New York Jets


In Brian Burke’s recent roundup, he references a Fifth Down blog article on Rex Ryan’s philosophy of offense, one where running is heavily emphasized and the yardage? Not so much. He then says that as an offensive philosophy, it seems to be “ridiculous”, except in the metaphoric sense of a boxer, with a jab, using the run to keep an opponent off balance, so that he can lay out the “killing blow”.

I tend to think that Brian’s boxing metaphor is, at best, an incomplete picture. For one, he doesn’t see the jab as a knockout punch, but for Muhammad Ali, it was. Another point is the jab is fast, elusive, confusing. By contrast, the run is a slow play, and there is nothing particularly elusive or confusing about the run. Rex-like coaches often run when it is most expected.

The way Rex is using the run, in my opinion, is closely tied to the way Bill Parcells used to use the run, especially in the context of Super Bowl 25. This New York Times article, about Super Bowl 25, details Parcells’ view of the philosophy neatly.

Parcells' starting running backs averaged about 3.7 ypc throughout his NFL coaching career.

To quote Bill:

“I don’t know what the time of possession was,” the Giants’ coach would say after the Giants’ 20-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. “But the whole plan was try to shorten the game for them.”

The purpose, of course, is time control, optimizing time of possession, and thus reducing the opportunity of the opposing offense to have big plays. It’s a classic reaction to an opponent’s big play offense, to their ability to create those terrific net yards per attempt stats [1].

Note also Rex is primarily a defensive coach. If the game changing, explosive component of a football team is the defense, doing everything to suppress the opponent’s offense only hands more tools to the defensive team. It forces the opponent’s offense to take risks to score at all. It makes them go down the field in the least amount of time possible. It takes the opponents out of their comfort zone, especially if they are used to large, early leads.

The value of time, though, is hard to quantify.  Successful time control is folded into stats like WPA, and thus is highly situation dependent. The value of such a strategy is very hard to determine with our current set of analytic tools. Total time of possession no more captures the real value of time any more than total running yards captures the real value of the running game in an offense.

Chris, from Smart Football, says that the classic tactic for a less talented team (a “David”) facing a more talented team (a “Goliath”) is to use plenty of risky plays, to throw the outcome into a high risk, high reward, high  variance regime. The opposite approach, to minimize the scoring chances of the opposition, is a bit neglected in Chris’s original analysis, because he assumed huge differences in talent. However, he explicitly includes it here, as a potential high variance “David” strategy.

It’s ironic to think of running as the strategy of an underdog, but that’s what it is in this instance. New England is the 500 pound gorilla in the AFC East, ranked #1 on offense 2 of the last 4 years, and that’s the team he has to beat. And think about it more, just a college analogy for now: what teams do you know, undersized and undermanned,  that use a ground game to keep them in the mix? It’s the military academies, teams like Army, Navy, and the Air Force, using ground based option football.

[1] The down side of a loose attitude towards first and second down yardage is that it places an emphasis on third down success rate, and thus execution in tough situations.

Both Rex and Rob Ryan are known to use the Bear front, otherwise known as the double eagle, and in its 1985 incarnation, the 46, and  in preseason week 1 year 2011, both brothers flashed some double eagle with 8 man line.

The image above is the most famous Bear of the night, as Jon Gruden mentioned it, but  the very next play featured a Bear with a flexed nose tackle.

Rob’s double eagle had 5 down linemen instead of 6, but the 6 players along the line, and two players at linebacker depth and over the tackle leads me to designate this the first Bear the Cowboys have run under Rob Ryan.

You would think that when Dom Capers and Rex Ryan clash, and play in a 9-0 defensive slugfest, that the NFL network could find interesting film for both coaches. In this particular game, they largely showed highlights of the frustrations of the Jets offense. No matter, Dom Capers can make very subtle changes to very ordinary looking defenses. This shot for example: looks like a 3 man front on first glance. But is it that? For that matter, is  it even a psycho (1 man in 3 point stance) or just a very well disguised cloud?

This is typical of the fronts you can find throughout the video of this contest. This nickel front is very ordinary by Dom’s standards.

This front, I’m hard pressed to classify. Look at the defensive line splits; almost purely geared for an outside pass rush.

We’ll end with this one, a far more standard psycho front.

For those less familiar with the various kinds of modern fronts, I can suggest this article on Rob Ryan from this blog, and perhaps checking out the very excellent Blitzology sometime.

It’s the 2011 division playoffs. The Jets have just scored and the Patriots have the ball. The Jets are lining up in a 3-3-5. The right defensive end is number 70, Mike DeVito, an undrafted free agent out of Maine. The right outside linebacker is Bryan Thomas, number 58, a 6 foot four inch 260 pounder from UAB who was once a first round draft choice. This is not a defense designed to stop the run. Hence the Patriots run.

The blocking scheme is going to require the Pats to “reach out” to block their opposing numbers. The guard goes for the defensive end, the tackle for the OLB.  This tandem blocking is similar to what the whole line is doing in this photograph, from Tim Layden’s excellent book:

As the play develops, there are problems with both blocks. It isn’t soon before Bryan Thomas has the LT’s hips perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, and therefore the tackle has no control over Bryan. The guard has been beaten; Mike has taken an inside move and is about to shed the guard. Two players converge on the running back, who, before the collision, begins to guard himself against the impact.

Want more? Check out the game highlights on Nfl.com.

I’ve just begun to look at  this game, and it’s not as rich in exotic fronts as some. There are plenty  of orthodox 3 and 4 man fronts. The Jets made plenty of use of the 4-2, but on occasions, both teams would use the two man, or nickel front. This image is of a 2-3 by the Jets. I don’t recall  having seen a 2-3 before seeing this one (I’m sure it’s been used). The result of the play was a sack of Tom Brady.

Even Bill Belichick, the defensive genius, the master, will use the two man front these days.

This content is a personal interpretation of elements of Rex Ryan’s book on the 46. The diagrams come from scans from the book.

(more…)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 244 other followers