Posted on: February 15, 2010 3:12 pm
One of the rule changes for the 2009 season was that teams could no longer put everyone on the same half of the field for on-sides kick attempts.
The Falcons may have introduced the prototype on-sides kick play to the league in their first game against the Saints. Never mind the official game film. It was a nationally televised game, so pretty much everyone had a chance to see it. The Falcons had to do it twice, so everyone got to see two variations of it. The ringer: it worked BOTH times.
I'm guessing that most teams had worked out the basics even before the start of the season. But after the Saints used the on-sides kick to start the second half against the Colts, it's kinda cool to know that the Falcons were the team that demonstrated to the league - and especially to the Saints - that it can work even better with the new rules than the common versions did before.
The key to the whole thing is that it's an option play. The kicking team doesn't decide ahead of time which way they're going to kick the ball. The kicker makes that decision on the spot.
Even if the receiving team expects an on-sides kick, they'll still have to keep at least one man deep, and possibly two. The kickoff is a live ball, so they'd be taking a huge risk lining everyone up within 15-20 yards of the kicking line. If a speedster on the kicking team got downfield, it could be an instant touchdown for the kicking team.
That leaves at most 10 players up front. Including the kicker, the kicking team has 11. The question is how to take advantage of the extra man.
In the classic on-sides play where everyone lined up on the same side of the ball, the receiving team still had a huge edge. The kicker typically wouldn't get involved after the kick, so it was basically 10 vs 10. The receiving team was already in the area waiting for the ball to come to them, and the kicking team had to run at least 10 yards to have a shot at it. Result: the kicking team only recovered about one out of six on-sides attempts.
That's where the new rule actually helps. The classic play wasn't a particularly good one. Now teams have to change over to plays that have a better chance of success.
The new prototype is to line up four players to the left of the kicker, four to the right, and the kicker plus two others in the middle. They don't have to be spread way off to the sides. A "normal" kicking formation should work just fine - especially if you want to pull it as a surprise.
The players are assigned the roles of "goons" or "hands". The hands guys are the ones that run straight to the ball to recover the kick.
The goons are on a seek-and-destroy mission, running straight at the players on the receiving team and knocking them away from the ball, clearing the way for the hands guy to make the recovery. The kicking team has three goons and one hands man on each side, and the two in the middle with the kicker are goons. The kicker takes the hands role in the middle zone.
The kicker sees the formation and decides whether to kick the ball left, right, or straight ahead. It's not a complicated read - with one guy back, it's impossible for the receiving team to match the kicking team man for man in all three areas. At least one of the three zones will give the kicking team a one-player advantage.
That edge is more significant when it's four vs three than it would have been at eleven vs ten. It's simply a better play. The new rule simply forced teams to discover an improved method that was there all along.
Posted on: December 10, 2009 6:31 pm
If anyone missed the news, Chris Houston is OUT for this weekend against the Saints with a bad hamstring. Justin Peelle has a concu... er, "head injury". He hasn't officially been scratched yet, but that's likely to change with tomorrow's injury report. I've already scratched him from my projected lineup.
Jonathan Babineaux, Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Sam Baker and Will Svitek are all limited but practicing. If they hold up, they'll all be available. The question is how effective they'll all be. We've seen Baker get torched while trying to play hurt earlier this season, and Roddy wasn't particularly effective either the first couple of games after he got banged up. So while Jenkins might be in the lineup, it's questionable how effective he'll be.
Todd McClure returned to limited practice today. He's going to try to play this weekend if the medical staff will clear him. They probably will.
Harvey Dahl isn't doing quite so well. He has been resting his ankle and working with the trainers rather than practicing. He'll start with the training staff tomorrow before practice. If all goes well, he'll be listed as "questionable" on tomorrow's injury report and will be a game time decision.
Best guess... Baker and McClure play. Brett Romberg will be active but will NOT start for Dahl since McClure is also dicey. Quinn Ojinnaka likely starts at right guard. The backup tackle will be a game time decision between Svitek and Garrett Reynolds.
The best news of the week: Chris Owens is fully back in action. Unless something happens to him in practice tomorrow, he'll probably start this weekend. No word yet on who will start across from him, but it's not all that significant since the coaches are expected to once again rotate the remaining corners.
And of course the story all the media is covering: Michael Turner and Matt Ryan are both still being held out completely. The team hasn't announced that either of them will be scratched, and the official word from the coaching staff is that the team hopes they'll both be able to play. Unfortunately, the unofficial word is that the chances are less than 50/50 that either of them will see the field this weekend. It's possible, but they'll both have to make some significant progress in the next two days.
So we'll probably be up against the undefeated Saints without our starting quarterback or running back to go along with our patchwork defense. It's a good thing I'm not in Vegas like last weekend. I'd be tempted to put a chunk of money down AGAINST us this week - regardless of the spread.
Posted on: December 12, 2008 2:50 pm
Edited on: December 12, 2008 3:33 pm
I'm sure everyone is sick by now of hearing me preach that we're badly undersized in the middle of the defensive line. But it is an Achilles Heel type of weakness - if exploited properly, it can bring down our entire defense.
The first team to take advantage of it was... Tampa, in week two. And this weekend, we get the Bucs again - and with major postseason implications for both teams.
Everybody knows about the interception that Matt Ryan threw in the first quarter last week, which killed a likely scoring drive for Atlanta and led to a touchdown for New Orleans instead. And everyone knows all about how the kickoff coverage unit suddenly forgot how to tackle, giving up an 88-yard return to set up the winning score for New Orleans.
But if you have the video handy - either from the original broadcast, the NFL Replay version on NFL Network, or streaming video, it's time for a little more video review. Let's take a good, hard look at exactly WHY this whole undersized DT thing is so important...
The TE sets up in the backfield but then shifts to the end of the line, leaving a single back set. At the snap, one WR runs across the backfield (faking the reverse) but the handoff goes to the single back, who runs straight up the middle.
The important part is the blocking scheme. TE and RT block the DE and one of the two LBs. There's no need to double team either DT, so the guards and center have an extra man free to move downfield and block the other LB. (For most of the game, the guards will block the DTs with the center moving downfield on the LB.)
On this particular play, the TE takes the DE, the OT takes Boley, and the interior lineman moves out to block Brooking. Chevis Jackson runs right into Brooking and falls down, taking himself out of the play. Brooking somehow beats both his blocker and Jackson and makes the tackle, but the play results in a seven yard gain.
That's not a killer, but it shows that New Orleans came into this one already knowing that the way to open up the run is to get bodies downfield on the LBs.
First Saints play after the INT: same personnel packages as before. The Saints play a 3 WR plus TE package, this time with Reggie Bush as the single back. The Falcons again go to their nickel package with Moorehead and Babineaux as the DTs.
This time, instead of shifting the formation, faking the reverse, etc, the Saints call a simple draw. Using Bush as the single back may have helped with the illusion of a pass play.
(A well-executed draw is the opposite of the play-action fake handoff. Instead of faking the run to hold the safeties and linebackers, it fakes the pass to lure the defensive line into pass rush mode. The offensive tackles allow themselves to get "beaten" around the outsides, letting the defensive ends simply run themselves away from the play, which goes up the middle.)
The TE (Shockey) goes out for the pass, is covered by one of the two linebackers (Boley), and then blocks that LB. Again, the interior linemen have no need to double up on the undersized DTs, leaving a free man to slide downfield and block the other LB (Brooking).
The announcers pointed out that Milloy missed a tackle. Actually, so did Coleman. But what the announcers didn't mention is that it didn't really matter, because that was already a full 20 yards downfield.
And that's the essence of the Falcon predicament. There's always an extra defender somewhere to match up with the ball carrier. The goal of the offense is to try to man up so that the extra defender is as far away from the ball as possible. The Saints showed pass, the safeties set up in their deep zones, the offense managed to get bodies on both linebackers, and the result was that nobody could even TOUCH the running back until he was 20 yards downfield and running at full speed. (And since both safeties whiffed, the play went for 43 yards, setting up first and goal.)
In other words, they didn't even bother double-teaming Grady. The implications of that are really, really bad for Falcons fans.
This particular play was another draw. The TE (Shockey) went out and drew pass coverage from a linebacker (Brooking), basically taking him out of the play. The center slipped downfield and blocked Lofton. The play ran away from Boley. It went for 18 yards.
Smitty wasn't happy about this one. But if he and VanGorder don't dial up something fast, we'll just see a re-run this weekend.
9:49 remaining, second quarter. Saints have 1-10 at their own 23: this time they fake the draw (basic play-action). By now the team has been burned on so many runs that the LBs can't help but bite on any fake handoff.
The catch is that the LBs have the underneath zone responsibility in pass coverage. So when they step up on the fake handoff, they're leaving a huge gap in the middle of the field, between themselves and the deep safeties. Shockey went right into this gap and was wide open.
Fans tend to fume if the cornerbacks get beaten by a WR and give up a 21 yard reception. But think carefully - this is much worse. Every Falcon on the field was doing his best, all of them were essentially doing the appropriate thing, and yet nobody could stop the offense from executing a childishly simple pitch and catch for 21 yards in the dead center of the field.
Two plays later, the Saints hit us with another draw. We're in the basic 4-3, but Grady is off the field (with Jason Jefferson as his replacement).
Once again, no double team is necessary on the DTs. Once again, the center slips out to block Lofton downfield. The Saints shifted the WRs before the snap, and Brooking was pushed into coverage duty away from the play. The fullback blocked Boley.
So yet again, the offense is able to get a body on every defender in the same ZIP code as the ball, leaving a deep safety as the extra man. Lofton was able to recover and make the play downfield, but it was yet another 18 yard gain.
There's just one catch. If it doesn't get there, plays like this are the result. Brees gets the ball away, it's caught, and the WR is off to the races for 36 yards.
The announcers raved about the WR's quick hitch route, but somehow they were completely oblivious to the fact that Atlanta sent SEVEN pass rushers.
I don't mind that one so much though. At least it showed that our coaches were aware of the problem and were trying to dial up some answers. In this same game last year, the only thing our alleged coach dialed up was an airline reservation...
I'm not going to claim that getting bigger at DT will solve all of the Falcons problems and make the defense invincible. But I do claim that UNTIL we fix the middle of our D-line, whatever other problems might pop up on defense don't even matter. If we give up that kind of yardage on simple draw plays throughout the game, other teams won't even need to throw the bomb or attack us in any other way.
We have to solve this problem FAST, or we won't go anywhere even if we do make the playoffs. And unfortunately, our current 53-man roster doesn't appear to have the personnel to fix things within our current scheme.
We'll either have some personnel changes (maybe even this week), lean on some interesting gimmicks (and hope they work), or wait until next year...
Posted on: November 6, 2008 3:15 pm
Edited on: November 7, 2008 5:33 pm
THE BAD NEWS for fans of both teams: FOX has assigned our old pals Ron Pitts and Tony Boselli to broadcast the game. (Saints fans - I apologize in advance and suggest that you keep a radio handy.)
For Atlanta, Sam Baker is almost certainly out (it's not *official* yet) but everyone else is in reasonable shape. Grimes, Grady Jackson, and Weiner are still nursing bad knees. Snelling has been sick.
Domonique Foxworth is now listed as a starter in the press guide and the depth chart. He's the most experienced cornerback on the roster, but since the team only acquired him in Week 1, the coaches needed time to get him up to speed on the defensive schemes.
No word yet on which of Grimes or Chevis Jackson will play the nickel corner spot once Grimes is back to speed.
Still no word from the league on possible suspensions for Grady and several Saints players over that water pill investigation. However, the players can appeal if a suspension is announced between now and Sunday, so they can all remain available for this weekend's game.
Also no word on who will return punts for Atlanta this weekend. Coach Smith said he thought Harry Douglas did a nice job but that the team hasn't decided who will handle that job this weekend. And for those who think Jennings may be headed out the door, here's a little extra fodder: when asked about the WR corps, Smith named all of the receivers EXCEPT for Jennings.
FRIDAY UPDATE: Reggie Bush and center Jonathan Goodwin are both out. Sam Baker is now officially out for Atlanta. Shockey will likely play. The banged-up Falcons are all listed as "Questionable" - which seems to be the standard practice this season. They include Grimes, Grady Jackson, Weiner, and McClure. Best guess is they'll all be available.