Archive for January, 2012

For over a month I have been on the Alabama bandwagon because of Saban’s brilliant coaching, schemes (especially on Defense), and the fact that a Les Miles coached team cant go undefeated – can it – with not one “screw up” last second loss the entire year?

Well, when these teams first played I saw some serious coaching flaws that we dont usually see from a Saban led team.  No. 1, the Special Teams were a mess, which completely blew my mind as Saban practically returned hiswhole unit and much of LSU’s Sp Teams were new!   I haven’t heard much talk of Special Teams, but I do think that we cant expect a repeat of a Special Teams blowout by LSU.  For that reason alone I first thought Alabama should win this game in another close contest.

But there’s an even bigger variable in this game – Power Spread!   In the first game I wasted a lot of tweets on my dismay at Mile’s refusal to use Jefferson in PS  schemes. (Tweets  1  2  3  4  5  6  7)   Jefferson became the starter and LSU finally started utilizing more PS in the last month. Consequently, the passing game started to  open up a bit as in the 4 games since their last meeting “Jefferson is averaging 16 pass attempts and is completing 60 percent of his throws on the season.”  Now, make no mistake, this is not the West Virginia or Oregon PS Offense as I would hardly call some of the standard power options and QB draws run by LSU a top notch PS offense. In fact, LSU’s Power Spread, when they run it, is on the low end of innovation – about as low as it gets.   But thankfully at least, Miles has loosened his tight grip some with Kragthorpe(BYU passing spread) and Studwara (PS under Urban Meyer) and actually is trying to spread the field a bit and using Jefferson’s best asset – his legs.

The other innovation going on between to old school head coaches is once again on the LSU side in the form of mass substitution on the defensive side, courtesy of DC, John Chavis.  From Mingo and Johnson up front to Brooks and Simon in the back, LSU can rotate a plethora of fast, top notch recruit subs that basically makes this defense a 22 player unit. In my 3 pronged Definition of the Power Spread I talk about Space. Time and Team.  SPACE is taken care of by the sets/schemes used in Power Spread football.  TIME by the use of the play clock in either the hurry up or mixing it up, which LSU is also finally working with a bit. Finally, TEAM will be the last piece of the puzzle as substitution never seen before in College Football will become more popular as coaches start to explore with the multitude of talent situated behind them on the bench.  Chavis is one of a host of frontrunners on this theory(check out Charlie Strong’s mass sub on D in Louisville and Gus Malzahn’s mass Sub near the goalline in the Auburn’s Bowl Game).

One last variable is my feeling that great coach Saban is starting to “lose the plot” for the first time in his career.  To see some of the bad execution on a more experienced Special Teams group, struggles throughout the year on simple option schemes, and some stagnating schemes on offense that I do not feel are totally the fault of OC Jim McElwain.  Alabama is still very well coached, with the top talent in the nation and some of the better run schemes and play calling – no matter whether they are a PS team or not, but some cracks are starting to appear in Saban’s magnum opus.  Is it getting time to head back to the NFL?

SUMMARY

Still its hard for me to;

#1 – change my mind after over a month of feeling strongly about a Bama win and

#2 -go with Les Miles when I have said all year that a Miles coached team always blows at least one game a year with crazy mistakes.

But all Bowl season I have stuck with the PS teams and and with the combination of more PS on offense and mass subs on defense, Im giving the nod to LSU.

Expect Alabama’s recent Championship experience to help.  Also expect better preparation and execution – especially in the Special Teams – even with cracks appearing in the Saban mystique.  But as I said during the first game – LSU wins IF LSU runs PS with Jefferson – and maybe this time Miles stays out of the way just enough to let his good assistants use his great recruiting and get him his first undefeated season.

If not, then this could be the LSU heartbreak I’ve been waiting for all year.

-Drew

Ironically, the Steelers, who were the first playoff victim of the PS in the NFL, arguably ran the first NFL PS back when they had a player they called Slash. The offense was an accident, but credit must be given to the open mindedness of Bill Cowher and Ron Erhardt. Just like Bill Snyder a couple of years later at Kansas State, Cowher found a way to use his best athlete  and created a spread offense to give his athlete the roam to rome. Also like Snyder, Cowher’s PS consisted mainly of QB draws and some option plays out of the spread, but the idea to use the whole field for power and finesse was there from the start. In a way, Cowher and Erhardt’s creation was even more innovative as it brought back memories of the old Single Wing when the TB passed, ran, caught and punted – sort of like Kordell Stewart, who also did all of that in Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl year of ’95.

Even more ironic is all the coaches involved with the Steelers during the time of the switch from Chuck Noll to Bill Cowher. On Noll’s last staff, there was a little known defensive assistant named John Fox who will now be known as the Head Coach who brought the PS to the NFL. On Cowher’s early staffs he had DC Dom Capers, DB coach Dick LaBeau and LB coach Marvin Lewis. Yeah, quite a staff – not surprising all the great defenses under the Cowher era. By 1995 Capers was gone, LaBeau was the DC and Lewis still the LB coach. Also Chan Gailey was the WRs coach on offense with Erhardt.

Amazingly, after the success of the Slash experiement and spread passing game with O’Donnell in 1995, the Steelers went away from these concepts and ended up taking another 10 years to get to the Super Bowl. Even with great drafts, coaching and schemes, nothing compared to the PS/Passing Spread the Steelers ran in 1995, which made O’Donnell look better than he was and fully optimized the abilities of Stewart.

More fascinating still is the fact that none of these coaches saw the potential in this type of offense and developed it further. Cowher wanted to make Stewart his fulltime QB (which had mixed results later in the decade) and Ernhardt wanted to keep the Slash idea with the Passing Spread under O’Donnell. Ernhardt was let go, Gailey promoted and that was the end of any PS in Pittsburgh. From Gailey to Sherman to Gilbride to Bratkowski to Mularkey to Whisenhunt and finally to Arians, the Steelers always had good offensive minds around, but never the full implementation of what they did in ’95 and what beat them yesterday.

Erhardt went to the Jets, took O’Donnell with him and retired after 2 years. Erhardt was a long time coach at North Dakota St and then with the Pats and the Giants. He usually ran conventional Pro Offenses, though he could mix it up and was very adaptable – willing to run whatever his boss wanted – sort of like Kevin Gilbride – one of Erhardt’s successors under Cowher. 1995 was Erhardt’s chance to shine as the smarts, but lack of arm strength of O’Donnell and the athleticism of Stewart forced the Steelers into cutting edge schemes that resembled a return to past football schemes to the uninformed viewer. But whatever you want to call it – it was fun – and it was powerful – and its now the present and future of the NFL.

Even the great defensive minds on the Cowher staffs didnt pick up on this PS idea – from Capers to Lewis – and they still dont as proven yesterday! Dick Labeau came back to the Steelers in 2004 and was one of the early developers of the Zone Blitz when he was DC for the Bengals and Steelers during the 80s/90s.

Aggression can shut down the Two back Pro sets and Zone Blitz can slow down all but the very best passing spread attacks, but its trickier than that for the PS. The best solution Ive seen so far is a Passive Aggressive concept, where Aggression is masked with Passivity (Zones, Cushion and Reads) and vice versa. The Zone Blitz is predicated on masking pressure and coverages, so the transition to actually creating “phantom” pressure, but having players in their right zones and reads covering the whole field, shouldnt be a rough transition. But the concept of what PS means needs to be understood – ITS NOT AN OPTION OFFENSE! That’s one scheme that can be used for it. Another way I’ve seen the PS attacked is “phantom” reads where the whole defense is in a standard read and react set before the snap and designated LBs or DBs blitz at the snap – full bore – while the others read and react off the chaos. Run blitzing or “FIRING”  the LBs is a great way to stop the Read Option.


This is what LaBeau was doing – but  you have to be aware of the SPREAD – its called Power Spread – not just Power Football. This isnt the 1960s, even though the NFL sometimes seems in a time warp. LaBeau’s main idea of this offense as a pure option scheme had his Defense in trouble from the start. Had Denver had the added advantage of a college Coordinator who actually understood what the PS is, then the score would have been ugly – believe me.So, the Irony is Thick, and the greatest NFL organization since 1970, that accidentally was the first NFL team to run the PS in ’95, was the first victim to it in ’11. The greatest NFL organization of the last decade – New England – indirectly brought the PS back when genius Bellichick visited with genius Meyer in Florida in ’04-’05 and may have taken future(?) genius, McDaniel, with him. McDaniel brought Meyer’s QB, Tebow, to Denver last year and thanks to the open-minded brilliance of former Steeler coach, John Fox, and his assistant Mike McCoy (a buddy of McDaniel) the PS is alive and well in the NFL.

Ill leave you with the unknowing originators of Power Spread Football in the NFL and some of the fun articles from the days of “SLASH” football in Pittsburgh:

‘Slash’ Stewart burns Steelers’ foes WR/QB/back/punter has done it all

Stewart The X Factor As Steelers Face Colts He Is A Threat At Qb, Running Back Or Receiver. “i Get A Headache Myself Trying To Figure Out How To Defend Me,” He Says.

Slash Enjoys Role(s)

Slash & Flash

That Xxx-tra Dimension

Drew

It may only be the baby stages, as the coaches at Denver are still figuring out this offense that Tim Tebow played in at Florida U, but the PS is officially in full bloom in the NFL. Before the game, Dick LaBeau, claimed to have knowledge on how to beat this “option” offense. Most fans and possibly even Denver’s own coaches also think of this as an option, wishone, or even some sort of Single Wing offense. But these comments in and of themselves shows the limited awareness of the concept of the PS. Its actually quite simple and the basis of Football from the the beginning days – GO WHERE THEY AINT!

The name itself combines the power of the game with using every dimension of the playing arena. In other words, Wide/Middle/Short/Long, Ground + Air – all elements of the 3 dimensional playing field are utilized with or without a running QB, with or without option. There’s many ways to do it, but the principle is POWER and SPREAD – use EVERYTHING and GO WHERE THEY AINT. Its so simple that it should work even with NFL free agency, because new players can easily pick up the schemes. And with the time and skills of the Professional coaches and players, these schemes could reach higher heights than we have even seen in college. Especially if the NFL starts to experiment more with TIME – the play clock.

LaBeau is a known expert DC and his famous aggression usually pays dividends but in this game it put his players in compromised positions more than once.  He continuously run blitzed and staked the middle and sometimes middle AND short.  The Wide and Deep parts of the field were there for the taking and in the 2nd Qtr the Broncos did exactly that.  They got conservative in the 2nd Half and Pittsburgh’s superior talent and good passing schemes of OC, Bruce Arians, brought them back as they were able to drive the field and eat the clock – keeping Tebow and company on the sideline.  Then their clutch QB, Big Ben drove them for the time score.  This is all very old school – but effective with good coaches and players.  Unfortunately for the Steelers, the PS is not so dependent on execution and talent.  Yes Tebow is talented, but in reality the Broncos really didnt match up against the Steelers without a wild card.

The play in Overtime really symbolized the problem with LaBeau’s thinking of this offense as an Option offense. Again he stacked the middle, run blitzed a LB and even shot in a Safety, leaving only 3 DBs in coverage. Denver faked the read option out of a conservative 2 WR set, keeping everyone in to block. 3 vs 3 in the passing game in the NFL is very difficult to stop if the Offense has time to throw and the Defense doesnt have 3 All Pro DBs. Because of the play action and the extra blockers Tebow had time and one WR got open and after a stiff arm went 80 yards for the winning TD. If this was the Wishbone, Labeau had the right Defense – but it wasnt. Option is an optional (no pun intended) part of the PS. But what isnt optional is the idea of completely spreading the field, mixing the ground and air game, and going where they aint, either with the use of mis-direction and option reads , or not. Denver is only at a baby level, but it was good enough to beat the top organization in the NFL in the last 40 years.

Interestingly enough, the man who brought Tebow and the PS to the NFL, Josh McDaniel, is now back on the New England Staff – Denver’s next playoff opponent. Belichick’s visits to Tebow’s former coach, Urban Meyer, back in 2006 is what gave McDaniel the idea to use this offense in the NFL. Dont be surprised to see some PS at New England in the future as again you dont need a running QB to make it go. Mobility is an advantage, but there’s other ways to spread the field to run and pass. And dont be surprised to see further advances in the idea of using the whole field and play clock next year at Ohio State under Urban Meyer and OC Tom Herman.

-Drew