Greg Cosell: The Evolving Chess Match

Discussion in 'The National Football League' started by Playoffs, Jul 9, 2012.

  1. Playoffs

    Playoffs Subscribed Contributor

    Apr 26, 2008
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    Cosell Talks: The Evolving Chess Match

    With training camps opening in less than a month, I’ve begun to think about what I expect to see in the 2012 NFL season. I’m speaking more broadly, in terms of the continuing growth of the game. It’s become axiomatic to say the NFL is a passing league. The numbers certainly verify this statement, but there’s more to it than that. I want to drill down deeper and put a fine focus on the transformative relationship between offensive concepts and defensive reaction/adjustment.

    I remember watching the opening game of the 2011 season, a Thursday nighter between the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers. And I particularly recall Darren Sproles catching a 36-yard pass on a third-and-6 in the first quarter. The quick breakdown of the play: The Saints had three wide receivers, tight end Jimmy Graham and Sproles on the field; the Packers matched up with nickel personnel, playing man coverage with LB Desmond Bishop on the outside versus Graham and LB A.J. Hawk on Sproles offset in the backfield. From the backfield, Sproles ran an angle route in the middle of the field and left Hawk in the dust. That play stayed in my memory bank. In so many ways, it crystallized the tactical history of the NFL over 50 years, and provided a framework for where I believe it’s headed.

    First, let’s take a step back and look at the evolution of the NFL passing game, dating back to the 1960s. This is the CliffsNotes version …

    The NFL as a whole took its cue from Vince Lombardi: two backs, a tight end on the line of scrimmage and two wide receivers. A minimal number of plays run over and over with great execution. It was a game of physical toughness predicated on running the ball on offense, and stopping the run on defense, exclusively out of 4-3 fronts. The pass was used in desperate down-and-distance situations, as a reactive measure, never as a proactive tactic to attack and break down defenses.

    What followed were the innovations of Don Coryell and Bill Walsh. Their philosophical foundations derived from Sid Gillman, at the time the head coach of the AFL’s San Diego Chargers. Gillman was not beholden to the NFL model. He wanted skilled players in space to force the defense to defend as much area as possible. He envisioned a big-play, explosive offense, with the pass serving as the main catalyst. That was the antithesis of Lombardi’s approach (control the ball, move the chains). Coryell and Walsh took their lead from Gillman and further expanded the thought process of football. They were creative and imaginative, seeing the pass as a means of limitless possibility and choreographed beauty. It was Coryell who first recognized the tremendous value of a tight end with Kellen Winslow, who could align anywhere in the formation and essentially be deployed as another wide receiver. Walsh saw offensive football as a wide palette of strategy and tactics, more of an art form than a game of brute strength and physical will. He featured (and mastered) a controlled midrange passing game, primarily working from the inside out, both celebrating and expanding one of Gillman’s core beliefs: If you control the middle of the field with the passing game, you can attack and win on the outside.

    Both Walsh and Coryell forever altered the NFL landscape. It is not overstating the case to acknowledge they laid the groundwork for all that followed: three-, four- and at times five-receiver personnel; multi-dimensional tight ends who align all over the formation; receiving backs who run vertical routes; extensive use of the shotgun. Defenses had to respond, or they wouldn’t be able to compete effectively.

    When Coryell began splitting Winslow wide...

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  2. drs23

    drs23 Veteran

    Mar 16, 2010
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    No more VIP Suite so back to the recliner
    Excellent find. Thanks for posting!

  3. TimeKiller

    TimeKiller Guest

    Nov 3, 2008
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    This giant tree, standing 10,000 ft. high but not
    The question becomes speed vs. power. You spreading it out? Or going simple? When it leans too far one way, the other will come to balance. Teams are going to start throwing in motion packages to counter the Texans speed in dime, to put a power run down the throat's of a smaller D. This is where a guy like Quin comes into play, who can play DB in a base 3/4 set but can fill up a LB hybrid spot in dime.

    The best teams will be able to do both, on offense or defense.

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