Oh...so THAT'S what it's supposed to look like: A Prospectus on the 2012 LSU Passing Game, Part 2


Like I said, this started to run really long, so I broke ‘er into two parts. Part 1 here. In this portion, we'll delve into more of LSU's passing concepts and wrap up with some general conclusions.

We'll start with one of the more fun route concepts to watch unfold if you're a fan of open-field running.

Drag

Drage111_gif_medium

via 3.bp.blogspot.com

This one's pretty self-explanatory. It's a fairly classic West Coast, yards-after-catch concept that's been co-opted by almost every passing offense (West Virginia in particular had a lot of success with their version last year, and I discussed Georgia's version before the 2011 SEC title game), built around an inside-releasing receiver (or tight end) running a classic drag route (the landmark he should be aiming for is out-of-bounds on the far sideline, six yards from the line of scrimmage).

The dragging receiver is the primary read here, with the goal being to get him the ball in open space with room to get up the field. Versus man-to-man coverage, the receiver will continue his route across the field, but versus zone, he will have to read the frontside (for purposes of this concept, the frontside is the side the dragging receiver is moving towards) linebacker and either continue across the field or cut off his route near the opposite hash-mark and turn towards the quarterback. This is the perfect play to either exploit man coverage with a speed guy like Odell Beckham, Jr., or a way to get it into the hands of a great open-field runner like Jarvis Landry.

The image at the begging of this section displays the basic application of the concept, "drive," a version of which has been a favorite of Arkansas in years past as well (LOLBobbyP). The tight end (or other receiver lined up inside of the primary read) will release outside and get to a depth of 12-14 yards before cutting in. The frontside receiver will run a comeback route at a depth of 16 yards, with an adjustment to a flag route (looping inside towards the hash before breaking to the corner) if there is a safety over the top in cloud position, such as in cover-two. The backside receiver runs a post (which, to be technical, means cutting towards the closest upright of the goalpost at a depth of 12-14 yards). His job here is mostly just to stretch the safeties deep. The running back will run a basic stop route to the backside as the check-down option.

On this play, the quarterback takes a deep drop, with the drag serving as the pressure or hot read in the event of a heavy blitz. The quarterback's eyes will go to the drag on his back step. If the linebacker is squeezing down on that route, the comeback should be open behind him (advantage receiver). If neither is there, the quarterback will hitch up and move his eyes to the middle of the field and the deep in, and if still not open, hitch again and check down to the back. The numbers in the diagram show at the exact landmarks the quarterbacks eyes will go to, and at the first and second he should have two different receivers in his line of sight.

The three most common tags to this concept are cross, clear, mesh and bench. Cross works with balanced formations and, and involves the tight end or WR lining up opposite of the drag to run a snag, or slant to the opposite hash before breaking back and either crossing opposite of the drag or settling with his numbers facing the QB. Here's a diagram of a basic variation with a TE tagged as cross.

Drag_snag_medium

Clear is another tag aimed at 2x2 (two WRs on either side of the formation) sets, in which the frontside inside receiver will run a streak to try and "clear" off the linebacker for the drag route. The backside receiver also has the freedom to adjust his route to a five-yard curl or in.

Drag_clear_medium

Mesh is tag we've discussed before, and simply features a frontside receiver running a slightly deeper drag that will crisscross the primary receiver. Bench is another tag designed to create more room for the "dragger," with one frontside receiver releasing in and running a 14-yard out while another runs a streak.

Drag_mesh

Drag_bench_medium

The drag concept is an early installation in this type of offense, because it teaches simple adjustments that can be made quickly, and with the right personnel can create explosive plays out of the short passing game.

Three-Level

Three-level_oblique_medium

Also known as a "flood" concept, this was one we discussed shortly after Kragthorpe's hiring in Spring 2011. Much like Quick, it's designed to force a defense to pick its poison by running more receivers into an area of the field than the defense can cover. There are two main variants are the "oblique stretch" you see above, which targets the outer third of the field (hashmark to sideline) and the "middle vertical stretch" which targets the area in between the hashes.

Three-level_middle_vertical_medium

Both stretches focus on a triangle area of the field, with points at 14 yards from scrimmage, 25 yards from the line of scrimmage and the flat -- short, middle and deep. For the oblique, this area will be outside of the hashes. For middle vertical, it'll be between them.

For oblique, we'll start with For the frontside outside receiver, the main goal is for his landmark post route to "take the top" off of the defense, which is to say draw the corner covering him deep and preferably a safety as well. On the backside, the outside wideout is to 16-yard dig, designed to specifically target the deep defender to his side -- if the corner stays with him down the field, he's to make a hard cut, but if he is passed off to a safety he can cut inside slightly and then make a speed cut, so that either way he's pushing a defender deep behind him when he makes his move inward.

Three-level_dig_medium

The Z receiver in the diagram can be aligned to either side of the formation. If frontside, he releases inside his man and at a 12-to-14 yard depth, either curl or cut outside, depending on whether the defense is in man or zone. If he's aligned backside, his call is a flood route: an inside release that gets under the first linebacker, get to a depth of 12 yards and cut frontside at an angle that will point him out-of-bounds at about 25 yards down field. The free-releasing receiver (or TE) will run a flat route if frontside, drag if back, while the protection receiver executes a stop route.

The goal here, obviously, is to put the defense in a bind with the triangle -- particularly the flat defender, who will have to choose between the intermediate and short route. If the frontside deep route occupies two defenders, the quarterback then has a choice between the intermediate route and the flat. If the defense overloads to the front, the backside dig should have a lot of open space. Likewise, tags can be applied to the backside of the play to take advantage, such as Spot.

Three-level_backside_spot_medium

And of course any concept that stresses the flat like this can take advantage of tight ends in the play-action game. Here are a few variations of the oblique that might look familiar. Really, a number of play-action looks fit into this play, and the more playbooks I read through, the more triangles I can find myself spotting.

Three-level_lsu_medium

The Middle Vertical three-level stretch, as previously noted, attacks the middle area of the field with a in the same fashion oblique. Picture a similar sort of triangle, with points deep, intermediate and shallow. Only here, the deep and intermediate routes are a little more paramount than the shallow one.

This concept version revolves around a locked seam route from the inside WR/TE (the Z in the second diagram in this section), with the frontside (for the purposes of this variation, frontside is whichever side the Z WR lines up on) receiver running a 16-yard dig, and the backside wideout running a 16-yard comeback. The backside receiver will adjust to a flag route versus cover-two or any other type of cloud coverage, much like in the drag concept. With three intermediate/downfield routes, middle vertical is one of the concepts that could fit two-receiver looks well.

The short underneath point of the triangle can come in any number of ways, such as a running back stop route or tight end drag. A popular combination is the "Box" tag, which features a back or a tight end crisscrossing on short drags.

Three-level_box_medium

The cruise tag can also provide such the short point.

Three-level_cruise_medium

From a quarterback's perspective, the locked seam will serve as the hot read in case of a heavy blitz, but otherwise, he will look to see which intermediate route is cleared by the deep read, and work his way down to the short routes and then his protection read.

Two-Man Game

One of the weirder names, but again, not something totally unfamiliar. Honestly it's not all that different from three-level in that it revolves around curl and flat routes, but rather than focusing on the triangle it focuses more on attacking linebackers/inside corners. Once again, the outside receivers will be going deep to take the top off a defense (God I love that this is now in the football lexicon. Also, I have a dirty mind). One of the positives of this concept is that it adapts really well to any formation, as we see below with diagrams out of two-back and two-TE sets.

2-man_medium

The tagged receiver for this concept will be an inside player, either a slot receiver or tight end, and they'll be running an 8-to-10-yard "stick" route, which basically means an inside-releasing curl route with the freedom to cut his route left or right and create space from the nearest defender. It'll be coupled with a flat route from another free-releaser, such as a TE/WR or running back, designed to stretch the underneath coverage horizontally and create more room for the stick. We previously discussed the Y-Stick concept from some of LSU's Air-Raid opponents last year -- the Y referring to the Y-receiver in the formation, obviously. Here are some diagrams for both tight ends and slot receivers:

2-man_stick_medium

The outside receiver on the frontside will align with a maximum split from the formation run a streak route, while the backside receiver will execute a "glance," or seven-step slant route (which obviously looks a lot like a post). The protection receiver will run a stop route.

The quarterback's reads begin on the backside this time, and his first task is to either throw the glance route or eliminate it altogether. The defensive alignment pre-snap should tell him a lot, and through his drop back the rotation of the backside safety will tell him all he needs to know there. From the back step of his drop (three steps out of the shotgun, which translates to about five from under center), his eyes will then go frontside to the flat. If the flat defender widens to cover the receiver, the stick should be open. If the flat defender hesitates, that receiver will be open. The window might still be a little tight, so having an accurate short passer really helps. Texas loved this concept with Colt McCoy, and here's a little video of them running it.


Of course, if the frontside safety has flat responsibility, such as in a cover-three scheme, the frontside receiver will have a one-on-one matchup on the streak.

Now, if the linebackers are undercutting the stick, a smart way to attack that is with an "angle" tag, which basically tells the flat receiver to break his route after a couple of steps and slant to the middle.

2-man_angle_medium

In spread sets, the spot tag can also be used on the backside here, due to the way it targets the middle linebacker's coverage drop.

2-man_spot_medium

Because of the relatively simple reads here, this is concept is typically installed pretty early on in most offenses, usually with vertical and drag.

Conclusion

It's difficult to put into words just how limited the LSU passing game has been the last couple of years. Even in the first half of 2011 when things were working, it came with low-risk, two-man route combinations and limited reads. That was the hand LSU was dealt, and they did a fairly nice job of bluffing their way past 13 opponents with it. Hell, LSU's 15 pass plays of 30 yards or more was still about middle-of-the-pack nationally, and above a number of teams with better quarterback situations.For better or worse, that's over. The [quarterback redacted] era, at least for now, is done with.

And it's easy to look forward to the big things. The long bombs and the big plays. But honestly I look forward to little things. A quarterback that will hit his back step, hitch up if the primary isn't open, hitch again if the second and third reads aren't and check down to a running back. A quarterback that can throw a tunnel or running back screen, which neither [quarterback redacted] could pull off because one couldn't handle drawing in the pass rush and the other, had such a slow release that he ruined the timing. One that can anticipate route development and actually throw a receiver open. Or one that has the freedom to check to a play that isn't the inside zone, speed option or zone read. Those are the things that I miss. Just the kind of base level of competency that allows a coaching staff to live with the more basic quarterback mistakes like inaccuracy and poor decision making. Those things are dramatically easier to deal with, just look at the crappy quarterbacks other teams in this league have made it work with. Even the passing games of John Parker Wilson, Casey Dick and Jevan Snead looked less awkward than what LSU's trotted out the last couple of years.

This isn't to say LSU's passing game is going to go crazy this year, throw for 3,000 yards, or that Zach Mettenberger become the next JUCO-to-First-Rounder, Cam Newton type of player. But I feel safe in predicting that he'll be competent enough for the coaches to trust him, and looking back over Les Miles' track record, he's not nearly as pass-averse as some would like to believe. His first four teams at LSU, including the 2008 squad that was the early stage of QB Wasteland, averaged 30, 28, 31 and 30 passes a game, and the 2006 squad averaged 8.9 yards on those 28 attempts which is an outstanding number. The passing game will have its chance to shine if it earns it.

Important to remember -- the offense's most proven playmakers are still running backs. Stack up Spencer Ware, Kenny Hilliard, Alfred Blue and Michael Ford up against ODB, Landry, James Wright and Russell Shepard and the former is still the group you want touching the ball more often. Plus, we're still not totally sure which receiver will be the true go-to guy. Of course that's not necessarily a bad thing sometimes. Look at Arkansas' passing game last year (LOLBobbyP) -- even with Jarius Wright having a great year, they were never afraid to spread the ball around and Joe Adams, Cobi Hamilton and Chris Gragg each took a turn as the go-to receiver for a game. It was the kind of balance that LSU had to its running game in 2011; it could beat you any number of ways.

That's another word to watch for in 2012. We tend to think of a balanced offense as one that is around 50/50 in its run-pass ratio, but more and more coaches would tell you a balanced attack is one that can attack you with any player on the field.

On to the players themselves. Based on what we've seen from Mettenberger, I feel comfortable saying that the physical talent is there in terms of arm strength and athleticism for him to be very, very good, and to run this offense to the best of its capabilities. I think he might even have just enough mobility for the occasional (very occasional) speed option or QB run. On top of that, he seems to be diving head-first into the leadership role, and his teammates seem to be responding to him -- especially his receiving targets. Behind him, Stephen Rivers is still a very raw player, and I don't think LSU wants to be relying on him in 2012. But I also think he can at least meet the baseline expectations of the offense. Now, neither guy here has ever started a single game, never mind seen much in the way of SEC competition, and everything is just speculation until the whistle blows in August. But there's more reason for optimism than there probably has been since Matt Flynn left town. If Mettenberger can in fact harness his physical tools under the pressure of playing week-in and week-out in this league...well...


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