The sincerest form of flattery

Chris Brown’s got a fascinating post about how the NFL is adapting all sorts of college offensive schemes these days, for many of the same reasons that such have succeeded on the college level.

There was never any doubt these concepts would eventually be adopted by NFL coaches as a useful tool in a larger arsenal, but many resisted the notion of ever making the concepts the centerpiece of a team’s offense. The most common reason cited for such resistance was NFL defenses were simply too fast, too strong, too complex and too good for it to be successful. Yet that always got the point backwards. Those factors – while all true – also made it inevitable that the NFL would eventually adopt these concepts: Ault’s Pistol zone read attack, Chip Kelly’s no-huddle spread option, and other variants mathematically tip the scales back to the offense’s favor. It’s basic arithmetic.

“As I’ve tried to explain to people, whenever the guy who takes the snap is a threat to run, it changes all the math of defenses,” Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano said last March [source]. “That’s really what defense is, it’s getting your troops to where the ball is going to be. And when that guy holding it is a threat to run, it changes the numbers – minus-one.”

And it’s not all about running. The other reason – maybe the major reason – the NFL is now catching on is that they now see the effect these schemes can have on passing. When the quarterback is a threat to run, defenses must stack the line of scrimmage, opening up passing lanes and one-on-one matchups for wide receivers outside.

But it’s the why the usually stodgy NFL is grabbing this stuff and running with it that’s most interesting.

The common motivation for change in the NFL is not the genius of the coaches, or a desire to be revolutionary, or any kind of special tactical wisdom unforeseen by anyone before. In the NFL, change is not driven so much by the ideas themselves as by the skills of its players. In this instance it is the need to find a way that best takes advantage of the dynamic talent of young quarterbacks like Griffin, Kaepernick and Wilson. As long as more quarterbacks with their skills keep coming into the league, the NFL will continue to adapt.  [Emphasis added.]

All of which makes me wonder how this shakes out on the recruiting trail.  If there is a true future on Sundays for dual-threat quarterbacks, how much will that affect sales pitches to kids who would formerly be pigeonholed as “athletes” and moved to receiver or defensive back by many schools?  And, indeed, how much will that affect the way college programs evaluate high school quarterback talent?


Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

26 responses to “The sincerest form of flattery

  1. Baitstand

    Also kind of makes you wonder why Aaron Murray, who came to Georgia as a dual-threat quarterback, has been turned into a pocket passer. Maybe it’s his propensity to fumble. Maybe this year, with Mason redshirting, it was the lack of a viable back-up quarterback.

    • AthensHomerDawg

      Maybe CMR was worried about injury. The injuries to uSC and Florida’s running qb’s come to mind.

    • Puffdawg

      AM was “turned into a pocket passer” because we run an offense based around play action pocket passing. We don’t run a spread read option offense so why would we develop him as anything other than a pocket passer. If Aaron Murray wanted to develop as a dual threat QB, he’d of gone to Florida to play for Urban Meyer. As it is, he came to UGA because our coaches are known for developing pocket passers. We’re not changing our approach because three or four NFL teams are flirting with read option concepts.

      • Baitstand

        No, obviously we’re not changing our approach to take advantage of our QB talent. And there are at least two SEC teams that are very grateful for that.

        • Puffdawg

          In the history of the SEC, there’s only been one QB throw for 3000+ yards in 3 straight seasons. His name is Aaron Murray. If he stays for his senior year, he’ll shatter every passing record in SEC history. He was the number two passer in the entire country this season playing with an inexperienced line and two true freshman backs. What QB talent are we not taking advantage of again?

          • Baitstand

            You’re missing the point. AM came to UGA as a dual threat QB. The running dimension of his game has been successfully eliminated. If that had not been done, he may have been able to pick up a few first downs with his feet, extend some crucial drives, and still run up those amazing stats.

  2. SouthGaDawg

    QB’s that can run run until they get injured…and injury in the NFL in inevitable. Offensive innovation is nothing new in the NFL. The issue is that NFL D’s catch on quickly (usually in a couple of weeks) thus making the innovation no longer an innovation. Then when your star QB is running around, he gets nailed and gets injured. That is why the NFL always reverts back to the traditional drop back passer or tries to make a running QB into a drop back passer.

    • AthensHomerDawg

      Nicely done sir.

      “Still, it’s clear that Vick must take his passing game to another level if he wants to keep winning in the NFL. His running skills will gradually erode as his body absorbs more and more of a pounding, forcing him to become more of a pure dropback passer.

      That sort of transition already happened for players such as Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper, who were more eager to run in their early years but gradually morphed into the prototype for an NFL quarterback.”

      • Randall Cunningham

        The Philadelphia Eagles never learned.

        • AusDawg85

          Nor have Tebow and Vince Young.

          • BMan

            As good as RG3 seems to be, as well as likable, the running will eventually catch up to him. Or more precisely the linebackers will eventually catch up to him. He has already missed all or part of three games this season as far as I know. And NFL teams like their QBs to play 16 games a year. So to SouthGADawg and AHD’s points above, I agree completely.

    • Puffdawg

      Not to mention, when the inevitable injury bug hits, does your back up have the tools to effectively run the dual threat type offense you’ve practice all week? I would assume there is a significantly lower drop off from #1 to #2 QB when you’re talking about drop back passers as opposed to dual threat QBs.

      I don’t really follow the NFL all that much, but I’m guessing this is not going to be a long term trend.

  3. Dante

    The argument I’ve always heard against mobile quarterbacks is that they don’t win Super Bowls. That’s still very very true. Look over the list of QBs with Super Bowl wins: the Manning wondertwins, Roethlisberger, Brees, Rogers, Brady… Unless I’m missing someone, Young and Staubach are the only two I’d consider even remotely mobile and even they only have three wins between them. Until the RGIIIs and Newtons of the NFL start amassing hardware, teams are still going to tool their offenses around pocket passers over run threats.

    • Baitstand

      I would put Brees and Rogers in the “can run if forced to” category. The others just absorb punishment or throw the ball away. Roethlisberger probably has taken as many hard hits as any ”running” quarterback because he won’t throw the ball away.

      • King Jericho

        Brees is the most accurate QB in the league and Rodgers isn’t far behind him. If they didn’t have the passing skills they do, their mobility would be a moot point. But I agree, they can continue a play with their feet and takes their team to another level. If you’re going to be Brady immobile, you better have great skill positions or a great offensive coach. Or in Brady’s case, both.

      • AlphaDawg

        Brees and Rogers aren’t really running QB’s they simply use there ability to move around in the pocket and occassionally to escape the pocket to make a throw. They are still pass 1st QB’s that perfer to operate from inside the pocket but will use their legs to extend the play to bye time for a WR to get open. Roethlisberger is much the same, he scampers ad evades defenders as well as Rogers or Brees but no one ever calls hims a running QB.

  4. Will Trane

    Not a NFL watcher until they get to the playoffs…like this time of the year. Watch their games now that high school football and college is over. I have heard some Georgia high school coaches mention prior to the 2012 season that a lot of the pros are beginnng to run some of their schemes and sets. Think the high schools are the point of the spear. What they do and the players they prep, play, coach, and etc is what goes to the next level. That is why the D1 have changed.
    Next to women and GOD, college sports is as good as it gets. Sort of like it completes your world. But high school football in Georgia is very, very good. Think not, well look at the players in the SEC alone. Would highly recommend getting back into it…support, attendance, and being there for these young men. After all in the next few weeks bloggers go off the chart on recruits. When your local team is off or not in the playoffs, go watch those other teams. Just great to watch and be in other communities, their fan base / passion, and their programs.

  5. Newt

    I don’t think it changes much on the recruiting trail. The dual threat qbs that make it to the NFL still have big-time NFL arm strength and/or accuraccy. It’s still very rare to find that kind of throwing and running ability in one package. Not even guys like Vick or Griffin, as electrifying as they are running the ball, make it if they can’t throw it like an NFL qb. The guys that can do both aren’t getting turned into WRs or DBs anymore.

  6. Rebar

    I can’t see the Pro’s paying top dollar for a dual threat quaterback who is going to be on injured reserve half the season.

  7. paulwesterdawg

    This type of shift at all levels is why Nick Marshall will play QB for a Div I school. Not CB or Safety. That kid with the ball in his hands is electrifying.

  8. shane#1

    Bill Walsh said that he wanted to run some single wing with Montana at TB, he didn’t because of his fear of his starting QB getting injured. First round QBs make a lot of money and a big part of their salary is guaranteed. Does a GM want to pay off that 20 million to a QB that is out of the game?

  9. Cojones

    Great football comments and great plaudits to Murray. I’ll bet Bobo has a few spread options with Murray that could scare the Beejeesus out of a few teams if it just kinda’ pops up. Set up the run to play second fiddle to the pass in a game or two. Then those Fr going on Soph RBs can have field days.

  10. Darrron Rovelll

    This reminds me of the Run-n-Shoot debate from about 20(?) years ago. At the time teams were scoring all sorts of points with it at the collegiate level & a few NFL teams were even willing to convert to it. Eventually it ran its course though and no one at the NFL level runs it full time, but the 4 & 5 receiver sets and passing trees are common in the pro gameplan.

    Why didn’t it work full time? The same arguments that are used against dual threat spread QB’s. Injury is often cited as the biggest example but that doesn’t really complete the picture. The talent level that is required to run this type of an offense at the NFL level is that deep – it requires an intelligence, passing accuracy and athleticism on such a higher level than what is required to be successful at the college level. Plus QB like that do not come cheap and under the salary cap you cannot stock your roster with 2 or 3 QB’s with that kind of talent without taking salary resources from other parts of your team. You cannot afford to put your team’s highest paid asset in harm’s way on every play – it is bad for business (W’s/L’s, tickets, tv ratings etc.)

    The NFL will do what it always has done – it will test the adapt elements of these systems and then perfect it for the pro-style game so it can protect its biggest assets.

  11. Rebar

    Listen, its not a fair comparison, college to Pro; most players on a college team are elite athletes; ALL players on a pro team are elite. Big difference and why some things work in college ball and not in the Pros.