Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
17 Sep 2009
by Mike Tanier
When the rapture occurs, the righteous will ascend into heaven, the wicked will suffer tribulations on earth, and Ben Roethlisberger will pump-fake.
In the event of biblical judgment, Walkthrough will appear on this site as scheduled, but the Cardinals quarterback situation will sort itself out nicely. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they'll have to honor Kurt Warner's contract even if he is walking upon streets of gold.
New Testament scholars know that the rapture appears nowhere in the bible; it's a synthesis of material from the books of Revelations and 1 Thessalonians. That makes it an uneasy mix of clashing philosophies from different eras, just like the Redskins offense. Non-scholars believe that the Man from Mars who Eats Cars (Richie Incognito) is somehow involved. They are mistaken, though not necessarily forgiven.
We dwell on these matters because Week 1 of the NFL season brings a rush to judgment, biblical or otherwise. We quickly separate the saved (Seahawks) from the damned (Panthers) based on 60-minute samples. When results turn out as we planned (Warner reverted to pre-2008 form), we cite predestination. When our predictions prove faulty (Jay Cutler was a jittery mess) we banish our claims in to-early-to-tell purgatory. Luckily for all, our judgments are more ephemeral than eternal. In two weeks, we'll be too busy fitting Super Bowl rings on the teams that rode soft schedules to 3-0 records (Vikings, Broncos) to remember any of this week's Mark Sanchez-to-Matt Ryan comparisons.
Week One brought few real revelations, but plenty of apocalyptic signs, like Jeff Garcia's return to Philadelphia to form the Three Am-Egos quarterbacking corps. Lock Garcia, Donovan McNabb, and Michael Vick in a room forever, and you have a form of damnation more excruciating than anything Jean Paul Sartre devised.
There may be no exit to the Eagles' quarterback situation, but Walkthrough always comes with an escape hatch. I admire Big Ben's willingness to play through the echo of the trumpet, but I don't want to get sacked. I'll just check down to a different subject.
The Packers will take what they got from their defense Sunday night: 13 points allowed, four interceptions, and an opposing quarterback driven to distraction by their pass rush (granted, Jay Cutler was already halfway there). New defensive coordinator Dom Capers was hired to bring a Steelers-style defense to Green Bay. Early returns indicate that he succeeded.
Capers normally runs a 3-4 defense, and at the start of the Bears game he deployed a rather traditional 3-4 defense. Very early in the game, he shifted to a 2-4-5 alignment, first on passing downs, then on nearly everything but obvious rushing downs. Ends Johnny Jolly and Cullen Jenkins lined up at tackle in Capers' 2-4 front (Jolly is a converted tackle), with linebackers Aaron Kampman and Clay Matthews playing with their hands in the dirt as rush-or-drop ends. Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar played inside linebacker, with Barnett rarely blitzing while Chillar moved all over the formation. Capers explained after the game that he made the switch to the nickel so he had an extra defensive back on the field to cover Greg Olsen. Whatever the reason, this 24-front combined many of the advantages of a Steelers 3-4 with those the Giants enjoyed in their Four Aces look two years ago. It became the default alignment from which Capers ran his most elaborate blitzes against the Bears.
|Figure 1: Packers Corner Blitz|
Figure 1 shows the Packers first blitz of the game, on third-and-8 in the first quarter. It's a corner blitz, with Tramon Williams attacking from the offensive right side. We often think of corner blitzes as wild, dangerous plays, but this blitz is designed to be relatively low risk. Only four defenders are rushing the passer, so Capers can drop a full seven defenders into zone coverage. This blitz works because the offense doesn't know which defenders are attacking, and the ones who do blitz execute a perfectly designed stunt.
To execute a blitz properly, defenders must maintain their assignments. On this play, Kampman (74) must sacrifice himself, attacking the inside shoulder of the right tackle. Kampman's job is to draw that blocker inside. Linebacker Chillar (54) is responsible for the blocking back, Matt Forte (22) in this case. Chillar must not freelance or work inside to get the quarterback; his job is to draw Forte to the outside. Kampman and Chillar do their jobs perfectly, creating a wide, unblocked lane for Williams.
Good blitz design is useless without good coverage design. The Packers are in zone coverage in Figure 1. The figure shows them in quarters coverage, though that's a guess; they could be in Cover-3 or something more exotic. What is certain is that Jolly (97) drops into a shallow zone, and that Nick Collins (36) slides over to drop with the receiver vacated by Williams. Collins gives the receiver a wide cushion, and had Cutler read the blitz immediately, there's a chance that he could have fired a short pass to his slanting receiver. But Cutler reads the blitz too late, and by the time he throws, it's into Collins, Jolly, and a crowd of defenders. Cutler made several mistakes like that in the game, but give the Packers credit: They executed perfectly, and they gave no pre-snap indications that they would blitz from the right corner.
|Figure 2: Chillar Blitz|
Williams gets another chance to blitz later in the quarter, this time on first-and-10 (Figure 2). On this play, Williams and safety Atari Bigby cheat before the snap: Williams moves to get a better blitz angle, while Bigby slides up to cover the receiver. Cutler does notice the move and makes an adjustment, pointing Bigby out before the snap. The adjustment doesn't work. On this play, Williams sacrifices himself to take Forte wide while Chillar bursts through the lane. Kampman once again gives himself up to move the right tackle to the inside. The Packers are in man coverage on this play, and Cutler tries to exploit a mismatch -- Olsen (82) versus rookie Matthews (52) in the left flat. But Cutler's rushed throw is off target.
Let’s look at Jolly's interception late in the second quarter (Figure 3). On third and goal, the Bears line up in a tight twins formation with three wide receivers. The Packers stay in their new 2-4 base, but with a wrinkle: Jolly (97) is lined up in a seven technique, about a yard wide of the left tackle but inside the flexed tight end. Kampman is now between Jolly and Cullen Jenkins (77). Cornerback Charles Woodson (21) is also crowding the line, putting him in great position to blitz.
|Figure 3: Jolly Green Giant|
Woodson does blitz, as do Matthews and Chillar. Kampman drops into coverage. Again, despite the addition of a defensive back to the blitz package, only five defenders are rushing, so this is no jailbreak. The design of this blitz calls for Woodson and Jolly to occupy the tackles, setting up favorable matchups for Matthews and Chillar. The execution is flawless. Matthews is too quick for the guard blocking him; the rookie makes a quick inside-out move and closes on Cutler quickly. Note that the left guard does not appear to have screen blocking responsibilities; that is, he doesn't release Matthews on purpose to block on the screen the Bears try to set up. Matthews's rush disrupts the timing of the screen. Right tackle Chris Williams does have screen responsibilities, so he blocks Jolly and releases. Unfortunately, the play is already blown up. Cutler throws too quickly, and Jolly is in position to make a very athletic play.
The Bears made some adjustments in the second half, but the Packers defense continued to execute well, save for a few deep ball lapses. The blitz in Figure 4 occurred on second-and-13 early in the third quarter. The three-defender pattern highlighted in blue should be familiar: it's a variation of the blitz the Packers used in the first two diagrams. Here, they're running it to the other side, with Matthews sacrificing himself and Chillar blitzing wide to give Al Harris (31) a seam. The Packers even feign a blitz on the other side by having Woodson sneak into the box. The Bears, however, appear ready for just this blitz. Both Olsen and Forte block on the left side while Cutler sets up a screen to Earl Bennett (80) on the right.
|Figure 4: Screen vs. Blitz|
This play should work. Bennett has right tackle Williams blocking for him, and the Bears are attacking the weak side of the defense as the Packers roll defenders in the opposite direction. But this pass nets just four years because the Packers do a great job of containment. Kampman keeps Bennett in front of him while Woodson and Williams converge; though its not shown in the figure, even Jolly scrapes off the line to give chase. The Bears convert a first down against a Packers blitz on the next play, but they do it with Forte and Olsen blocking. If Dom Capers can neutralize two of his opponent's best players by forcing them to block, it's a win for the Packers defense.
Watching the Packers defense, I was impressed by the athleticism of their front seven. Kampman, who has always been a good all-around defensive end, does an excellent job as a drop linebacker. Jolly has never looked this good. Matthews is a very good athlete with promise. Chillar and Nick Barnett are dependable veterans who look well-suited to their new roles.
The Packers secondary isn't as impressive, and I think Woodson and Williams will get burnt for their share of long touchdowns this year. The Packers will live with a few long bombs if their defense can keep applying pressure and forcing turnovers like it did on Saturday night. The Packers don't have a Top Five defense, but their defense will hold most opponents in the 20-point range while using turnovers to give the offense some short fields. It's a far cry from what the Packers had last year, and the new 2-4 front will definitely force opponents to adjust.
I spent last Sunday morning battling a computer worm called the Green Antivirus. Described as a "rogue security tool," the worm accessed my computer when I was downloading, let's say, spreadsheets. It imitated my McAfee security program reasonably well, telling me that I had several scary viruses on my computer (the kind that send my credit card numbers to Nigeria). It warned me, incessantly, that Green Antivirus software was the best way to repair the damage, and it made Green look convincingly like a McAfee product.
Here's the worst part: it hijacked Google. I was suspicious when I saw a misspelled word in one of the messages, so I tried to research Green Antivirus. Google provided me with (fake) reviews of Green Antivirus from various magazines and links to purchase the $99 software from "Dell" and "Amazon." When I searched for Norton Antivirus, the links took me to (fake) sites that compared Green, favorably, to Norton.
I was clearly in Kaiser Soze unreliable narrator territory. I knew just enough about "phishing" (the creation of fake bank and credit card sites) to look for telltale signs of Internet forgery: oddball URLs, typos, and so on. There were just enough of these (and the Green price used European commas instead of American decimal points) to keep me skeptical. I loaded up my secondary computer, and a Green Antivirus search on the unaffected machine sent me to several alerts and how-to-remove notices like this one
One site suggested that I download a cure, but when I tried to on my infected computer, Google told me that the "cure" was actually a Phishing site. Was Green Antivirus sending a phony message? Or was the post that suggested the cure secretly planted by the hacker who created the virus? Switching into X-Files "Trust No One" mode, I hunted down a surgical file-removal cure.
After discussing how we acquire knowledge in last week’s Walkthrough, this Green Antivirus incident really shook me. He who can hijack Google can control the world, telling me that my stocks are down, not up, that the antidote is really the poison, and so on. From a football standpoint, a phisher could hijack your web browser and send you to a look-alike football site. He could post a false arrest or injury report about a player, then mislead a blogger on an infected computer to comment about the report. Soon, the line between fact and fiction could be blurred for tens of thousands of us.
Imagine the chaos. A phony ProFootballTalk.com (an easy site to replicate), or a copycat of my favorite Jaguars blog could fool a local beat reporter into making a false statement. The beat writer's report would reach the print media, as well as thousands of unaffected computers. By Sunday, sideline reporters would have to debunk the false rumor -- if they haven't come to believe it by then. Those of us who depend on the Internet for tons of information, from out-of-town news to video feeds of games we missed, could easily be duped.
Who would profit from such a scam? A gambler looking to move a spread, perhaps. Or someone looking to sell a fake fantasy service (and steal credit card numbers) by creating false endorsements on a trusted site, making up some bogus news to enhance the illusion. But that's not the point: an enterprising teenager could probably confuse the football world with a well-placed worm, just for giggles. Our reliance on a handful of computer programs to provide us with important information leaves all of us vulnerable.
Anyway, my primary computer is now clean and healthy. I’m fairly certain all elements of the Green Antivirus have been excised, so I'll leave the epistemological angst behind and go back to football.
David Garrard's season-ending ACL tear presents a real problem for the Jaguars, especially in light of Luke McCown's recent tractor accident. I think the Jaguars did the right thing this week by bringing Rodney Peete in for a tryout, but Torry Holt, who provided all of the scoring for the Jaguars wide-open, deep-passing offense last week, is unhappy about the move, apparently because of Peete's recent conversion to Sikh.
With the Jaguars quarterback situation in disarray, it's up to Maurice Jones-Drew to put aside the distractions of his relationship with Jennifer Lyon. I don't usually comment on tabloid stories, and I really don't care who killed whose Betta fish in this case, but it's clear that MJD wasn't himself last week when he was tackled in the end zone by Bob Sanders for a safety. If Peete returns, the Jaguars will have to rely even more heavily on their short passing game, plus their surprisingly effective Mercedes Lewis Wildcat package.
With Garrard hurt, Holt angry, MJD in hot water, and Jack Del Rio considering a Congressional run, I am going against FO wisdom on this game and taking the Cardinals.
Next Week in Walkthrough: I run Antivirus again, then write a long apology for the last segment.
80 comments, Last at 24 Sep 2009, 12:56pm by Temo