Saturday, July 25, 2009

Impound It - The Draw | by Michael

No running play has epitomized the finesse-oriented ground game of 2005 and 2006 like the draw play. Designed to look like a pass is imminent, the draw is a way to fool opposing defenses rather than to impose one's will through merciless and constant hammering in the trenches. And during last August, when Charlie Weis uttered the infamous phrase from which this series of posts derives its name, how many fans truly believed that the draw, the ideal complement to a passing offense, would play second fiddle?

Year % of All Runs YPC
2005 26% 5.3
2006 30% 4.6
2008 22% 4.9

It actually happened. Last year Charlie Weis and Mike Haywood abandoned the draw play as the centerpiece of the rushing offense in favor of trying to pound the ball more, even if the overall attempt was an inconsistent and unsuccessful ground attack. As the table above illustrates, draw plays were down from the offense's banner years of '05 and '06. In fact, the very series of runs that finished at the top of the playcall sheet for both those years fell to just third place, ahead of only the Toss and the Jab.

In this attempt to break down the draw plays in the Irish offense, we will categorize draws into three types: one back draw plays with the quarterback under center; two back draw plays with the quarterback under center; and last, shotgun draw plays.

H 40/41
This is a one back draw that is typically run with three wide receivers. (Another type of draw, H44/45 is similar but utilizes two tight ends. It was rarely seen last year for obvious reasons.) It seems pretty straightforward, although from time to time, if a lineman is uncovered, he will pull around like in the diagram to the right. Most of these runs have been called to the right side, and draws to the left are marked by a distinct pivot by the quarterback before delivering the hand-off. In the clips below, which highlight the longest runs from 2005 and 2006, one can't help but notice how many times the interior blocking breaks down and Darius Walker is forced to bounce it outside. Who made these plays successful, the offensive line or Walker?

In quite a few of those clips, especially when the defense wasn't blitzing, Brady Quinn's initial dropback froze the linebackers and gave linemen just enough time to get to the second level to make their block. At the same time, it's easy to see why this was a run that catered to Walker's vision. He got the ball deep in the hole, the linebackers were typically further away from the line of scrimmage, and he had a choice of holes to choose from. Further, as you can see from the table below, when Walker's more experienced offensive linemen like Mark Levoir and Dan Stevenson moved on, the play was less successful, although dropping to a 5.2 yards per play average isn't terribly worrisome.

Year Attempts YPC
2005 30 6.2
2006 41 5.2
2008 22 4.4

Last year saw the fewest rushing attempts and the worst average. And after watching the following clips, its drop-off in production and usage seems understandable. The backs in these clips rarely get a clean shot through a hole, and if they do have an opening, the linemen appear to be flailing around the second level, hopelessly trying to sustain blocks on linebackers.

Robert Hughes ran that play eight times and picked up a measly ten yards all of last year. Most of his carries looked like the plays in that clip. But by contrast, check out Armando Allen below. Allen toted the ball 12 times, producing 80 yards with a 6.7 yards per carry average and a median carry of 5 yards. Secondly, compare Hawaii's defensive fronts in the clips above to those seen below. Far more advantageous when linebackers are deeper and not aligned on the line of scrimmage.

H 42/43 Ace
The next Irish draw play incorporates two backs, with the fullback leading the halfback through a hole. An example can be seen in the diagram to the right. Another common version of this play - seen in 2005 and 2006 - had the tight end motion into the backfield as a fullback. You might recall that Joseph Fauria did this a few times in the spring game with much success. And as you watch the clips from several years ago, notice how rarely on these highlights that Walker is forced to bounce the run outside because of shoddy blocking. Whereas quite a few of the H 40/41 plays were successful because of Walker bouncing them and outrunning the defense to the sideline, here the offensive line blocking is more responsible for success on these runs.

Somewhat surprisingly, this draw play was actually more successful in 2008 than in previous years. Looking back, Walker always seemed to run better without a fullback, when he was free to pick and choose his holes rather than follow a blocker, so that could explain the modest average in 2005. The dip below four yards per carry in 2006 was probably at least partially attributable to Asaph Schwapp's season-ending injury against Penn State. If there was one play where Schwapp seemed to excel, this was it.

Year Attempts YPC
2005 30 4.5
2006 30 3.8
2008 25 5.3

In terms of 2008, there is no better way to describe the Irish improvement than to simply show some clips. The ones below, taken from the same two games as the earlier clips, and with the same halfback who averaged 1.3 yards per carry on the other draw play, make the Irish look like an entirely different team. Watch all the linemen and Dan Wenger, in particular.

By the way, amazing read and tackle by the Hawaii defensive end on that first draw. If he doesn't make that play, Hughes would have picked up 15+ yards easily. But getting back to the point, the Irish offensive line certainly seemed more comfortable running these plays, especially Wenger, who effortlessly moved off combo blocks to seal off middle linebackers.

Shotgun Draws
The last set of draws to examine are the plays from shotgun formations, which I've decided to group together even if they are designed to hit different holes (or could even be labeled as H 40/41). Despite the diminished role of the draw in the overall Irish offense, one cannot help but notice the dramatic jump in draw plays from shotgun formations in 2008.

Year Attempts YPC
2005 5 5.8
2006 10 3.8
2008 21 5.1

In all but three games, the Irish ran no more than one draw play from shotgun formations. Against Pitt, it appeared as though the Irish saw something in film study, as they opened with a specific shotgun formation and draw play not seen that much all year. They ran that play six times in the first quarter alone and picked up 41 yards. Two other times they called it as well. Against Boston College, they ran four, and those were the result of an inefficient offense stuck in third and long situations. Ditto the two at Michigan State.

As the data clearly demonstrates, the Irish running game began to shed its over-reliance on the draw play last year. Unfortunately, the on-field results were so unsatisfactory that this positive is easily overlooked. What about 2009? A few predictions...
  • The use of H 42/43 Ace will be wholly dependent upon the staff's ability to develop a fullback. No competent fullback will likely mean more draws with three receivers (H 40/41) or two tight ends (H 44/45). For the sake of diversifying the offense and making it less predictable, somebody needs to emerge at fullback.
  • Draw play usage, as a percentage of the offense, will increase. It's just impossible to see a scenario where teams can afford to put seven in the box against the Irish passing attack. ND will face many six man fronts as a result. Weis will then take what the defense gives him and call more runs, including draws.
  • Armando Allen will remind fans of Darius Walker, and what he lacks in vision he makes up for in speed and lack of fear. He's not afraid to lower a shoulder into a defender rather than make an additional cut to avoid the contact.
If the Irish win, and if the overall ground game improves, few will care that the draw play is a bigger facet of the offense. But if the draw is one of the only running plays that consistently works, history may repeat itself come January 2010. And that's just not good enough.