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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Complex v/s Simple; Conservative v/s Simple

Very interesting to read ongoing discussion about the changes in scheme, and that’s one of the great things about regime change in the NFL – the newness extends out to the systems and why the new system is going to be ‘better’. I don’t mean that derisively toward the new coaches – I legitimately like what both coordinators have installed. Past that there’s a relative guarantee that any well coached team will have success, and that change to a new system brings an initial bump of play from players who were ground down in the last one.

But we’re definitely more complex this year, a bit of an issue that has cost coaches the ability to install plays with young players. The offense is significantly pared down, and the defense may not be able to work in much multiple-front defense (3-4 looks, moving personnel around, and things like the newer fads – Psycho defense, one or two DL type sets). A simpler set might’ve been almost fully installed by now.

Some of this is prompted by this very good article about the implementation of a simple philosophy coach (Tom Moore) into the world of a young quarterback and OC combo (Mark Sanchez/Brian Schottenheimer). The Jets are a Coryell team like us, and because that means 100 ways to do one thing, it definitely clashes with the ideals Moore uses (which allowed a quarterback more options on the field).

Story here:

In that, you see that success is the end goal, and scheme isn’t.

Steve Smith, for instance, has legitimate gripes about some things. Maybe in past years he lined up at Split End/ X receiver too often. I’m sure the Dan Henning years meant Smith at X, a middling tight end or Ricky Proehl as the inside option (to QB’s right), and Muhsin Muhammad or inadequate stand-in at the flanker/Z receiver. Smith had a lot of success at that. Last year, having had the ability to chart some plays for a company interested in such a thing, Smith did actually move around a lot, and obviously spent a lot more time in the slot than he had since becoming a starter in 2002 (If I remember right, even as a reserve in 2001, he got mostly outside plays), and he did move sides of the field a lot. Of course, in the article above, you read that Marvin Harrison sat at the X, Reggie Wayne at the Z, and that’s just how it was. That seemed to work out allright. It seemed to work that Smith’s best years were being stuck over there on the left side – it’s not as if he went to the Super Bowl running all over the field in motion, or won the Triple Crown in 2005 working from the slot.

It brings up, extended from that, whether the criticized offense from 2010 was held back from greater success because it lacked creativity. More to the point, was simplicity the problem?

Being conservative certainly hurt, as it likely did for much of John Fox’s tenure. But was simplicity part of it? It seems that conservative play would’ve been the right thing for a timid, unready rookie quarterback.

Clausen’s conservative nature didn’t help, either. He rarely displayed his deep arm last year (even Brian St. Pierre – remember him? – could, having thrown an 88 yard TD against the Ravens’ solid defense), and the one thing John Fox definitely wants is to lure you to sleep on offense and eventually take a deep shot (especially if you ever get to the opponents’ 35, or directly after a turnover). Clausen did more dumping off than most, and yet was still inaccurate on shorter passes, completing under 60% of them. Even Matt Moore completed over 80% short.

On the complex side, Jeff Davidson gets a bad rap. Certainly, he needed to go down with the ship, but play design wasn’t of the most timid; I often read things like “we need to line Dante Rosario up wide”, and can immediately remember that happening many times. I read all these exotic things that seemed improbable, and unlikely to work ideas that fans stated Davidson wouldn’t ever do – I remember specifically a 3rd and 12 from Carolina’s own 15, trailing on the road against Cleveland in a game they almost won. Clearly, John Fox draw territory. It was a 3 WR, shotgun formation, atypical of draw formations; it had max protect with two backs, again atypical of a Panther team that kept 2 TE on the field more than almost anyone. Scissors draw to Rosario. Of course that seems like a bad place to give a guy his first NFL carry, but there’s strategy to it.

Of course, none of that excuses a lack of execution, or an owner’s decree that we needed more youth that meant having no veteran players outside Steve Smith in the passing game. Two rookie receivers and a rookie quarterback is, at the least, something that tends toward confusion rather than success. None of it excuses Davidson’s biggest failure over the tenure, the screen game he promised would open things up (and the easiest misdirection pass to execute if you drill it right). The Pats ran it flawlessly, and this was that sytem. We were given the idea that there were tons of ways to run it, with various players; already it feels like we’re a better screen team than we were over those four years.

In the end, you have to tailor to what works. It’s good to see that there’s apparently some one-read stuff in Cam Newton’s future – hopefully not too much – and that some Wildcat will be out there. I’ve got mixed feelings about the option, but as long as it doesn’t cost us points in the redzone (the assumed place you’d throw a read option in), it fits what we can do. if that means that Sean McDermott has to be oversighted on exotic blitzes, do it (I’ll say our LBs are experienced enough to handle it, though); if you’re running with a young QB you don’t have to pull out all 900 pages of playbook.

So, maybe the lockout benefits a complex team afterall – the necessity of short time creating a more compact, more simple philosophy. For this year, anyway.
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