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NFL offenses are now more contrarian

Posted by John T. Reed on

I have Sunday Night Football on as background “music.”
Football offense has changed. I wrote a book in 2008 ago called The Contrarian Edge for Football Offense. Second edition came out in 2011.

It pays to be different

I complained in it that all the NFL teams were all running the same offense. And the plays were not as contrarian as they could be. Or as ju jitsu. My book is about both. The mindset seemed to be, “If I lose running what everyone else is running, I won’t get blamed. But if I am different and it does not work, I will get blamed.”

Pick point of attack after the snap

One chapter is titled “picking the point of attack after the snap.” All forward passes that have more than one receiver are that. The QB has the option after the snap of throwing to either receiver or pulling the ball down and running.
Then there came the triple option. That rocked football in the mid 1950s when Bud Wilkinson used the triple-option split-T to set the still-standing NCAA consecutive wins record at 47.
The triple option had the QB deciding whether give to the dive back, keep or give to the pitch back based on the reaction of the defensive players seconds after the snap. This gives a great advantage to the offense because if you option the dive defender and the QB keep defender, you do not have to block them. So now you are playing like it’s 13 offensive players against 11 defenders.
Furthermore, the defense can only play zone pass defense; no man pass defense. Those are a big collection of handicaps defenses generally do not have. My book argues to apply that option mindset much more broadly.
I also have a chapter in the book about run-pass option plays. Joe Namath said years ago that was the best play in football. Of course not for him because he had much injured kees. But you have seen great running QBs in the NFL increasingly in recent years.

Talented running QBs

I made the comment years ago that Niners QB Colin Kaepernick should pull the ball down and run whenever he saw the defense was in man pass coverage. Contrarianism results in plays where lay viewers wonder what the hell happened on that play because the ball carrier seems to be initially invisible to the defense. How did that guy get so wide open? How did that guy get the ball? Who had him?
When I ran my speed option fake place kick for the first time against a team, the place kicker/pitch back would walk into the end zone unopposed. When I ran my wing reverse—a sort of counter trey variation, my ball carrier would suddenly explode into the clear on the opposite side of the field from where the play seemed to be headed. That play averaged 11.5 years a carry for the season.
My fake reverse had a similar effect. The defense assumed it was a reverse but the ball carrier who was going to hand off kept the ball and it going full speed up the field against a bunch of defenders who are pursuing the reverse back who did not, after all, get the ball.
One of my readers said every time they ran my fake reverse it went for a TD.
My buck lateral and buck keep single-wing plays were so spectacularly deceptive that one of the hazards was the referees would whistle the play dead thinking the ball carrier had gone up the middle and been tackled when, in fact, he had run out wide to the right and was about ten yards upfield.

Football defenders have tunnel vision

How can this happen? Football defenses are extremely narrowly focused on offensive tendencies. Columbia used to love to throw to my some coming out of the backfield. But they did it too much such that whenever he went on the field the Harvard or Princeton linebackers would be yelling “35’s on the field. Watch the screen.”
When you are that well-informed and that intensely focused on a particular expectation, you get tunnel vision and cannot see things that are going on mere feet away. You occasionally see a replay even in the NFL where the pass defender runs right past a ball carrier one or two feet away ignoring him. Why? He is in man coverage and must keep his eyes on and stay with his man. So there are all sorts of ways to use the defense’s expectations against them. They get expectations from the other teams they play against. So you want to have an offense that is nothing like the other offenses in your league. That causes your opposing defenses to get worse and worse at stopping you with each passing week, IF you are using contrarian offense, that is one that is very different from anything they see all season.

Ju jitsu

There is also ju jutsu, which is using your opponents’ normally good habits against them thereby turning them into BAD habits. Again, that means being different.

11-man offense

I also have a chapter titled “11-man offense.” Ever since the T-formation took football by storm in 1940, offenses have generally had 10 man offenses. The QB takes the ball, gives it to someone else, then goes off duty. In the single wing, double wind, and option offenses, the QB is a full-time player. It is a really big deal when you force a defense used to playing against 10-man offenses to suddenly having to “account for the QB.”
I have another chapter called “Running the maze” which is about prescribing the path of a back with the ball for a step or two or three after he crosses the line of scrimmage. Normally, only the steps BEFORE the line of scrimmage are prescribed.
I am also a big advocate of the shovel pass. That’s one of the things I noticed tonight. A play might fake a handoff early then pitch forward to a flanker jetting across the backfield then do something else.

Two seconds versus four

In other words, instead of the normal snap, handoff, roll-out sequence—that puts the ball in the final carrier’s hands within about two seconds—you are now seeing fakes and/or exchanges that extend into the third and fourth second of the play.
That is a really big deal for defenders who are used to diagnose diagnose for two seconds then blast off at the ball path—to suddenly have to switch to diagnose diagnose diagnose diagnose. That is especially hard when the offensive players, who know exactly where the ball is going, are accelerating toward the perplexed defensive diagnoser during those four seconds.
I am seeing a lot more postponement of the final disposition of the ball this season. A lot more fakes during a single play. And a new willingness to pitch both backward and forward and to have the QB run with the ball not as a clumsy Plan B but as a designed play that takes advantage of the running ability of a double threat QB.
Bravo! I am glad the overly conservative coaches have been run out of football (by innovative NCAA coaches like the four guys I lauded in my book: Urban Myer, Mike Leach, Chris Peterson, Gus Malzahn.)

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