Mano a spreado

It’s unusual to see an article from a beat writer get so deeply into the strategery weeds – not because the beat guys are incapable of writing about that, but because it’s hard to imagine their audience would be that interested – but this piece about Dana Holgorsen’s offense (h/t Chris Brown) boldly goes there.  And it turns out there’s some really compelling information in there about how defenses combat packaged plays:

Holgorsen’s offense may be revered for its stars and its successes, but it’s like many others. It uses a lot of combination plays that can be a run or a pass depending on how a defense sets and reacts and how the quarterback reads it.

WVU likes to run a stick-draw play where the quarterback can wait and hand the ball to a running back on a draw or wait and sell the draw and throw a simple pass to an inside receiver for easy yardage. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has the authority to hand the ball off on an inside zone or flick a pass to a slot receiver running a slant. Kansas State and TCU both hurt WVU when the quarterback would run outside or sell that action and then throw a pass to a receiver on the move in space created by the threat of a quarterback run.

In all those instances, the offense is at a greater advantage when a defense plays zone. The offenses try to target linebackers, nickelbacks or the hybrid linebacker/defensive back types in the area they’re trying to cover. The offense’s options force that defensive player to make a decision and the offense acts off of that.

If the defender reads pass and covers someone in the zone, he leaves space for a run. If he reads run and goes for the ball, he’s left a receiver open in his area.

In man-to-man, the defender has a set assignment. There is no decision-making that can create possibilities for the offense, and the defense actually creates its own advantage.

Sound familiar?

“Quite a few teams use the zone read and that pop pass off the zone read,” WVU cornerbacks coach and former ECU defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said. “You don’t want to put your defender in a run-pass conflict. He bites on the run and they throw a pass right behind him, or they run some kind of bubble screen off of it. When you go man, you take that out of the equation. He’s either a run defender or a pass defender, and you get an extra guy in the box with man coverage.

“That’s what a lot of teams did to us. If you look at our team, the most productive guy was Charles Sims. How do you take Charles Sims away? You put an extra guy in the box, and that’s what teams did. They played man and filled the box. I would do the same thing.”

In the new era of offense we’re in, could it be that the most valuable player on defense is the defensive back who can play man-to-man?


UPDATE:  Of course, let’s not forget that offenses adapt to defenses, too(h/t Chris Brown)


Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

17 responses to “Mano a spreado

  1. paul

    I would opine that a defensive back who can play man-to-man has long been the most valuable player on the defense, predating the rise of the packaged play offense.

    • Interesting. I would have put a pass rushing beast first.

      • 69Dawg

        The SEC rule on holding (there is no such thing) has slowed down all but the most explosive rushers and teams with only one can be schemed against. Clowney was handled most of the time by going at him with multiple run blockers. Just beat the heck out of them and make them tired.

      • Any DL that can’t be single blocked, run or pass, is the most valuable player on a D.

        • For example, see mid 90s Nebraska Ds. Those DBs were routinely exposed as bad cover men in the NFL, but it didn’t matter in college since they only needed for cover for 3-5 seconds before a DL was making a play in the offensive backfield.

        • Any DL that can’t be single blocked, run or pass, is the most valuable player on a D.

          I would never try to make a case against that.

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      I’m with you on that, paul. The most difficult position to play on D is cover corner. A true “shutdown corner” is worth his weight in diamonds, not gold.

      • I would agree. But while shutdown corner is the most difficult to PLAY, the elite, hybrid, stand-up pass-rusher/edge-setter who can defend both the run (and to a significant extent, the pass) in space may be the new diamond.

        For about 20 years, it was the shutdown corner. And they still don’t grow on trees, by any means. But they are much easier to find now than they were even 10 years ago.

        Fortunately for us, it looks like we have one of the stand-up guys in Leonard Floyd. He fits the bill .. athletic, lean, long, twitchy, and strong.

        But that’s not to take anything away from the corner. Also, ALL DB’s should be able to play man-to-man, or we shouldn’t even look at them.

        We’ve made a number of those mistakes, too many, since BVG was evaluating. FWIW, I don’t think we’ll be doing that anymore, at least as long as Pruitt’s here. And I expect that to be a long time.

        • Mayor of Dawgtown

          I hope you are right about Pruitt staying a long time but he has the look of a head coach all over him.

          • Yeah if he turns us around quickly, with his pedigree (the coaches he’s coached under, part of multiple national championship staffs, etc), I can’t imagine he’ll be a DC for more than another 3 years or so

      • AusDawg85

        Champ Bailey or David Pollack? Tough choice…nice to know your DB shuts down a receiver and helps on ST or even O, but a pass-rushing beast can be a real game changer. Let’s just recruit both each season and not worry about having to choose.

  2. Random thought, it’s interesting how football seems to be the last major team sport where there is any real innovation and evolution. The triangle offense was the last thing I can think of in basketball in the last 20 years or so that would be considered really innovative. On defense, it is what it is and always has been. Baseball, for the most part, is baseball. Soccer goes through different phases where various formations become preferred over time, and you have individual players who revolutionize things to an extent, but the last thing you could really consider “innovative” would probably be the Total Football that the Dutch played back in the 70’s, and it never really stuck.

    With baseball, basketball, and football, the overall of athletic ability of the players certainly has changed, but the game itself looks largely the same as they did 30 years ago. Yet you definitely can’t say the same for football. Maybe it’s why we love the game as much as we do, even though a lot of us miss the old days of it.

    Anyway, good read, thanks for the link.

  3. Rival

    So do we have one of those man-to-man men at DB? We’ll find out with Clemson, I suppose.

  4. Dog in Fla

    The only person who predicts worse than me is Charles Barkley; however, I predict that Buffalo Bill will torch Kirby in the Georgia Dome but then have to play the second half where things don’t work out so well