By Christopher DiMarino
Like many Pittsburgh Steelers fans out there, I\’ve been taking in a lot of the training camp news. While I was catching up on the podcasts this past weekend, I found a topic that I think warrants some digging in to. In a recent episode, David Todd explains the difference between the two-minute offense and the hurry up. Later, Dave Bryan talks about linebackers and position flexibility. I think that these two strands are linked. The hurry up is a very dynamic offensive tool that when used properly can conquer a defense. Position flexibility is what gives each team the tools to apply or defend the hurry up successfully.
As Todd said, the key to the hurry up is catching the defense in a particular formation. Typically this consists of luring the opponent into their base defense to defend the run, then calling passing plays. While the fundamentals of passing out of a running formation tie into this as well, the hurry up is predominately based on scoring points quick. The hurry up can cause a lot of strain on a defense in many different ways aside from just personnel mismatches. The larger run stoppers on defense have no opportunity to switch out and tend to tire more easily than their pass defending counterparts. Another facet is the confusion that is caused by the quickened pace.
While a lot of the hurry up is related to the offense, the defense can employ tools to deal with it as well. The Steelers have always considered stopping the run a prerequisite of competing defensively. This is an effective tool against the hurry up because being able to consistently combat the run allows the defense flexibility in focusing on the pass.
When you\’re not as concerned with stopping the run, the personnel you choose can simply mirror what the offense sends out. In some instances, this has been a point of struggle for the Steelers when their defensive players can\’t match up. An example would be when a typically slower linebacker like James Farrior was matched up against a speedy running back. In certain situations (man coverage/blitzes), the linebacker would now have the responsibility of covering the opposing running back. Seeing as these running backs are typically sub 4.5 runners, they can have difficulty keeping up with them, especially in space.
The key to this article and the point that I was trying to make is that having position flexible talent is an advantage in the no huddle. The key I heard that put me on this tangent was how David Paulson has been used more as a receiving option in Heath Miller\’s absence. Heath is a great example of a player that, as a hybrid, blurs the line between blocking tight end and receiving tight end. Other examples of this are receiving running backs, blocking wide receivers and fullbacks that can act as 3rd down backs.
An example of using hurry up and position flexibility can be seen out of the I formation. Let\’s use Baron Batch and Will Johnson as the backs and Miller at tight end. This formation should tip the defense towards a run responsible defense. Fast forward to second down, and Ben Roethlisberger calls the hurry up. He can split Batch out as a slot receiver, Miller will chip and get into his route and Johnson can be used as a backfield blocker. He just changed from a run focused look, to a pass aggressive formation.
As you can tell, the success of this change depends on the player\’s flexibility. How good is Miller as a blocker and how much of a mismatch is he running a route? Can Batch be too much for a defensive back to tackle and too difficult for a linebacker to cover? How effective can Johnson run block, pass block and even sneak out for a pass?
These are all points to think about for the coming season. A player like Rob Gronkowski is so valuable to the New England Patriots because he is a powerful run blocker, but also a tough player to cover, much like Miller. Running backs in the passing game are becoming more prevalent than ever with planned screens, delayed flats and even angle and slot routes. On the defensive side, a linebacker with speed like Sean Spence or Lawrence Timmons, helps counter this flexibility. Timmons is usually a good run stopper and also possesses the speed to cover many of the receiving tight ends. This is why more than ever teams are going after big and fast defensive backs. Some teams are moving to a big nickel package where one of the linebackers is switched for a defensive back who is competent against the run, but more of a pass defender. During preseason games, you can be the judge and see how players handle the wealth of situations they are put in and guess if they can have prolonged success in situational plays.
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