“The challenge of conservative offense”

Another nice Ian Boyd piece about Minnesota’s offense last season here.  Key graphs:

Bill Connelly’s “five factors” make it pretty clear that without explosive plays it’s very difficult to score. Programs like the one utilized by Minnesota tend to make explosiveness a later priority for the offense after beefing up the defense, avoiding negative plays or turnovers, and winning the field position battle.

The only problem with this approach is that it’s actually fairly difficult to build an offense that’s really good at avoiding negative plays or turnovers. These teams face heavy roster turnover every season and are plugging in 20-year old college students, after all.

Moving down the field with steady gains is difficult and mastering a run game system AND a timing-based, West Coast passing system for accomplishing that aim just raises the difficulty level of playing mistake-free football. This is why many schools with less resources have had more success with systems built around the constraint theory of offense where every component of the system directly builds off other parts.

The West Coast passing game and power run game are both designed to do the same thing and neither are specifically designed to punish defenses for scheming to stop the other on a given play. Executing either well enough to stay ahead of the chains, much less regularly generate explosive plays, requires developed skill and cohesion across the offense. So a team that features both is forced to spend a lot of time on each to develop the necessary mastery.

Maintaining an efficiency-based approach in the run game requires either fielding five massive linemen that can cover up opposing defensive linemen and prevent penetration, which requires recruiting big bodies and honing technique over years of development OR putting a major emphasis on double teams to ensure that the offense can clear the first level. Either way, you usually need seasoned veterans to do it well.

The needed execution in the passing game is dependent on receivers and quarterbacks that are in sync, on time, accurate, and have reliable hands. If you have those traits the receivers don’t have to be great athletes and the quarterback doesn’t have to have a cannon arm, the design of the concepts will do the heavy lifting. If you have those traits and then some speed, then you’re cooking with gas.

As I’ve mentioned before, Georgia’s offense went from averaging 6.79 yards per play in 2014, which was the seventh-best number posted in college football that season, to 6.03 yards per play last season, and dropped to fortieth nationally.  The offensive scheme didn’t change, so to what can we attribute the decline?  I can point to several factors:

I know that some of you like to harp on Chubb’s injury as the key, and no doubt it was a serious set back.  But let’s not forget that Georgia lost the services of Todd Gurley for much of the 2014 season, too.

Georgia didn’t have a deep passing game in either of the last two seasons, but managed to have a far more productive offense in 2014 because it was more efficient.  That was because Mason had a higher completion percentage than Lambert, because the offense was able to take care of business on third-down and because Georgia took advantage of all the little things that go into having the best starting field position rating in the nation.  Richt had his management flaws that season, but his overall game plan for the season did a good job of recognizing his team’s strengths and weaknesses and working them both to maximum effect.

That wasn’t the case last year, and it took an embarrassing loss in Jacksonville to make Richt realize that the 2014 formula wasn’t working.  I would argue the seeds for that lie in the above quote:  “The needed execution in the passing game is dependent on receivers and quarterbacks that are in sync, on time, accurate, and have reliable hands.”

There wasn’t a lot of returning talent in the receiving corps in 2015 and there wasn’t a starting quarterback who knew the new coordinator’s system ready to step in.  Add in the uncertainty in August about the coaches being unable to settle on a starter until late in camp, and it’s easy to see why things didn’t turn out as smoothly.

Fast forward to today.  The concern I have is one of history repeating.  A lot of the conditions that existed in August, 2015 exist again in August, 2016.  Are Chaney and Smart better able to recognize that and game plan accordingly?  We’ll start finding out in about a month.



Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

24 responses to ““The challenge of conservative offense”

  1. @gatriguy

    It’s all based in field position. Good field position lends itself to being aggressive and explosive plays. Bad field position is just the opposite.

    That’s why the importance of special teams can’t be overstated–see UF during the Meyer years-always on shirt fields, always making the other team play on long fields. It’s a matter of time, but the dam always breaks.

    • DawgPhan

      But saying it is based on field position is identifying the symptom, why did the field position go from 1st to 63rd?

      Guess what I am saying is that you can’t practice good field position. Good field position is won during the course of a game by making plays.

      If you can’t practice it, how can you get better at it? Need to find the underlying things that correlate to field position and focus on those things in practice.

      If, as the senator suggests, YPA strongly correlates to field position then that is something that you can measure in practice and make sure that the team is excelling at that.

      You could find that 3rd down conversion rate does not correlate strongly to field position. Might be time to ditch those 3rd down situation reps in practice and focus on YPA and 1st and 2nd down situations.

      Or. UGA could recruit, train, and deploy 11 guys that just straight whoop the ass of the guy in front of them on every single play.

  2. JCDAWG83

    Defense wins championships. A stout defense will disrupt and generally neutralize a high power offense. If the defense can keep the opponent out of the end zone and special teams can flip the field a few times a game, a team is very hard to beat.

  3. Teams don’t need to score every time they get the ball. Sometimes a couple of first downs and a punt to flip the field gives a defense what it needs. That’s what made the Alabama game so frustrating last year. The defense gets the offense field position with the Derrick Henry fumble … then we do nothing with it. The whole 1st half (especially the 2nd quarter) felt like was played on the Georgia side of the field.

  4. paul

    I agree with the observation that “[a] lot of the conditions that existed in August, 2015 exist again in August, 2016.” Which is why I would be totally okay with going ahead and letting Eason start even if he’s not totally ready yet. Which he likely won’t be. If we’re going to lose a few, and I think we will, we might as well let him get the experience under his belt. Plus, from the standpoint of the average fan, I think they will be more forgiving of a few losses with a true freshman at the helm than a few loses with Lambert or Ramsey.

  5. Greg

    “It’s the Jimmys and Joes”…….not too hard, we are just a different team with a healthy backfield. Not too much adjusting and compromising then. Thinks the O’ will be okay this year (if healthy). The D’ worries me (losing Pruitt & injuries).

  6. Skeptic Dawg

    The 2015 Dawgs were severely hamstrung by 3 key factors offensively…1) While an average QB, Lambert struggled in the face of the slightest pressure. 2). The WR’s last season were below average at best. 3). The OL underperformed, specifically both tackle spots.

    The loss of Chubb was devastating due to the overall lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Additionally, Richt and Schotty were never able to get on the same page to put together a complete game plan.

    • Greg

      I definitely agree on the WR’s, they were on the smallish side, got jammed a lot on the LOS and did not seperate from their defender (when running route)for the most part. We will have a different look this year at WR (more size). Lambert is a year older in our offense and I feel that he will do better….especially if the reciever situation improves. As far as the OL goes if Chubb is healthy, I have hope….he averaged 8.1 per carry last year. Again, more worried about the D’ this year, I hope we do not go back to “Willie Mart” and “Granthamitt” days. A new DC (no college level DC exp) and the DL worries the hell out of me. A lot of uncertainty going into the season, along with a lot of excitement. I am not sure what to expect….

      • Noonan

        Lambert is not going to improve. At 22 years old, he is not going to start ignoring pressure, stepping up in the pocket, and making good throws. I think he is a serviceable QB, but we have seen his ceiling.

        • DawgPhan

          I love love love the idea that a 22 year old has reached his ceiling. That it would be impossible for him to improve. That’s great. Have we seen the ceiling for all the other seniors, or should be maybe expect a couple of them to improve?

        • Greg

          LOL!….and you know that, how?

          • Noonan

            Because you can’t teach (or learn) pocket presence. Like I said, he is serviceable. He can make the throws when he’s not hurried. I expect him to be the starter. I don’t expect him to make throws with good mechanics while being pressured.

        • Skeptic Dawg

          Just visualize it Danny. Close your eyes and visualize Lambert completing that pass Danny.

          Sadly, I think that you are correct. Lambert is what he is and that won’t change…hence the reason why I would prefer to see Easin get the start day 1 vs UNC.

          • Skeptic Dawg

            That should be Eason.

            • Greg

              I hope the one that starts is the one that is most ready. My guess is, it will be Lambert. Eason may have more upside, but I certainly do not want to sacrifice any losses while someone learns. Put him in when he is ready, my guess is….almost none are ready to play QB at this level as a freshman. He has a great arm, but there is so much more that goes into it than just that. I would be very surprised if he starts the season.

  7. CB

    The dropoff from Gurley to Chubb in 2014 was negligible from a production standpoint if it even existed at all. Chubb averaged more ypp from scrimmage.

    Another reason for the offensive efficiency in 2014 was bigger experienced receivers. Conley and Bennett could box out smaller db’s and catch the ball in tight spaces which made up for Mason’s lack of ability to throw downfield.

    Perhaps Chaney will adopt the Stanford approach of splitting tight ends out wide and allowing them to use their size, we certainly have the personnel for it. Not sure if that will fly against SEC defenses.

    • hailtogeorgia

      I agree with your second and third points, but you’re still not doing justice to the impact of losing Gurley. It doesn’t matter that Chubb ended up doing very well himself – you lose a veteran RB who is one of the best players in the game, it’s a big deal. Think of how the offense could have performed with a full season with both of them playing.

  8. Dylan Dreyer's Booty

    Some of this doesn’t add up to me. A few posts earlier the UGA O-line was rated third in pass efficiency. Malcom Mitchell actually got drafted by the NFL, not one of those sign after the draft and hope to stick kind of deals, and watching the games recently he and Godwin caught virtually everything remotely close to them. Were we really that bad? I truly think it was a coaching problem with Schotty and CMR being slow to realize he needed to intervene.

    The good news is that recently I also got to watch Chaney’s offense with Purdue in our bowl game. Drew Brees aside, I don’t think they should have been able to get out to a 25-0 lead, but they did. We finally got our offense going and I think it was Ramsey that made some D adjustments to pull the game out. But with a better defense, Purdue would have won that game. Chaney is going to be okay. I hope. Well, I am confident he is an upgrade from last year. We’re going to score even if Lambert starts.

    • hailtogeorgia

      he and Godwin caught virtually everything remotely close to them

      The problem was there were a lot of balls that weren’t close to them!

      • Dylan Dreyer's Booty

        Yep. And oh yeah, we had some under utilized TEs.

        • 69Dawg

          The TE’s had to block too much to cover for the tackles that were like Spanish Matadors.

          The rap on Lambert is that he is not good when pressured. Well once a QB gets happy feet it is almost impossible to correct. Even at the pro level the Atlanta Falcon’s created more QB’s with happy feet than any other team. I don’t blame them some of them were killed by the pass rush. Lambert was quick to abandon ship at the first sign of pressure and would hardly ever step up into the pocket. Instead he would roll out and then throw the ball away or low . If our new OC can correct that then I say sign him to a life time contract.

  9. W Cobb Dawg

    “Bill Connelly’s “five factors” make it pretty clear that without explosive plays it’s very difficult to score.”

    We have skilled players who can take it to the house – Godwin & Imac at WR, and Chubb & Michel at RB. Ultra conservative playcalling and a QB who can’t throw long severely limited our options.