Backfield action is harder to defend than ever. How will NFL defensive coordinators counter it in 2013? (Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
We have a special treat for the debut of our new "Audibles Audio" series of podcasts -- an hour with Greg Cosell, longtime game tape maven at NFL Films, and the executive producer of ESPN's NFL Matchup show. In 1984, Greg and the late Steve Sabol, former president of NFL Films, invented the "matchup" Idea and brought advanced football analysis to a new level. Greg is one of the foremost authorities on schematic concepts and trends in the league, based on the tape study he's been doing since 1979, and his many connections in the NFL. We're also happy to announce that we'll have a weekly matchup podcast with Greg in the 2013 regular season. And yes, we'll have RSS and iTunes feeds very soon.
For our first podcast with Greg at SI.com, we talked about the preseason, and some of the more pertinent schematic ideas in football. Here are a few words of wisdom from Mr. Cosell:
On how he analyzes preseason performances: "What you don't know, and this is what makes it difficult, is what teams are looking to accomplish. Some teams do very little when it comes to schematics on either side of the ball; they're simply looking to evaluate players. You may or may not know that, depending on relationships you have with personnel. Other teams, with new coaches, may be doing schematics, and you get a feel for how a team may play. One quick example is the Eagles in their third preseason game against Jacksonville -- when Michael Vick played into the third quarter, everyone assumed you'd see the 'Chip Kelly Offense,' and that would be the so-called dress rehearsal. I've studied Oregon's offense for years, and to me, that was not the offense we're going to see."
On the Chip Kelly offense he expects to see: "What he's doing, and we'll see if it's successful ... I think there's been a change in concept. In the NFL, for years and years, the basic premise in the run game was that you needed a physical, downhill element. We know that the Houston Texans are a zone-based run team, but there's a physical element to it. They often do it with two tight ends, and lined up that way more than any team in the NFL last year (73 percent of the time, per Football Outsiders' game-charting). You can go back to the days of Vince Lombardi, but it was execution-based. I think where coaches like Chip Kelly come into this is that while there are physical elements, he will try to win with deception and misdirection -- make it look different. He doesn't just want to out-execute you; he wants to deceive you. And that's why, when I watch the tape, it looks perimeter-based to me. IN know they have inside zone, but everything seems to start more laterally."
On how NFL defenses might try to stop the option attack this season: "One thing I've talked with coaches about -- when you have quarterbacks who can run, and going back to Michael Vick when he was really the only one doing this in 2003-2004. Coaches would tell me that they would encourage Vick to run, and in fact make him run to a specific area, and they'd have the defense set up in that area. A lot of this stuff -- people have done it defensively, but last year, from a preparation standpoint, a lot of coaches didn't have enough time [to scheme to defend it]. That's why I'm really anxious to see what they do. Don't forget -- college coaches deal with this every week, and not every team that runs read-option scores 40 points every week. Many NFL coaches went to college campuses to get a better feel for it, and get a better feel for it ... and in college, it gets defensed, by the way."
You can either right-click on the link to save it to your computer, or click on the player below to listen on the page.
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