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Vikings’ Defense is Preparing for Play-Action to Trend in 2019

We know that play-action is generally more efficient than other pass plays. But now that defensive coordinators have that information, what can they do to counter the strategy?

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6 comments, Last at 05 Aug 2019, 10:47pm

1 "So while the data may prove…

"So while the data may prove that quality of running game doesn’t impact play-action success, stopping first-down runs to force second and third-and-long situations is key."

Good to hear there's still a point in using the PA. It's super effective according to the numbers, especially with Cousins and Rivers. I never understood FO's rationale in saying a good run game does not make PA plays any more or less effective. When considering all the variables and now with RPO success, the threat of a run can catch a defense out of position - making them less aggressive; so doesn't that mean PA success is determined first from their ability to run the ball?

2 I never understood FO's…

I never understood FO's rationale in saying a good run game does not make PA plays any more or less effective. When considering all the variables and now with RPO success, the threat of a run can catch a defense out of position - making them less aggressive; so doesn't that mean PA success is determined first from their ability to run the ball?

I think the research showed that play action is equally effective no matter how well the running game has been up to that point (i.e. teams with weak running games get the same bump on play action plays as teams with strong running games).

The idea is that it's the threat of any run that makes play action effective, not the threat of a good run.

3 And the major splits that we…

And the major splits that we do observe in play action success tend to be related to the formation (less successful in shotgun than under center), down and distance (less successful on 3rd and long), and game situation (less successful when trailing by two scores). Basically, all situations where the defense believes the offense is less likely to run, or where a run play isn't likely to help the offense keep a drive alive or win the game whether or not the defense leaves it open to them.

5 Yeah, some of this is pretty…

Yeah, some of this is pretty obvious when it's stated out like this. But the reason I think these findings are important is that so few offenses understand right now how they can get an edge by taking advantage of what defenses are expecting based on the game situation, or even just how the defense lines up. Recall this very good analysis from last January showing how far and away the most significant factor in rushing success is how many (or few) defenders are lined up in the box.

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-secret-to-the-rams-blocking-success-isnt-the-linemen-its-sean-mcvay/

Yes, this finding is very intuitive - who'da thunk it? But so few teams have adapted their strategy and playcalling to account for this. One example - how many teams continue to bring in extra blockers to run the ball on 3rd and short, even though all that's doing is tipping off the defense on how much more likely a run play is, and then putting them in a better position to stop it? Extend this to 1st and 10 - running is inefficient (and PA passing is particularly efficient) in this situation in part because defenses still prioritize stopping the run. And it's understandable why they do - no defense wants to leave itself open to a steady diet of 6 yard gains on 1st and 10 - but if that's what the defense is going to prioritize, take advantage of it. Lots of similar analysis showing that passing out of 2 tight end sets creates an edge... this is all still there for offenses to take advantage of.

6 Obviously, the numbers are…

Obviously, the numbers are the numbers, but it makes me despair for human intellect if highly paid profressionals don't yet grasp that the fundamental of football management is to 1) have better players at every point of contention, which would result in strategy becoming a very secondary matter, or 2) failing that, have better players at enough spots that, combined with the opposition being less certain of what they need to compensate for, you get consistently favorable matchups that allow you to be confident of ultimate success.

Then again, I once witnessed Wade Phillips vs. David  Shula in the Super Bowl, so maybe at least a little despair for the human intellect is reasonable, at least some of the time.