Thursday, January 12, 2006

Tackling the Option

Warbs has a great post up on the option offense, spread offense, and the hybrid style coming into play these days:

The spread option is a whole new wrinkle on college football, and is effective if you have the following:

1. A quarterback with decent mobility who consistently reads the defensive players properly and makes the right decisions.
2. An elusive running back, able to make plays in the open field.
3. The ability to mix the pass in often enough to keep linebackers and defensive backs from leaving their pass coverage assignments to defend the run.

In football, the offense has the advantage of initiative, but usually the disadvantage of numbers and angles. To succeed, an offense has to not only execute plays well, but plays need to be designed to force defenses into making mistakes. The option is excellent at forcing defenses to make decisions, and once decisions are required, mistakes are inevitable. It is also designed so that when defended properly, it will still result in some positive yardage. The balance had swung to the defense, in that defenses were able to stop the option, not giving up yardage even when making slight mistakes in their defense. The spread changes that balance, by punishing those defenses for their mistakes, and slowing them down just enough when defending it well to gain positive yardage.
And NONE of this works, without excellent tackles, guards, and center.

I played three years of ball in Europe (Dublin Rebels - All Ireland and UK champion three years , all European Charleroi tropy winner three years), and in that time, as an excellent tackle (for that league - and the biggest tackle in the league at 6′2″ and 325-345lbs) I broke defensive plays and opened offensive plays (along with my guards and center) as my stock in trade. Kill the linebackers, kill the d-ends, stop the penetration, force the play up five yards.

My most frequent error? I would move my defenders back a step too far and get called for ineligible downfield (and no, I wasn't leaving holes in protection; the center and guard would pull and sweep back to protect the pocket in a pass or to wedge the D line and short screen for the rush with backs and ends coming in as forward and side blockers)

As usual, the analysis of how the ball moves is spot on, but again as usual (with almost all football commentators), there is almost no reference to what allows those plays to occur at all; how the play gets protected, and the defense get’s broken.

Plays are not made by ball carriers alone. This is part of the glory of football. It's not chess with violence, as some have called it; It is far more complex, because EVERY piece on the field is in play at once.

Without pass protection where are you? (the New England Patriots in the early 90s)

Without run blocking where are you? (the New England Patriots in the early 90s)

To my mind the offensive tackle is the most underappreciated position in the game; and not just because I was one. You can see it in the offensive performance of teams when their starting tackles are injured (which if frequently, the tackle is among the most injured player in the game. They also tend to have the shortest pro careers). A major hole in the O line completely throws off the rhythm of the offense as a whole, and the QB in particular.