Browns’ new defense already out-dated?

NFL’s elite last season used one of the two apparent foundations of Kelly’s Oregon offense — either the up-tempo no-huddle (Ravens, Patriots, Broncos) or the read-option (San Francisco, Seattle, Washington).

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Mike Lombardi met the press Monday and even though it wasn’t his intention, he said something of significance:

“It’s a passing league. Last year there was only one team in the NFL that ran the ball in the first half more than it threw. One.  People say, ‘You have to establish the run.’ Teams that are going to the playoffs run it 33 percent in the first half. You’ve got to be able to throw.”  — Mike Lombardi.

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The interwebs confirm: The NFL is a passing league.

Hmm.  That doesn’t square with what Vince Lombardi said:

“Football is first and foremost a running game.  That will never change.” — Vince Lombardi.

But the ‘It’s a Passing League’ assertion is out there and much accepted.  Kanick’s innate distrust of conventional wisdom now engaged, let’s examine the veracity of this idea.*  Today I want to take a second look on whether or not the deprecation of the running game is pre-mature.  Because my take is that it’s not a run league; not a pass league.

It’s a copycat league.

It’s a copycat league and those coaches who are out front with innovations and see success are the template makers and championship winners.  The rest are reactors and re-builders.

Paul Brown, Bill Walsh, Buddy Ryan, Don Shula all changed the game with their ideas and left their competitors scrambling to contrive their own innovations.  This is the what the best coaches do.  Example:  Bill Walsh’s WCO changed the game?  Bill Parcells’ 3-4 rose to meet it.  (Spoiler:  IZR/OZR is designed to exploit attacking 3-4 defenses.)

Massillon Tigers!

Hell, take Knute Rockne.  Do you think he won two pro pennants for the Massillon Tigers because he practiced his teams harder?  Did he win four championships at Notre Dame by recruiting better athletes?  Better fight songs?  Gipper speeches?  Perhaps those were factors in his success but I suspect his adoption of the forward pass at Massillon and introduction of backfield shift for the Irish had more to do with his unmatched success before dying at 41.

Innovation is the key.  And hearing our GM spew trite homilies like a panelist on CBS NFL Today is a concern here.

It turns out that the running game is not dead and there’s a new coach in the NFL who spent the last six years demonstrating this.  What did Chip Kelly’s offense do at Oregon?  How will that impact the NFL?

And, as pertains to the Browns:

  • What’s the benefit of insanely good depth on your defensive front if you can’t sub players in and out?
  • What good having a defensive end as your best player when where ever he chases, the ball goes elsewhere?
  • And of course, if the slogan of your defense is ‘Can’t have too many pass-rushers’ what happens when your central ‘It’s a passing league’ tenet is proved incorrect.

The first two bullets define the success Kelly’s offense.  Let’s take a closer look at his up-tempo and zone read concepts.

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Up-tempo means what exactly?

Kinda hate to give this guy credit, but you gotta give him credit. Innovator.

No-huddle offenses have been pains-in-defenses-asses for decades.  Sam Wyche is who comes to mind in making it a system and found a fair amount of success too.  Belichick runs it.  It’s not new.  What makes Chip Kelly’s different?  For that matter, why don’t all teams run it all the time?

I’ll excerpt from Chris Brown to hit the high notes of Kelly’s innovations to the no-huddle:

… Oregon practices are filled with blaring music and players sprinting from drill to drill. Coaches interact with players primarily through whistles, air horns, and semi-communicative grunts. … Kelly’s sessions are designed around one thing: maximizing time. Kelly’s solution is simple: The practice field is for repetitions. Traditional “coaching” … is better served in the film room.

When the games do begin, there’s no question that the no-huddle makes Oregon’s attack more dangerous, but it’s a common misconception that they have only one supersonic speed. The Ducks use plenty of their superfast tempo, but they actually have three settings: red light (slow, quarterback looks to sideline for guidance while the coach can signal in a new play), yellow light (medium speed, quarterback calls the play and can make his own audibles at the line, including various check-with-me plays), and green light (superfast).

This change of pace is actually how Oregon constantly keeps defenses off balance. If they only went one pace the entire game the offense would actually be easier to defend. When the defense lines up quickly and is set, Kelly takes his time and picks the perfect play. When the defense is desperate to substitute or identify Oregon’s formation, the Ducks sprint to the line and rip off two, three, or four plays in a row… .

Summary:  by practicing up-tempo Oregon teams execute with a crispness that opponents can’t match.  Varying the speed disrupts the cadence of the defense.  And, imo, the main thing:  the pace of play makes it challenging for defenses built around specific substitution packages to get their preferred personnel on the field.

The last point is key and, if you don’t mind, here is where I point out that the dinosaur 4-3 defense shows its strength.

Makings of a great front four… just sayin…

4-3 defense says this:  We’re rushing four with simple man-to-man coverage with press corners.* We’re not blitzing. Our LBs are playing up and taking your slant routes away. No tricks. We’re gonna own your line of scrimmage and we’ll have seven back in coverage. What’s your play, offense?

How does the Browns’ new defense match up?  First off, all the blather about d-line depth is out the window.  John Hughes, Billy Winn, Jabaal Sheard?  Get cozy on the bench because there’s no time to get you in.  Want to bring in one of your new nickel-slot (aka really short) CBs and remove coverage liability DQ?  Not happening.

Kelly’s up-tempo kills off one of the core philosophies of the new Browns defense.

Bummed yet?  Well let’s take a hard look at how the zone read works and see if you feel better.

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IZR.  A primer in 10 minutes.

If you’re like me, you’re a little fuzzy on what zone read is and how it works.  I can watch a Paul Brown sweep and focus on Dick Schafrath busting ass to lead Jim Brown around end.  But when Marcus Mariota has his head up with the ball in De’Anthony Thomas’ belly, I’m lost.

It’s time to learn what a Zone Read offense is and how it works.  You’re going to thank me for this.

I got a chance to speak with Chuck Fisher, the proprietor of FishDuck.com yesterday.**  We were on the phone for an hour.  He’s just a fan who finally became exasperated that after four years of Kelly’s offense, national announcers still couldn’t speak to it.  So he took it upon himself to record some of the best instructional videos you’ll ever see.

[Spoiler alert:  we may see more FishDuck.com content here at Kanick moving forward, stay tuned.]

Here’s the basics on the Inside Zone Read (IZR):

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekf3RGWwqMQ?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

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Negate that edge rusher.

Here’s the money quote:  It is common we zone read the best player on the defense, thus we negate his effect on our offense. …  It doesn’t matter where he goes, the ball ain’t there.

I couldn’t look at this aspect of IZR without imagining Barkevious Mingo as the OLB being zone-read defender (and thus negated).

Oh wait:  I don’t have to imagine it… it’s right here.  See Mingo get zone read, ie, negated.  LSU won the game against the Ducks, but Mingo had one solo tackle, no assists.

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Another gem:  When you don’t block the DE on the backside, the blocking responsibilities shift over to the play-side.  That means we pick up an extra blocker on the play-side.

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Extra blocker equals better run game.

This is the sort of innovation that makes one question the premise of ‘NFL as passing league.’  It’s kind of a big deal and probably a sign that the run game isn’t dead in pro football.  Consider:  Oregon is averaging seven yards on a dive play.

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How do you defeat this offense?  Defeat the blocks.  Because we announce the plays we have more negative yardage than anyone else.  

But this also leads to athletic attacking teams over-reacting to the play and leaving holes open.  Anyone know of an athletic attacking defense who might be prone to this?

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Copycats.

Copycats: The two-tight end set is a 3-4 beater.
Click to see who else is taking it on.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery.  Oregon’s success with IZR/OZR have led UCLA, Washington, Stanford, and Arizona State to get it in their playbooks.  Add Utah and Oregon who have long run it and half the Pac-12 runs the zone read.

Does this apply to the NFL?  Why shouldn’t it?  The Niners, Seahawks, and Redskins have used it and, not for nothing, all made the playoffs.  And now the godfather of the IZR is head coach of the Eagles.  I think we can anticipate still more success with it and still more teams adopting it.

Update (5/17):  I looked further into this down in the comment section.  Got a data bomb for you.

The top rush teams in 2012 go: Skins, Vikes, Seahawks, and Niners.  Three of them run some zone read. All of them had over ten wins and made playoffs.  

So without arguing ‘Zone Read is the Future,’ let me just tie it back to the original driver for the article:  YOURE TEN YEARS LATE WITH THE ‘ITS A PASSING LEAGUE’ PRONOUNCEMENT MIKE LOMBARDI.

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Putting a bow on this.

Let’s review what the Browns have done to their defense this off-season:

  • Added athletes to the edge for more pass-rush;
  • Added depth to the d-line to keep players fresh;
  • Adopted a nickel-back scheme with the d-backs for passing downs.

Let’s review what Zone Read offense exploits:

The key flaw in the Eagles’ brand of Chip Kelly offense.

  • Negates the best defensive player usually on the edge;
  • Keeps up-tempo pace and so reduces (or eliminating) the opportunity for sub-packages.

The view from here is Kelly’s offense takes away all three of the tenets Horton’s defense relies on.  And of course the irony is that the old-school 4-3 that has a great front four which can apply pressure without blitzes matches up perfectly against IZR/OZR… but we being the Browns needed to scrap our promising 4-3.

*sigh*

The only good news for the league is Chip Kelly’s inexplicable selection for his OC.

Looking for a QB to run some IZR?

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One final thought after watching and learning about this offense:  some innovative team is going to pick up Tim Tebow for peanuts and add a little IZR/OZR to their playbook.

But relax Cleveland, it won’t be us.

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[BTW, if you want to get hip on fire-zone blitzes, inside zone blitzes, time square blitzes.. it turns out Oregon runs an attacking 3-4 hybrid defense.  Sound familiar?  Thus our new friends at FishDuck offer five tutorials and two white papers on what smells a lot like what the browns will be playing. Link here.

Yes Oregon plays in a league with six zone read offenses. So i’m not saying it can’t be an effective defense.  I’m saying the Browns’ premises for why it’s the system to go with are not fleshed out.]

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* Here’s a Cincy Jungle post making some good points in challenging the ‘It’s a passing league’ premise.

** Interesting non-IZR info from my talk with Charles.  The view from Eugene includes these random thoughts:

abbie

All the cheese for Abbie.

  • The O-line coach at Oregon stayed and he was a key man, the only guy Kelly talked to on the head-set.  (This bodes well for the post-Kelly Ducks.)
  • Our short TJ Ward talk resulted in carefully chosen words.  Duck fans were surprised he was drafted so high and my observation on him as a non-wrapper-upper tackler was confirmed.
  • Steve Sarkisian’s hapless chasing of Chip Kelly’s principles is the object of fun in Eugene.  UW is not a team to bet heavily on.
  • Paranoia at the prospect of Urban Meyer in Columbus is rampant in Eugene.  Putting a guy that smart at a college with so much resource … it’s been noted and is a concern out there.
  • Round of applause for FishDuck’s co-star Abbie.

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Here’s FishDuck’s OZR primer and this too is well worth your investment of ten minutes.  One takeaway quote:  In his presentation Chip says the offensive linemen are the most important players on the team.  I’m with you Chip.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69NBg_ZDixE?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

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  • Only since the Giants were brought up, allow me to say this:

    Yes, the Giants won two Super Bowls partly because of a very effective four man pass rush. However, I think it’s also worth noting that Matt Light pretending to be a left tackle also contributed to the results of these games.

    But again – this kind of proves the point, I guess.

    • well wait, matt light was all-pro and that 2007 pats team won 18 games in a row with him before the SB loss (which actually was due to asante samuel dropping a pop up).

      but i will concede a point not made: the QB’s read/release can make an o-line. there’s no doubt tom brady’s unique talent takes the heat off the pats’ line.

      i watched that year’s pats team. the giants caused them more problems than anyone else in the season finale in NJ and then repeated that formula in the SB. the great front four buddy… the great front four is where it’s at.

  • Gary Collins

    Onoz! Too bad we don’t have a coach that ran cam newton on a bunch of zone read plays so the fo and dc can plan against these schemes! Relax.

  • I already tweeted you my thoughts, but I’d just like to say that I enjoyed the piece and although there is plenty that I do not necessarily agree with 100%, your opinions are well-thought out and backed up with good reasoning. Good job!

  • I’m late to the game here, and this is a gem of an article by Kanicki.

    However, I wonder what Kelly’s NFL offense will actually look like – i.e., how much zone read and “up tempo” will be involved. I think NE’s offense (for parts of last season) was a close model. Clearly, the goal was to get as many plays off as possible, yet since NE didn’t feature many different looks – I’m not sure of the overall success….particularly when the game dictated that the offense had to do certain things.

    Anyway, the emphasis on the run should be present. The Eagles have a strong RB core – something that should make up for what will be a shaky QB situation.

    And a thousand times yes on the edge defender/pass rusher. This is a worry I have for the Browns’ D, given all the pass rushers manning those spots.

    • thank you DK, appreciated as always.

      picking up on seubert’s comment below, kelly inherits a bag of shit. last year’s eagles laid down like dogs in the thursday night against the bengals. (i know, i lost and i had the eagles +6.5 at home.) he’s got a lot of work in front of him.

      i don’t know why he wouldn’t install some zone read. mike vick would be a prototype QB for it and seems to have some gas in the tank.

  • Luke Seubert

    Jim, excellent work on digging out and posting those videos about the Oregon offense. You are right, they are outstanding vids and highly instructive. I came across them when I was researching Chip Kelly way back when the Browns were interviewing him for the head coaching job.

    Also, I agree with your seeing a need to call out Lombardi on his “passing league” nonsense. Not only could the copycat aspect of the NFL render overemphasis on the pass obsolete, but so could a real innovation, like teaching your offensive and defensive backs to lateral pass the ball as well as rugby players routinely do. In rugby, you aren’t allowed to block. In football, you can. If some daring coach someday combines football blocking with smooth, fluid, fast, and safe (yes – it can be safe – watch a professional rugby match sometime) lateral passing; the effect in the NFL would be devastating. It is my dream to someday see this. But I digress.

    Where I disagree is the assumed success of Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. Will the league copycat his ideas? Yes. Will he succeed at the NFL level? No. Kelly is gonna mail it in while he waits to get back to the college ranks. He is not serious.

    I have drawn this conclusion from three facts. First, Kelly interviewed the Browns and the Eagles and then returned to Oregon, seeming to have turned down both teams. The Browns wisely moved on, while the Eagles continued to pursue him. During those few weeks, I believe Kelly got word through the NCAA grapevine concerning just how bad the suspensions and various punishments were going to be for his recruiting violations; and he decided to bail out on Oregon. So first he played mindgames with the Browns, seeming ready to sign on their bottom line; but then flaked out. He dumped the Eagles too, at first. Then he played mindgames with Oregon, seeming ready to return and stay the course at the school that had been so good to him. But he flaked out on them too. He’ll flake out on the Eagles as well, but he’ll wait until he is clear in a few years to return to the college ranks, and only then bail out.

    Secondly, Chip Kelly quite correctly believes the offensive line to be the most important unit on a football team. Certainly, it is the most critical unit on a Chip Kelly team. Oregon’s offensive line play was outstanding under Kelly. Re-watch those videos you posted, and pay close attention to the offensive line play. When the Zone Read defeats the defense and busts open a big running play, Kelly’s big, athletic guards are often seen 15 yards downfield, working their secondary and tertiary blocking assignments, and blowing away lightweight defensive backs with bone-crushing blocks; springing the runner for even more yards. Kelly’s offensive blocking schemes are simply masterful.

    And yet, Kelly chose Philadelphia and its horrible offensive line over Cleveland, with its decent and potentially great offensive line. Center and left tackle are the two toughest positions to fill on the O-Line, and the Browns have those spots locked up. All Cleveland really needs is more athletic guards, and a little more depth with the backup players; and the Browns have a superior offensive line. This is a minor tweaking project compared to the Eagles’ major overhaul. But Kelly chose the NFL team with clearly the vastly inferior offensive line, even though he believes this to be the most critical unit on the team. This also tells me that Kelly is not serious, and is just punching the clock in the NFL on the Eagles’ dime until he can return to the college ranks.

    Finally, the most glaring fact of them all that Kelly is playing footsie with the NFL? He hired Pat Shurmer to be his offensive coordinator. Everybody, but everybody, took one look at this hire and said, “WTF?”. And for once, everybody is right. Not only is Pat Shurmer an utterly incompetent head coach, but the evidence is overwhelming that he is a terrible offensive coordinator as well. So why in the world did Kelly hire such a blockhead as his OC? Don’t A-Level people surround themselves with A-Level talent and hold them to the highest expectations? They do if they are serious. If they aren’t serious, if they know they will be bailing out in three or four years; they hire patsies to take the fall in Year Two or Year Three, as the alleged rebuilding program sputters. Shurmer was hired to be fired as a scapegoat, an ignominious fate he truly deserves. But still, Kelly is treating both him and the Eagles quite shabbily in this.

    I almost hope he’ll wind up at Michigan someday. It would be terrific fun to watch Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly fight it out for top dog of the Big 10.

    • all the like buttons on this.

      tbh, i was quite turned off by that interview saga and i settled on ‘screw kelly, good riddance.’ we really do need someone who wants to be here.

      yet at the same time i thought: if i’m an A+ Player, i’m looking very closely at my prospective boss. is he a dick or a potential dick? it’s not hard to construct a scenario where kelly decided working for haslam/banner wasn’t for him. especially when considering the quality of life he enjoyed in eugene.

      now then… in my chat with chuck we didn’t get into the possible ncaa sanctions. if/when he and i talk again i’ll see if i can get an oregon perspective on that angle.

      • Luke Seubert

        I was initially very excited by the possibility of the Browns hiring Chip Kelly. While he presented high-risk downside, he also offered high reward. I liked his ability to adapt his offensive schemes to suit his personnel, his philosophy, and the innovative practice methods.

        When the Browns didn’t get him, and he went back to Oregon, and then signed with Philly; I was quite disappointed but also puzzled and confused. The confusion cleared up with the Shurmer hiring. While I can totally see your point, Jim, about Kelly not wanting to work for Banner and Lombardi; I am relieved that the Browns didn’t get him, regardless of who rejected who. Anybody in the NFL who would hire Pat Shurmer for any high level coaching role is a Holmgren-Grade doofus.

  • dan

    Where there is cause for skepticism is that, in both videos, it is stated repeatedly that Kelly’s offense is designed to take advantage of defenses that overreact. Pro teams should be more disciplined than college teams and the players less likely to overpursue and abandon responsibilities to contain.

    But I’m still mighty intrigued and would have liked to have seen Kelly take the Browns job instead of Philly.

    • i wonder if the subject of implementing a new defense came up in the kelly interviews. haslam is on record saying it’s the kind of defense he likes. perhaps kelly didn’t want to spin his wheels on offense while the new defense got built.

      yeah yeah, it’s just another conspiracy theory. but i still don’t think we have a good read on what happened in that recruiting trip to arizona.

      • dan

        What was weird about what happened in Arizona is that Kelly went back to Oregon, then changed his mind weeks later. If the problem was just on the Browns’ end, why wouldn’t he have agreed to go to Philly then?

  • that’s my point or at least that’s my starting point: it’s a copycat league.

    lombardi sounds like dan dierdorf when he spouts ‘it’s a passing league’ nonsense. someone had to call him on it.

    ps: as admin, i have edit privs on my comments. do you all NOT have editing capability? if not, apologize, that sucks.

    • oh good. from my screen i couldn’t tell if you could or not edit your comments after submitting. (and i thought that’s why tom/titus dropped another comment in versus editing the orig. never mind.)

      • That’s my fault. I thought you were referring to comments on our site. Feel free to delete my reply.

      • thanks and sorry for the inconvenience. if i ever move to big-boy wordpress, i’ll fix that. for now though, i’m stuck with what they give me.

  • It’s decidedly premature to assume anything either way at this point but I’ll take the tested NFL defensive coordinator over the rookie (never coached at any level in the NFL before) offensive mastermind everyday of the week and twice on Sunday. Horton’s concepts have proven to work in the NFL. Chip Kelly’s offense, or some incarnation thereof, has a little ways to go before we can say definitively what lasting impact it will have on the NFL.

  • The beauty of the Browns new defense is that it is designed to adapt to whatever the offense is doing. Referring to it in terms of strictly a 3-4 is doing it a major disservice. The goal in Year One was to get more athletic and they have done that with the outside linebackers they’ve brought who can not only get to the QB but stretch the play to the boundary. Unlike in the 4-3 under Jauron where our LBs were slow and couldn’t get sideline to sideline as fast as they needed to. Of course, the entire premise of this piece is based on the assumption that the NFL adopts in grand scale the zone read principles that you illustrate above. The notion of Chip Kelly’s scheme translating to the NFL has been largely contested since Kelly was hired in Philly. Instead, what will translate is the up tempo style he brings to his offense, whatever that ends up being. This too hinges largely on 22-35 years olds (not college kids) buying into his practice methods over an 8-month period (OTAs to Week 17 or beyond). All of that is neither here nor there since the Browns don’t play Philadelphia this season. But it would behoove the masses to understand exactly what the Browns defense will be before insinuating that its going to fail before they even put on pads. For further reference… http://www.draftbrowns.com/2013/05/an-in-depth-look-inside-ray-hortons-defense/

    • defense ‘designed to adapt’…? i dont know what that means. in the kelly scenario outlined above, defenses cant sub.. so that adaptation is out. the pre-snap set tells the defense ‘i’m doing IZR/OZR to this hole.. adapt your heart out.’ it’s the offense who is adapting. the defense floods play side, qb goes back side. defense stays at home, play runs to the hole designed. cheat forward with your d-backs and you’ll get a pass over the top called.

      i dont see why it’s a disservice to call a 3-4 a 3-4. are there three men with hands on the ground? if yes, it’s a 3-4. we understand that it can be an effective 5-2 if two edge LB play forward. but the nomenclature is the nomenclature.

      [btw, if you want to get hip on fire-zone blitzes, inside zone blitzes, time square blitzes.. it turns out oregon runs an attacking 3-4 hybrid defense. sound familiar? thus our new friends at fishduck offer five tutorials and two white papers on what smells a lot like what the browns will be playing. link here: http://fishduck.com/playbook/#playbook-defenseanalysis yes they play in a league with six zone read offenses. so i’m not saying it can’t be an effective defense. i’m saying the browns’ premises for why it’s the system to go with are not fleshed out.]

      the slowness of jauron’s LBs doesnt mean the 4-3 is a bad defense. not sure how that gets conjoined here. not sure slow linebackers equals junk the 4-3. would mingo be slow in a 4-3? would maiava be fast in a 3-4? is von miller slow because broncos run a 4-3?

      it’s fine, i guess, to suggest that chip kelly’s eagles won’t embrace a zone read offense, though i’m not sure where that comes from. but in any case, it doesn’t account for niners, skins, seahawks ability to run it. and i haven’t see any patriots or broncos or ravens quitting the team over their adoptions of up-tempo offenses. not sure what your point is about the fact of the browns not playing the eagles. we’re talking trends.

      w.r.t. your horton defense analysis it didn’t explain something: how come daryl washington (ILB) was by far the best pass rusher for horton last and how come we have so much invested in the edge (kruger, groves, sheard, mingo) when horton likes to come up the middle with his blitzes? the cardinals film i watch showed a LOT of ILB stunts and i came away from the draft/FA-season disappointed that ILB wasn’t given much attention.

      w.r.t. what behooves the masses… i offered up three points:
      * up tempo offense negates sub packages, thus ‘the fresh d-line’ thing is negated;
      * zone read runs watch your best player and run the other way, thus mingo addition is negated (as he was in the oregon/lsu game);
      * m.lombardi says with authority that it’s a passing league, but data and trends say otherwise.

      i think the masses are well-behooved through having different perspectives presented to them. there’s plenty of sites out there repeating berea press conferences. i’m trying to look past that.

      don’t forget: berea told you shurmur was an accomplished OC and notable groomer of QBs.

      • Luke Seubert

        Jim, there is a problem with running an unmodified Zone Read in the NFL. That problem is speed.

        At Oregon, Chip Kelly’s rightly vaunted offense would face Pac-10 defenses that would have, at most, one or two players with NFL speed and quickness. In the NFL, EVERY defensive player has NFL quickness and speed. So while the Zone Read works well against slow college defensive players, it will have problems in unmodified form against NFL defenses.

        Recall that over half of Oregon’s Zone Read plays fail utterly – racking up negative yards. This happens because the play winds up NOT tricking the defense, and not setting up the runner with an extra blocker with the defense short a man on the side the play is run to. Even at the collegiate level, the defenses can be fast enough to compensate for the deception of the Zone Read and get a defender into that backfield for a negative yardage tackle. However, when the Zone Read does work, it produces astounding yardage, which is why Kelly runs it so often – high risk, high reward.

        But in the NFL, a play calling system which produces negative yardage over half the time in the collegiate ranks would be a disaster. NFL linebackers and defensive backs are fast and quick enough to close the hole, overcoming the deception of a pure Zone Read. Defensive lineman are strong, agile, and fast enough to penetrate quickly into the backfield. I think at the NFL level, a pure Zone Read would produce negative yards more often than in college, and when it did bust open for big yardage; the gains wouldn’t be quite as big as what you see in college. The defensive backs are just too fast to allow such big gains deep into the second and third level.

        Of course, people rightfully argue that Chip Kelly is very smart, and already knows this. They argue that he will adapt his offensive schemes accordingly, allowing for the faster and more sophisticated defenses in the NFL. This might be true.

        However, it is also said that Chip Kelly has a very big ego, that he is incredibly arrogant. In my experience, overly arrogant people, no matter how intelligent, often wind up doing stupid things due to their arrogance. Chip Kelly might well be arrogant enough to run his college offense in the NFL. It will work for a while, maybe even half a season. But if he keeps it up, clever defensive coordinators will shut down his offense soon enough.

        Watching the Eagles this year will be a lot of fun. Is Chip Kelly smarter than he is arrogant? Or is Chip Kelly more arrogant than he is smart? The Win-Loss record will reveal the answer.

        • i hear ya. i know that’s been the thinking on zone read. but yet…

          let me cherry pick and use the redskins as an example. i cant tell you the diff between ault’s and kelly’s implementation of zone read.. and i concede robert griffin changes things. but the skins had 2709 rush yds last year, led the league.

          in fact… the top rush teams go: skins, vikes, seahawks, niners. three of them run some zone read. all of them had over ten wins and made playoffs.

          so without arguing ‘Zone Read is the Future,’ let me just tie it back to the original driver for the article:
          YOURE TEN YEARS LATE WITH THE ‘ITS A PASSING LEAGUE’ PRONOUNCEMENT MIKE LOMBARDI.

          • Luke Seubert

            Yup. I agree with your contention that Lombardi is spouting out-of-date conventional wisdom with respect to the “It’s a passing league” mantra.

            However, I think Lombardi is wrong for reasons other than just the Zone Read. It’s just part of the long-term see-saw in trends in the NFL. For a time, teams start passing more and more, and defenses adapt accordingly. After a while, the defenses get pretty good at defending the pass, and the more intelligent offensive coaches then switch back to more running plays, taking advantage of most teams’ now weak run defense.

            Zone Read is definitely part of this trend, but only if you have the right sort of quarterback for it. And you are taking a big risk with QB injuries because the Zone Read does require the quarterback to at least threaten to run once in a while, and ideally actually run a fair number of times each game. RG3 is the best example of this risk made reality.

            Happily, Chud and Turner understand that the Browns do not have an agile Zone Read QB. Chud, unlike droolling idiot coaches like, say…. Pat Shurmer; actually gets that Cam Newton is no longer his quarterback, so he can’t run Zone Read and Option offensive plays. Chud and Norv actually adapt their offensive schemes to the talent they have at hand. They also understand how a power running game can beautifully complement a deep passing attack. Stretching the defense vertically, and maybe even horizontally with smart blocking schemes and playcalling, can leave big holes in the defense which can be exploited.

            Chud and Norv’s offense might not be as spectacular and exciting as Chip Kelly’s, but it just might be able to achieve similar effects by emphasizing the run in a well balanced attack against defenses over-programmed to defend the pass, ala Lombardi.

            I know I am being overly hopeful and optimistic and pollyanna in all of this, but what else can I do? I am a Browns fan – I am stupid that way.

  • i’m all for the giants’ 4-3! they’re my banner photo on the subject! but they do it without blitzing. blitzing creates vulnerabilities as described in the IZR review… and as described in the link above concerning how manning/brady inevitably exploit the zone opened by the blitz.

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