Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Parity in Women's Football?

NOTE: This topic recently came up in a Twitter exchange. Please remember that these opinions are mine alone, and may not (probably don’t in fact) reflect those of the San Diego Surge, the WFA or any other WFA team.

In the women’s game (and also in the men’s semipro level) sometimes there are a lot of blow out games. No one likes those – certainly not the team getting beat up and normally not the team that is doing the blowing out (I say normally because sometimes there is bad blood between two teams, but that’s another story). Yes, your backups get more playing time than normal, but in the end it doesn’t really prepare you for the tests that come later in the year –your “Week 10” opponent.

The question then is what to do about the lack of parity? For me, and I would hope any competitor, the answer is clear – pull the lesser teams up. Help them get better. Heck, that’s the main reason why I’m writing this blog, to give ideas and resources to those who might need them.

There are others who say the way to increase parity is to dumb the game down – eliminate special teams for instance, so that teams can spend more time practicing just offense and defense. Also, they want to eliminate blitzing, so that teams can simplify their pass protection.

Basically, they want to play by Pro Bowl types of rules.

Let me say this: The way to make something better is not to mold it to the lowest common denominator, but to the highest. When businesses in an association discuss practices, they take the “best practices” not the worst. That’s how they get better.

Teams that are good put in the work. They don’t look for rules crutches to equal the playing field. Teams that want to be good put in the work and are willing to take their lumps as long as they are getting better. See for example the Central Cal War Angels who have been getting better each year of their existence and beating us in the playoffs last year. They didn’t start off very well. Heck, we (as the SoCal Scorpions) didn’t post a winning record until 2005 (3-7 in ’03, 1-9 in ’04), but ended up winning the WPFL national championship in 2007).

In 2011 and 2012, we were pretty good, reaching the national championship both years. In 2011, we lost to a very-well coached Boston team in the finals. It forced us to re-look at what we did, and we vowed that if everything else was equal, we’d install thing that would beat Boston. We ended up not playing them, but it gave us a focus and a sense of urgency in 2012 that paid off.

In 2012, many people said that the best women’s game of all time was played in Heinz Field in front of an ESPN3 audience, with us beating Chicago 40-36 on the strength of special teams – a kickoff return for a TD, a punt return for a TD, and then pinning them on the 5 on the ensuing kickoff. The Chicago coach (John Konecki, I’ve mentioned him previously as well) told me later that they changed their approach to coaching ST because of that game. Chicago went on to win the national championship in 2013.

That is what champions and those who aspire to be champions do. They find a way to improve themselves.

In 2013, we had a roster of 28 players, 12 of which were complete, never-played-the-game-before rookies. We had to go both ways, we had to limit our practice time, we had to simplify things. We had to be better teachers. We went 9-2, losing in the second round of the playoffs. We didn’t make excuses, we didn’t look for shortcuts, we just went out and competed. At some point, just like in 2011, we ran into a team that was better than us, period. That’s football; that’s life. Not everyone wins or gets a medal.

There are teams out there that are not good right now. Whether it is coaching or a lack of players, they just aren’t good. If it is coaching, then sooner or later either those coaches will improve themselves, or they’ll get fired. If it is players, then at some point the owner will step up marketing efforts and attract more players. The players will buy in to the coaches’ scheme and program and they’ll turn it around. There are several parts to a successful team. 

But again, let me be clear: Good teams will remain good teams with or without special teams, with or without blitzing and with or without any other silly rule modification you want to make.

If you tell us that we can’t run ST, so the lesser teams can devote more time to offense and defense, but guess what? So can we. If you tell us we can’t blitz, fine. Our DL technique will be top notch and we’ll lead the league in interceptions. That would be our attitude. Meanwhile, the same people that are complaining about how lame the Pro Bowl rules are would be complaining about our games.

Dumbing down the game because someone feels the women can’t handle the full gamut of rules (and yes, I’ve only heard men saying this) would not decrease the amount of blowouts. A talent deficiency is still a talent deficiency and a good coach will find a way to excel within the rules, while a poor coach won’t. Simple as that.

We’re getting more and more good coaches at the women’s level. Heck, Boston’s coaches have won games in the NFL. Dallas and Chicago’s have both won state high school championships. I’ve seen plenty of others (Central Cal, Seattle, Fresno, Las Vegas, Kansas City and Pittsburgh to name a few) that really tweak things to work in their favor – they do a great job with what they have.

Sorry if this has been sort of a rant, but I just don’t get those who would hold the game back – whether it be from a lack of effort or an assumption that the game itself has to be changed. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Pass Protection Scheme 101 - Part 2

Last week I talked about two forms of pass protection, man and scat. This week I want to go into the two variants of slide protections.

Full Slide
What it is: Full slide is a six-man protection where the entire offensive line “slides” in one direction or another. Normally, a RB/FB will fill on the side away from the slide (OL slides right, RB fills on the left). When utilizing this, I teach my OL that they are responsible for the space “from their nose to the nose of their partner”.

Pros: I think the plusses are many for a full slide – it is easy to teach as it doesn’t matter what the defensive alignment is, the OL doesn’t have to think. They only have to protect their area. As always, there are technique issues that come into play, but they are minimal. A full slide protects well against teams that like to blitz inside, as you have true OL filling those A gaps.

Cons: You have to commit 6 blockers. For that reason alone, I rarely use it unless a team insists on blitzing inside and we have no other way to counter that. Also, it tends to work better for 3-step drops because although the interior is solidified, depending on the matchup between your back and the edge rusher s/he is assigned to, you may not have time for the QB to take a full 5-step drop and look around. While a tailback may be OK against a 3-4 OLB (again, check your scouting reports), I highly doubt they’d stack up well against a 4-3 DE.

Half Slide
What it is: A combination of man on one side, and slide on the other. Generally speaking, the slide would start with the first uncovered OL. For example, versus a standard 3-4 alignment, let’s say the line is sliding right (the direction of the slide can be determined by play call, scouting report, center/QB communication, etc.). The LT would be manned up against the DE. The LG would be the first uncovered OL, so would start the slide. Therefore, you would have the LG, C, RG and RT for the NG, Mike, DE and Sam. The RB would have a dual read to the left, from Plug to Will.

Let’s say you had a 4-3 look. The LT would have the DE, the LG would have the DT. The C is the first uncovered, so starts the slide – you have the C, RG and RT for the DT, DE and Sam. The RB would have the Mike to the Will inside out.

Some teams free release the RB and run a blitz beater package to a predetermined side, away from the slide.
Also, when first installing this, it may be helpful to have the OL call out “covered (LT), covered (LG), slide right (C)” in the 4-3 example. At the high school level, we ended up doing that in game as well. We just had to make sure we made the same calls when doing a play-action pass.

Pros: Overall, this is a very fundamentally sound protection. Assuming the direction of the slide is easily communicated, it is relatively easy for the players to determine who they have or are responsible for. I’ve used this protection very successfully at all levels – high school, women’s and men’s semi pro. You see it throughout the collegiate and pro ranks.

Cons: It can be a little weak against a 4-3 or 4-2 team that likes to blitz inside. In those cases, the RB must be a stud and forcefully step up to meet the inside blitz. In Pistol sets this can be problematic. However, the use of the RB and the backside receivers in a blitz beater package can alleviate this if the QB is well-drilled in blitz situations.

There is one more protection that may still be floating around – the old “cup” protection, where everyone covers their inside gap and the RB’s fill in to the outside. I personally haven’t used or taught this one in several years as I hate what it means: you can’t protect your QB and need seven blockers to do it. Yes, it’s a pride thing.

Basically, you are blocking for a field goal. It does take 7 blockers, so you’re running a 3-man route at best. Make sure your RB’s are coming inside-out on the edge rushers. I suppose if you’re normally a running team and don’t have the time in practice to drill pass pro, this would be OK. But from a philosophical standpoint, this protection just makes my teeth itch.

That’s it….this has been a very high level overview of the various protections out there. There are certain schematic adjustments that may need to be made to some of them (especially in man and scat), and dual-reading by both an OL or RB’s take some drilling, but it can be done. There ARE ways to keep your QB upright, mobile and throwing with confidence.

Please note that I’ll be out on vacation next week, so look for the next update on January 29. Feel free to let me know about topics you’d like to see covered! See ya!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pass Protection Scheme 101 - Part 1

OK, enough with the Christmas wishes and New Year’s Resolutions – back to some nuts and bolts of offense!

Many newer offensive line coaches (and perhaps some veteran ones) ask about different types of pass protection. I’ll go over the four main types on a rather high level and try to explain the base scheme and the pros and cons of each. This week I’ll cover man and scat schemes. Next week will be slide variants.

What it is: Man protection is just that – “You have that guy, and you have that guy.” Generally speaking, the idea is to handle the “four big guys and Mike” (middle linebacker). Your tackles will be manned up against the DE’s, the guards will be manned up against the DT’s and the center would have the Mike if he blitzes. On some teams this is also called “BOB” protection – Big On Big.

Running backs would be responsible in some form or fashion for the OLBs, either by blocking them or by running their routes to draw the OLBs out in coverage.

Pros: This scheme is easy to implement as a coach and easy to understand as a player. Many players, in my experience, prefer this scheme as they don’t have to think very much and just need to handle their guy.

Cons: Although easy to implement on paper, I think it is tougher to execute on the field due to stunts, twists and possible alignment issues. For instance, let’s say you have a 3 technique outside your LG, the Mike is showing blitz head up/inside shade over the LG, and then you have a 1 technique inside your RG. Because the center is responsible for the blitzing Mike, he’s got to set towards him thereby leaving the RG on a serious island with the 1 technique threatening his inside. Are there adjustments you can make? Sure – but then you’re getting away from the simplicity of the scheme, and should just transition over to one of the other schemes I’m going to describe. Otherwise you’ll find yourself with endless adjustments being made and your players will become confused. In my opinion man schemes are best suited for All Star games where there is little practice and no blitzing allowed.

What it is: “Scat” protection (as far as I can tell, this name originated with Ernie Zampese, the OC for Air Coryell and the Chargers back in the day), mans up the tackles but has the guards and center working in combination with one another. In the book “The Blind Side” author Michael Lewis describes how Bill Walsh neutralized Lawrence Taylor by using a version of the Scat protection.

In a nutshell, versus a 4-3 look, the two guards and the center would take the 2 DT’s and MLB. The center would set towards either a 1-technique alignment or a dominant player, depending on game plan and scouting. If the Mike was showing outside one of the DT’s, then the center would set for the DT and the guard would take the Mike. So it is a 3-man zone. If there were 2 RB’s, then they would take the OLB’s. If there was only one, then the center would have to make a call and “dual read” Mike to Will or Mike to Sam and the RB would take the other OLB.
Versus a 3-4 look, the tackles are still manned up. There would be a 2-man zone between one of the guards and the center, working NG to the designated ILB. The other guard would have a dual read, Mike to Sam or Plug to Will. If one RB, he takes the unaccounted for (by the dual read) OLB. If two RB’s they work outside-in, knowing that one of them will overlap protection with the dual reading guard.

Pros: This is a pretty fundamentally sound protection. It can work with almost any kind of personnel package – 2 RB, 1 TE; 1 RB, 1 TE; 2 RB or 1 RB with no TE. You can account for up to 7 defenders, and throw hot if they all come.

Cons: It can be complex to install, with multiple calls and tags sometimes being necessary to make coordinate the TE and RB blocking responsibilities. There’s a reason that this came from the NFL! I’ve used it successfully at the high school level, and been able to simplify it down to one version in the women’s game, but we only used one personnel package with it.  I’ve never attempted to even install it in the men’s game. There are also some technique issues that need to be taught to the guards/centers in terms of drilling the dual read that are normally second nature for tackles, but more foreign to the interior linemen. But if installed and drilled properly, it is rock-solid schematically! 

That concludes Part 1 of Pass Pro 101 – next week I’ll talk about slide protection and it’s variants. As always, hit me up with any questions!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

For players:
I WILL carry the ball ALL THE WAY over the goal line before I start celebrating!

When I score a touchdown, I will recognize the other 10 people who made it possible.

I will NOT be caught smiling at any point after being called for a stupid personal foul that kills (or extends) a drive.

If I am a teammate of a person who gets called for a stupid personal foul, I will NOT go up to him/her and say anything along the lines of “it’s OK”. No, it’s not. Stop doing stupid things that hurt the team.

If I claim to “love the game” I will show it by having a true passion for the game, instead of only passion “for” games. That means taking seriously practices, workouts, film study and chalk talks.

If I’m getting coached, I will NOT say, “That’s what I did.” No, you didn’t. If you did I’d be patting you on the butt instead of chewing it out.

I will not talk to anyone else when a coach is talking to my group or the team. Basic respect and courtesy.

For coaches:
I will be organized in my practices and drills. Indecision and looks of confusion erode trust of the players.

When I coach to correct, I will give specifics. Telling a player to simply “hit someone” doesn’t help (unless the player really didn’t hit anyone, which does happen).

I will praise publicly and criticize privately whenever possible.

I will not discourage questions, and will gladly answer in detail. However, the players have to know there is a time and place for everything. Generally speaking, 0:20 left in the game, and down by 4 is not the time for lengthy discussions.

I will admit I whenever I was wrong.

I will listen to players’ suggestions. It may not be feasible to act on all (or any) of them, but if they’ve taken the effort to think them through, then you have the responsibility (and give them the courtesy) of listening. There is no faster way to have players tune you out than to have them think you don’t listen to their concerns and ideas.

I will not talk to anyone else when another coach is talking to my group or the team. Basic respect and courtesy. We demand it from the players, we should demonstrate it as coaches.

Happy New Year – may 2014 bring you and your team enormous personal and professional success!