Well, Cardinal fans, we are a quarter of the way through the regular season and I hope you have enjoyed my attempted insights thus far. First off, on Allen Smith - what terrible luck. I watched the play many times and that appeared to be about as freak of an injury as I've ever seen in literally thousands of hours watching film as a player, coach and journalist. It seems that the Oregon player Smith was blocking accidentally stepped on Smith's foot while they were engaged. The defender had the leverage position that forced Allen back onto his butt while also having his foot pinned down and simultaneously falling backwards and so as far as I could gather that was the source of the patellar tear. Imagine being shoved backwards by someone who is running at you full speed and right as their hands strike your chest they step on your left foot and continue to shove you on your butt. Now imagine that person is 6'2" and 230 pounds and runs a 4.6 forty. I'm not a doctor but that's my guess on what happened and again truly unfortunate for the Cardinal faithful and especially the front five.
That said I really thought "Benny" Muth did an admirable job in Smith's stead though and that's a good sign for the present and for next year as well. As far as the Oregon game and its outcome, those who watched it know that the game didn't start off too well for the Card in the opening quarter, nor did it end well in the second half. The question is: "Why"? Well, Oregon played a high risk style of defense, bringing eight men into the box quite often and taking chances by vacating zones and stunting and twisting linemen. Those looks are tough to prepare for and when they are thrown at you early in the game right from the word go, it takes a few series for the entire offense to play with their "worst case scenario" mindset. This mindset, for linemen, involves ensuring that they are prepared for the defensive line and linebackers to be moving out of their normal alignments, gaps and rush lanes. By the time the second quarter came around, our line had done an excellent job of processing that information, communicating and anticipating variance in the defensive strategy so that they were prepared for any and all scenarios to occur in the blink of an eye and make the necessary adjustments in physical technique. It's one thing to know what to do mentally, but completely another to execute your adjustments physically on the field of play, all while maintaining a high level of intensity. Our front five did an excellent job of that in the second stanza and therefore, the focus here first for this piece then will be on what went right in that quarter, when the Card played arguably their best offensive football of the young season.
Let's start with a detailed breakdown of the first offensive snap of quarter number two. The play, which I discussed in last week's article, was a lead draw concept, in this case run behind right guard Alex Fletcher. Remember "draw" means that offensive line sets for pass while the quarterback drops back before handing off on a delay to tempt or draw the defensive players up the field toward the quarterback. Prior to the snap, T.C. Ostrander sent the TE/FB in short "parallel shuffle" motion from left to right. "Parallel shuffle" refers to the fact that tight end Ben Ladner's shoulders were parallel to the line of scrimmage while facing the defense and shuffling his feet sideways - again across the offensive formation from left to right and also to the strength of the Cardinal's formation. The strength of formation at this time was determined to be the offensive right as evidenced by tight end Jim Dray's presence on the line of scrimmage at the Y position, lined up next to right tackle Chris Marinelli. So, what we have in effect when the motion is completed is the classic "I" formation with Kimble lined up as the halfback about seven to eight yards deep behind T.C. and Ladner motioning into the fullback position in front of him. Tight End Dray, or the "Y" as he is known, is on the line of scrimmage on the right side three feet from Marinelli in a three point stance, while Evan Moore at the "X" or split end position is lined up standing up outside left and Mark Bradford, the "Z" or flanker position is lined up standing wide right and off the line of scrimmage to the right. Back to Ladner in motion, again the offense shows this motion often, especially on the zone blocking series where Ladner would continue outside to lead Kimble off the tackle's outside hip on the outside zone play or off the guard's outside hip on inside zone.
On this particular play though, Ladner settles in behind Fletcher as the ball snaps and reads Alex's block. Ladner is coached to go opposite of Fletcher - if Fletch takes his man outside, Ladner will cut inside of the block and run full speed ahead to "lead block" on the strongside linebacker who, after holding his ground or dropping slightly due to the pass action he is seeing from the quarterback, comes up to fill and meet Ladner in the hole and to shed the block.. As it happened on this occasion, the Ducks appeared to be in either a line stunt or the defensive tackle took an outside rush - but either way, the defensive tackle, who was lined up outside "Fletch" to begin with, takes a wide outside charge and thus opens up a huge lane for Ladner (and Kimble) to run through - seemingly until - Oregon's weakside linebacker steps up to fill that gap. This is the proverbial moment of truth for Kimble because Ladner has now done his job by engaging the strongside linebacker, doing a nice job of getting his pads down and driving his man out of the hole - so if Kimble makes the correct cut, he's through the second level and on to the safeties. If not, he fights through traffic on the right side directly behind Ladner and settles for a nice six- to eight-yard effort. Well, on this play he demonstrated excellent vision, made an instinctive decision and with his sharp 45 degree angle cut to his left, he not only choose the correct lane, but also set up guard Mikal Brewer and center Tim Mattran's double team seal block on the nose guard and backside linebacker. As soon as the weakside linebacker stepped into the gap, Brewer turned to his right and sealed the lane for Anthony to explode through as he continued his brief journey. Via cause and effect, the backside cut sprang the run - Brewer saw that linebacker disappear and was able to turn his shoulders to create a six hundred pound wall with Mattran and in the process seal the gap because Kimble made such a decisive cut. You could almost say that Kimble made Brewer's block for him in this case.
One other quick note to make before we move on to the safeties and the importance of downfield blocking on touchdown runs. Part of the reason this draw play was so successful is that both Cardinal tackles, Muth and Marinelli were able to set back and "show" pass, drawing the defensive ends up the field. This makes their jobs much, much easier, and against even fronts (with four down lineman), it creates a natural crease to run through between guard and tackle on both sides - provided the tackle "sells" the defensive end that he is really setting up for a pass block. Once our tackle brings the defensive end up the field, the end will recognize the play and attempt to "cross the face" of our blocker and get back into the play, and the offensive tackle then counters by "clubbing" or striking the defender with his inside arm to prevent that from happening. This lead draw concept against even fronts is one of my personal favorites in the run game. Again, the benefits are tremendous. By showing pass, you relieve the pressure off of both your tackles by giving wide rushing defensive ends a false key - you use the defender's speed against them and you can allow them to penetrate without hurting the play. Secondly, the two guards and center have easy reads - they set "tough" as to simulate a three-step pass and then sort out the trio consisting of the weakside linebacker and the two defensive tackles. Typically there's a double team inside - as there was in this instance with Mattran and Brewer doubling the nose tackle or "1" technique and the weakside linebacker. Their job was made easier because when the linebacker stepped up to fill inside - Kimble's vision and quick decision essentially washed two men into the same gap, opening up a backside hole that when I froze it on the DVD, was approximately ten feet wide. Holes this size are much more difficult to find on zone blocking plays because the linemen and tight ends have to move people off the ball and avoid penetration at all costs.
Now on to the safeties, and the difference between a nice ten-yard gain and a long touchdown. First off, Oregon was in an eight-man front, blitzing their weakside safety. They only had one safety in the middle of the field and he was lined up tight to the box, maybe ten to twelve yards deep, shaded roughly over tight end Jim Dray's position on the offensive right. The weak safety was on the line of scrimmage on our left, lined up outside of Muth. I could not tell from the film I watched if they intended to play man coverage or some combination coverage on the play, but regardless, their free safety made a gross error in underestimating the speed of Mr. Kimble. He took a terribly flat angle, dove and missed. That left just one more matchup, since the weak safety had already blitzed outside to our offensive left (outside of Muth's man) and ran himself out of the play. Wide receiver Evan Moore did an excellent job of smothering the cornerback on his side, and with all the ugly green and white unis in his dust, Kimble turned on the jets and finished up the job with his sprinter's speed. The Card came back to this play again several times with different combinations of motions, without motion and with different personnel that included Owen Marecic lead blocking and Jeremy Stewart toting the rock. By establishing this play and showing the action multiple times, the passing game started opening up as Oregon's back seven were forced to spend that extra split second trying to diagnose draw runs vs. draw action pass. The deep safety in particular had to hold his backpedal longer so as protect against more touchdown runs. Kimble almost broke two more in the period and would have had another touchdown had the safety not adjusted his depth. Mark Bradford also had a nice catch and run after TC showed draw action.
Many of you might wonder, why so much success in the second quarter, with then limited results in the other three periods? Well, as I indicated, in the first frame, Oregon showed a lot of looks, line stunts, dogs and blitzes. If you aren't familiar with the term "dog" it refers to a linebacker "charge" or what is mistakenly called a "blitz". Strictly speaking from a technical football dictionary prospective, linebackers "dog" and secondary players "blitz" when they attack the line of scrimmage from any depth. This is a risk/reward game. When you vacate rush lanes or coverage zones you take a defensive risk that the offense won't attack that same area. In the second quarter the chess game went our way for the most part. In the second half Oregon did a better job of limiting their risk, it's really that simple. They also made big plays in big spots, particularly on third- and fourth-down situations. I also think our offense started to wear down just a bit physically as they played very, very hard with little depth behind the starters. The key lesson to take away here is that our offense is very capable - the talent is there, the coaching is there, the playcalling is there. Putting together enough drives to win in a shootout like we saw on Saturday is very difficult to do. I've been there, particularly in '93 and '94 when we lost a lot of high-scoring affairs. This offense will be fine though, provided that they become a little bit better each week and continue to form their own identity as demonstrated with the success of building blocks like the draw runs and draw action passes we saw this past weekend.
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