22

June

Packers Defense: Why Tricky Does Not Mean Complex

Mike Tanier has written a follow-up to his previous article on MSNBC, focusing on the defense this time. As I wrote a response to the previous article, it only seems fitting to write a follow-up on the follow-up.

In summary, Tanier’s previous article suggested that “tricky” offenses might suffer this year since there won’t be the same amount of time to prepare due to the lockout. My argument was that teams have spent years building an offensive philosophy (which they should not abandon for just one year) and that complexity has more to do with offensive philosophy and personnel rather than the learning capacity of players.

In this article, Tanier suggests that defenses will also be affected by the lockout, but to a lesser extent since “confusion favors the defense.”  On one hand, defenses require less overall communication; each defensive player typically only works in conjunction with a couple other players (cornerbacks work with safeties but not really with defensive linemen for example).

Offensive players are more inherently required to communicate between the whole squad (wide receivers need to know who to block on running plays and running backs need to know who to block or where to go for passing plays).  On the other hand, as I have previously mentioned, a lot can go wrong on a offensive play and still net positive yards, but it only takes one confused defensive player for a play to end in a big gain or a touchdown.

Tanier goes on the premise that one metric of defensive “trickiness” is the number of blitzers and the standard deviation in the number of blitzers.  Again to me this seems a little simplistic:

  1. Personnel factors heavily into the play selection: One of the basic defensive premises of teams such as the Detroit Lions or the Chicago Bears is that a dominant front 4 should be able to generate all the pass rush needed to get to the quarterback.  When a team invests big money into the likes of Ndamukong Suh or Julius Peppers basically they are saying that they don’t need fancy “pew pew” blitzes, the defensive line should be able to beat any offensive line straight on; and it works, the Bears and Lions generate lots of pass rush without having to rely on blitzing a lot of players.  So really it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Lions and Bears show up as some of the “simplest” defenses based on this metric since it’s not in their defensive philosophies to blitz more than 4 the majority of the time.
10

June

Packers Offense: Why Tricky Does Not Mean Complex

In a recent article on NBC, Football Outsiders senior writer Mike Tanier wrote a piece on how the lockout might have a detrimental affect NFL offenses.  (Picture taken from National Football Post, props to anyone who can figure out what play this diagram is showing)  The reasoning is pretty simple, with less time to prepare and train players due to the lockout, playbooks and offensive philosophies that are considered “tricky” are going to be harder to execute than “simple” offenses and therefore put “tricky” offenses at a disadvantage.

I respect Tanier’s work and I think Football outsiders is one of the best football websites out there, but this article had me scratching my head a little.  The implicit suggestion of this article is that if a team utilizes a “tricky” offense they should consider dumbing it down to account for the lockout.

To me this seems a little bit ridiculous, teams spend years building an identity and to throw it out the window for one year sounds like a decidedly bad idea.  Should the Packers take the ball out of Aaron Rodgers hands and start calling more running plays?  That’s not who the Packers are and it definitely wouldn’t work for them.  That’s like asking the Tennessee Titans (who Tanier uses for comparison for the Packers), to take the ball away from Chris Johnson and give it to (insert quarterback here).

To me the inherent flaw in this piece is that ”tricky” plays are inherently complex and that complexity is handled the same for each team.

  1. Personnel factor heavily on the play selection: All teams try to maximize the strength of their players while mitigating their weaknesses.  For the Titans, this means running the ball and for the Packers this means throwing the ball.  You can bet that if the Titans had Aaron Rodgers they would throw it more or if the Packers had Chris Johnson they would run it more.  Simply put, the Packers are built to run a more “tricky” offense, but that also means that they are better suited to run “tricky” plays.
    • Above all, the quarterback determines the limit of “trickiness”: The quality of a quarterback can mitigate many positional deficiencies on the offense, but the quality of a quarterback also determines how “tricky” an offense can get.  The Titans are a mess at quarterback at the moment, they’ve announced that former starter Vince Young will no longer be on the team and Kerry Collins is not lock to make it back either.  The team also drafted Jake Locker in the 1st round, who is considered talented but raw at this moment (and is a rookie quarterback to top it off).  It’s pretty obvious that the Titans are going to try to limit the damage of an inexperienced/ineffective quarterback by relying on its running game and defense.  On the other hand, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, who might be the best quarterback in the NFL at the moment, and actually taking away “tricky” plays would likely hurt Rodgers’ production.