and often host them at their facilities.

While there was less to cover, they still went in-depth and beyond what the average fan would consider. Scouting Halfbacks and Fullbacks gives the reader a chance to see inside the minds of what NFL general managers are looking for. Hopefully, this will help you watch the game with more detail and talk with knowledge.

They break down film, have them do whiteboard work, talk to coaches, etc. The actual one below is based on, had photos showing:

  • route running
  • sticking defender
  • downfield avoidance
  • homerun ability
  • catch in stride
  • body shield DB at catch point
  • body control at top speed
  • fast twitch
  • threat red zone

When Scouting Wide Receivers and Tight Ends they look for

  • Catch outside the frame ⊃
  • Speed Cut 〉
  • Square Cut ⌈
  • Double Move ζ

Body

  • coverage recognition
  • ball reaction – see & adjust track ball
  • body unravels in stride/cuts
  • crowd catch
  • extend to pluck
  • ball vs body catcher
  • adjust body on the move
  • fluid athlete
  • separation from defender body position
  • release vs man press (body strength, hand strength)
  • hands (soft/hard)
  • excess movement in stride
  • natural ball catcher
  • burst in route stem
  • top end speed
  • burst in/out of cuts
  • jumping ability/timing
  • R.A.C. – burst/acceleration/elude/efficiency/toughness
  • extra gear to separate
  • initial quickness
  • build to speed
  • release vs zone/man
  • lateral elude/make you miss

Mentality

  • interest in run game
  • blocking tenacity
  • crack block
  • settle in voids/spaces underneath in pass game
  • scramble drill
  • make himself available to QB on run
  • work back to ball
  • find holes

Notes

Here are notes used when scouting wide receivers and tight ends. Notice that for most of the TE’s, he cared more about blocking than catching. That’s the #1 job in most scout’s eyes.

  • High points ball well. elusive in screen game. A little sloppy on his routes. Good feet. Question his game speed. Tough, but rough around the edges. Feel like game film would look different.
  • Long, good blocker. Facemask to chest type blocker. Finishes on his feet. Big frame and great bend. Put 30 pounds on him and he’s an athletic tackle. Really explodes through defender. Big legs.
  • Tough. Able to get to 2nd level. A little high on his drive blocks. Questionable hip bend. Hands like a WR. Queen TE. Does not look like he likes blocking.
  • Long legged strider. Runs with ease. Nice route runner. Comes back to ball well with ease. Good hands. Gets to you of his route with ease.
  • Runs through tackles. Elusive, fast and tough. Creative. Don’t know if he has a 4.4 speed, but would play well in the slot. Catches ball with hands. A little sloppy on his 3 cut. Goes and gets the ball. Good player.
  • Whoa tough as nails blocker. Refuses to be tackled solo. Uses body to box out smaller players. Football awareness high. Good bend and sink. Strong upper body. Could add 20 pounds. Good player.
  • Smooth route runner. High points ball. Basketball type player. Fluid movement, soft hands and hard to tackle. Climbs to 2nd level well on doubles Don’t know about brute strength. Skinny legs.

Hope this gives you insight into what the NFL looks for when scouting wide receivers and tight ends. Any questions, you can comment below.

Could the trickle down effect of the new kick-off rules affect the Jaguars team make-up?

new kick off rules

People tend to ignore Special Teams except when they score or lose you points; however, this season that’s about to change because fans will want to see how kick-offs help or hurt teams.

In case you missed it, Kickoff teams now must line up with five players on either side of the ball and only one yard off the line of scrimmage. They can’t having running starts and can’t start the previous five yards back (if they wish) to get a running start.

They must have at least two players outside the yard line number and at least two between the yard line number and the hash marks. Players on kick return teams can no longer perform wedge blocks. Once the ball lands in the end zone, it becomes a touchback, no matter the circumstances.

This more than likely will have smaller returners and quicker guys like Tyreek Hill. If kick-offs are now glorified punts, and returners are going to be the speedy little guys, does this make typical sized kick-off gunners obsolete?

If a quick little guy is catching, won’t it be easier to avoid a bigger, but slower gunner? Teams aren’t using Tyreek Hill sized guys to stop him, but now maybe they can because his speed could be stopped with a smaller CB who can match him.

Not to mention, since the returner is no longer being bull rushed by a speeding horde, how does that change the dynamic of teams? For many players, ST is how they get their start. How will tall fringe receivers get a chance to make the 53?

One can imagine that the big WR’s are going to need to be good enough to be starting material or else they waste a spot. Typically, WR3, 4, 5, 6 also play on ST. So, imagine you’ve got three WR’s over 6’2″ (we don’t), but these wide-outs aren’t great at one-on-one blocking, now what? They’re returning because their first step isn’t as quick as the smaller guys.

Does a team just keep only starting tall guys? If teams start doing that, what happens to corners? CB’s over the years have grown from being 5’8″ to 5’10” to over 6′ to stay up with 6’5″ WR’s and TE’s.

Will these tall backs now be too slow to cover smaller, quicker receivers? Also, players come from the college level where kick-offs remain and tall WR’s are the preferred option. Will there be a shortage of talent?

Or will colleges really focus on Usain Bolt type freaks of nature who are tall, but have a wicked quick first step? Spending time at track meets scouring for them?

Who knows how this changes the face of the NFL? Maybe it’s too much and they do away with kick-offs altogether and players only make teams based on depth at one position, not two.

One thing is for sure, crappy quarterbacks need tall guys (reach radius) and the veterans will make the loudest noise against these kick-offs if they see their receiving corps are full of guys under 6’0″. In return, fans may complain, too because their so-so QB now becomes dreadful without long-armed guys.

Does this make TE’s more or less valuable? Because they know how to block one on one and can catch, could we see teams with four WRs, five TE’s and/or five RB’s?

This then brings up catching running backs who are also good at blocking. RB’s by nature have a quick first step, could they be who starts returning both Kick-offs and punts? These sturdy guys know all about running between blockers. Find one who can catch well and you’re golden. Christan McCaffrey types.

The list of, what ifs, is long, I wonder if the NFL thought through all changes this one rule could affect? When ST coaches aren’t sure what’s going to happen, how do the suits in LA? Bottom line is, the 2018 season is going to be a giant mystery with the kick-offs and I don’t think week 1 shed a ton of light on it.

LisFranc Injuries – No it is not my French Cousin. Dr Sullivan Explains

Dr Sullivan explains sports injuries

LisFranc injuries are talked about in all sports as a season progresses, but what exactly is a LisFranc injury? The LisFranc joint complex are the bones and ligaments that form the arch in the human foot.

It is a series of bones, joints, ligaments and tendons that provide stability to the arch of the foot and bridge the region between the ankle/heel and the toes.  It is important in providing stability to to structure of the foot and stabilizing the foot during the strenuous activity of walking, running and jumping.

The LisFranc region and therefore the injuries associated with this region are named after Jacques Lisfranc de St. Martin – a surgeon in the Napoleonic army in the 1800’s who first described this particular injury.

Most people assume this injury is related to a fracture; however, it is a complex continuum of damage that is rated by the severity of the injury.  Simple strain of the ligaments to full displaced fracture of the 1st and or 2nd metatarsals.  The interesting thing about this injury is not the injury itself, but the damage that occurs to the cartilage at the ends of the midfoot bones.

This damage results in restrictions in movement of the joint and persistent pain. Cartilage is the smooth surface in each joint which allows for ease of movement of the joint region.  When this region gets injured, the joint is like a ball bearing with a nick in it.  The bearing doesn’t move smoothly and this results in binding and restrictions in the normal smooth movement.

If the injury goes untreated, or inadequately treated, the entire joint can fail which results in both collapse of the arch but early onset arthritis in the midfoot which is both painful and persistent even in the world class athlete.

How do lisFranc injuries occur?

They can occur from both non contact and direct contact stressors.  Simple twist and fall non contact injuries are common in football and soccer where a player “steps wrong” or the foot gets twisted in the turf or with other players’ legs and feet.  It commonly occurs when one player “trips” over another player’s extended foot. More severe injuries occur when a player “lands wrong” after jumping to catch a ball resulting in the full weight of the body being absorbed by the tiny region in the foot.

Direct trauma generally results in fracture of the 1st and or 2nd metatarsal and partial or full dislocation of the resulting bone fragments.  This type of injury can occur in any sport where a player is asked to jump and then land on a hard surface including football, baseball, basketball and track & field.  Without proper stabilization and treatment of this injury, excessive scar tissue as well as early arthritis can occur in the injury site resulting in persistent pain and swelling when stress is placed on this region of the foot.

The most common symptoms of Lisfranc injury include:

  • The top of foot may be swollen and painful resulting in difficulty bearing ny weight on the affected foot.
  • There may be bruising on both the top and bottom of the foot. Bruising on the bottom of the foot is highly suggestive of a Lisfranc injury.  This bruising occurs right behind the great toe and severe pain is experienced when a shoe with a high or firm arch is attempted to be worn.
  • Pain that worsens with standing, walking or attempting to push off on the affected foot. The pain can be so severe that crutches may be required to prevent further injury.

Regardless of the mechanism of injury, early diagnosis and initiation of treatment is imperative to maximize recovery from this type of injury.  The greater the amount of displacement that occurs in the joint as a result of injury, the greater the need for more aggressive  treatment including surgery to stabilize the joint.

These types of injuries are difficult to identify on regular x-rays and treatment maybe delayed as a result.  Simple strains (no fractures) are treated with none to minimal toe weight bearing for 6-12 weeks and then a gradual return to full weight bearing in a custom shoe which is molded to the persons foot to maximize stability of the affected area of the foot.

If surgery is needed to stabilize the LisFranc joint, it is commonly done 7-10  days post injury to allow time for swelling to go down.  The surgery is usually done to insert screws and or wires to hold the bones in place, to remove any bone fragments occuring when the ligament is torn off the bone and hold the bones and ligaments in place to give the body time to heal the area.

Generally 4-6 months or more after the initial surgery a minimal procedure is done to remove the screws and or wires. This is done for 2 reasons: pain, and to prevent breakage of the screws from the forces applied when the athlete returns to the practice and playing field.

Recovery from this injury can be difficult to predict.

Simple injuries that do not require surgery may have the athlete out of commision for 2-3 months minimum to allow time for adequate healing.  They will miss a significant time, but if all goes well they may be able to return during the same season in which the injury occured.  If surgery is required, generally the athlete is placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.  If all goes according to plan without setbacks, they should be able to  return to the playing field 6-12 months after the injury.

Trying to rush the athlete back too soon can often result in irreparable damage to the athletes performance and their career.  LisFranc injuries are not something to play around with.  The athlete needs to follow the instructions regarding immobilization and weight bearing to the letter and stop immediately if they experience any pain or swelling in the repaired foot.  Many athletes return from these injuries without detriment, but there are also many who never returned to their pre injury form.

Offensive Line: power vs zone – Football 101/201

Offensive Line: power vs zone. We’ve “talked” often about power gap and zone block offensive lines, but this article will go deeper.

Quick history lesson. The Denver Broncos introduced the ZBS to the NFL back in 1997 with Alex Gibbs. It’s all about the run, the quarterback is the ultimate game manager, hand the ball off and throw enough to keep defenses honest. Instead of the OL worrying about who to block, they just defend their zone. Tandems double team to create space for a back to run through.
This changed the type of offensive linemen teams wanted from big mammoths to smaller more agile guys. While most OL can play both, most teams draft/sign players to be one or the other.

This part will cover Offensive Line: power vs zone as Football 101

Power guys use their feet to plant and push power up and out is the simplest way to explain it. Sumo wrestlers whose motion is more north/south. 5 guys making a wall, worrying about protecting their gap and/or focusing on a particular player.They are made to protect the quarterback.

Whereas, Zone guys need quick feet because they often move laterally. They need to slide sideways while blocking, often hip to hip with their partner. Run-first teams want to push the DL in one direction while the RB goes the other OR the RB runs laterally behind the line and then cuts through a gap.

This changes the responsibility of the guards. He isn’t pulling for the RB because everyone is. While the line is moving in one direction, they can ignore blocking the guy farthest away from the play. This gives them the ability to also use tight ends efficiently. Does he block or catch?

Zone block scheme is dependent on a running back having great vision

When a lineman changes the torque on how he uses his body, some players will obviously be better than others at certain movements. Also, in zone, OL team up in duos, so communication is vital, they’re two guys taking on two.

Play action works great with this because a team doesn’t know if the QB is dropping back to hand off or throw. Also, ZBS lines don’t need to block long. The QB takes the snap, hands it off or often throws on the move behind the sliding line.
If the line makes a pocket for a pass, it’s more than likely going to break down quickly because they’re not made to block for 3-5 seconds. Hence quick passes are the name of the game.

Teams who throw 70% get their runs because teams back up to cover the pass and the back should have easy yards. No loaded box, it’s the element of surprise. Since these teams are built for passing, the pocket needs to hold so WRs can get depth and/or shake their defender.

The above is Football 101, it’s a simple explanation. Most sentences can have “usually” or “typically” slipped in it because there are all kinds of variances, but this is about teaching the basics.

This part is more Football 201 on Offensive Line: power vs zone

Below is more in-depth, but to understand it, you need to know the above. The reason we’re going into this is because I’m interested to see if the Jags use more or less ZBS based on how Blake Bortles and Fournette do.

Center or guard in a zone scheme
The center must be one of the smartest players on the field.  The point of using an inside zone run or an outside zone run is to get 4 hands on the defensive lineman, and 4 eyes on the linebacker. If the play is coming to his right, and the C has nobody on him (4-3 scheme), he knows he needs to work with the Right Guard.

This tandem will take the defensive lineman who’s lined up over the guard and the inside linebacker.  Neither knows which one is going to block yet, so at the snap they drive block the defensive lineman. If the ILB shows up in the A Gap, the Center should disengage from the defensive lineman and block that ILB.

If the ILB shows up in the B Gap, the guard will now disengage and block the ILB, while the Center stays on the DL. For this block to be effective, it is IMPERATIVE they 4 hands on the defensive lineman and 4 eyes on the ILB.  If they lose track of the ILB he will make the play.

Tackle in a zone scheme

A Backside Tackle (Left Tackle when the play is scheduled to go right) in a zone scheme, needs to be able to move his feet.  If he can’t help the backside Guard and climb up to the WLB, the line is in trouble. He must protect that B Gap while climbing the ladder to the WLB.

If done correctly, the RB has the ability to press the hole to his right, and if he sees a line, bend it back to the left.  It’s not a cutback as much as the defense is overloaded the right side. If he can get that backside blocked up well, there will be a natural lane to the left for the RB to use if he so chooses.

The Playside Tackle, depending on the front (in this instance, lets put a 5 Technique over him), has to work with the TE to block the DE and SLB.  Many times the TE Will end up climbing the ladder to the SLB, but this still needs to be a 4 hands on the DL, 4 eyes on the SLB.

This position requires toughness and the athletic ability to block strong and fast 5 techniques (read here about DL techniques) and not get pushed back.  It may be the hardest lineman to find, athletic enough to move your feet, and strong enough to take on a strong bull rush.

The whole genesis of the zone run scheme was to block 3 Defensive Lineman and 3 Linebackers with 5 Offensive Lineman and Tight End. Refuse to block the backside Defensive End, because he has contain and spill responsibilities. If he’s making the tackle, he needs to be running naked boots to his side as he’s getting way too nosy in the run game.

By putting 4 hands on the Defensive Lineman, they’ve given themselves the ability to not need 5 guys who weigh in at 315 pounds and can bench press a cow. Substitute some brute strength for a little more athletic ability.  6’6’’ 315 pound lineman who can bend and move and strike like a Pro Bowl caliber player are rare.

With the influx of collegiate talent coming in that are used to running more and more zone schemes, the NFL has diversified and put a lot of zone schemes right next to their G schemes. They’re running both which is one more thing for defensive coordinators stay up late at night to figure out what’s coming at them and when it’s gonna come. Good ones figure it out.
Offensive Line: power vs zone
Offensive Line: power vs zone

Run-Pass Option-Learn about RPOs: Football 101

I was asked about the emergence of the Run-Pass Option (RPO) with 21st century QB’s. Until very recently, we rarely heard about the RPO in the pros except for when Aaron Rodgers would do it in Green Bay or Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.

I’d say the #1 reason we haven’t seen them much until recently has a lot to do with coaches. Run-Pass OPTION gives the QB a lot of power because he’s deciding where the ball will go, not always the coach. In read-options the QB hands the ball off or keeps it, either way, it’s a run. In play action, the QB fakes a hand-off for a run, but throws because it’s a pass play. Neither has the choice to run or pass.

Typically, in RPO there will be three options: the QB gives the ball to the RB, or he keeps it himself, or he picks one of two throws to make. This means the coach has no clue what’s going to happen until he sees the play unfold. Same for the team. Power given up.

RPO’s are practiced, they’re not like a QB sneak or he runs because it’s a busted play and he’s running for his life. RPO’s are in a team’s playbook, part of their offense. Which is why when teams use them, it’s not a one time occasion.

To make this simple, they work when a defender has both run and pass responsibilities (usually a MLB or safety). The quarterback reads what that guy decides to do; cover the pass or run, and then the QB does the opposite. This is a cat and mouse: see zone, pass, see man, run.

It’s vital the QB and RB give the same look no matter what. No tells. That’s also crucial. If either give a sign before the snap or right after they’re going to run or pass, then that LB/S cuts off the play. This works best when the receivers are spread out three wide, etc. The QB receives the ball, he sees that defender’s movement and makes a split decision. Until he does, that RB has to act like he’s getting the ball.

Can’t say this enough: While you need a good offense to pull run-pass options off, this is about the defense being fooled.

For a while, GB was really the only team that had a modern twist on the WCO because they had Eddie Lacy and Jordie Nelson. One-two punch. Suck up for the run, Rodgers throws a 40 yard bomb. Stay back because you think he’s going to pass and he runs. They were built for the RPO. Able to play WCO and a spread, plus a QB who could do it all with weapons teams feared.

When Rodgers was first doing these, he often kept the ball himself because that is an option in this. However, as time went on, coaches saw that the same principle that allowed a QB to keep the ball worked for his back, too. So, why sacrifice your QB four, five times a game when you can let your back do it?

If he runs, the QB is going up the gooch. The OL blocks for a run no matter what the QB does. That’s crucial. That helps the QB if he throws because the defense is caught off guard thinking it’s a run play. However, this is the NFL, their off-guard lasts a second, so no matter what, the QB needs to dump the ball quickly.

Why are we seeing more of these? I’m no expert, but it’s young guys coming from college systems where they often ran these. They’re used to doing them and…going to say young, again because what happens after you run the ball? In college, the QB often is the one who runs after reading the defense.

Some coaches are smart and use college plays/schemes to help their new signal callers to make the jump. The thing is, often these plays work. If you’re a QB who came from a spread system where you threw a lot and do the same in the NFL, the defense is going to back up. Run-pass options are based on getting defenses to keep an even number on the line, so you can run the ball. If they don’t believe you will or can throw deep, then it makes it a lot tougher to use RPO’s.

Will we see Bortles do them this season? Yes, he did them this pre-season. Teams have to fear the run (and should fear the QB could run, too), plus that RB needs to get out the way the instant he realizes he’s not getting the ball, sounds simple but it requires him to know where he’s out of the way.

As far as the coaching side, Nate Hackett is a fairly open guy, he seems like he’d have no problem allowing Bortles to do this.

Remember, the run-pass option is about the QB deciding where the ball will go and defenses being tricked into thinking it’s one thing and he does another. If the defense doesn’t think they have to worry about your run game or passing game, RPO’s become useless because the defense will force you into your weakness.