Monday, July 15, 2019

Book Club

Non-football book this month. This book is fascinating. An economic reporter wrote about the drug trade by looking at it as if it wasn't an illegal enterprise. How would the business model be evaluated from a purely economic perspective? How could that economic information inform the approach to drug regulation and law enforcement? This book is an easy, interesting read and simply provides a view of the drug trade from an entirely new perspective. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Pop Up Clinic

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Cover 1 Double #1

This is a guest post from Chris Vasseur. Chris is currently the Defensive Coordinator at Clovis HS in California. He is also the host of the Deep Dive on Defense Podcast for USA Football. Vass is always learning and talking football if you have questions about this article or are looking for good football info follow him on twitter @CoachVass. When I asked if he would write something for the site he asked "Can I tell a story?" So here is a story from a great football coach and a great friend. -Brian

The story of how I did everything you’re not supposed to do for the biggest game of my life and not be fired from the coaching profession

In 2017, I faced a monumental task of coaching against a school with what would end up being the #1 offense in the country, in a state championship game.  They had a QB with offers from USC, UCLA, FSU, and Arizona State, where he ended up going, a RB that would end up at Arizona, and scariest of all, a WR named Darren Jones (who will be referred to as #1 the rest of the piece). #1 is 6’8 and had over 2000 yards receiving in one year.  Their #2 and #3 (hell, their #4, #5, and #6 WRs) were pretty good as well.  Not to mention a 6’6 245 pound DE who doubled as a TE in jumbo packages, with offers from Alabama and Texas A&M among others, coming in to play TE next to Randy Moss Jr. on short yardage downs.  We were outmatched, to say the least.  To make matters worse, we found out this team was our opponent on a Sunday morning, and had to play the state game on Friday at 4 pm.  We didn’t have a lot of time…

I turned the film on and was terrified.  They were every bit as good as I thought they would be… really, even better – they were explosive, crisp, and well coached.  Their schemes were varied, effective, yet simple enough to be done while going fast.  After having what my friends call my patented Chris Vasseur Meltdown™, I started tagging the games.  As I was tagging this team, I realized their best run was when the QB, Jayden Daniels would scramble.  It was the most explosive run they had, and it was going to hurt us if we didn’t do something differently.

I am a 4-2-5 guy to my core.  After starting my career as a student assistant at the University of Miami for a brief time, where I learned the Miami 4-3, I went to work at San Jose State as a Graduate Assistant doing football video.  There my met my mentor, Keith Burns, who taught me the “G Defense,” but with a twist.  He was one of the first guys to play those OLBs as DBs types and checked to Quarters vs. one back.  After a few years coaching high school football, I wanted more flexibility, so I studied the TCU defense.  To say I fell in love is putting it mildly; I learned every detail and it became an obsession.  I stalked TCU GA Brandon Lechtenberg who felt sorry for me and allowed me to pick his brain.  We kept in touch and a year and a half later, he hired me as his Corners coach at Millsaps College.  I learned the defense and exclusively studied it for six years.  There was only one way to coach defense – the Gary Patterson way.  That is until this fateful Sunday.

As I watched this team, I realized that our 4-2-5 defense would hurt us – we are a man match Quarters team and this team flared their back quite a bit.  If we matched the “Fast 3,” it would be a 4-0 box and the QB would take off and run all day.  We were thin at DL and moving guys around to compensate. Changing position and trying to mastering pass rush lanes ain’t easy five days before the biggest game of your life.  Plus, if we did attempt to cage him, we would just be sitting there and letting him have all day in the pocket to throw.  I also knew we needed to double their stud WR (#1) – there was no way around it. I was starting to think we needed to play 3 down, something I had NEVER done as a base.  I was afraid it would be too much to put in and I didn’t know it well.  Plus, can you REALLY throw your defense out five days before a state championship game!?   The previous year, we had started 0-4, won 10 in a row, and lost the state game in a heart breaker.  We were back in the big dance and I wondered out loud if it was really smart to do this?   So I called two of my closest confidants, Chris King, DC of St. John Bosco in Bellflower, CA and Brian Vaughn, the owner of this website.  I didn’t want to give them my thoughts, especially about switching to 3 down – I wanted their opinion without tainting their perspective. 

I kept watching the film, scribbling down ideas, and as the night fell, I heard back from both guys.  Both coaches, at that time to my understanding, were “4-2-5 guys.”  As we talked about the opponent, they started echoing the same things I saw – the QB scrambling was their scariest run, their line was physical, and I had to figure out a way to double the 6’8 WR with 2000 yards receiving.  But the most striking advice is what I had thought but didn’t disclose: “you should think about playing 3 down with two 4is sprinkled in.”  That previous spring I had visited my former boss (and now current boss), Rich Hammond.  I was there clinic-ing his DC and in the evening, we exchanged ideas.  During that time, he had shown me Dave Aranda’s Tite front.  To show you how smart I am, I looked at it with my 4 down snobbery and I believe my exact quote was, “there are no edges, there is no pass rush… this is #$&!ing stupid, I’d never @%&$ing do this.”  (Coaches… as a sidebar, never ever never ever ever question the wisdom of Dave Aranda EVER).  Now, 4 ½ days before kickoff, I am trying to figure it out with zero resources, cursing myself for not paying more attention to Rich. I called our head coach at Serra, Patrick Walsh, and told him we would roll the dice and switch things up.  Coach Walsh has many amazing qualities, but one of his best is trusting his assistant’s judgment and having faith in them.  Coach Walsh blessed the overall plan and shared the sentiment that we needed to do something different.

So the basic plan was this:  On run/playaction/RPO downs, play Tite front with Quarters/Palms away from #1 and Cover 5 Wall (TCU’s version of Man Match Cover 2) to the side of #1.  We had played these coverages before so we were in familiar territory.  If it was Trips, we would play Special/Stubbie/Mini/Lock to the Trips and take our Dime and press the X WR on the backside with a 1/2 defender over the top, where #1 usually played.  We had some other ideas to pick our spots in the blitz game, getting into 4 down and play Cover 1 if we had problems stopping the run, and a way to revert back to our base defense if everything went to hell.

The next question became, what would we do on passing downs?  Chris and Brian provided some great ideas and I combed ideas I keep in a super secret doc (don’t bother asking it’s going to my grave), that is about 250+ pages of stuff I have seen, done, wanted do, organized by types of offenses, formations, personnel groups, defending certain people, etc. The problem with defending #1 besides him being Megatron reincarnated is that he played all four receiver spots in 2x2 and 3x1, even lining up at some tailback.  As our Safeties coach Lyndon McGee created the hit chart for his routes based on where he was, I kept looking and racking my brain.  I was on the phone with Blitzology (that’s his real name, don’t act like it’s not) and he sent me a picture of a rotational Cover 3 concept that would self adjust no matter where #1 was.  I loved the idea as we had planned on doing something similar for base downs, but we don’t play Cover 3.  As he was talking it dawned on me: play Cover 1 Double Jersey #!  

One of my closest friends in this business is James Light.  James has done more for me than I will be able to repay and I feel so lucky that I get to call him a friend.  If it weren’t for him, I am not friends with Chris, I never go to Georgia which got me on the Saban Tree defensive journey that I am on, and my best friend is not the Offensive Coordinator at St. John Bosco.  Cover 1 Double Jersey # is a coverage James had tweeted about and I always was intrigued.  The basic premise of the coverage is that you double the WR you want to stop with the deep safety to the side he is on, and the other deep safety plays the MOF.  From there, you decide on the type of bracket you use vs. each position the WR can line up at based on the routes they run.  To me, 1 Double # is more a concept then a specific set of rules.  You can put basic camp rules in, but it’s customized to stop a certain person so putting in “camp” rules doesn’t make much sense to me, if you’re just going to change it when you play the guy you need to double.  However, NFL teams put it in their playbook to practice in camp, where formations are more stagnant.  Note: Also, I only recommend using it if the WR moves around a lot.  If he is always the left WR, you can set your rules much easier, and don’t need to put the whole concept in, but I digress. 

I trust Coach Light and his endorsement alone was enough to make it worth doing.  However, he had some pretty good coaches backing up his assertion.  1 Dbl Jersey # is Bill Belichick’s go-to when playing a stud WR on passing downs and he has used it extensively throughout the years.  The most famous example is when he used 1 Dbl #83 (the player they are doubling is included in the call) to combat Andre Reed in Super Bowl XXV as the Defensive Coordinator for the New York Giants.  The plan worked so well that is enshrined in Canton, opened to the page containing 1 Dbl #83.

 Belichick has also used the coverage various times over the years vs. Chad Johnson.  A video excerpt of Belichick talking about it can be found here, even teasing Johnson before the game, telling him he was going to be doubled: 

It was also revealed that the Patriots deployed this tactic vs. the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI on Julio Jones, after a whiteboard with their gameplan on it was left un-erased.  Keen observers like James Light believe they have seen the coverage also used against Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton, Travis Kelce, Michael Thomas, Tyreek Hill, and Robert Woods in the Super Bowl in February.  It’s safe to say it’s been used many other times before, between Reed and Woods, before the dawn of “Football Twitter” to figure it out.

Another coach who used the coverage is Belichick protégé, Romeo Crennel.  To understand an example of the rules, here is a copy of the page from a 2010 Kansas City Chiefs playbook when Crennel was the Defensive Coordinator.

Also, here are some drawings from the 2015 Houston Texans playbook when Romeo Crennel was the Defensive Coordinator.

Another coach on the Belichick tree that has used the 1 Dbl Jersey # is Nick Saban.  In general, Saban prefers to use a coverage called 7 Special, which doubles the opponents’ best receiver inside of his man-matching quarters structure.  However, he used it more this past season than any other year, having it in the gameplan for AJ Brown (Ole Miss), Jonathon Johnson (Missouri), Ryan Davis (Auburn), Mecole Hardman (Georgia), Hollywood Brown (Oklahoma), and Hunter Renfrow (Clemson). Over the last five years, Coach Saban has had gameplans to double Christian Kirk (Texas A&M), Travis Dural (LSU), and again double A.J. Brown (Ole Miss) and Hunter Renfrow in 2017.

Belichick has also incorporated it into 5-man pressures where instead of rushing 5 and playing with a MOF safety, the MOF safety doubles the star player.  In the Super Bowl, the Patriots brought a variety of 5-man pressures and sometimes added a tag called “Dbl #17.”  This tag told the Deep Safety who is usually responsible for the MOF, to double Robert Woods.   Anyway, back to our opponent.

I decided we would use the bracket concept and now it was time to decide how we would go about it.  I called long time friend John Rice to get some different options.  Besides being a world-class football coach and an even more amazing man, Coach Rice literally wrote the book on facing an offense similar to our opponent.  John’s groundbreaking book entitled “Defending the Spread Offense” was one of the first books written on the subject and has stood the test of time.  I had the generic concept from the Chiefs and Texans playbooks, and how Belichick had employed it over the years, but I wanted to create a menu of options.  Coach Rice has written extensively about the bracketing concept, and we went through the pros and cons of each type.  I thumbed through his book as John sent me more materials, talking through each call.

After hanging up with Coach Rice, I called Coach McGee to decide how we would play each Bracket.  We poured over the hit charts he created, studying each route #1 ran at each receiver spot by formation, and how many times he was targeted. We began choosing the corresponding bracket to see how they would fit to each concept, and the plan became to crystalize. All of the brackets above are done with a 4-man front.  However, our plan was to go 3 down, put one ILB on the back and leave another LB in the box as a spy on the QB.  We decided to take a chance and move our starting X receiver to defense to match up with #1. We felt he was such a good athlete and we needed a big body to match up with #1, we decided to roll the dice.  The player I am talking about is Patrick Nunn who stood at about 6’3” and could jump out of the gym.  One problem: he hadn’t played Corner all year long, or really ever before.  He now plays Safety at Washington State, which he had played for us in spot duty that year.  The plan was to move him move around and follow #1 to whichever side he lined up on.  Deciding on the brackets when #1 was playing at an inside WR position was easy – the low guy would play outside and the deep Safety would play inside (the Deuce Bracket in drawing #1).  The problem was:  what happened when he played at the #1 WR?  The best choice there was to play 2 Man Under.  The issue to me was that it didn’t make sense to have a 6’4” Corner trailing a 6’8” WR with a 5’10 Safety playing over the top.  It made more sense to flip it – have the shorter guy trail and let our big guy go up and contest the Fade balls. 

So, we devised a way to handle it.  If #1 was lined up as an inside WR, we would “Deuce” him as the drawings show above (down DB outside, deep Safety inside).  If it was Trips and he was the #2 or #3, we would “Deuce Bracket” both the 2nd and 3rd receivers.  When #1 was inside, the ball was going there, so we decided to take our chances and play man-to-man outside on the outside receivers.

If #1 aligned as the outside receiver in 2x2 or as the outside receiver to the Trips side in 3x1, we would check “Screw.”  This meant the defender over #2 would slide over to #1, the player who was normally the 1/2 Safety would come down and play man trail on #2, and the stud Corner we had would come back and play the 1/2.  This is an older concept that used to be used on the backside vs. a X receiver called “Thumbs.”  If it was 3x1, we would cover the 3rd WR with the Dime who would come over.  If #1 was the single WR, the Weak Safety would go press #1, the stud Corner would back up and play the 1/2, flipping responsibilities.  Also, to help away from the rotation, we gave the Corners relief by making Bail calls so they weren’t one-on-one in press the entire game.  As we studied more, we realized that the team had a “tell” based on a certain condition (I will refrain from giving the tell out of respect to the opponent).  If X happened, it was 60% pass, but if Y happened, it was 99% pass.  So, our final base plan was to play Tite with 1/2s to the stud when X happened, and check to Wide 5s and play our new 1 Dbl #1 coverage, which we called, “Screw.”  Here are brackets from our game plan. NOTE:  These match ups were specifically tailored to what this opponent did.  I HIGHLY recommend that you do not copy and paste this plan.  Take the theory shown here, and use the example shown below, to create your own plan.  This coverage will not work if you don’t customize it to what you see.

The defensive staff had our weekly Sunday night Skype call session and I reviewed the plan with our staff.  Line coaches Nicholas “The Eagle” Walsh, Matt McGinn, and our Inside Linebackers coach Kevin Dos Remedios all loved the plan, and embraced the change of the front 3.  The plan was officially set, but there was one small problem: when Monday practice rolled around, our secret weapon, Patrick Nunn, wasn’t there (he got very sick the night before).  After crying on the inside when finding out that the lynchpin to our game plan was not there, I tried to find a silver lining.  Their #2 WR was also REALLY good – our plan called to matchup our best guy on their best guy AND double him.  I started to wonder what would happen if they start beating us with their second best WR who was usually one of the outside receivers, with outside receivers generally harder to double!  The old “Deion principle” popped into my head and I started doodling before practice.  When Deion Sanders played for the Cowboys, they would sometimes put him on the teams 2nd best WR.  They knew he could handle that guy one-on-one, so they erased him with Deion and would then double the opponent’s best WR with two guys.  This way, they had some balance in the plan and weren’t completely selling out to stop one guy that the Cowboys lost to their second best guy.  First and foremost, you always want to take a way what a team does best but if you are putting all your chips on black every play, they just gotta hit red a few times and you’re toast.  So, we took the field and worked the “Deion Plan” with our 2nd Corner doubling #1 and making all of the adjustments and our 1st Corner (our 3rd best guy standing in for that practice) traveling with the 2nd best WR.  Our other personnel woes included playing without our top two defensive tackles, a starting ILB, and having to start two sophomores in the secondary, one of whom wasn’t cleared until two days before the game after sitting out the previous few weeks.

The week went on and we practiced our new defense, with Patrick coming back to practice on Tuesday.  As fate would have it, our #2 Corner, Chris Park, missed a day of practice as well with some sort of ailment.  Only having the full secondary for one practice made me question what I was doing – I knew I was taking a risk, but I felt I had no choice.  It helped that I was able to show the kids the NFL playbooks and tell the story about this coverage in the Hall of Fame to distract them from the fact that I was slightly terrified and this could backfire, leaving me with egg on my face.  I was doing everything you’re told not to do when you start first start coaching.  To make matters worse, I really do love our defense.  I believe in it.  I can anticipate how people will attack and most importantly, I know how to fix it.  After our penultimate practice of the season, I called Coach McGee and almost pulled the plug on the plan.  We weren’t executing like I wanted and the kids were confused.  The lack of cohesion relative to personnel was exacerbating the discomfort for the players and the staff.  I forgot how close I was to calling it off until I Coach McGee and I reminisced about the game. However, I knew deep down that no matter how good we were with our base, we were going to get killed if we continued doing what we had done all year.  But you know what they say, no risk it, no biscuit.  And if you’ve seen me, you know I love biscuits (especially Red Lobster ones).

Game day came around and the plan was deployed.  In addition to an effective defensive gameplan, Now don’t get me wrong - I have been wrong plenty in my career.  I’ve miscalculated on things, had plenty of bad ideas, and made a slew of other boneheaded mistakes.  But on this day, the football Gods shined on the Serra Padres… the calculated risk, the plan, the personnel moves – everything paid off and worked like a charm.  The Tite front rush confused the QB as he thought he had an edge to exploit.  The back would flare, one backer would expand, but the other would sit over the middle.  The QB would start to roll to escape the pocket, as the 4is looped to contain.  The QB would stop and the daylight rusher would step up and sack him.  This happened four times in the 1st Quarter.  Our kids played out of their minds with effort and tenacity that was jaw dropping.  The opponent averaged anywhere from 260-280 pounds up front and our 3 DL averaged a little over 200 pounds, but they held point.  My fear was confirmed on the #2 WR playing against out #2 Corner.  After trying to throw to #1 with little luck, the offense found the matchup they wanted.  To counter this, we enacted the “Deion Plan” to create a moving target.  The offense started figuring out our adjustment, and started winning with #1 again, so I randomized where our Corners would go.  We started by playing field and boundary for a few snaps, then flipping them, then playing left and right and back to our match ups with stud on stud, and then back to the Deion Plan.  It was a real live game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and I looked like a deranged conductor, flailing about.  

Our offense created a masterful plan to control the game.  Lead by current St. John Bosco Offensive Coordinator Steven Lo, the offense took control of the game and going into the last drive of the half, we were up 14-0.  Our Quarterback Luke Bottari took a shot in the ribs that briefly incapacitated him.  On the drive, Luke short armed a routine ball to a wide open receiver that would have put us up 21-0.  Instead, our opponent got the ball and drove to half field, before executing a Hail Mary to make it 14-7.  I ignored the advice of everyone in the stadium and didn’t deploy the “everybody-on-the-goal-line Hail Mary coverage.”  I didn’t like it, and I thought they would try Hitch n’ Pitch.  Why?  I don’t know – I guess I am a dumbass.  In the end, we had some guys there to make a play and he still out-jumped 4 defenders.  For the second week in a row, we were on the cover of MaxPreps for all the wrong reasons, with a great action shot of #1 towering above our boys to snag the ball out of the night sky (the previous week, Kazmier Allen set the national TD record for one season at 76, in a 30+ point win by us).  As we jogged to the locker room I couldn’t help but laugh.  Even though we had gotten embarrassed on the Hail Mary, I couldn’t believe the plan was working.

To start the 2nd half, Cajon drove 99 yards to make the score 14-14.  Our offenses responded.  With a wounded Quarterback and at one point, four Offensive Lineman that did not start the season (two season ending injuries, and two players who kept getting banged up during the game), we scored 24 unanswered points.  Our spread offense that averaged almost 50 points a game, switched to our short yardage/grind-it-out Double Tight, Double Wing package for the second half, only throwing 2 passes after halftime. Coach Walsh’s yearly crusade to develop depth at Offensive Line paid off, and flawless Special Teams coordinated by Ron Ortiz, we controlled the game on offense and played mistake-free football.

In the end, our opponent moved the ball between the 20s and actually outgained us, but we played lights-out Red Zone defense, created turnovers, forced coverage sacks, and most important, we were nails on 3rd Down. The plan was easier to execute because our opponent didn’t move #1 around much, besides flipping from one outside receiver position to the other.  The final was 38-14 and we were champions.  

I was stunned.  The gamble paid off.  We were able to bob and weave our way to victory with a once-in-a-lifetime game plan due to the uniqueness of the situation and the tell that allowed us to check coverages.  To this day, it is the happiest day of my life.  I will never forget the feeling and disbelief in winning a state championship, and in the process holding the #1 offense in the country to 14 points.  And it’s all because of some great players making plays and some scheme help from an array of coaches on and off our staff, Bill Belichick, James Light, Twitter, and the blog you are reading now. 

If you want to read more about the game, including quotes that helped me land my current job, you can go here.

Game Film

Clip 1 – first drive of the game and we had just given up a big play.  They were not expecting man and it looks like we had never played it before either.  They had 2 open guys, but we flushed him, helicoptered the QB, and forced a fumble.  That play never happens if our FS doesn’t make an INSANE, 100% effort, come-from-behind tackle.

Clip 2 – 2nd drive.  #1 is outside to the bottom of the screen.  Good coverage results in us forcing the QB out of bounds for a sack.

Clip 3 – 3rd drive – you can see the rotation and our kids’ ferocity. 

Clip 4 – 4th drive – great clip to show to see the coverage and the pass rush plan!  Tear in my eye

Clip 5 – Fitting the run on a Jet sweep.  They actually started running a lot more in the second half to try to get us to come down.  We weren’t having it.

Clip 6 – Allowed kids to bail to take away verticals, which I believe they only threw 3 or 4?  Probably my favorite clip.  210 pounds vs. 160… #5 who forced the fumble is a sophomore in the clip.  He was also our kicker the year before in the state game.  We had to pull him up as a freshman which is UNHEARD of where we coach.  He missed 2 extra points and we lost the state game by 2 points.  Redemption.

Clip 7 – good vice on the screen

Clip 8 – tried to hide #1 in a TE position.  Great coverage

Clip 9 – Hail Mary… they only have 10 guys on the field and still go up 1-on-4.  Our kids looked like they’d never seen a football before.  I jogged into the locker room laughing, because even with that play, I never thought we’d only give up 7 points in the first half.