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BCS Championship Review

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Chris Brown, over at Smart Football, reviewed the BCS Championship game. His second point is what really stuck out to me during the game. I watch a lot of PAC 10 ball, so I was really amazed at how Chip Kelly called the game.

Really, I think both coaches outschemed themselves.

First, Chip Kelly. His modus operandi this year has been:

1.  Zone read and variations

2.  Play action/Screens

3.  under 15 seconds between plays

I’m not sure coach Kelly has these defined  like this, but maybe he should.

The first two points are what many teams do frequently. The third point is Oregon’s strength. When I Tevo an Oregon game, I cannot skip ahead 30 seconds between plays. When a play ends for Oregon, I have to rewind 20 to 30 seconds, and then skip 30 seconds forward so that I don’t miss a play.

In the BCS Championship Game, Oregon started out with spread passing. 3-and-out. Then there were 2 drives that Oregon operated under the afore-mentioned parameters. Oregon 1)ran the ball effectively (3+ yards per) and 2)mixed in screens and play action, while 3)maintaining their usual pace. In fact, their pace was incredible- I had to rewind a full 30 seconds then skip 30 second in order to catch the next play. They were spending less than 10 seconds resetting and snapping the football. Auburn was gassed- evidenced by a 12 men on the field penalty and DL player taking a knee on the sideline. You weren’t hearing Nick Fairley’s name, except when a 15 yard penalty was involved.

Oregon got out in front and got a 2-point conversion. It felt like Oregon football. It was tough going, but it was fast-paced and methodical.

And then Kelly came out 1&2)throwing,  going 3-and-out, especially in the second half, and 3)letting the play clock roll down into the 10 second area- unheard of. A lot of gadgets and misuse of the field (bunching to the boundary which naturally limits available grass) and Fairley and Co. get a second wind and tee off on Oregon.

Oregon’s offense was generally ineffective and overschemed. The ball was not put into the playmakers’ hands enough and the fundamentals of the system were ignored.

Auburn took advantage and held Oregon to 19 points.

Auburn’s offense is based on misdirection power football. They are dependent on a bigger line that can pull and lead, and a big QB to pick up 2-3 yards when needed. Passing is based on man routes, and this game showcased double-moves and formations creating natural mis-matches in coverage. The Auburn OL was impressive in protecting Newton, who I think is overrated at QB, but indispensable to the scheme in picking up the 2-3 yards sometimes needed (like Tebow).

Auburn’s running game became effective in the 3rd and 4th quarter, when they leaned on it more. Dyer picked up chunks, it fed the play action, and Newton himself converted 3rd down and short a number of times.

Auburn’s passing game with man routes counted on wide open receivers or throwing the ball up and counting on bigger, better receivers to get it. Auburn had both, and Cam Newton found those well. And when coverage was good, he found yardage with his legs.

Oregon was generally effective in limiting Newton’s big plays, limiting the Auburn run game, and limiting big plays. Auburn’s most effective offensive plays seemed to be bubble screens, flat throws, and out-and-up patterns.

Auburn’s offense was not dominant, nor was it particularly effective. 22 points would be a goal for any defense to be proud of holding Auburn to.

Overall, I think I learned some limits to the Spread Running game. Urban Meyer made a good comment post-game: the spread option offense has the need for a big back or QB to get the yardage in the red zone/GL+5 (Oregon lacked this, Auburn had this) and reinforced the importance of sticking to what one does best.

I thought it was a sloppy, unintelligent game overall, with both coaching staffs overscheming. In the end, Auburn settled into their bread and butter first (out of necessity to run the clock) and came out on top. There is a certain strength in knowing what you do best and doing best what you do best.

In the end, the defenses get the game ball, for making plays and capitalizing on offensive wonkiness. For the game ball, I would give it to Nick Fairley, if he wasn’t such a dishonorable player, so I give it to Auburn’s #5 Michael Dyer, who made tough, determined yards and won the game for Auburn.

If Oregon wins, the ball goes to Casey Mathews, who caused a game-changing fumble out of Cam Newton’s hands as well as being in the thick of the Auburn offense all evening. Yet another underrated Matthews. (I coached his older brother Bryce in High School- nowhere near the motor/determination of Clay jr. and Casey).

For me, the game was a snoozer- Two struggling running offenses trying to do too much outside of what they do best and man passing routes that ended up looking and feeling clumsy an simplistic. Not a great offensive game, regardless of the yards earned an not an interesting game, really.


Written by Jon Ellsworth

January 11, 2011 at 1:15 pm

New Playbook for Ohio State

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Note to Jim Tressell:

Here is your new playbook for your all-world sophmore QB, Terrell Pryor.  I know you are a throwback, tough football kind of coach, so I have put together a power offense in shotgun formations to utilize the QB as a backfield running threat.

Start with the BASICS:

Zone Read 

Zone Read

This play is run from the trey formation.  We keep a tight end on the line to maintain a strong zone run threat with the extra blocker.  The two receivers split out to the tight end side spread the defensive secondary and shift defensive strength away from the side the QB has the option of running to.  On the snap, the line blocks for standard zone running.  The back either takes a handoff and hits the hole or the QB keeps it and runs around the weak side.  This is the exact play Vince Young beat both Michigan and USC with in the Rose Bowl in consecutive years.

Play Action

Zone Roll

A simple play action off the zone play.  A simple High-Low read for Pryor to make, or he can run.

Zone Roll Quick Post

Another play action pass with Pryor reading the Will linebacker.  The run fake brings the linebackers up hard to stop both the running back and the QB.  A quick post by  the slot receiver over the Will linebacker will get 8-12 yards easily.  Again, a simple read and throw.  Urban Meyer’s Utah team ran this play repeatedly in 2004 on their way to a perfect season and a BCS-busting fiesta bowl win.

Zone Bubble

The final play action pass.  Everyone has this in the playbook.  Fake run, quick pass to a swinging receiver.  This would have crushed USC- no one covered the slot receiver all game.



The power play made for the shotgun.  See the New York Giants’ 2007 championship season for this play.  Spread the field, power the ball.

POWER misdirection


Florida’s 2008 championship season featured this power play with Tim Tebow in the backfield.  Fake zone one way and the QB follows lead blocking through the hole for solid yards.

Basically, let Terrell Pryor run.  Let him get hit.  Make his reads easy and use misdirection and play action to facilitate open looks.  Make your spread package a power package- the reflection of your 2002 National Championship offense.

Written by Jon Ellsworth

September 14, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Zone Blocking in a Passing Offense- Indianapolis Colts Study

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The 2007 Colts offense was one of the most prolific in recent memory. Throughout his career, Peyton Manning has shown a methodical, and superior understanding of the X’s and O’s of the game. He has also been the beneficiary of one of the most simple offenses in the NFL. With such an intelligent QB, calls are changed to more effectively attack a defense. The key is not necessarily knowing exactly what a defense does, but rather what strategies are available to you for attacking certain defensive looks. The Colts’ running game is a prime example of an offensive concept used to exploit a defense.


Running games can be divided into systems. Some of the more popular systems are the zone system, the gap system, the man system, the sweep system, and the option system. The Colts have overwhelmingly run a zone system. The Colts have run 2 basic zone running plays (as well as the draw play) for a few years: The otuside zone (stretch C-D gap play) and the Inside Zone (A-gap).


Alignments and Gap Designations




In the diagram above you can see the gap designations used. A gaps are between center and Guard, B gap between Guard and Tackle, C Gap between Tackle and Tight End, and outside the Tight End is the D Gap. The following introduction to the basic Colts zone running plays is also a good introduction to single-back running plays in general.


The Zone Concept


The zone concept is a “run to daylight” concept. The line engages defenders according to rules defining their responsibility. Such a rule might be “Away-On-Backer”, which means that the lineman will look first for a threat that is on the line, but “away”, meaning to his “outside” away from the center and QB.






An “away” threat is limited to a man within a gap of the Offensive Lineman (OL). The diagram above shows an “away” threat for the right guard the DT.










“On”, in the rule, would mean that if there is no “away” threat, the OL looks for an “on” threat, or a Defensive Lineman (DL) directly in front of him. The TE has an “on” threat- the DE.









If there is no “on” threat, the blocker will go “backer” or will find the closest linebacker (LB) off of the line to the side the play is supposed to go. For instance, the Tackle would attack “S”, or the Sam LB.







One strategy for effectively running the zone concept is finding the “bubble” or crease for the RB. The Colts did this very well in their system. Refering to the diagram above, a crease is a triangle of defenders. The zone works best when a triangle of defenders is present- usually 2 DL and 1 LB. This is visible with the above diagram- there is a large space, or “bubble” between DT and DE- the middle OL between those two will run up and block SB, or the Sam Linebacker. A seam is created when one OL goes up on the LB and the other OL engage the DL well.


A good running back will run under control, or not full speed, to the fringes of that bubble to set up his run, and then burst through the seam. So, most often, where the zone will be run depends entirely on the front the defense shows. Where the zone is run also depends on the flow of the line. Often, you will see RBs cut back the opposite direction from where they started. The zone system encourages that, as the defense may over-pursue the run. The RB’s job is to find daylight and take off.


Inside Zone

The Inside Zone- Attacking the Weakside A Gap

Inside zone plays are not always run to the weakside, but modern 4-3 defenses usually put the Nosegaurd in the weakside A gap. Inside Zone is meant to attack the A gap defender, so for the Colts, that was often the weak side. It is run primarily up the middle, and expects to make 3-5 yards every time it is run. More than that is difficult because of the 1-on-1 blocking and the ability of the defense to create traffic inside in just a few steps. This diagram shows two triangles of defenders: E-S-N at the point of attack, and T-M-N in the cutback lane.




Outside Zone


Outside Zone- Attacking the Edge with a Stretch Play

Outside Zone plays are usually the stretch or pitch plays. The Stretch is the most common, where I think Denver is one of the  teams to run a pitch with zone principles. There are variations of each, sometimes involving pulling offensive linemen, but mostly the Colts ran the stretch using zone principles- no pulling. They ran it a lot, but you would see something more like the Center to the Middle LB, Gaurd to 3-gap defender (DT above), Tackle up on Sam, and TE on the DE. The back runs to a point 1 yard behind the TE’s butt or 1 yard outside the TE as the blocking develops and will either burst outside if there is too much traffic inside or no Safety flowing up, or burst in behind the Tackle in the space created. For the Colts, the play was consistently good for 4-5 yards when Edgerin James or Joseph Addai could take the ball in behind the Tackle’s block. The triangle of defenders here is: T, E, and S.




That is zone running 101. Of course there are many more details, especially in footwork. Football is a chess match. The zone system is just one way to prod a defense.


Written by Jon Ellsworth

February 17, 2009 at 11:14 am