Sikkema’s Stat of the Week

When I was in high school, we had the freedom to make our own class schedule. At the end of every school term, we’d meet with our guidance counselor and she’d go through some of the options we had when choosing when to take which classes the following year. There were obviously certain classes that you had to take at each grade level, but sometimes you’d have some freedom to choose which period you would take them in to feel like you had some say – not really.

When my sophomore year rolled around it was time to take geometry. I wasn’t the biggest fan of math. I was decent at it and made it all the way up to a calculus course my senior year (humble brag), but that was more on me knowing how to be good at school in general and less so good at math. We only had one geometry teacher at my school, so where a choice in instructor wasn’t an option, when you could take it was. I chose to take it right after lunch so most of the days we could all ease into the class, dilly-dally around a bit and learn as little as possible.

Here I am now at 27 years old covering football for a living and I sure wish I paid more attention back then. Why? Because passing in the modern NFL is about arithmetic (timing) and geometry (spacing).

Sid Gillman was football’s first math teacher. He transformed the game from the tough, heads-up, brute force rugby derivative it was into a beautifully orchestrated, well-thought-out, timing and spacing masterpiece that it has paved the way for today. Gillman was the first to implement concepts of timing between quarterbacks and receivers. He coached for many years in the NFL, most notably with the Philadelphia Eagles when Dick Vermeil was there, as they perfected the “pro-style” offense.

These were some notes from Gillman’s passing offense via Smart Football.

Timing of Pass:

  1. The timing of the delivery is essential. It is the single most important item to successful passing.
  2. Each route has its own distinct timing. As routes and patterns are developed on the field, the exact point of delivery will be emphasized.
  3. Take mental notes on the field on timing of the throw.
  4. If you cannot coordinate eye and arm to get the ball at it’s intended spot properly and on time, you are not a passer.
  5. Keeping the ball in both hands and chest high is part of the answer.
  6. Generally speaking, the proper timing of any pass is putting the ball in the air before, or as the receiver goes into his final break.
  7. If you wait until the receiver is well into his final move, you are too late.

Attacking Defenses:

  1. You must know the theory of all coverages. Without this knowledge, you are dead.
  2. You are either attacking man for man, or zone defense.
  3. Vs. Man for Man Defense, you are beating the Man. Vs. Zone Defense, you are attacking an Area.
  4. Not knowing the difference will result in stupid interceptions.
  5. Study your coverage sheets so that by merely glancing at a defense you know the total coverage design.
  6. Man for Man Defenses
    a. Hit the single coverage man. This will keep you in business for a long time.
    b. Stay away from receivers who are doubled short and long.
    c. Do not throw to post if weak safety is free unless you are controlling him with another receiver, and even then it can be dangerous.
    d. Flare action is designed to hold backers. If backers are loose, HIT flare man.
    e. The secret to attacking Man for Man is to attack the single coverage man who is on his own with no help short or to either side.
    f. You must know the individual weaknesses of our opponents and attack them.
    g. There are many methods of dropping off by deep secondary men. Each method provides a weakness – know them.
  7. Zone Defenses
    a. To successfully attack zone defense, concentrate on attacking the slots (X-Z Curl, Y Curl, Cross Routes).
    b. Flare action is a must to hold the backers close to the line to help open up the zones behind them.
  8. Exact knowledge of defensive coverage and the patterns to take advantage of these is a must.

Summary:

  1. Spread the field horizontally and vertically with all 5 receivers
  2. Pass to set up the run (not the other way around)
  3. One-Back formations are a must.

Gillman divided his passing concepts into spacing concepts: horizontal stretch, vertical stretch and objective reads.

Horizontal Stretch

Zone defense is the most common coverage called in the NFL. There reason for this is because it’s easier to teach a group of players to collectively cover the field than it is to expect to have all-world athletes at most of your coverage positions to play man coverage effectively. The horizontal stretch, as the name implies, can beat zone defense by stretching the field out from sideline to sideline by putting as many receivers as you can on the field and allowing them to be as wide as possible, therefore stretching coverage gaps. The large the gaps, the easier it is to manipulate.

Typically zone yields better results because if one defender gets beat, the receiver will soon run into another defender’s area and can be covered that way. However, this can be exploited through certain movements. The main way you can do this is by by moving two or more receivers into a single defender’s zone, ensuring one receiver will be uncovered.

(via Smart Football)

When you run a concept like an all curls concept, you force any team in Cover 3 or Cover 4 to try to cover three or more receivers with no enough bodies. If you know a team is running three or more players in deep zone, all curls and all slants can dink-and-dunk them to death.

Vertical Stretch

The vertical stretch can attack a zone defense similarly to a horizontal stretch, but instead of stretching the defense side to side, the vertical stretches the defense up and down the field.

The receivers in this concept will run routes on the same area of the field, but on different levels, one above the other. This causes the defender to either drop back and cover the deep route, or move up and cover the short, leaving one receiver open. This is also called “Hi/Lo Reads”.

(Via Smart Football)

As you can see in the screenshot above, on the right side of the field you have one receiver running a wheel route from the receiver position going all the way down the field, then you have another trailing him on an out route, and finally you have the inside receiver running a quick out. This forces the defense to cover three receivers with just two guys; an impossible task. It’s just a matter of the the quarterback seeing which player they choose not to cover.

Objective Reads

Objective Reads aren’t necessarily different from horizontal or vertical stretches in terms of concept, but rather than focus on overloading a zone, these are designed as “man beaters” due to a combination of route. The best example for this is the mesh concept.

(“Dig” via Smart Football)

(“Mesh” via Smart Football)

But it’s when you combine variation of both horizontal and vertical that you can really get into some hard-to-cover stuff, and that’s where the geometry comes in.

The insight behind the triangle is that the horizontal and the vertical stretch are combined to create a single straightforward read for the quarterback that provides answers no matter what the defense presents.

(via Smart Football)

A triangle design, as shown above, is built to, as its name suggests, give the quarterback three points of attack in one lane of sight. It allows the quarterback to attack the field vertically, horizontally or in a quick man beater, all within one side of the field. It’s used to keep things simple. When you can present a quarterback with a triangle of options that are spread and yet within a line of sight, you’ll likely have a favorable match-up in one of the three points of the shape.

Modern offensive concepts are designed to move the ball and score points, of course, but the goal is to make that job as simple as it can be. There were only three quarterbacks in the NFL that averaged more yards per attempt than Jameis Winston last seasons: Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Alex Smith. Brady makes sense because he’s the greatest of all time. Brees makes sense because the Saints running game was so good that them being a threat to run successfully every down gave them the ability to shoot the ball over the top at will. And Smith makes sense because Andy Reid is an Air Raid genius.

Winston’s numbers were a product of being down on the scoreboard, certainly, but also were a product of the Buccaneers running vertical concepts heavy in their game plans. I liked that. I’m a guy who thinks that unless you have a truly dominant run game you should be passing the ball early and often. It has the biggest payout for explosive and scoring plays, and the numbers just make sense to throw the ball more. But, I feel as though the Bucs made their vertical concepts too stretched and their spacing of Hi/Lo reads was not right.

I feel as though I didn’t see enough simplicity from the Bucs’ vertical attack in 2017. I thought they put a lot of stress on their offensive line last year, and Winston holding on to the ball, as he does, didn’t help.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and OC Todd Monken - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and OC Todd Monken – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

In 2018, I’d like to see the Bucs get back to the basics of arithmetic and geometry. I want to see mesh and dig concepts over the middle with guys like O.J. Howard, Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson. I want to see Hi/Lo concepts vertical with Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Cameron Brate. I want to see a triangle offense that doesn’t bring defenders together in a zone, but rather stretches them out in as quickly as a five-step drop. I can’t tell you how many times I felt like I saw the Bucs run a Hi/Lo concept, except the routes were too similar and it just turned out to be more defenders guarding the same route in succession. I also felt like the Bucs tried to run a lot of Hi/Lo reads, but with not enough receivers to one side.

Like Gillman stressed in his notes, knowing your opponent is everything. If you know their tendencies, you know their weakness, too. Brady, Brees and Smith are all artists in the pre-snap arena. Winston isn’t there yet. If you can get Winston to recognize things pre-snap like those guys do, you can see this Dirk Koetter offense get both vertical and simple. That’s what the Bucs need in 2018.

But that also has to be married with well-studied play calling, something we’ll discuss more on the second page.

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About the Author: Trevor Sikkema

Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: [email protected]
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4girls
4girls
3 years ago

I agree, Trevor. I also loved the Bucs passing on first down. We’ve been so damn predictable for so long, especially with running on First and 10. Seems like some Play Action would work, as well, since we have the run-on-first-and-ten reputation. I will be very curious to see what happens in the regular season. I listened to the Podcast about the risk Koetter would take by not calling the plays. While it makes sense that his worth may seem less if Monken is calling the plays, if Koetter is more relaxed and makes better in-game adjustments and decisions, which… Read more »

Horse
Horse
3 years ago

The better the Defense, the more options the Offense has.

geno711
geno711
3 years ago

I remember being at Josh Freeman’s last start for the Bucs at New England. We arrived in the stadium very early to watch the practices before the game. Tom Brady and New England were running man coverage in 7 on 7 drills. Brady would get on himself if the passes weren’t exactly where he wanted them – just leading the receiver enough that the corner could not get his hand on the ball. The passing game makes football exciting. I went on another trip to watch the Bucs v. Baltimore, the day before we also saw Air Force v. Navy… Read more »

Wausa
Wausa
3 years ago

I was told there’d be no math.

Jlog
Jlog
Reply to  Trevor Sikkema
3 years ago

If you are throwing the ball you don’t need the math, the brain grock’s it on the fly.

1bucfanjeff
1bucfanjeff
3 years ago

I want to see Monken keep calling plays in pre-season, in particular, the ever-important quasi game-planned game #3. That will tell me more. I do like we have a capable, or potentially more capable OC waiting in the wings.

Nobody
Nobody
3 years ago

This is a good article Trevor, but its application to the Bucs and DK’s suite of passing concepts is extraordinarily dubious. DK’s playbook has plenty of Mesh concepts (the 2nd pick in the Minnesota game and DJax’s Redzone Tight TD in the Miami game are two notables) His playbook is utterly littered with variations of Snag (the classic triangle) concepts (either out of some kind of Bunch, Trips, or Stacked/Tight w/ a RB running an Arrow/Flat underneath). His playbook is littered with Spacing concepts (both vertical and horizontal stretch). I don’t understand how this article applies to DK’s offense at… Read more »

Nobody
Nobody
Reply to  Nobody
3 years ago

I can’t edit the above, so a quick ammendment. 1 above should be:

1) The Bucs ran more than they passed on 1st down in only 3 games last year:

GoldsonAges
GoldsonAges
3 years ago

I’m a big fan of Monken’s. His offenses at Southern Miss were explosive. I’d rather have my head coach NOT calling plays. Part of what a great leader does is delegate duties. Dirk should be more concerned with getting all aspects of his coaching / preperation to gel together instead of worrying about what play to run on 3rd and 5.

Alldaway 2.0
Alldaway 2.0
3 years ago

Monken has a better understanding of red zone play calling for the pros just based on what I saw with the last pre season game. I formations are a must in third and short situations (especially in the red zone) because it doesn’t telegraph if it is a run or pass. On this Jon Gruden has a point that a QB under center with an I formation in the red zone is the best possible matchup for an offense to keep a defense guessing. Koetter has a tendency to have Winston in shotgun in third and short situations. While Winston… Read more »

Alldaway 2.0
Alldaway 2.0
3 years ago

One final thought: Barber running from a single back formation or a lead blocking formation doesn’t matter. Barber is going to gain yards one way or another if he is allowed to go forward. On this the Bucs should not be cute and try use Barber going E-W with their play calling. Keep Barber going N-S and the Bucs offense will open up.

plopes808
plopes808
3 years ago

If this success continues throughout preseason, there is absolutely ZERO reason for Koetter to take play calling duties back.

fl0nase
fl0nase
3 years ago

Great article as usual Trevor. I personally love these types of articles as this is really the difference between the consistent winners and losers in the NFL. I agree that the red zone pass play you didn’t like was horrible for down and distance for them on that drive. Waste of a play and dangerous at that yard line in the red zone. It’s clear that Fitz saw nothing develop within 1-2 seconds and just booked it. My sincere hope is that without play calling duties Koetter had more bandwidth to SEE how little that play worked at the time,… Read more »

jshumaker
jshumaker
3 years ago

That was your best article. I really liked it

germanbuccaneer
germanbuccaneer
3 years ago

I’d love to see Monken keeping the playcalling duties during the preseason. To take it from him by design once the season starts would be pretty counterproductive by Koetter.
The preseason should be his chance to further practice juggling playcalling and his HC duties, if he wants to keep calling.