Saturday, November 22, 2008

Building a successful team - The Management

Over the years we have seen some teams which every season bring their A game to the field. These are the teams all pundits talk about as the sure bet for being in the playoff chase at the end of the regular season. Then there are teams which can't compete and they have been bad for years and have not been in playoff hunt for years. This is salary cap era, one team just can't spend big money like baseball and buy all the good players. Still, some teams are just way better than the other teams. Why? Let's dissect the successful teams and see what makes them great year in and year out.

Let's start with the owner of the team. He/she must be willing to spend money on quality players, on coaches and provide an environment which breeds success. A mending owner is a recipe for disaster. The owner should watch his investments but let the coach do his job. An owner who interrupts the coach sooner or later looses the coach and also the team (Jerry Jones, Al Davis, Dan Snyder anyone?).

The coach and the staff, this also includes the GM the VP of players and scouting. Hiring the right GM who would take care of the business side of the ball is first step in creating a winning environment. Then comes hiring a successful scouting director who knows how to evaluate the talent, not just those precious 1st day draft picks but also the guys who have gone under the radar and picking them from the streets. Any GM/coach who can make all or most of the draft picks contribute on Sundays would get the results of his hard work very soon. The team should be build through draft, not through free agency. Bringing in pricey free agents to build a team has never worked. Coach can look for one part of the missing puzzle through free agency but the principle is the same, build through draft. One of the best example of team building through draft and getting the final piece of puzzle through free agency has been the 90s Pakcers team. It was tandem of Ron Wolf(GM) and Mike Holmgren (coach). They drafted excellent players, got Brett Favre (QB) from Atlanta and fitted the final piece by bringing in the late great Reggie White from the Philadelphia Eagles. The title of GM, VP might differ from team to team but the job is the same. Take care of money and find talented players.

Finding the right coach and making sure that team buys into his philosophy is a very important step. These are not high school or college kids who the coach can intimidate, these are men with million dollar salaries. If coach can't earn their respect, he should pack his bags and leave because he has already lost the battle even before the team has stepped on the football field. Each coach brings his personality on the field. Some coaches are like army generals, very tough and drill masters, others are more like father figures. Both kinds have been successful on the field. One thing with coaching in NFL is that the coach should be willing to work 90-100 hours per week. 40 hours/week is not going to cut. Coach has to be ready when Sunday rolls around. Jon Gruden is a every good example of a hard working coach, he comes to office around 3-4 AM in the morning to work on his game plan. The Superbowl ring and complex offense is the evidence of his hard work. Unsuccessful, hard working coaches have extended families in NFL e.g. Bill Walsh tree; it has produced amazing number of successful head coaches in the NFL .

This is what is needed to build a strong team. In next post we will talk about the players. If a team is build on these principles, it would go out each Sunday and give it's best on the field.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Offense.

In my last post I talked about how a 4-3 run play would work. Later I realized that I have not explained the positions on offense and defense in detail. Let's start with offensive side of the ball.
  • Quarter Back (QB) -> QB is the most difficult position to master in football. He is the leader of the offense. Every team wants a QB who can run the offense smoothly. QB needs to have the athletic ability to throw balls to the receivers with a zip. In NFL if QB can't throw a ball 15-20 yards deep with velocity, he won't be able to survive in the league for long. QB can operate in two ways. He can get the ball from center by lining direly under the Center or in a "shot gun" formation. Shot gun is the formation in which QB is couple of yards deep in the backfield. He signals the Center to give him the ball by tapping his foot or calling a audible signal. Shot gun is primarily used to avoid pass rush.
  • Center (C) -> Center is the anchor of the line. He is the one who gives the ball to the QB. Center calls the line audible i.e. he sees the defensive formation, recognizes the blitz, the middle linebacker or any other pass rush that might come. I would call Center as the second smartest or in some cases the smartest player on the field.
  • Left Tackle(LT) -> As we know that most QBs are right handed, they can't see who's coming from the left side. They are totally exposed, that's where the LT comes. He is the most sought after commodity other than the QB and in some cases, he is the no. 1 pick. LTs are as hard to find as a good QB. LT eliminates the best pass rusher from the defense.The QB won't have sleepless nights before the game because he knows that his backside is safe. He won't have to think about the pass rusher breathing down his neck on every play.
  • Right Tackle (RT) -> The primary purpose is same as the LT, cut down the pass rush from the visible side of the QB. RT does not need to be as athletic as the LT. Both Tackle positions are hard to play because if they are beaten by the pass rusher, there is no one left to stop the pass rusher from getting to the QB.
  • Guards (left and right)-> LG and RG are the interior linemen. Their job is to protect the inside gaps and open running lanes for the running back. If the team employs inside rush to disturb the pocket, guards are there to cancel that inside rush. Generally tackles can play guard position in case of an injury, the reverse is not true in most cases.
  • Tight End (TE) -> The TE position has evolved over years. They are still part of the offensive line but these days more and more teams want a pass catching TE, a guy who can run in the middle of filed and catch passes. Pass catching TEs are great asset to the offense but they need to be good blockers. A bad blocking TE is just a big Wide Receiver.
  • Wide Receiver(WR) -> It is the diva position of the NFL. It's all about speed, size and egos. WRs catch balls thrown at them by the QB. They requirements for WRs are simple; run crisp routes, catch everything thrown at you and don't be intimidated by the safety who's going to blow you up after you catch the ball ;). Generally there are two WRs on the filed in a basic formation but these days teams go with 4-5 WRs at a time to create mismatch with the secondary(CBs and Safety).
  • Full Back(FB)-> The use of FB has reduced from the early days of NFL. FBs help open hole for Running Backs. They carry the ball only in goal line situations.
  • Running Back(RB) -> Running Backs also known as Tailbacks are the ex-divas of the NFL . Their job is to carry the run attack of the offense. One can call RB as the most violent position on the field because they get hit every time they touch the ball. This makes the NFL life of a RB very short. In modern era NFL most teams are using 2 RB set to keep the wear and tear on the RB down, thus extending his NFL career.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

4-3 run play

In the last post "4-3", I talked a little about basic 4-3 formation. Let's try to elaborate on how a basic 4-3 run play would work. For starters, Let's get familiar with all the positions for this particular play. The Offense is lined in an I formation (C-QB-FB-TB). TE is on the right side of the line, next to the Right Tackle thus making that side the strong side.

In a formation like this, the Defense would guess that a run play would go to the strong side. This bias will help creating the mismatch on the weak side as linebackers initial reaction would be to run to the strong side of the formation to stop the run. You can see the blocking assignments of the offensive line. The FB will run towards the weak side and try to cut the OLB and open path for TB. The QB will give the ball to the TB at 45 degree angle thus creating a stretch play.

It's not only important for the O line guys to block the D line guys but also to shed the blocks and cut the approaching linebackers. If the TB cuts the corner outside, it would be very hard for the defensive secondary to catch him. This play has potential to gain big yards.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


A basic 4-3 defense consists of 4 Down linemen and 3 Linebackers. This is a classic formation against the run. There are two Cornerbacks and two Safetys to cover the pass plays. If an offense has a good pass catching TE, it can take advantage of the slow speed of linebackers. The middle would be open for the QB to throw passes to TE.

Talking about linebackers, how many great linebackers are in the game? Ray Lewis even past his prime, is playing amazingly well this year. Him and Peyton Manning are the smartest player in the league, very hard to trick them. Manning read the Steelers blitzes perfectly and 3 years ago he could not. Thanks to his study habits, he was able to dissect the blitzes.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Still Alive

Colts kept their playoff hope alive by beating the Patriots last night. The game went by very fast. Colts did what they had to but the genius coach of the team from New England made some really weird decision, challenging a play which would have gained him only 5 yards and losing all the time outs way early in the 4th quarter. I think it was Mike Martz in Bill Belichick costume. Halloween spirit you know.

Packers suffered a tough loss. Rodgers played really good but in the end Titans won. I am still not a believer in Titans. They are one and done team in playoffs. Just sit and watch.