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Passing league: Explaining the NFL's aerial evolution

Discussion in 'NFL Football Forum' started by MoLewisrocks, Jul 6, 2012.

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  1. MoLewisrocks

    MoLewisrocks PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Although the rules changes are cited for making the middle of the field a safer place to play, and teams like NE have been able to exploit that. The other factors cited are the increased ability of QB's exposed to spread offenses to read defenses, the increased size and talent of receivers (including TE's who are no longer largely blockers) as well as the effect all of the above has had on schemes and subsequently coaching willingness to play more aggressively on that side of the ball (building a bigger lead rather than defending a smaller one).



    Passing league: Explaining the NFL's aerial evolution
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2012
  2. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    It's quite possible that the more severe rule changes introduced in 2010 or so may have contributed towards 3 QBs passing for over 5,000 yards in 2011. But the NFL was going towards a pass-oriented league long before that - in some ways, the rule changes were a reaction to the league becoming more pass oriented.

    Greg Cosell weighs in the topic, including a history of the evolution of the passing game:

    Cosell Talks: The Evolving Chess Match : NFL Films Blog

    It's a great read, and a nice discussion of the chess match between offense and defense. As Cosell notes:

    Interesting stuff.
     
  3. pherein

    pherein In the Starting Line-Up

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    Its a good read, I was just disappointed they didn't give solutions to the spread offense. Seems their is to many great OC and not enough revolutionary DC.
    The revival of the 3-4 defense to counter these prolific offense seems to fall short. 4-3 is being stuffed by the massive OL's made to give expert QB marksmen 2-3 more seconds to find the target.
    I can almost see WR's drafted as CB's and S at this point. But not seeing the evolution of the DL or LB's. I mean do they shrink and look at speed or become more massive. Become taller? Are we going to see 4 300-450 lbs DL's in the future to crack the OL. DL going to look for 4 Wilforks in the future. I just don't know.
    But as the article eludes to, defenses are getting creamed and behind the curve. Even the #1 defense was rocked in the playoffs.
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2012
  4. Deus Irae

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    They could all but shut down most of the league's passing games in about 30 minutes. Just bring back downfield contact and eliminate the over-the-top protection of QBs.

    Almost every team in the league would start hunting for more running backs the moment those were implemented.
     
  5. captain stone

    captain stone Veteran Starter w/Big Long Term Deal

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    Another reason for the passing proliferation, and the rules changes/points of emphasis
    that made it happen:
    Chicks - and therefore marketing suits - dig the long ball.
     
  6. Uncle Rico

    Uncle Rico Veteran Starter w/Big Long Term Deal

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    Would be great to see defensive genius Bill Belichick catch up to what offensive genius Bill Belichick has helped wrought upon the league. :)
     
  7. Joker

    Joker PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    You want to roll back the "Polian Rules" that were enacted by the comp committee for four straight seasons after Peyton was humiliated in Foxboro, 20-3? Goodell would never go for that...after all,they were trumped up "for the good of the league!!!".
     
  8. pherein

    pherein In the Starting Line-Up

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    lol, yeah. I am worried he doesn't have the stuff anymore. I mean the Patriots declining defense as BB seems to spend more time working on offense, it makes me wonder. Or is this just an exercise for him to understand the problems defenses face. You can never tell with BB. He seems to push himself a lot.
    Probably most don't agree, but allowing Bradshaw to score in the playoff was a master stroke. I thought. Thats kind of concussive that the defensive mind is there, but he knows where his bread is buttered.
    I don't know, you think BB can defeat a powerful spread offense ?
    Create some defense that does not exist yet?
    Would be sweet. Never seen the Saints stuffed sense 2006. Any DC that could keep the Pats,Saints, Lions, GB, and etc.. to 14pts consistently .. hmm wow. Stuffed like the Falcons in the playoffs.
    But that same defense could not stuff the Pats, and theres a good chance wouldn't have made the SB if it faced NO at home. Defenses are so prolific vs some teams and helpless vs others.
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2012
  9. mayoclinic

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    As has already been noted by Deus and others, the league wants prolific passing attacks and high scoring games. The NFL is all about expanding their market share and fan base, and aerial acrobatics are more popular than trench warfare.

    As Cossell notes, it's a chess match between offenses and defenses. Offenses have evolved to create mismatches and the rules make it easier and easier to exploit those mismatches. With all of the advantages that offenses have cited in the OP, there are only so many ways that defenses can respond to make things more competitive:

    1. Find ways to get more pressure on the QB. Less time = less successful completions, more errant throws and turnovers, etc. As was discussed in another thread, defenses are already evolving to emphasize interior pressure more than previously:

    http://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/10/922318-building-team-inside-out.html

    We're seeing more and more uber-athletic "Super Grizzlies" in the Wilfork/Ngata mold. The idea of a 330# DE was crazy a few years ago, but its becoming more and more common. Guys like Marcell Dareus and Dontari Poe have ridiculous athleticism and movement skills for their size. We're even seeing more use of athletic DLs in multiple fronts at the college level: guys like Star Lotulelei, Johnathan Hankins, Jesse Williams, and John Jenkins have all played inside and out. Alabama dropped Dareus into coverage at times when he was there.

    We'll also more more "outside" guys who are strong and versatile enough to play inside as well, with more NASCAR-like packages. Guys like Jason Pierre-Paul and JJ Watt are capable of playing almost anywhere on the line, and have incredible athleticism for their size. Margus Hunt has played inside as well as out for SMU at 6'8" 295#.

    I don't know if we'll see 4 300+# linemen, but we'll continue to see more bigger and more athletic guys up front, and more creative ways to get effective pressure. Give a good QB time and he'll pick any defense apart given the current rules and the talent available at the skill positions.

    2. Create confusion. If you can generate effective pressure and confuse QBs as to the defensive coverages, then you magnify the potential for mistakes by the offense leading to big plays on defense. Ameboid and semi-ameboid schemes will become more common. Morphing from a 4-2-5 to a 2-4-5. Moving guys around - outside guys inside, inside guys out, LBs dropping into coverage, DBs moving up, CBs and Ss being used interchangeably. If the QB has little time to make a read and the defense has more disguise, then it will be harder for the offense to find the right mismatch, even if one exists.

    3. Increase your coverage options - use more DBs and coverage LBs. The nickel is the base, and the dime is the nickel. As BB has stated, you can never have too many good DBs. If you can generate pressure with your front 4, that gives you much more freedom to increase your coverage options with the other 7 guys. 5 DBs will be the norm, and 6 will be more common than 4, along with a coverage LB. Hybrid DBs with size, tackling ability, ball skills and the ability to play zone or man coverage will be coveted. So will LBs with processing speed and the ability to cover like DBs - hence my intense interest in Lavonte David heading into the 2012 draft. Guys like Sean Lee - who actually can drop into coverage effectively and handle most RBs and TEs - will be very valuable. DBs who are tall enough, big enough and agile enough to match up to the big WRs and mobile TEs will be coveted - Brandon Hardin went from a late rount to a top 80 pick in the 2012 draft. Your safeties have to have CB coverage skills - one of the reasons the Pats took Tavon Wilson in the 2nd round. The Giants used S Antrel Rolle - like Wilson a former CB - to cover slot receivers at times. Those guys are also big and physical enough to play as hybrid S/LB types - a role that the Pats have reportedly already had Tavon Wilson playing during OTAs and mini camp. Tony Gonzalez has suggested that teams need to look to basketball players for guys with the kind of height and footwork to covert to DBs:

    NFL shifts from big, physical safety to a more versatile model - ESPN

    That article is another great read for anyone interested in the challenges facing defenses in the modern passing era given the constraints addressed in the OP of this thread.

    There's not many more things that I can obviously seeing defenses doing, short of putting 12 men on the field. And I'm firmly convinced that the league doesn't want them to succeed - they want football to go the way of fast break basketball. I'm personally convinced that if DCs found a way to consistently shut down today's offenses, the league would tweak the rules to make it harder.
     
  10. patman52

    patman52 On the Game Day Roster

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    What you refer to as the Polian rules were not new rules but just a pointof emphasis. I think it was prior to 82 that dbacks could continue to knock the receiver all the way down the field until the ball was in the air.
     
  11. NEGoldenAge

    NEGoldenAge Banned

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    There is another more simple reason. In the NFL, there are times where you have no choice but to pass. The same can not be said for running the ball.
     
  12. patfanken

    patfanken Experienced Starter w/First Big Contract

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    Doesn't have the STUFF anymore???? Are you kidding. What BB did last year with that defense was nothing short of genius. Didn't you see who was playing?????. He lost his best inside pass rushers for the entire season (Wright and Pryor) BOTH his big CB's for most of the season (Dowling and Boddin) His best run stuffer for half the season (Spikes) His best S for half the season - His best SS for most of the season (Barrett) His best defensive player (Carter) for the end of season and the playoffs, yet defense continued to get BETTER in the playoffs. PLUS the many odd dings that left players out for a game or 2.

    Yet despite all this the defense manged to be in the top half of the league in scoring D. Managed to give up only ONE game where an opponent scored over 30 points (and in that game the O gave uip 2 TDs) BTW- the dominant :rolleyes: Jet defense which was ranked #5 over all, had FIVE games where they gave up more than 30 points. And oh by the way, did I mention getting to the superbowl. In the playoffs in most categories, against the "best" teams in the league, the lowly Pats defense ranked 5th

    No Pherien, BB hasn't lost it. He did the best you can expect given the talent that was available to him. It didn't look pretty, but it was much more effective than we were led to believe. I'm not saying it was great or even good. But they somehow managed to do the job well enough to go 15-4
     
  13. Deus Irae

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    What you refer to as a point of emphasis was not just an emphasis, but a de facto rule change. Prior to the "Polian rules", defenders were allowed some minor contact downfield after 5 yards. Now, in the "Polian rules" era, only Revis is allowed such contact. It wasn't a situation where previous enforcement was stepped up. It was a situation where previously allowed behavior became penalized behavior.

    However, my initial post was referring to the era you're talking about, when contact was basically anything goes. Going back just pre-Polian rules would slow down the offenses a bit, but the allowed contact wouldn't be enough to really throw off the better QBs.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2012
  14. patfanken

    patfanken Experienced Starter w/First Big Contract

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    Getting back to the OP, I agree with Mayo that while the rule changes have definitely helped offenses, they aren't the major reasons why offenses are much more successful these days. There are several reasons I can see.

    1. The sudden growth of the "big" WR - Just a decade ago, the 6'4+ WR was a rarity. Now every team has a LEAST one (except the Pats of course ;) ) This leads to a lot of passes where the receiver is covered as well as can be expected, yet the pass is completed simply because the receiver can get the ball due to his height or his body control

    2. The success of the spread offense has been accomplished mainly because the overall quality of the QBs passing skills have vastly improved. This is do to the fact in HS and college QBs are throwing the ball a lot more. Coaching of QBs has improved and become more specialized. So now we are at the stage where receivers are running "read" routes designed to defeat what the defense is trying to accomplish, and QB's are more skilled at reading what the defense is trying to do and getting the ball to the "open receiver". This proliferation of passing attacks mean that QB's coming into the league now are way ahead of their counterparts of a even a decade ago.

    3. The QB's options are so much greater. There are very few pass plays where the QB has fewer than 4 options making it very hard for a defense to successfully cover all 4, all the time.

    4. The BALL - Yes, the Ball. It seems like every year the ball has become more streamlined and easier for the QB to control and pass. Clearly the ball is vastly different from the beginnings of the league, but although more subtle, the ball continues to be fiddled with so it is easier to pass.

    5. Receiver Gloves - back in my day WR used stick um to enhance their receiving skills even after it was outlawed. If the league decided to do away with gloves and demand receivers catch the ball bare handed, completion percentages would immediately drop 10%. In my final days as a competitive tag football player, the use of gloves turned my legendary stone hands into a capable receiver and that was using 1990's technology. I'm sure they are even better now.

    How do you stop it? You can't, however there are ways you can slow it down a bit.

    1. The league has to become more lenient in down field contact, and I think they are starting to. Extend the rule to 7 yds where contact is legal and it will effectively allow most contact up to 10 yds downfield. That will help defenders in the short passing game, at least marginally

    2. Start changing your personnel packages. We are seeing this already. The snaps available for ILBs and SS's are going to continue to diminish. More and more teams will be sending out DB's with CB skills. I'm encouraged that the Jets have bucked this trend and are loading up on prototypical SS types this off season. Yet for the rest of the league guys like Gregory and Wilson become more valuable and guys like Barrett and Ihedigbu become more important for ST's than the regular D

    3. The basic flaw in these new passing attacks, is that the more complex and intricate they become the more chances for errors to be made. So defenses can create opportunities by creating confusion in the QB's and receivers to force those errors. More teams will be going to "amoeba" style D's and a lot more effort will be made to disguise one's intentions.

    All these things will help defenses move the pendulum back.....some. But its never going to go back all the ways. Woody Hays once said about passing the ball. "when you drop back to pass the ball 5 things can happen.....and 4 of them are bad". That was a dictum that ruled football for many years. Now you have developed passing skills in both QB's and receivers that have improved those odds drastically. Not only that, you have coaches, from HS to college, who truly believe that Woody Hays was full of it. and are committed to pass first attacks.

    The football world has completely flipped. Before you ran so you can pass the ball. Now you pass so you can run the ball. George Costanza would be very happy. ;)
     
  15. MoLewisrocks

    MoLewisrocks PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Patience grasshopper, he's working on it. Getting Josh back and having some system receivers suddenly crop up will allow him to work more closely with a defense he's been retooling for a while now. He probably understands the offense he has to grapple with better than any DC in the game because he's created it here at a time when his own coordinator situation was in flux. And he's always valued versatility and adaptability in his defenders, mentally as well as physically. Barring injury or miscalculation (player selection) he should be closing in on his target game plan specific defense going forward.

    Hell, Rex still doesn't know much more about offense than red light green light...and he has nothing to even practice against that can remotely replicate what he's now increasingly facing because his own QB's are the functional equivalent of illiterate (can't read beyond dick and jane level or pass precisely under pressure). Their D led the league in OTA sacks... He's not even equipped to go old school ground and pound, so he is going to let Sporano take another shot at advancing wildcat theory... And because of prior miscalculations and contractual splurges he's hard pressed to retool his own defense beyond what he drafted. And it better pan out out of the gate since he's telegraphed his intention to switch almost exclusively in a 4-3 front if not his old man's 4-6 in a gamble to essentially go big or go home. Absent the offense to back up a gamblers D in this era, my bet is the JETS go home.

    Come what may, we remain as lucky as it gets here. HOF Mensa level QB, genuine HC and not just a glorified coordinator, competent business savvy ownership as opposed to some trust fund investments product.
     
  16. Uncle Rico

    Uncle Rico Veteran Starter w/Big Long Term Deal

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    Spot on.

    My post was as much about the ironic (and, I think, under-acknowledged) evolution of Belichick as an offensive innovator as it was about the Pats' defense. Having Brady helps, but it's been clear the past few years that BB sees a) what kind of QB he has, b) the way offense can work in today's NFL and c) ways to maximize the combination. I think he deserves more credit for what this offense has been the past five years.

    Defensively: I agree with Ken, getting to SB46 with that D was quite an accomplishment. And I'm excited with where this D is going, with the new additions and so many key young players adding another year of experience. As a fan, I'm just wary from the recent trend of the D allowing these nauseatingly and excruciatingly long drives at the end of big post-season games (AFCCG '07; SB42, SB46 -- even last year's AFCCG that almost made Joe Freakin' Flacco a hero [thank you Lee Evans and Sterling Moore]). All in all, I'm pretty excited to see what kind of playmakers this D will have moving forward.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2012
  17. Triumph

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    The Pats are partly responsible for the surge in passing in the NFL.

    How many NFL or College teams ran the spread offense prior to 2001? Today, virtually every NFL or Collegiate team runs some form of the Spread. HCs on the collegiate and High School level took notice of NEs success and now its hard to watch a College or High School football game and not see the Spread. QBs are in the shotgun, no RBs with 5 WRs.

    I emailed a High School football HC a few years ago and he emailed me back the 2001 NE playbook in PDF form. Imititation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    Scott Pioli was on sports radio the other day and stated that today you need 3 very good CBs and 3 very good coverage Safeties because of how the game has changed where all 6 would be on the field at any given time. TEs Like Hernandez require DBs with coverage skills because most LBs cannot cover athletic TEs like him.
     
  18. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Reiss picks up on the Greg Cosell article:

    Defending the spread offense - New England Patriots Blog - ESPN Boston

    He also echoes my suggestion (made first) that Tavon Wilson fits nicely into the Cosell argument. Wilson's experience playing CB and S, man and zone, outside and in the slot, and his strength in run support made him somewhat unique. His measurables compare fairly well with those of Antrel Rolle when Rolle came out in 2005:

    Rolle: 6' 1/8" 198#. 4.48 40, 6.68 3-cone, 4.01 short shuttle. 37" vertical, 10'3" broad jump, 15 reps @ 225.
    Wilson: 5' 11 6/8" 205#. 4.52 40, 7.04 3-cone, 4.16 short shuttle. 32" vertical, 10'4" broad jump, 17 res @ 225.

    Rolle wasn't that good as an outside CB for Arizona, but he's been an excellent FS/CB hybrid for the Cardinals and Giants. That's a valuable piece to have in your arsenal. Regardless, I think that the Pats will use 5 DBs most of the time, and will place a high value on DBs who can also support the run and LBs who can also cover.
     
  19. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Well said.

    I think the fact that BB was willing to promote Patricia to the official DC position says as much about BB's confidence that the defense has been overhauled as it does about Patricia's ability to manage it. The pieces are in place:

    1. A group of linemen who can play outside or in, who can 2-gap but who can also collapse the pocket and generate interior pressure.
    2. Several ends up who are capable of rushing out of a 3 point stance or standing up, who are strong enough to set the edge and sometimes move inside, and versatile enough to occasionally drop into coverage.
    3. A very deep squad of versatile LBs, several of whom can move up and play out of a 3 point stance or drop into coverage.
    4. A very deep squad of versatile DBs many of whom can play zone or man coverage, outside or in the slot, support the run, and blitz.

    As Ken said, I doubt it's possible to entirely shut down a top offense on a consistent basis given the current roles and the capabilities and skill sets on offense. But the pieces are there to swing the pendulum back a bit. And given how potent our own offense is likely to be, any significant improvements on defense will be hard for any other team to overcome.
     
  20. mayoclinic

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    An offensive coach's perspective on how defensives are adapting to modern offeneses:

    Attacking “Psycho” fronts and other blitz heavy defensive looks | Smart Football

    As offenses get more sophisticated they are getting more complicated. There have already been suggestions this offseason that the complexity of the Pats' offense makes it difficult to find receivers who are able to process it adequately:

    http://www.patsfans.com/new-england...-pass-offense-complexity-wr-adjustments.html

    If defenses can increase the complexity of what offenses have to deal with, then there will be more opportunity for those offenses to implode under their own complexity and to make Woody Hayes' dictum a reality.
     
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