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Monday, February 06, 2006

An Offensive Theory to Think About

No, it's not offensive in the sense that it will offend you, unless, of course, you're the inventor of the vertical passing game or the West Coast offense. It's a theory about offensive football, see, that I posted over a year ago on this blog.

Now here's the update, and it's been a long time in coming. Something in last night's Super Bowl reminded me of it -- the so-called "gadget" play whereby Antawn Randle-El took a reverse handoff from Willie Parker and proceeded to throw the best spiral of the night -- a long TD to Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward.

All week you read about the wonders of the Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger, who made the big plays when he had to last night but did not excel the way he had in the other Steelers' playoff games. Sure, we've read about both Randle-El and Ward, the former of whom was a QB at Indiana and the latter of whom was an all-purpose offensive player, including a QB for some meaningful time, at Georgia. Randle-El is a dangerous third receiver and even more dangerous return man, and Ward is perhaps the best all-around WR in the game (as well as being the Steelers' all-time leader in receptions).

In a game with defensive players who can move as fast as skill position players on offense (and this includes some linebackers), offenses have to be more and more creative. Yes, if you can do so, you can just have your OL plow over the other team's front seven and get four yards a carry every time. But in the age of 350-pound quasi-Sumo run stuffers, that's getting harder and harder to perpetrate. As is the vertical passing game, for while there are burners galore out there (WR might be the deepest position in the NFL), there are also sophisticated defenses that are designed to bottle up even the fastest WRs. Such as the hot Cover 3.

Calling plays on offense in the NFL is like callling pitches for a pitcher in baseball. You always want to keep the batter off-balance. Jam him inside with a fastball he fouls to the screen, and then throw him a slider on the outside corner which he'll take for a strike or get fooled on. Throwing is when you can blast a 97-mph heater that moves past even the best of hitters. But how often does that happen? Pitching involves using all parts of the strike zone and disrupting a hitter's timing. If it just involved speed, then how come the fastest hurlers don't dominate all the time. How come Jamie Moyer is pitching well at 43? Because he pitches, that's why (of course, a flamethrower who pitches can fare even better, but there is plenty of room for the pitching artists in Major League Baseball).

So what's the football equivalent? It's making the defense guess, catching them flatfooted. Last night, in a 3-WR set, Willie Parker ran 75 yards for a TD because LG Alan Faneca pulled and made a nice block on Lofa Tatupu to take him out of the play, and then RT Max Starks sealed the hole with some excellent blocking to spring Parker. All of this out of a 3-WR set, no less. That's called playcalling; it by no means involved running straight at and over the opposition.

But what makes Pittsburgh even more dangerous is that it has three-tool threats at two of its WR positions in Randle-El and Ward. Pitch them the ball and they can run with it, but they can also throw it. My proposition is that if an NFL team were to populate itself with one-time option quarterbacks at WR and RB, it could create quite the deception and have opposing defenses not knowing whether to blitz or stay back, whether to stay with 4 defensive backs or put in 6 at all times. Speed won't always beat you in the NFL, but quickness and deception most certainly could.

Why? Because you won't know whether Ward or Randle-El will run the ball, catch it or throw it. And that's a scary proposition indeed.

Imagine having three-tool players at TB and 2 WR positions. In addition, of course, to a very good QB. My guess is that suddenly your gadget plays won't have that moniker anymore.

Perhaps it's time, if it gets a little more fleshed out, for the Pittsburgh Offense.

Where you'll have enough gadgets to construct a most formidable offensive machine.

So many teams play the West Coast offense now that defenses have had time to adjust to it the way offenses had time to adjust to Buddy Ryan's 46 defense. It's time for offenses to evolve again, and this type of offense is just the ticket.

And more exciting, too.


Blogger Birkel said...

I'm linking this one over at ACC BasketBlog with a comment or two.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Charlottesvillain said...

Interesting post. If you subscribe to this way of thinking, than in someways football has come full circle to the old single wing days, when the stars of the game were single wing tailbacks taking shotgun snaps directly from the center. The best in the game were the "triple threat men" (though I believe one of the threats in those days was kicking). Hell, Princeton's Heisman trophy winner was such a back.

One of the interesting facets of the single-wing formation was the possibility of either the full back or the tailback receiving the snap out of the same formation. One could imagine some interesting formations with Randle-El in your backfield taking snaps from center from which he could run, pass, or handoff, or coming out of the backfield as a reciever. Of course this is very much what he did while at Indiana, where he was very close to unstoppable on an otherwise mediocre team.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Lee J. Cockrell said...

Also note Steeler tight end Heath Miller was a QB in high school, and threw a touchdown (to another tight end) in college. Miller, Marques Hagans, Wali Lundy, Billy Mcmullen, Emmanuel Byers, and Tyree Foreman all threw touchdowns for Virginia in the past five years at a position other than QB.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Charlottesvillain said...

Too bad Hagans couldn't throw more from the position of quarterback. But that's another topic...

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To link back to an earlier post on NFL player mortality rate, maybe this type of offense can help there, too. From what I've read of Coach Mike Leach's Texas Tech offense, the 300lb+ behemoths' days could be numbered (I'm writing from the UK and taking my understanding largely from the NY Times article 'Coach Leach Goes Deep, Very Deep').

When the field is really spread, what use is a guy who operates as little more than a human bollard, clogging up running lanes? When offensive players are multi-skilled, defensive players will need to be, too. Add in the no-huddle to keep players breathing hard and high school kids might be spared the pressure to bulk up (by fair means or foul) and to remain athletes once more.

Such a development should be warmly welcomed.

10:47 AM  
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Anonymous Buy Cialis said...

THe Super Bowl is one of the best events in the world,Hines Ward is one of the best American football player that I have ever seen, I think that Wide receiver is the best possion!!!!

12:22 PM  

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