Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

07 Dec 2011

Walkthrough: Punctuated Equilibrium

by Mike Tanier

As you probably know, Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris dropped an F-bomb while talking about his ejection of Brian Price on Sunday. "I told him ‘go home.’ F__k, yeah."

The punctuation above is my own, and like all spoken punctuation, it is a guess. I did not hear the press conference live, and the only video of it I can find discreetly cuts out the "f—-k, yeah." When we assembled Audibles at the Line on Sunday, we only had the "f__k," not the "yeah," because we were working off a Tweet of the press conference. There is a big difference between "f__k" and "f__k, yeah" and, for that matter, "F__k Yeah!"

Most blogs and reports of the quote eliminate the "F__k, yeah," in part because some sites do not allow f__k to appear in print, even with the "u" and "c" replaced by underscores or smileys. There is no way the New York Times will let me write "f__k" when we cannot print Suck for Luck, or even S__k for L__k. The quote in the Times would read "Morris told Price to ‘go home’, then uttered an obscenity," which is no fun at all.

I am pretty sure we are allowed to write say "f__k" in all its fully-spelled glory here on Football Outsiders, but it would turn away readers if we became gratuitous and started saying "f__k" over and over again for effect. We strive for workplace-appropriate content. Also, a good humorist knows how to use "f__k" sparingly, for maximum punch. If David Mamet ever writes Glengary Glen DVOA, we will all say "f__k" a lot.

But back to the f__king punctuation. With no way to hear Morris’ comments, I am left grasping for punctuation clues, and a stray comma can go a long way. Consider:

"I told him to go home, f__k. Yeah." Translation: I told him to go home and relieve the tension that leads to unnecessary roughness penalties through healthy sexual congress. Indeed.

"I told him to. Go Homef__k! Yeah!" Translation: I instructed him to commit that foul. Let me now give a shout to my alma mater, the State University of New York at Housediddle, the Fighting Homef__k. Hooray.

"I told. Him to go home, f__k Yeah." Translation: I am Tarzan. I informed the proper authorities about Price. He plans to go back to his hut and have intercourse with a woman named Yeah, who is not as cute as Jane but loves him for who he is.

Some of the punctuation options above are less logical than others, but even the choice of punctuation options for the "yeah" can change the implication of the quote:

"I told him to go home ... f__k, yeah." I told him to go home with an expression of exasperation, and I am admitting to that now.

"I told him to go home. F__k yeah!" I told him to go home and am boastful about my decision.

Morris’ statement sounds more like the former, at least as far as I can tell from context. The latter sounds like Denny Green at full throttle. Morris sounded like the school disciplinarian after a massive cafeteria brawl, a guy whose rage is leaking out around his professionalism. One who knows a bit of profanity can, well, punctuate his point.

Hearing an NFL coach curse these days is a little like hearing a nun curse, and we all get a little kick out of it. We must also protect innocent ears and eyes, of course, because we all know how many nine-year-olds sit riveted to Buccaneers press conferences and how few of them have ever heard profanity. Morris had a few more choice words for Price on the field, according to reports, and while too many cussings out can be counterproductive, sometimes players (coworkers, fellow drivers) need to know how you really feel.

That’s fine, as long as I don’t have to punctuate it.

Praise for the Niners, Sort of

The typical 49ers game starts with three field goals, then unravels from there.

Three times this season, the Niners have taken 9-0 leads against opponents on three David Akers field goals. In three other games, the first three scores of the game were field goals by the Niners or opponents. The Bengals game began with two Mike Nugent field goals and an Akers kick. The Ravens Thanksgiving game was a back-and-forth Akers-Billy Cundiff battle until everyone fell asleep. The Giants game began with a whopping six field goals, four by Akers and two by Lawrence Tynes.

The list above does not include the Redskins game, in which four Akers field goals and a Graham Gano kick were interrupted by a touchdown. And then there was the Eagles game, with four field goals made, three missed, and one blocked between the two kickers. Akers also had two blocked and missed one against the Cardinals, a game in which the first six Cardinals drives ended in field goal attempts.

That is a lot of kicking.

Akers is still on pace to break field goal and attempt records, as I reported on NBCSports.com last week. He is barely on pace for the attempt record: he projects to 49.3 field goal tries, and the record of 49 is held by Bruce Gossett of the 1966 Rams and Curt Knight of the 1971 Redskins. Both teams were coached by George Allen, a man who liked to settle for three, and both kickers played in the era of 14-game seasons. Gossett attempted six field goals in two games, five in one, four in two and three in five. Knight attempted seven field goals in one game and six in another.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were the golden age of field goal attempts, because nearly every team had a specialist kicker and the crossbars were still at the front of the end zone. Most of the kickers with 45 or more attempts played in that era, and most played for teams like the 2011 Niners: good teams with great defenses and grinding offenses, even by era standards. Akers is in good company, and his kicking has come to define this strange season for the Niners, a team that builds blowouts three points at a time.

Another hallmark of the 2011 49ers is the slow start. The Niners outscore opponents 32-29 in the first quarter this season. A little simple math shows that the average score at the end of the first quarter of a Niners game is 2.67 to 2.42. Three of their games were scoreless after the first quarter. Two were 3-0 games, two were 3-3 games. There have only been four first-quarter touchdowns in Niners games, two by the Niners, two by opponents. When you look at some of the 33-17, 48-3, 23-7, and 26-0 final scores the Niners have produced, the slow starts are somewhat remarkable. But then, you know how this team operates: the defense shuts opponents down while the offense flirts with the red zone. And flirting takes a while. Niners games against weak opponents are stop-motion avalanches.

There are other hallmarks of the 2011 Niners. For example, there are the clever running plays that ultimately culminate in some over-engineered play on a critical down. A few weeks ago, I diagrammed an H-back-around the Niners used on third-and-short. This week, I present a Kendall Hunter Wildcat, but I will follow up with something that worked, because it is mean (and misleading) to pick on a team that clinched its division before I put my Christmas tree up.

Figure 1: Counter Cat

Figure 1 shows the Niners facing third-and-2 from the 11-yard line in the third quarter. That’s Kendall Hunter (32) in shotgun, with Delanie Walker (46) and Bruce Miller (49) next to him and Anthony Dixon (24) on the far side of the trips bunch. That’s a lot of blocking beef on the right side, and Jim Harbaugh wants the Rams thinking "Wildcat-esque plunge" to the right. That would not be a bad play; the Niners were overpowering the Rams at the line, and if the play failed, a field goal would make the score 19-0.

Instead, the Niners ran a counter. A slow, slow, slow counter, with Miller, Walker, and the right guard pulling out in front of Hunter, who takes two steps right before cutting left. The design of the blocking scheme is incredibly lateral, with three blockers running parallel to the line of scrimmage for so long that it looked like something from the Vince Lombardi playbook. This is 2011, of course, so all of those big guys running laterally are just giving the defense ample pursuit opportunities. The guard lays a good block, but the others are in no position to stop the crashing safeties and linebackers. Hunter might have still picked up the first down if he cut inside behind the guard’s block: he only needed two yards, after all. But Hunter makes a rookie mistake by trying to bounce outside, and he loses seven yards.

So the play did not work, but a successful field goal made the score 19-0.

Okay, let’s back up to early in the game and see how all of these filigrees can actually work well for the Niners. We will even bring back our old pal Delanie and give him a chance to shine.

Figure 2: Tight End End Around

Figure 2 shows the Niners on first-and-10 earlier in the third quarter, leading 9-0. On the previous play, Ted Ginn ran an end around for 14 yards. The tight bunch formation to the right is somewhat similar to what we saw in Figure 1, though there are key differences. The quarterback is on the field, for one thing. So is Frank Gore (21). At the snap, Alex Smith turns to pitch to Gore, and Gore makes a very dramatic show of extending his arms to take that pitch and run right. I don’t know if the pantomime fooled Rams defenders any more than the blocking and run action did, but it looked cool.

This is a counter, of course, and it is a tight end around for Walker. The key block is by the left tackle on the right defensive end of the Rams. The end is crashing with the run action, so it is a simple matter for the tackle to seal him off to the inside. After that, it is up to Walker to beat the strong safety in the open field. Walker is not a great speedster, but he is strong enough to plow through a tackle in space, and he rumbles for 14 yards.

A few points about this play. First of all, note that it came on the heels of a Ginn run, so the Niners executed back-to-back end arounds, something few teams are willing to do. Second, the Niners were on the right hashmark on this play, and that is significant in that it created extra space to the "field side" to isolate Walker against the strong safety. The formation also created space to the field side by bunching everyone to the right. I rarely pay attention to hash marks when diagramming NFL plays because they don’t often appear overly relevant to the play design in many cases. The situation is very different in college, and the lower the level of competition, the more important "field side" and "boundary side" differences become. Harbaugh appears a little more cognizant of how the hashmarks affect the design of his runs than other coaches. It may be part of his overall emphasis on a more scientific running game, an emphasis that serves him well until he goes into mad scientist mode with plays like Figure 1.

The main difference between this play, the Hunter play, and the Walker sweep I diagrammed a month ago is the situation. First down near midfield is a good time for innovation. Third-and-short is not. Harbaugh must learn when to switch from wrinkle mode to blast mode.

The field goals, the slow starts, the tendency to overcomplicate ... we all know that these will become liabilities in the playoffs. For now, they make the Niners unique: they are both interesting and plodding, deliberate and somehow dynamic. This uniqueness could turn into real greatness next year or the year after. For now, it is a lot of fun, even if you are sick and tired of seeing Akers march on to the field for the fifth or sixth time.

Burn This Play!

This week, a double dose of kindling from the Vikings.

Figure 3: Full House Harvin

Figure 3 shows the Vikings deep in their own territory midway through the second quarter. What madness is this? There is a full house backfield with a wide receiver playing tight end, a wide receiver playing halfback, and two tight ends (assuming you consider Jim Kleinsasser a tight end) playing fullback. Fascinating. All of this window dressing is a prelude by a run up the gut by one of the most fragile, elusive players in the NFL: Percy Harvin (12).

Adding to the lunacy of sending an injury-prone jitterbug wide receiver on a plunge into the teeth of the defense is a needlessly complex blocking scheme. Devin Aromashodu (19), playing tight end for some reason, does not block the defensive end in front of him but blasts out to the second level. In fairness, the left tackle, who folds behind Aromashodu, has a better fighting chance of blocking the end (it’s Robert Ayers). Kyle Rudolph (82) also fires out to the second level. That leaves the fullbacks, Kleinsasser (40) and Visanthe Shiancoe (81) to block a defensive end and a linebacker. No one is left to block middle linebacker Joe Mays, which is a real shame, because he has a wide-open lane to Harvin, who has no maneuvering room because he is surrounded by wide bodies. Credit the Broncos for using a variation on the Wide-9 front against this tight formation: I think the interior linemen were crossed up because there were big bubbles in front of them.

Now, let’s fast-forward to the fourth quarter, with the score tied and the Vikings deep in Broncos territory. It is first-and-10, the ball is on the Broncos 20-yard line, and there is 3:54 to play. This is a good time to hand off and make the Broncos decide whether they want to burn clock or timeouts. It may also be a good time to take one crack at the end zone. And really, it is not a bad time to run a little rollout and see if you can get 10 yards, as long as the rollout does not rely on a replacement-level receiver winning a one-on-one matchup against one Hall of Famer while another Hall of Famer waits in a nearby zone.

Figure 4: Burn This Aromathearpy Candle

Figure 4 has Aromashodu split wide left. Where is Harvin? The last two plays were a one-yard run and a penalty, so if he needed a breather, he got one. Maybe the Vikings really want to sell a running play with their personnel selection. Anyway, Aromashodu. He’s the only player running a route on this play. There are two tight ends to the right, but neither is going to leak into the flat for an outlet pass. Nope, Christian Ponder has two choices: throw to Aromashodu, or try to run.

Aromatherapy is covered by Champ Bailey (24) one-on-one. He does not get open. Brian Dawkins (20) is the force defender to the offensive right. Once the play rolls away from him, he becomes a backside zone defender, taking away the scrambling option and prowling for tight ends who leak into the flat. Typically, a play like this makes Dawkins’ job harder by making him account for Shiancoe or somebody. With no receivers to worry about, Dawkins can patrol the space between Ponder and Aromashodu and take away options. Dawkins and Bailey have lost a step from their glory days, but this play makes it incredibly easy for each of them to do their respective jobs.

So Ponder decides that he does not want to get hit by Wolverine and tries to thread the ball to what’s-his-face. The clock stops. The Vikings attempt two more passes that eat up no time. Welcome to holiday rerun season for Tim Tebow and the Broncos.

The Vikings are guilty of numerous sins on these two plays: using Harvin in weird ways or not using him at all, getting too carried away with the multi-tight end formations, and innovating the one-receiver pass pattern. With a rookie quarterback under center and Adrian Peterson hurt, they can be forgiven for trying some new concepts. That said, they need to go back to the drawing board, after burning these plays!

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The book is funny. It’s unique. It’s tight. And if you buy it, I make money. So grab it as a stocking stuffer!

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 07 Dec 2011

35 comments, Last at 13 Dec 2011, 12:04am by tuluse

Comments

1
by Intropy :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 1:23am

Morris went to SUNY Housediddle, too? Sweet.

27
by CaffeineMan :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 5:02pm

Usually I let stuff like this go by without exposing my combination of age and ignorance, but it made me laugh enough that I just gotta ask: Is this a reference I'm missing? I searched for it and found nothing.

28
by Intropy :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 9:36pm

Not that I know. It's just the rare written joke that makes me burst out laughing, and I wanted to participate.

2
by IAmJoe :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 3:35am

As a college dropout, I gotta say, I think I really might've liked a college experience at Housediddle.

3
by Will Allen :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 8:54am

Back when the Bengals weren't being sabotaged by their owner continually, I attended a Indiana/Minnesota college basketball game, and had tickets behind the Hoosiers bench. At one point in the game, the Hoosiers got a steal and fast break basket, and the Hoosier player who dunked did a little shimmy and pointed at the Minnesota crowd, which had been heckling him the whole game. Bobby Knight called timeout, and when the dunking player got to the bench, Knight got in his grill, and screamed with Knightian ferocity, "Who the F--K do you think you are? F--KING Ickey F--KING Woods!!!!!!!! I wish Tanier had been available to explain possible meanings.

As to other matters, Harvin could have a tremendous career if he used right. Here's to hoping it happens.

4
by Veloso :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 9:03am

I can see your point about the New York Times. "Suck for Mr. Luck" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

18
by Intropy :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 4:23pm

Being for to benefit off Mr. Luck?

5
by NHPats (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 9:03am

For goodness sake, the man played quarterback for Bo Schembechler. What were you expecting?

6
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 9:34am

Walker isn't quite as bad in the open field as Tanier suggests, he was used as our kick returner last year and he has a 77 yard TD return in the preseason to his name. Though to be fair I should point out that we also used Michael Robinson as a kick returner and that wasn't much of a plan either, it's nice to have a competent coach nowadays.

7
by Bill (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 9:40am

Can we make requests for even one scene from Glengary Glen DVOA in a future scramble?

8
by NHPats (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 10:26am

Steak knives.

9
by andrew :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 10:27am

Can we do "Burn this play" for defenses? Or are those too obvious...

14
by Harris :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 12:49pm

Tanier already said he's not going to write much about the Eagles for the rest of the season.

16
by Vince Verhei :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 2:21pm

Well played, sir.

10
by CathyW :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 10:55am

Awesome as always. Thanks, Mike!

11
by Dean :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 11:14am

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but Mike's not bullshitting about the book. It really is that good, and no, you don't need to be from Philly to appreciate it.

12
by Led :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 11:30am

In this column, Tanier writes f__ks and leaves.

EDIT: Crap. I just saw the teaser on the homepage, which eliminates whatever modest cleverness my comment may have had.

13
by Anonymous99x (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 11:38am

lol @ Aromatherapy

15
by zenbitz :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 2:04pm

I don't know how much other teams (teams with new coaches/offenses?) do this, but Harbaugh seems pretty obsessed with getting wacky plays on film. The tackle eligible pass & DT-playing-fullback pass. The zillion end-arounds (they actually ran _3_ end arounds in the Rams game, and they all went for 10+). They even ran the triple option once last Sunday (Smith kept it). I assume the Wildcat counter is something similar, although given the susceptibility of the Rams to the end around misdirections, they probably thought the counter would work. They have run very few Wildcat plays this year... I want to say 2-3 at the most.

About the FGs - it does seem that the Niners go into pure turnover avoidance mode when they reach the endzone. It's obviously worked to date, and the only game they were trailing by > 10 points they came back and won (thanks to Eagleshenanigans). In general, I think their offense is frankly not very good, and it's probably only average on pure misdirection and strategy (passing out of running sets)

17
by BucNasty :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 3:08pm

The "f__k" is dubbed out but the "yeah" is still in there:

http://www.buccaneers.com/multimedia/videos/HC-Raheem-Morris-Press-Confe...

Skip to about 1:30 for the good stuff.

19
by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 6:04pm

Coach Morris couldn't help himself - He'd just watched "Team America: World Police" the night before. Catchy tune.

20
by Boots Day :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 7:15pm

Speaking of all those field goal attempts, does anyone know the record for the missed field goals missed by a kicker in one game? Chris Bahr missed five in a game for the 1980 Raiders against the Chargers. Even though the Raiders lost in OT, Bahr didn't lose his job; in fact, he kicked for nine more years after that.

Anyway, five missed field goals seems like a bunch. Has anyone ever missed more than that?

21
by felden :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 8:25pm

Five missed field goals has happened a number of times; Paul Horning went 0-5 in one game, for example.

In 1966, Jim Bakken of the Rams went one-for-seven in a game against the Falcons, so six missed fieldgoals in one game. While I can't find anything official, that seems to be the record.

Bakken also holds the record for the most field goal attempts in one game the next year, going 7 for 9 against the Steelers.

22
by felden :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 8:31pm

Err...of the Cardinals, not the Rams. Saw "STL", brain jumped to this decade, not the 60s.

26
by Boots Day :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 12:58am

Thanks! That was the first season for the expansion Falcons, no doubt adding to Bakken's chagrin.

29
by Tom Gower :: Sat, 12/10/2011 - 2:38am

Even in the expanded digital information section, the current NFL Record & Fact Book does not record most missed field goals in a game. PFR has game logs back to at least 1960 and Bakken's 6 missed field goals are the most in that span. The last player to miss five field goals in a single game is the Broncos' Fred Steinfort, who went 1-6 in a 9-7 win over the Raiders in 1981. This PFR query shows all kickers in their database who made no more than one field goal on at least five attempts.

30
by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2011 - 12:51pm

"Fred Steinfort, who went 1-6 in a 9-7 win over the Raiders in 1981"

If Steinfort made a field goal, and his team ended up with 9 total points, then he must also have either missed an extra point, or gotten benched. Either way, sounds like quite an outing.

31
by Air Holland (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2011 - 4:29pm

His team went for two and failed. And his made field goal came later, so I doubt he was benched at that point.

Weird that the Broncos went for two, though, after a touchdown to make it 7-6 in the first quarter.

32
by clark :: Mon, 12/12/2011 - 10:28pm

The NFL didn't have the two point conversion until the mid 90s. It was probably a botched snap that turned into a pass attempt.

33
by tuluse :: Mon, 12/12/2011 - 11:02pm

That can't be fully correct. The Bears were forced to go for 2 in the championship game against the Redskins because they started running out of balls. That was in the 40s.

34
by Jerry :: Mon, 12/12/2011 - 11:59pm

According to p-f-r's boxscore for the 1940 championship game, the pass for conversion was only worth one point. The AFL had two-point conversions, but the NFL didn't adopt them until 1994.

35
by tuluse :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 12:04am

Oh, they had conversion attempts, but just 1 point. That makes more sense.

23
by Mood_Indigo (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 9:44pm

Mike

That Ginn run for 16 yards is more than an end-around. It's called the fly-sweep. Ginn gets the hand-off at almost full speed. Here are a couple of links with more on this play:
http://www.csnbayarea.com/blog/niners-talk/post/Fly-on-the-wall-Harbaugh...
http://blog.sfgate.com/49ers/2011/12/07/49ers-use-plays-from-offense-rar...

24
by Mike Tanier :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 10:09pm

Thanks! It looks similar to a play generally called a Jet Sweep at lower levels. But he's an end, and he is running around, so I kind of like to use the general terms.

25
by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 11:32pm

weill look for The Phiklly Fan's Code ins tore. If like will buy. If not will not. Have to see if can handle Phialdelphia stuff. Main issue there.