Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

02 Jun 2011

Tricky Offenses Could Be Casualties of Lockout

Figuring out what makes a "complex" offense is impossible without knowing each team's terminology, playbook size, concepts, and so on. Still, we can make some good guesses using Game Charting. In this article, I come up with a Simplicity Score, which I think is a pretty good indicator of how complicated an offense really is, despite some obvious limitations.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 02 Jun 2011

25 comments, Last at 09 Jun 2011, 3:44am by the cat in the box is dead


by jimbohead :: Thu, 06/02/2011 - 4:32pm

It's interesting, but I think the metric could be improved. I seriously doubt that trick plays and really weird formations are a good barometer of offense complexity. Also, I wonder about the degree to which 3rd quarter runs while ahead are truly "free-will" runs. Perhaps a better metric would be formation diversity? something like % of plays in #1, 2, 3 most common formations, and number of formations with more than 5% occurrence. All wrapped in a neat little formula, with a cool name like "SMo"! (simplicity metric - offense)

by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Thu, 06/02/2011 - 5:20pm

You have variants though like the Oregon offense (and I believe New Orleans' offense) which runs relatively few plays, but from an absurd number of alignments.

It's schematically simple, but hell to defend because it never starts in the same place.

by Sophandros :: Fri, 06/03/2011 - 12:05pm

Something else the Saints do is run out so many different personnel packages, especially at the start of the game. And I'm not just talking about going 3 WR, 1 TE,
1 RB on one play and 2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB the next; rather, I'm saying that they'll do that AND drastically change who those players are and align them in different places on a particular play. For example, 3WR/1TE with Bush as your lone back is a different look for the defense than it is with Ivory as your lone back, even if they are in the same formation once they break the huddle.
Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

by Hank Hardy Unruh (not verified) :: Thu, 06/02/2011 - 4:33pm

Those poor Packers will have a hell of a time integrating all their new players into such a complex system.

by Independent George :: Fri, 06/03/2011 - 2:56pm

I'm thinking more about the Colts, with their two poor rookie linemen having to deal with Peyton's yammering.

"Goddammit... EVERYBODY!!!"

by drobviousso :: Thu, 06/02/2011 - 4:39pm

Can you post the raw numbers for every team here?

by BaronFoobarstein :: Thu, 06/02/2011 - 9:12pm

I wonder if there is a correlation between simplicity score and offensive dvoa.

by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Thu, 06/02/2011 - 5:23pm

I would think teams with many returning vets and the same coaching staff would be pretty immune to the effects of this.

Young teams and new coaches are screwed, though.

by ppabich :: Thu, 06/02/2011 - 7:36pm

While the Packers offense might be tricky, for the most part, the Packers will return all their offensive players except for, 4th receiver, left guard, and 3rd down back. I would think, that the difficulty in learning the offense will be mitigated by having almost the whole offense returning.

I would not be surprised if early season rookie involvement is at a minimum. However, isn't that a good thing? Rookies not contributing until late in the season will expand the play-book, as the season progresses. Inserting players like Alex Green and D.J. Williams into the mix late in the season could cause problems for opposing defenses.

All in all, I feel the Packers, even with a difficult offensive scheme, will come out of this lock-out better than other teams.

by Jim D (not verified) :: Thu, 06/02/2011 - 11:39pm

I'd wager 3rd down backs feature heavily in the play population for this analysis.

by ppabich :: Thu, 06/02/2011 - 11:54pm

really? Heavily? I would say a 'decent amount' at most. And if not having your 3rd down back is all you are worrying about, i'm sure you are doing ok.

Kuhn should be one guy to resign, and he could do a decent Brandon Jackson impression. Or if he leaves, Grant is pretty decent as well.

by Dan :: Thu, 06/02/2011 - 8:42pm

I agree - stability seems far more important than simplicity.

by buzzorhowl (not verified) :: Thu, 06/02/2011 - 5:44pm

Maybe I'm crazy, but I think I caught a Beastie Boys lyrical reference in there.

"...chasing women on TV with the help of Chuck Woolery."

by JasonK :: Thu, 06/02/2011 - 9:27pm

Probably the biggest element of complexity isn't in formations or playcalling as shown on the field. It's in the degree to which offenses require players to read the defense and alter what they're doing based on what they see. OCs or QBs adjusting line calls; QBs reading coverages and fronts to audible; RBs shifting their block/release assignments; WRs/TEs reading coverages and adjusting their routes in the way that the QB expects them to. All of that is a lot harder to teach than blocking assignments on an end-around, and none of it is discernable from the play-by-play.

The Colts or Giants are probably good examples here. Not much formation variety and extremely rare gimmick plays, but the WRs all have to be where their respective Manning expects them to be, which is often not necessarily what was called in the huddle (if there was one).

by justanothersteve :: Thu, 06/02/2011 - 11:50pm

I agree with those who stated that continuity will be more important than complexity. Therefore, teams with lots of turnover from last year (players and coaches) will be at a disadvantage both offensively and defensively. Plus, I don't really agree with the definition of what makes an offense simple or complex. When the Packers go from empty backfield to 3 RBs, the only constants are the OL and QB. Everybody else only needs to know their roles for the play they are on the field.

by Deelron :: Fri, 06/03/2011 - 5:40am

I'm a little shocked that the 49ers offense that consisted of mostly "RB off tackle" for much of the year didn't rank higher.

by the cat in the box is dead (not verified) :: Sat, 06/04/2011 - 5:30am

Interesting thought. As a died-in-the-wool Eagles fan who has done his fair share of hair-tearing when Reid and Mornhinweg get down to the goal line and call some wacky, motion-heavy gimmick and see it get stuffed, my immediate thought is 'they won't be able to do that any more? Maybe they'll have to get back to basics a little.'

I guess it's hard to argue that, say, the Saints or the Packers are doing a bad job with all that gimmickry, but I find myself thinking that a little enforced simplicity will actually be a good thing for some coaches across the league.

by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 06/06/2011 - 6:28am

If this lockout forces Andy Reid to run on third and inches, then it's all been worth it.

by tuluse :: Mon, 06/06/2011 - 7:04am

You think the Eagles will have time to practice such a little used gimmick as running the ball?

by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Mon, 06/06/2011 - 4:50pm

The expression "dyed in the wool" refers to a state of steadfastness, especially with respect to one's political, religious or social beliefs. The expression comes from the fact that fabric can be dyed in a number of ways. The woven fabric may be dyed after it is complete, or the threads may be dyed before they are woven. When a color is "dyed in the wool," the wool itself is dyed before being spun into threads, so the colour is least likely to fade or change. (Dyes: Webster’s Quotations, Facts and Phrases. Icon Group International. 2008

by the cat in the box is dead (not verified) :: Thu, 06/09/2011 - 3:44am

If that was sarcasm based on a minor typo, that was pretty obtuse and almost indistinguishable from weird spam. Congratulations!

by skibrett15 :: Mon, 06/06/2011 - 5:12pm

Interesting enough read. While the complexity of an offense really shouldn't be measured by "trick plays," the concept is pretty good. Looking at the eagles Desean Jackson end-around... the eagles run end around action a TON. Whether or not they pass on the play, hand off to McCoy, or give it off to desean jackson, the complexity is probably the same. Just because they handed it off to Jackson 18 times doesn't make that play any more complex than the simple dive up the middle followed by a fake end around to jackson. Something the game charters recorded as just that: "McCoy run right guard for 6 yards".

If the goal was to isolate the teams who require more reps to learn their scheme... turnover in players is a big part of that (as has been said above).

by tuluse :: Mon, 06/06/2011 - 5:37pm

I don't think the point was that trick plays are more complicated than normal plays (though one could argue that, there is a reason they're so rare), but that teams that run a good amount of trick plays have to practice them in addition to their normal pkays. Whereas a team like the Titans have fewer plays they run. So even if every play had equal complexity having additional plays makes the playbook more complicated.

by skibrett15 :: Mon, 06/06/2011 - 6:34pm

I guess that's true, but most trick plays (fake punts/fgs excepted) are run off of other concepts. Take the saints who used to run a lot of WR screens. They ran a trick/complex play off a basic screen concept where they would fake screen right, fake screen left, then hit david thomas/shockey/evan moore up the seam when the safeties started biting hard on their screen concepts. FO ran an article on these layered playcalling concepts that built on each other. Isn't that the type of thing we are going to see less of? The browns are still gonna push the wildcat with cribbs, the packers are still gonna run out of full house, but I think what suffers first are these advanced plays which are put in as a response to the Defense's natural response.

by the cat in the box is dead (not verified) :: Thu, 06/09/2011 - 3:41am

Yeah, it's all those complex shifts and misdirections that previous plays are meant to have set up that would suffer, but also the the stuff that requires lots of repetition. Stuff like the DeSean Jackson end-arounds are pretty straightforward, and the kind of thing players will have been running since high school.

Of course, I can almost imagine that some coaches, given this much time to scheme, may go the other way entirely. If you told me that Bill Belichick was locked in a room somewhere drawing up play after play, gnawing the carpet and going slowly insane, I wouldn't be surprised.