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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Is Mike Sherman a SportsProf Disciple?

You may recall an earlier post regarding the "Multi-Flex" offense, in which I elaborated on my view that all football teams need to disguise their offenses better given how athletic many defenses are and how by endless study defensive units can predict the movements of offenses based on prior tendencies. I called it the "Multi-Flex", perhaps in tribute to one-time Harvard coach Joe Restic, who had a complicated form of offense that actually was better in theory than in practice. Restic had some success in Cambridge, but he did not enjoy nearly the success that his rival Carmen Cozza did at Yale. I don't recall the exact tenets of the "Multi-Flex," except I do recall that one-time Cincinnati Bengal punter (and occasional WR) Pat McInally, a Harvard alumnus, wrote a paper on it but confessed that he had difficulty describing it (this begs the question as to how one could get academic credit for a sports-related endeavor at fair Harvard). I saw Coach Restic's offense in action a few times, but I suppose I missed the basic premise of the offense. At any rate, the purpose of my Multi-Flex, which, unless Harvard football alumni object, I will call the SportsProf Multi-Flex, is to run plays from symmetrical formations so that the defense cannot guess what is coming. In addition, and ever importantly, the SportsProf Multi-Flex requires the use of five or six multi-purpose backs who can run, pass and through. In this fashion, the defense cannot really guess who will handle the mail on a regular basis.

What I should have written, but did not, was something I learned while watching Sports Center on ESPN this morning. Mark Schlereth, the one-time Bronco and Redskin offensive lineman, broke down why the Green Bay Packers' offense succeeded against the vaunted Carolina Panthers' defense last night on Monday Night Football. You'll recall the kudos that the Panthers' defense got at the end of last season, especially the front seven. And, in case you missed the game, the Packers handled the Panthers, and Brett Favre "only" threw for 143 yards. What happened? The Packers, with a very good offensive line, ran almost at will on the Panthers. (It does helps if you have Ahman Green to carry the ball). How? By running many plays out of the same formation. The formation wasn't symmetrical, as I have touted, but it was the same one. As a result, the Panthers' front seven was kept guessing as to how the Packers would attack, and, of course, because they couldn't really get any reads, they guessed wrong.

Great credit goes to the Green Bay coaching staff and head coach Mike Sherman. By running many plays out of the same formation, Green Bay disguised what it really wanted to do. It helps, of course, if you have an offensive line as seasoned and good as theirs, a Hall of Fame QB, and a top RB. Put the two together, and your team has a potent formula for success.

While it helps to have strength and athletic ability on defense, it also helps to have some intelligence as to what the opponent's tendencies are. If offensive units continue to mask tendencies using the same formations, defenses will have to figure out better ways to stop the ball. Athletic ability and brute strength are great ingredients, but crafty offensive coordinators can make even the strongest and fastest defensive units miss through well-designed and well-executed game plans.

Long-live the trap, the counter-trey, the option pass, the inside reverse, smaller, quicker offensive linemen and multi-talented athletes who can throw, run and pass.

These plays, and those players, could well be the wave of the future.

After all, given the toll injuries take in the NFL today, if you can't run over them or through them, you might as well try to run around them.


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