"space" players

Submitted by Jasper on October 8th, 2011 at 1:59 PM

A Friday article on the Grantland site about how teams are using "space" players in the NFL:


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My post is not intended as a slam on MANBALL or the current coaching staff, of whom I'm currently a big fan. If Hoke et al. want to move toward a Wisconsinesque road-grader offense that gets the job done, I'll be completely behind the idea.

But, I think the parallels between RichRod's offensive philosophy and what's described in the article are interesting. If his ideas were that lousy, would they be used at the highest level of football?



October 8th, 2011 at 2:07 PM ^

I don't think many people had a problem with how productive RR's offense was at Michigan. He got the team to score points. Defense and Special Teams were the big issues.


October 8th, 2011 at 2:30 PM ^

I'm not sure if Sproles is a great example for this article.  He was good with the Charges but some kind of insane talent.  At the same time Bush was failing to really live up to his hype in the Saint's system.  Others like Welker and Harvin (when he's healthy) proved much more dominate in their ability to function as ninjas (seriousily does Welker have a cloaking device?  How do other teams keep letting him get open...).  I'd love to see this article written in a few more years when we have more data from Harvin, because I think he'll be the exemplar case, his health permitting.  

Anyway the Sproles issue aside I strong disagree with your suggestion that Hoke and RR are opposite in mindset, or well Borges and RR to be proper.  Borges has repeatedly used Denard's space abilit and embraced the slot ninja mindset (Gallon and Dileo) get a lot of love.  Smith is clearly getting time as well.  The difference this year though I feel is that we show power sets to keep the defense honest.

As the article says, space players work best when they matchup on some big, slow linebacker whose main skill is power running stopping.  Everytime we line up and run dave or some other power run, two things happen.  The fans groan and go "2 yards?  Gah".  Oppposing defensive coordinators though are forced to keep those giant LBs in to protect against that style of run.  A total buyin to "in space players" just lets the other team sub in hybrid LBs (the tweeners between DBs and LBs) and reduce the effectiveness of your players in space.  Now they're match up against someone who can run with them instead of some lumbering dinosaur.

In the coming years with how we use Justice Hayes we'll clearly get a good idea how this staff things.  As it stands though I see us using ideas in space.  Just as in the Carr era we'd let Breaston operate in space and pull plays with him (reverses, direct snaps etc).  I guess I'm arguing the whole space player philsophy evolved before RR came along.

As a side note, I wonder if some of RR's defensive struggles came from him trying to design a defense that would beat his offense.  We recruited a lot of tweeners and guys you'd put in to counter space players on the offense.  It struck me as possible that RR believed college football was moving that way, so he was adamant we install a system to deal with it.  The downfall was of course the fact that he was ahead of the defensive curve in that lots of B1G teams were still primarily power teams.  This year the B1G is awash with running QBs (even Wisconsin!).  I wonder if in a few more years the 3-4 or 3-3-5 will be installed at most schools, perhaps not as the base defense but as one they can pull out when needed.  


October 8th, 2011 at 2:26 PM ^

On Mike and Mike this week they mentioned how the first 4 weeks in the NFL had the 4 highest combined passing yardage totals in NFL history. So many 3, 4 and 5 wide formations. The NFL guys were blaming it on no off season workouts.
<br>I say however it is the reflection of the college game. so many spread offenses, so many players who can do it.


October 8th, 2011 at 2:28 PM ^

Also the new rules that make it harder to get a legitimate hit on the QB.  Notice how this offseason the price for top DB talent went up.  Some DCs have indicated that with the new rules regarding QB contact, you're better off playing coverage than heavy blitzing.  


October 8th, 2011 at 5:30 PM ^

Loved RR's offense when it was clicking, but when the team was pinned close to their own goal line and couldn't move the ball to get a drive started it was frustrating.  RR's offense with slightly bigger OL and a bruising fullback when necessary seems pretty ideal.

Like all NFL offensive strategies, give defenses some time and they'll be able to defend it better and NFL offenses will have to change again.  I wouldn't be surprised if college DC's who have successfully defended the "space" start getting phone calls and job offers with the big show.


October 8th, 2011 at 6:19 PM ^

using RR's players has moved Borges (more) towards RR's O as the season progresses, ie, taking advantage of the zone read and using the running QB threat to draw the safeties out of coverage. The barricades are down.