aNewDomain.net — John C. Dvorak Super Bowl 47 advice and analysis: Make the quarterback expendable and revolutionize the NFL in the process. Here’s why it’s radical — and why that Dvorak Super Bowl strategy and others he explains below are so key.
Whenever there are changes in rules, such as the recent head-to-head contact violations and leading-with-the-head violations, things change.
The NFL is now ready to adopt a totally-new style of NFL quarterback as epitomized by Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers. It was no coincidence that 49er Head Coach Jim Harbaugh was fresh out of the college ranks where he saw the burgeoning era of the running QB stemming from the pistol and spread offense schemes. The irony is that, while at Stanford, Harbaugh also bred what could be one of the last of the old school pocket passers — namely Andrew Luck.
It was Harbaugh who benched pocket passer Alex W. Smith for Kaepernick with the idea that the team would exploit the league-wide defensive weakness, exposing a QB by running a read-option, pistol or spread option with a running QB.
If Harbaugh is successful with Kaepernick it could well revolutionize the NFL. And that would change the QB schema and QB expectations for years to come.
Kaepernick is interesting and special in that he runs and passes so well. Michael Vick would have been such a QB, way in advance of Kaepernick if the coaches had not forced this guy into being just a normal pocket passer.
The worry with a guy like Vick was that he’d get injured. So they protect the investment but sacrifice the championship in the process.
The only way this works is if you make the QB expendable. Run this offense right into the Super Bowl until you can’t run it anymore. Then just get another running QB a couple of years down the road.
The problem that nobody wants to discuss is the possibility that Kaepernick might become a one-hit wonder. This sort of offense gives the life expectancy of the QB about the same span as that of the running backs. That means about half as long as a conservative pocket passer.
Some of these types will probably have an even-shorter lifespan.
The best I’ve ever seen running a spread was Armanti Edwards of Appalachian State. He took the team to two of its three-in-a-row NCAA 1-AA championships. That includes one over Delaware, quarterbacked by now Ravens QB Joe Flacco. Scroll below the fold to check out videos and images of some of the games, strategies and spreads I mention here. (Ed: ASU versus Delaware with Armanti Edwards video is embedded at the end of this piece.)
Now, Edwards was far better than Flacco in both passing and running. It was not uncommon to see Edwards rush for 200 yards and pass for 300 yards game after game after game.
In Superbowl XLVII 2013, Flacco is once again confronted by this type of QB.
Oregon used this same idea and style with Chip Kelly as coach. Kelly added a twist by running plays off at a rapid pace, usually less than 20 seconds between plays. The idea was still the spread offense and lots of QB runs.
The unknown here is whether the fat players in the NFL can maintain such a pace. They’re bulky and fast, but maintaining won’t be easy.
The New England Patriots employ a so-called hurry-up offense during its games but it never does a complete game using it.
This sort of Chip Kelly offense stems from the two-minute drills that better teams are able to run pretty effectively. This is a high-tempo, rushed-no-huddle offense that often has the QB rushing for a first down every so often — although a QB will generally slide down rather than get tackled.
It was only a matter of time before someone asked themselves this: If the two-minute offense worked so well for some teams, why not run it the whole game and see what happens?
Chip Kelly essentially did this. The drawback for Kelly when he took one of these teams to the National Championship game was that the televised game had so many commercial interruptions that it killed the pace. It slowed it down to such an extreme that it could never get the other team as pooped out as it could during the regular season.
This is a flaw that will conceivably appear in other NFL situations.
Kaepernick and the 49ers run a modified pistol offense — and also an offense they call the read-option. This takes a skilled offensive line to work with perfection and the 49ers have exactly that. Kaepernick ran the pistol at the University of Nevada, where it was perfected with great success.
I’ve watched these running plays and, unlike many of the plays with other running QB schemes, Kaepernick does not often get hit.
This should minimize injury and add to his life as this sort of QB. In his last season on the Appalachian State Mountaineers team, the slight-of-build Armanti Edwards was not himself at all. He seemed beat up. He is now a wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers. While in college during his three-year stint at App State, he became the first quarterback to pass for over 10,000 yards and rush for over 4,000 yards in a career.
This guy was phenomenal and he probably could still run this sort of offense.
The 49ers have the ideal situation for this sort of experiment. Jim Harbaugh developed Alex Smith into a near-great conservative and cautious QB who could easily maintain the team at a high level. If something happens to Kaepernick, there is no real drop off except for the style of play.
In other words, the team may not win a Super Bowl. But it will win a lot of games with Smith.
I’d like to see the following idea employed. Let a pure pocket passer run the offense through week nine and then replace him with the run-option QB from week ten. Coincidentally, that is just what happened with the 49ers.
This adds an interesting twist to the whole idea. Why beat up the running QB all year? Put him in with six games left and through the playoffs — the role is kind of like the one a relief pitcher plays in baseball.
The idea of the modern relief pitcher works well mainly because when a batter has seen a starter more than once he begins to get the hang of the pitches and is more likely to hit him during the third at bat. So change the pitcher.
The NFL could adopt this strategy if they could afford to have two starting QBs like the two with the 49ers. Purists will criticize any team for attempting this style of “pulling the starting pitcher.” But it makes sense to do it.
The never-ending pounding of a whole season of game-day football takes a toll on anyone. Cutting the damage in half has to help.
Of course nobody will do this because it’s too radical and risky. When Harbaugh did not put Smith back in after he recovered from his week-nine injury, it caused a huge commotion in the San Francisco Bay area. Talk shows were abuzz. People discussed the decision incessantly at bars and at the office. The controversy ended, though, after the team beat down the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rogers in the playoffs.
Can the 49ers now win the Super Bowl with this guy at the helm?
People often forget that, over the years and long before the 49ers five Superbowl victories, the team has always had unique experiments that baffled the competition. This included platooning quarterbacks during the 1960s. Platooning quarterbacks is the term for using multiple quarterbacks in the same game.
And before that, there was a tactic that employed the use of a basketball player to catch an oddly lobbed pass called the “alley-oop” — Y.A. Title tossed this alley-oop to R.C. Owens.
The most-baffling invention though, was the shotgun formation. Though some claim it is a mere variation of the 1930s double-wing formation, it was actually devised by Red Hickey, coach of the 49ers in 1960 and run effectively by John Brodie and that team’s platoon. When it first appeared, there was no defense to it and the 49ers won a series of games in late 1960 and early in the 1961 season. Finally the Chicago Bears figured out the proper defense for this. And that was the end of it being unstoppable.
Another San Francisco innovation — the West Coast Offense, an offensive strategy that is more about passing than running — is still employed by many teams.
The effectiveness of the current read-option and pistol offense, though, has more to do with ball handling, misdirection and sleight of hand. One false move by the defense and Kaepernick runs for 30 yards.
And even if Kaepernick cannot run he has a great group of running backs and receivers with talent to spare. This makes him a new kind of quarterback who is dangerous in many ways.
When we first saw Michael Vick arrive on the scene, most football fans were hoping some new sort of offense would emerge to use his special skills. It never happened. And Vick just became a pocket passer with scrambling ability not much different than Fran Tarkington, Steve Young or even Aaron Rogers when all is said and done.
With the emergence of Kaepernick and next year’s debut of Chip Kelly at Philadelphia, it looks like we’re in for a change. Let’s hope so anyway.
Here’s the ASU vs. Delaware Blue Hens FCS Championship game played on December 14, 2007. Scroll below for more videos and images from the games, plays and strategies I mentioned above.
Video source: GoAppState1989 YouTube Channel
Here’s a pic of a spread offense as employed by the Wake Forest Demon Deacons — they are lined up in a four-receiver spread in a 2012 game against Boston College.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Here’s a shot of the Kansas City Chiefs lining up in a pistol formation against the New Orleans Saints at a November 16, 2008 game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons