It’s Tebow Time in NYC… (Why I think the move makes perfect FOOTBALL sense)

With Tim Tebow recently being traded to the New York Jets there has been almost non-stop talk about whether or not  it’s a good move for the Jets, and whether or not he should or should not be the Jets starting QB in 2012. 

I’ll start by saying that I think Tim Tebow is an Elite Football player, but a very very limited NFL QB.  He has every measurable you look for when you are searching for a talented football player.  He’s big, strong, fast, elusize, and powerful, all of which equal trouble for a defense when he has the ball in his hands. 

Although limited as a QB he does have the ability to do one thing very well as a passer, he throws the deep ball, outside of the numbers with incredible touch and above average accuracy which can be seen in the Bronco’s Playoff win vs Pittsburg last season. 

So on to the question at hand, Why would the Jets choose to bring in a back up QB who causes a media circus, and outrageous fan reactions, if they are really counting on Mark Sanchez to be their franchise QB?

I believe it’s because on the field it makes perfect football sense. One thing to remember about the NFL, is that the game is all about game planning, match ups, and forcing your opponent to tip their hand.

  The buzz word you will hear over and over about this move is that Tebow will be the Jets “Wildcat QB.”  The first thing we will look at is what the “Wildcat” really is, and why it is basically extinct in the NFL today.  Then we’ll look at how I think the Jet’s will use Tebow to give their opponents’ defensive coordinators nightmares.

The wildcat, is a formation that became popular in the 2nd half of the last decade originating in the high school level and brought to the NCAA by Gus Malzahn at Arkansas, then one of the assistants from that staff became a coach for the Miami Dolphins under then head coach Tony Sparano.  The same Tony Sparano who is now the offensive coordinator for the Jets.  The wildcat is simply a reincarnation of one of the oldest offenses in football, the “single wing,” in which a running back took the snap from the center and ran with the ball. Lets take a look at a typical Wildcat formation.

The biggest advantage gained by the Wildcat, is mathematical.  You see, when a QB has to hand the ball to the RB, the QB is now eliminated from the play, he’s no longer a threat to throw the ball, and he sure isn’t going to block anyone.  So, by moving him away from the formation, the defense has to move a defender out to cover him, and when this happens, it is now 10 vs 10 on the run play, as opposed to 10 vs 11 in a typical run. 

Also you’ll notice the LT is lined up on the right side of the formation, next to the RT, this is known as an unbalanced line and it gives the offense an advantage on that strong side of the formation. Typically the W (my abbreviation for either a WR/RB depending on the team) would go in motion across the formation before the snap.  This makes him a threat to carry the ball.

Then the offense would execute one of our basic run plays we discussed in an earlier post, either Zone (with a little extra added that we’ll go over), Power, or Counter.  At first this was enough because the sheer numerical advantage plus the unbalanced line put the defense in enough of a bind to have success. But defensive coordinators figured out that the QB still wasn’t a threat because the RB couldn’t throw the ball so they began blitzing both CB’s at the RB which is how the Wildcat has faded in recent years.

Now that we know some background about the Wildcat.  Lets look at how Tebow’s skill set changes that package, as well as other ways the Jets can involve him in the game plan.   

1) Standard Spread Formation QB Runs (especially in the Red Zone)

Here think of what you saw on the field last year in Denver with Tebow at QB. 

This is an example of a QB power from 11 personnel, against a Nickel defense.

Here the offense uses their 3 wide formation to force the defense out of their base run stopping defense, removing a LB from the field. However Tebow’s ability to run the ball forces the defense to bring the SS up “into the box” around the line of scrimmage.  This leaves only the FS deep.  Tebow’s inability to consistently make intermediate depth throws will allow the defense to play Cover 1, or man coverage with the FS deep in the middle. This leaves 7 defenders in the box for the defense, against 7 blockers and Tebow.  That is easy pickings for the offense all day long. 

Now we look at the added element Tim brings to the Zone run play.

This is called the Zone-Read play, it is run by high schools and colleges all over the country.  Here the QB takes the snap in the shotgun, and goes to hand the ball to the RB coming across to run the outside zone play to the right.  The QB then watches the reaction of the DE highlighted in Yellow.  If he runs across the formation to make a tackle on the RB he pulls the ball back out and runs right past him for an easy 4-5 yard gain and potentially more.  If the DE stays home, then the QB has essentially blocked the DE and he lets the RB take the ball and the zone play is run as normal. 

When we can see these inside the 20 and especially inside the 10 yard line where space in the passing game is limited.  We will see him be very effective.

2) Wildcat

Yes, I do beleive you will see the Jets line up with an unbalanced line with Tebow taking the shot gun snap and sprint motion across his face for the zone-read aspect, as well as the power and counter game, however, I think you will also see the Jets line up in this type of set and attempt to take some shots down the field. 

This is where Tebow’s ability to throw the deep ball will be hugely beneficial, as I believe rather than placing Mark sanchez, their starting QB out wide in the wildcat sets, I think they’ll use a WR out there who can seperate and get down the field.  This threat will again keep the defense from loading up the box and force them to defend the whole field, and if they blitz that CB, I guarantee Sparano sends Tebow out later that game, lines him up in the Wildcat, fakes the handoff to the motion man, and looks to throw the deep ball.

3)  Special Teams

I fully expect to see Tim Tebow on the Jets special teams units.  He will  be the personal protector for the punter when the Jets line up to punt, and I think he’ll be the holder on Field Goals. 

Using him this way leaves the opposing team in doubt everytime they line up as to whether they may fake the kick with a guy like Tebow there who can make some throws, or take off running.  Even if they never make a big play from a fake, the threat of it happening will be enough to prevent teams from sending pressure to block a kick, which will be a huge advantage from the jets.

4)Other positions

I also expect to see Tebow lined up at other positions on the Offense.  He played some WR in Denver last year before becoming their QB, and many people projected him to be a hybrid TE/FB(or H-Back) out of college. 

The bottom line is having a guy like Tebow on your team, opens up a whole world of possibilities for your team, which in turn, creates a whole world of things your opponents must prepare for, in addition to preparing for the standard offense they’ll see the other 55 plays the Jets are on offense. 

The one resource you can never get back is time, and preparing for what Tebow does will take away from the time their opponents spend preparing for the rest of Sparano’s offense.  Even if Tebow only hits the field 5-10 offensive plays a game.  He will make a difference Monday through Saturday which may be seen more in what Sanchez and the rest of the Offense are able to accomplish than any plays that Tebow is able to make week to week. 

This year should ideally look similar to Tebow’s freshman year at Florida, where he was used situationally to challenge defenses in different ways, but was not asked to be the everydown QB.

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Let’s cover the basics (coverages)…

When we talk coverages in the NFL, things can get very complicated, and later we may look into some of the more complicated coverages but today we will look at 3 zone coverages and 3 man coverage schemes that you will see every Sunday in just about every game.  Again, we have to remember that each teams “system” will include the same coverages and the same ideas.  The differences come from where you align your players, and what you emphasize as your base defense, coverage etc.  This all impacts the type of players you seek for your team.

With that in mind we will begin with our zone coverages.

1)Cover 2/Tampa 2

In cover 2 both safeties drop to a depth of 15-18 yards and cover a deep half zone of the field.  The corners press the WR and get their hands on them at the line of scrimmage to reroute them to the outside using the sideline as an extra defender. They then drop to a depth of 10-12 yards. The line backers drop to the intermediate zones around 10 yards deep and look for short throws.  We could get into more technique for each of the positions, but I think right now its more important to know the scheme than the technique. 

As you look at the coverage drawn above you should notice one glaring weakness in the coverage.  That weakness is the big hole in the deep middle of the field between the safeties.  Of course offensive coaches and QB’s recognized this over time so Monte Kiffin, long time defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Bucaneers developed a modification for the coverage, called the “Tampa 2″ which is shown below. 

As you can see the main difference here is that the MLB now turns his hips to the strong side of the field and drops deep between the safeties taking away the vulnerability there, and moving it more in the shallow area where all three LB’s can rally to make a tackle if there is a completion.

2) Cover 3

Here the SS walks up toward the line before the snap creating an 8 man defensive front.  On the snap the corners, who are aligned deeper off the line of scrimmage, drop to the deep outside thirds of the field and the FS drops to the deep middle.  The SS and WLB both drop to the “curl/flat” area, and the SLB and MLB drop to the hook/curl area. 

As you can see this is a sound defense with 3 deep defenders, and 4 underneath players, and an 8 man front to help stop the run.  But its important to remember every coverage is beatable, and this is no different.  Notice the “seams” between the corners and the FS in their deep thirds.  Teams began countering this coverage with an offensive scheme called “4 verticals” in which 4 players ran straight down the field past the underneath players to the deep zones.  This created a 4 on 3 for the offense… Easy Pickings for an NFL QB. 

Which leads us to….

3) Quarters

Here you can see we now drop both safeties deep as well as both corners where each plays a deep 1/4th of the field.  This took away much of the advantage of “4 verts” but left the shallow areas more susceptible.  You’ll see this coverage played inside the “red zone” (inside the 20 yd line when your opponent is about to score), to clog up the throwing lanes into the end-zone and hopefully force your opponent to throw it underneath and settle for field goals.  Be careful not to refer to Quarters as Cover 4, this is the name of another type of coverage we will go over another time.

As you see from each of our zone coverages we have 7 players in coverage leaving only 4 to rush the passer.  This puts a premium on defensive line talent,  (ie Mario Williams getting a $100 million contract in Buffalo) you have to be able to get pressure on the QB with only 4 guys in order to be successful playing zone coverage consistently. 

So what do we do if we don’t have top flight pass rushers, or we want to put more pressure on the QB?

GREAT QUESTION! I’m so glad you asked, that’s why coach’s put man to man coverages in their game plans.

1) Cover Zero

This is true man to man coverage, this is used in situations where the defensive coordinator wants to use extra players to rush the QB.  The CB’s funnel their men to the sideline as an extra defender and the idea is to disrupt timing and let the extra guys on the blitz get the sack.

2) Cover 1/Man-Free

As you can see here we now have the FS playing the deep middle of the field, while the other defenders play man coverage.  Now the corners funnel their men to the middle of the field where their help is.  This coverage is used with either a blitz, as shown here, or with a LB also playing an underneath middle coverage.

3) 2-Man

Here we use 2 deep safeties as in Cover 2, to put a top on the defense, but your underneath defenders play man coverage rather than dropping to their zones.  They play in a trailing position almost tempting the QB and WR to try a deep throw where the safeties can make a play on the ball.

So there we have it. Those are the 6 (really 7) basic coverages that you will see every single Sunday in the NFL, different teams lean more towards different ideas, but almost every team goes into the game with each of these in the game plan.

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The basics (Running Game)…

When you talk about the run game in the NFL there are a few base schemes you have to understand to be up to speed.  The run game again features 2 distictive schools of thought, the Zone game and the Man game.  We will cover the basic zone scheme as well as a few of the man schemes you will see on Sunday afternoons. Lets look to the chalkboard to help us gain some understanding.

1) Zone

Let’s look at an inside zone running play in 11 Personnel (1 back 1 TE 3 WR) against a base 4-3 defense. 

As we look at what the offensive line’s blocking assignments are, it can seem a little overwhelming, but lets break it down.

I have color coded the lineman and the TE into two seperate groups, the red represents a covered linemen, to be covered means that there is a defender directly in front of your face or between your face and the lineman next to you on the play side (in this case to the right).  The yellow then represents the uncovered linemen.  This is how the linemen know what their job is on a particular snap. 

If you are a covered linemen your job is to execute a reach block on the man who is “covering” you.  Look at the LG for example.  The nose tackle is between the LG and the C, so the LG’s job is to work in front of the N and prevent him from penetrating and making a play.  The C is the uncovered linemen so his job is to stop the N’s progress until the LG can get in front, and then once the LG has the N under control he releases the N and works to the next level to block the Mike.

Many times the backside linemen, in this case the Left side, will use cut blocks inorder to stop the progress of the back side defenders.  This involves diving at the knees and ankles of the defender to either knock him down, or cause him to look down and put his hands down which will take him out of the play.

These assignments are the same for the covered and uncovered linemen across the board.  As you notice, the LT does not block the DE on his side, but instead works to the Mike.  This is important to notice as we move forward in future posts. 

The 2 main variations of this zone run play are the Inside Zone, or the Outside Zone (also called the “Stretch”).  The main difference is that on the stretch play the back takes a path parallel to the line of scrimmage and waits for the hole to open, and plants his foot and accelarates through it.

Think of the Houston Texans, and late 90′s Denver Broncos for examples of teams using this style.

2) Power G

Let’s look at a power run play from Base 21 Personnel (2 backs 1 TE 2 WR), against another base 4-3 defense.

As you can see from the diagram, the backside guard is pulling around to the playside, in this case LG pulling to the right, and is leading the back through the hole.  The TE blocks down on the Sam, and the RG and RT double team the DT. The back takes a hard downhill path to the line of scrimmage and follows the pulling guard through the hole.

3) Lead/Iso

Lets look at a lead play from our base personnel in a strong right formation, against a base 4-3 front.

On this play, there are no pulling linemen, instead each lineman blocks an assigned defender which is based on the front the defense is playing.  Then the FB leads the RB through the hole.   Some teams add a wrinkle to this play and ask their RB to pause momentarily before coming down hill to take the hand-off.  This gives the QB the time to set up as though he’s passing the ball to keep some of the defenders honest, then he makes the hand off to the back.  The Dallas Cowboys showed an example on Demarco Murray’s 91 yd touchdown run against St. Louis in 2011.

 4) Counter

Lets look at the counter play from base personnel in a Weak right formation against a 4-3 base defense.

As you can see the blocking on this play looks very similar to the Power scheme shown above, but the running back takes a step or two in the opposite direction in order to hold the LB’s in place and then turns and follows the G and the FB to the back side.

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Let’s cover the basics (defense)…

As we begin to look at the defensive side of the ball it is important to remember that defenses are designed to stop offenses, therefore each different defensive coach is going to have different ideas as to how to stop offensive ideas. 

As you will learn as we take our little journey, the idea of different offensive and defensive “systems” in the NFL that analysts talk so much about is highly misunderstood.  The idea of a system doesn’t refer to using completely different ideas than any one else, it is merely a difference in what is emphasized and what the base plays might be from one team to the next. Overall the teams are running most of the same things, just emphasizing different ideas or plays.

With this in mind we dive into the defensive side of the ball.  On defense there are 3 main position groups.  The linemen, the line backers and the secondary or defensive backs. In almost every defense the secondary positions are the same, however the use of linemen and line backers can vary.

There are two schools of thought concerning the use of the defensive line and linebackers, the first is using 4 defensive linemen, and 3 linebackers, this is referred to as a 4-3 defense.  The second is using 3 defensive linemen, and 4 linebackers, this is called the 3-4 defense (I’m always amazed at the creativity that is used in these names!).

 First we will look at the positions used in a 4-3 defense.  

Defensive End (E or DE)-Pretty basic, he lines up on the either end of the defensive line, with one hand on the ground in what is called a 3 point stance.

Defensive Tackle (N or T)- These players line up inside of the DE in a 3 point stance. The one closest to the offense’s center is usually referred to as a Nose tackle (N).

Linebackers (S, M, W)- These players line up in a 2 point stance several yards behind the defensive line.  S refers to the strong side or Sam backer, M refers to the middle or Mike backer, and W refers to the weak side or Will backer.

Cornerbacks (C or CB)- These players line up in 2 point stances at different depths across for the offenses WR’s.

Safeties (SS, FS)- These players line up in a 2 point stance anywhere from 8 to 15 yards behind the defensive line.  The Free Safety (FS) lines up on the weak side, while the Strong Safety (SS) lines up on the weak side.

Now that we have looked at the 4-3 defense we will look at the 3-4 defense.

As you can tell the main difference as far as personnel is concerned is the fact that one of the Defensive Tackles has been replaced by a second Mike linebacker.

As we learned in our Offensive basics post, we know that offenses will attempt to gain an advantage by changing personnel groupings.  Most times defenses will counter these moves by changing personnel of their own. There are two very common adjustments to personnel that defensive coaches make, the Nickel and the Dime packages.

 The Nickel package features the replacement of either a LB or a Defensive Lineman with another Defensive back, usually a CB. Putting 5 DB’s on the field. This extra DB is known as the Nickel Back (N)

The dime package features a 2nd LB or D-Linemen being removed from the game and replaced by a DB know as the Dime back(D). This puts 6 DB’s on the field.

Now that we know the basics of defensive personnel, we can take a look tomorrow at common run plays used by Offenses, and common pass coverages used by Defenses.

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Let’s cover the basics… (Offense)

Before I get too much into covering particular plays or news, I want to address alot of the basics of the game.  My hope is that someone with little to no basic knowledge of the game of Football would be able to read my first few posts and gain a good bit of understanding. First thing we’ll go over is the basics on the offensive side of the ball, and we’ll look at defense later on… 

First off, take a look at the graphic below and we’ll talk about some positions on offense.

 Image

 

 This graphic is an illustration of what an offensive coach would call a “Strong Right” formation.  This is a very traditional formation that almost every team in the NFL will line up in at one point or another during a game or season.  We’ll now walk through each position in this formation starting with the so-called “skill positions.”

Quarterback (QB)- The most important player on the offense.  Leader of the offense, receives the ball from the center which starts the play.

Wide Receiver (WR)- The name says it all.  Most of the time they line up wide away from the formation, and their primary job is to receive passes from the QB. Referred to by coaches as X and Z.

Running Back (RB)- Again, pretty self-explanatory. Lines up in the backfield, usually behind the QB, and his primary job is to run with the ball after the QB hands it to him. Referred to by coaches as H.

Full Back (FB)- The unsung hero of the skill positions. He usually lines up between the QB and the RB, sometimes offset to the left or right as shown.  His primary job is to block for the RB when he is carrying the ball. Referred to by coaches as F.

Tight End (TE)- Again, self-explanatory (can’t complicate to much for these athletes!) he traditionally lines up tight to one end of the offesive formation. Where he lines up usually creates the strength of the formation. Referred to by coaches as Y.

Now we’ll move on to the big uglies up front, this is the Offensive Line.  These guys all share the same jobs, to block for the RB when he carries the ball, or to protect the QB when he is attempting to pass.

Center (C)- Lines up in the center of the line (imagine that!) and snaps the ball to the QB to start the play.

Guards (RG/LG)- Line up next to the center on either the Right or Left side (hence the RG and LG).

Tackles (RT/LT)- Line up outside the guards on each side.

Understanding these positions is going to help us as we get into personnel groupings, and as we later discuss schemes, and strategy.

Personnel Groups

Winning on the offensive side of the ball in the NFL has largely become about creating favorable matchups for your team.  For example, if I have a receiver who is 6’4″ and the defense has a player who is only 5’10″, that is a mismatch, and something I can take advantage of as an offense.  One way that you can create those mismatches for your offense is to change the personnel you have on the field for a particular play. 

The offensive line personnel stays the same on virtually every play, so the changes happen with the skill positions.  By removing the FB and adding a third WR, or a Second TE you can change the way the defense will try to defend you, and create a mismatch. Since you are only allowed 11 players on the field at a time, and since you almost always have five linemen and one QB.  That means you can change the five skill positions around in almost any possible combination. 

These combinations are identified using a numbering system that identifies the number of backs (RB & FB), and number of TE’s that are in the group, leaving the number of WR’s as inferred.  The first digit of the number states the number of backs, the second digit represents the number of TE’s. Below are some common NFL personnel groupings.

21 (2 Backs, 1 TE, 2 WR)- Base, or Regular Personnel

12 (1 Back, 2 TE, 2 WR)- Ace Personnel.

11 (1 back, 1 TE, 3 WR)- Posse Personnel

22 (2 backs, 2 TE, 1 WR)- Tank Personnel

23 (2 backs, 3 TE, 0 WR)- Jumbo or Heavy Personnel

00 (0 backs, 0 TE, 5 WR)- Zero Personnel

20 (2 backs, 0 TE, 3 WR)- Twenty Personnel

One thing to remember about these personnel groupings is that having a back on the field doesn’t necessarily mean he will always line up behind the QB, or a Tight End doesn’t always mean he will line up directly next to one of the Tackles.  The personnel grouping simply refers to the actual people who are on the field, not where they line up.  These alignments are another way that teams attempt to gain match up advantages.

 Now that we understand the basics of offensive positions and personnel we will look at the basics on defense. So we can understand how teams work to attack each other.

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So what is this all about??

So I saw former Super bowl winning Quarterback, and current NFL analyst Trent Dilfer (@TDespn) refer to himself on Twitter as a Football Geek, and it hit me that there was no better word to describe myself than exactly that.

I’m a Football Geek through and through, everything about the game enthralls me. From the strategy to the technique to the front office actions in the NFL.  I’ve noticed that even though the NFL has a huge following throughout the country and the world, the great majority of fans don’t really have much of an idea of what they’re watching on TV on Saturdays and Sundays. So I decided I would establish a place where I could take some of the big stories, trends, strategies and issues in the football world and break it down a little bit.  I never played big time football, but am a student of the game and will do the best I can to take what’s going on, and make it easier to understand.  Hopefully I can help atleast a few people become better football fans, and enjoy the game a little more because you have more of an idea of what you should be watching for.

My first actual post should be up a little later today, so I hope you’ll take some time to read up a little bit and tell your friends…

 

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