Solving the McVay Offense (SB LIII)

MQ looks back to one the most dominant Super Bowl performances ever & explains why it killed the McVay system.

Three points. That is all the Patriots’ defense allowed the high-octane Rams to score in last season’s Super Bowl. Historically it was only the second time a team allowed only three points (’71 Dallas over Miami 24-3) and no one has yet pitched a shutout in a Super Bowl. During the regular season, the Rams were averaging right under 33 points per game. Only the Chiefs and their 565 points were higher than the Rams 527. In terms of margin of victory, the Rams were third at 8.9 (Saints 9.4 and the Chiefs 9.0).

According to Football Outsiders DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) which ranks defenses according to efficiency (explanation), the Patriots were smack in the middle of the league at 16th. More glaringly, the run defense was 19th overall in that efficiency stat during the 2018 season. Before the Super Bowl, the Patriots had given up 28 points to the Chargers and won a 37-31 shoot out with the Chiefs. The 13-3 Super Bowl result was a stark difference for the perceived results (the over/under was set at 57!).

LA coming into the game having the #2 offense DVOA and the #1 rushing attack in the league. According to ESPN’s analysis, the 13 points scored by the Patriots in the Super Bowl would have netted the Patriots a 1-17 record against the Rams during the 2018 season. For many, this Super Bowl would rely heavily on the Patriots’ ability to stop the run. After the game, Belichick confirmed what everyone agreed on. In a post-game interview with Steve Young Belichick stated the obvious:

“We had to put together something that would neutralize the running game and their big play-action passes on early downs… We felt like if we could make them drive it and earn it… we would have a chance to get them off the field on third down.”

Belichick devised a simple, yet ingenious idea to counter the Rams offense. Sean McVay bases his offense out of an 11 pers. look. His use of the different zones is well documented and uses formations, shifts, and quick motions to gain leverage on opponents. As shown in his quote, Belichick knew he had to slow down the run game. To do this, Belichick used a goal-line defense in the middle of the field. In a quote for ESPN, LA Rams’ LT Andrew Whitworth explains:

They played six on the line all day, which kind of limited the space to get the runs in there… They played an open-field 6-2 almost, but with one guy in the middle… And they played a lot more zone than they played all season, so that kind of shook it up a little bit.

Belichick basically rolled out a 6-1 two-high shell and defended one of the NFL’s hottest offense. The scheme was very basic and the execution was flawless. The front the Patriots ran basically choked out the Rams’ zone run game, especially the Wide Zone that had killed many opponents before. RB Todd Gurly would end the night with 10 carries and 35 yards with a long of 16. CJ Anderson would end the day with 7 carries and 22 yards. Needless to say, the Patriots forced the Rams QB Jared Goff to win the game. As I noted this summer doing research for my podcast interview with The Ringer NFL Show, Belichick dared the Rams to pass and they did with little success.

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MQ Film Study: Baylor vs Boise St. (2016)

Adapting to multiple formations from a hybrid 3-4 defense.

To say 2016 was a rough season for the Baylor Bears football team is an understatement. Despite national scrutiny facing the program prior to the season and a roller coaster offseason, the Bears were able to end the season with a big win. Despite the turmoil off the field, Baylor Football surprised many and finished with a winning record, going 7-6 with a huge bowl victory over a 10-win Boise St. team. 2016 started fast for the Bears, racing out to 6-0 before a close loss to Texas (34-35) would lead to a 0-6 slide. Many around the country and outside the program called for the Bears to stay at home during bowl season. Needless to say, Baylor chose to play.

The 2016 Motel 6 Cactus Bowl was a highlight win for a program in turmoil. Boise St. was a seven-point favorite going into the game and Baylor had not won since beating Kansas in mid-October. Baylor’s switch to the Okie Front in 2016 came with mixed results (the Bears would finish 49th in BCfToys Defensive Efficiency in 2016 – a four-year low mark), but the Bears held the Broncos to 83 yards rushing (they averaged 174 for the year). The Bears were also able to hold Boise’s eventual 5th round draft pick Jeremy McNichols to only 49 yards on 19 carries (He would finish the year with 1,709 yards). Boise would play behind the eightball for much of the game behind then-sophomore QB Brett Rypien‘s two interceptions (would throw a season-high 51 passes as well).

The Bears performance in the Cactus Bowl was a high water mark in an otherwise forgettable season. In regards to football schematics, the Catus Bowl was a demonstration of how a hybrid 3-4 defense could match up versus a multiple TE formation offense and find success. Boise used multiple personnel groupings, shifts, and even tempo to try and get the Bears off balance, but to no avail. This type of Pro-Style offense is becoming the weapon of choice for many programs at all level.

Baylor’s Hybrid Defense

Boise’s offense under Bryan Harsin (former Texas OC and Arkansas St. Head Coach) and his predecessor Chris Peterson (now at Washington) uses a Pro-Style offense with multiple TEs. This can be a hard offense to defend when utilizing a hybrid scheme. Baylor’s base defense in 2016 was a 3-4 Okie scheme that used a Nickel Sam and a Jack or Joker LB away. In 2015, Baylor’s best LB, Taylor Young, was utilized as the Jack LB (weakside “wide-9”). The total transition to the 3-4 was completed in 2016. Young moved back to his natural position as an ILB and Clay Johnston, a 6-1 226 lbs Junior, was inserted as the Jack. The diagram below shows Baylor’s base Okie Front versus Boise’s base offense – 11 Pers. 2×2.

[BUvBSU] 00 Base Def

Baylor had two packages in their 2016 3-4 scheme. The base used a hybrid LB/DE playing the Jack (#44 – Johnston), while the other was a “Dime” look with two safeties at either OLB position. The Nickel Sam was speedy #48 Travon Blanchard (6-2/205). When Baylor wanted to go “small,” #21 Pat Levels (5-11/195), another Nickelback, would come in as the Jack. In Baylor’s terms, Levels was the “Buck” ‘backer.

The flexibility of having a “heavy” and “light” package allowed Baylor to sub if the offense checked into their other packages. Baylor’s “Okie Light” is demonstrated below. The major difference is in the play of the Jack who is now a true Nickelback. Instead of lining up on the line, the Buck ‘backer will loosen up off the TE but still maintain the edge. This package is primarily used against 10 pers. or on heavy pass downs.

[BUvBSU] 01 Okie Light Continue reading “MQ Film Study: Baylor vs Boise St. (2016)”

Defending 11 Personnel from a 3-4

How to adjust to TE sets without a natural adjuster.

Spread and Pro-Style offenses utilize a Tight End versus three-down defenses because the defense lacks a natural adjuster. Unlike a four-down defense that can distribute their anchor points evenly across the formation, the 3-4 lacks the extra lineman to defend the extra gap (hence the name “Odd Front”). When faced with an 11 personnel formation, many 3-4 defensive coordinators choose to spin to single-high coverage to gain an extra man in the box. Another adjustment for many DCs in this situation is to attach the outside linebacker to the TE’s side. With the loss of a coverage man and overhang, the DC is forced to spin. When defending an 11 pers. offense from a 4-2-5 or 4-3, these little adjustments aren’t needed because the anchor points are evenly distributed and don’t need to be created.

In a four-down scheme, the defensive ends act as the walls of the box. When a TE is introduced into the formation, the DE to the TE’s side moves to a 9 technique (unless it is Trey and then he is in a 7 or 6i). The four defensive linemen allow the defense to stay even and adjust with the linebackers and secondary. The evenness of the four-down is why many spread teams attack 4-2-5 and 4-3 defenses from 20 pers., utilizing an H-back. In 20 pers., the offense can use the “H” to attack either side of the defense, reading the overhangs to determine what play to run. If the “H” was attached to the formation (TE) he would lose his two-way go.

Defending 11 pers. formations from a 3-4 boil down to understanding how certain fronts react to the extra gap. From a single-gap fit 3-4, a defense can easily adjust to TE sets and stay within a two-shell scheme. The lack of an adjuster is an issue, which is why many 3-4 teams that face the spread, and Pro-Style spread, choose to defend from an Okie Front because it reacts much like the four-down Under Front. Using the offense’s formations as a guide, it is easy to build simple rules within the defense, setting the strength and when to attach the OLBs, to alleviate the issues seen in many 3-4 defenses. Combining an Okie Front with a match quarters scheme can adapt and flex with any formation an offense throws out, it just boils down to how a DC chooses to line up.

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