A writer named Steven Ruiz has an article in USA Today worth spending some time on. There is the whole body of analytical data that fronts the article. He then documents some modern wrinkles in how the pass rush is now being coached.

He spends a fair amount of time talking about the zone blitz, something that in my eyes is not new, and to be plain, was used at least as early as the college TCU-SMU games of the 1930s, the Sammy Baugh games where SMU constantly varied the pressure Sammy would see (1). Different linemen would fall out of the lines and occupy zones, and the folks rushing would vary. This story pretty much gets told in any biography of Sammy Baugh. It’s not hidden in the depths of newspapers.com.

By the 1940s, you see lineman falling back into zones in books by coaches such as Dana Bible (2). Don Faurot, in his book on the Split T, says when speaking of the pass rush: “rush at least four men. Vary the number constantly.”(3)

Patterns like these continued into the 1950s, where books by guys like Bobby Layne then talk about the changes in how the rush was generated once Tom Landry’s 4-3 came into the fore.

In the 5-2 Eagle, as Layne explains, the rush largely came from the ends and the three linemen in the middle defended the run. In the 1950s era 4-3 system, all four down linemen rushed. All the linemen were tall men, with long arms to obscure the view of the quarterback. They all rushed because the wall of arms was a big factor in preventing downfield vision. And because they all rushed, and the 4-3 was a massively dominant defense, from the middle 1950s to the middle 1970s, the notion of a variable line rush was slowly lost.

So, in the modern context, Dick LeBeau is considered the father of the ‘zone blitz’, the modern incarnation of the 1940s ‘constantly variable rush’. And further, the faked blitz, is no longer just talked about or seen. It’s not, as a 1930s coach might put it, part of the ‘bag of tricks’ a defensive player should have. The creeper, as it’s called, is a coaching point that’s integral to some defensive systems. The idea is of course, not new, as anyone who ever saw the Jimmy Johnson coached Philadelphia Eagles defenses can attest to. The thing that’s new are that these kinds of ideas are integrated into defensive systems, are coaching points. And let’s give Steven Ruiz a +1 or thumbs up for exposing all that to us.

***

Hat Tip to Doug Farrar for exposing me to Steven’s post on Twitter.

Notes and References.

1. Holley, Chapter 4.

2. Bible, p. 156.

3. Faurot, p 223.

Bibliography.

Bible, Dana X., Championship Football, Prentice-Hall, New York, 1947.

Faurot, Don, “Secrets of the Split T formation”, Prentice-Hall, 1950.

Holley, Joe, Slingin’ Sam: The Life and Times of the Greatest Quarterback Ever to Play the Game, University of Texas Press, 2012 [ebook].

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First things first. You cannot hurt yourselves much by buying Doug Farrar’s new book “The Genius of Desperation”. I have only one complaint about it. It does mangle the history of the one gap 4-3 when it discusses the Miami 4-3 that Jimmy Johnson helped introduce into the pros. From the beginning there were one gap 4-3s. Just, the 4-3s of Tom Landry were about gap control, not hard core pursuit. Otherwise it’s a very good book. Oh yes, the first edition has some issues in the diagrams, but if he gets a second edition, perhaps those will be fixed.

Dr Z’s classic now has a Kindle edition. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can get the book for free (for now).

Also, for a limited time, Coach Paul Alexander has a video of the back and forth of Super Bowl LIII, of the 5 UP defense the Patriots used, the tricks the Rams used, and how both teams adapted to defeat the respective defenses. Just, its now unlisted
(can’t be searched for) and it may disappear in time. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Video has become available, in the right places, of the 1950 Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma and LSU, and early in that video, you see LSU line up with a pair of split ends. And interestingly, the defensive ends of Bud Wilkinson’s 5-2 go out with them.

okie-5-2-1950-sugar-bowl-dends-cover-recvrs

And this is important because the answer to the question of when did 5-2 defensive ends acquire pass responsibilities is, more or less, right from the start. This isn’t a ad-hoc defense that Bud cooked up. Oklahoma was playing this defense all that year (1). You see the 5-2 all through the video, tight and loose. And to the question of which was an older keying defense, the Oklahoma is absolutely older than the 6-1 Umbrella (Oct of 1950, as opposed to the January bowl game), and so is older than Tom Landry’s 4-3 inside/outside.

So where did these stand up defensive ends come from? As far as I can tell, common practice. In the 1950 game, you’ll see LSU on defense with 4 players in a 3 point stance, flanked by two players in a two point stance. That’s a 6-2 defense, 1940s style.

Sugar-Bowl-1950-Okla-Split-t-w-flanker-vs-LSU-6-2-front

And images from the 1945 Sugar Bowl (Alabama – Duke) show it wasn’t unique to LSU.

Ala-Duke-1945-SugarBowl-Ala-6-2-def-standup-defensive-ends

I’ve had coaches I respect tell me that Bud’s 5-2 has antecedents in General Neyland’s defenses. I have seen some video of the 1952 TN team but none that quite shows the kind of flexibility shown by Bud on the first image in this article.

Dan Daly has a new blog and I think people should check it out. Doug Farrar is supposedly working on an article about Clark Shaughnessy and I hope it turns out well. It’s not easy to disambiguate facts in Shaughnessy’s time frame and I hope he does his homework on that one.

Notes

1. Keith, p 55.

Bibliography

Keith, Harold, Forty-seven Straight: The Wilkinson Era at Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, 1984.

The fans were all nestled, all snug in their beds, while visions of clutch quarterbacks all danced in their heads.

Tim Tebow has managed to capture the imaginations of many announcers, fans, and analysts, including the eye of one Benjamin Morris. Ben posits, among other things,  that Tebow is being held back by his own conservatism,  that an inability to take passing risks in the first three quarters of the game is tossed aside in the fourth and some more true representation of his passing skill emerges.

This isn’t the first time that Ben has speculated on the nature of young quarterbacks and interceptions (This link is the most important, but also see here and here). One contradictory notion  that has come out of his analyses is that a lot of interceptions early in the career of a quarterback tends to be a good thing. It suggests a quarterback with exceptional skills testing those skills out — the idea that a talented cook has to get burned by his own grease to learn his chops spills over into the quarterbacking world.

A related question, important to NFC East fans, is Eli Manning clutch? This question was raised this year by Eli Manning’s exceptionally high ESPN QBR ratings relative to other metrics. People really got upset, claimed that the ESPN QBR was “busted”. But perhaps the ‘clutch’ factor actually saw something in Eli.

It’s almost a theme with the Giants that they fall behind and Eli either scores a couple late to win the game, or scores late to tie the game and then (win/lose) in overtime, or he puts on this furious rally that almost wins the game. They beat teams they shouldn’t, based on their Pythagoreans, and then lose to football patzers.

What to make of it? My gut unchecked feeling is yes, Eli is clutch, but  his team is another question altogether. It’s difficult to know with fans, emotions get the best of them. Donovan McNabb becomes Donovan McFlabb, good analysts try to prove that Jon Kitna is a better quarterback than Tony Romo, etc.

Thinking without benefit of numbers a bit further, Eli just doesn’t get ruffled. His play doesn’t suffer any effects of pressure. And that means, no matter how inadequate the team around him becomes, he’s still dangerous.

~~~

Kindle notes: just bought a Kindle Fire, and like it a great deal. It’s a better email platform than many web based email services, so it is  useful to forward  mails from those services to this device. I wish I could plug my  camera into the Kindle and upload photos, but  that will probably have to wait until Android 4 becomes a common base OS for these kinds of portable devices.

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Twitter notes: For those familiar with Smart Football, he tweets well, and is a useful feed if you’re at all interested. Trent Dilfer does quite a bit of good analysis via tweets. Surprisingly good is Doug Farrar, whose player analyses I tend to respect. I haven’t read much of Doug’s blog, Shutdown Corner, but given the character of his tweets, it might be worth a gander.

This is an interesting book, a beginner’s introduction to serious fan football. It’s not the easiest read and I’m not terribly fond of the first chapter, which seems to think that all serious fans are aspiring coaches. Not true. This for us is entertainment. Get past that and start looking at the overall organization of the book and the amount of information within, the discussions of positions on the football field,  the difference between a zone and man corner, the discussions of the fire zone blitz, the nice little discussion of football jargon in the back – that alone would be enough for a beginner to keep this book – and I think it sits pretty well on a football book shelf.

What it is not, as the review on Residual Prolixity points out, is a “best of” book for a reader who has read plenty of football books. Tom Gower has specific issues to complain about, and they tend to be technical in nature.  Another useful critique of this book lies in Doug Farrar’s article on FO about zone blocking. In opposition to Kirwan, who dates zone blocking to Alex Gibbs, Doug suggests that the idea of zone blocking has been around a long time, and is clearly evident in what Vince Lombardi called do-dad blocking. I own the book Doug is referring to, and the coverage of do-dad (area) blocking is extensive.

That area blocking was in common use in the early 1960s is also clear from the interview with Bob Fry in Chapter 10 of Peter Golenbock’s book on the Cowboys.

When I went with the Cowboys, we were blocking in a way that we had thrown out with the Rams two years before, because it wasn’t that good. We were still area blocking….it took a couple years before we had the back pick up the linebacker no matter what.

Take home? Kirwan isn’t the best historian. But to be fair, there is a truism in football that Amos Alonzo Stagg invented it all anyway. To the modern player, Alex Gibbs is the Bible of zone blocking. Most of the books that people like Tom Gower refer to as better are not in print, and are so old that it takes some effort to see their relevance in the modern game.

When I purchased my first copy of “Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football”, my father also had a football book by Dana Bible on our home bookshelf. Dana was a fine football coach, but plenty of diagrams of 6-2s and talk of “crashing ends” tended to put me off. There was probably plenty to learn from that book, but just like an old “how to” book that builds radios from vacuum tubes and 45 volt batteries, sometimes their usefulness in the modern context isn’t obvious.

This book has a few signature virtues that people seem to forget. It’s modern, it’s in print, it’s on the shelves now. And unless other people write more serious and in-depth histories of ideas in football, this kind of book will carry the day.