Sunday, July 19, 2009

Impound It - The Jab | by Michael

After taking on the Toss Play in the first installment of "Impound It," we now turn our attention to the set of misdirection plays known as the Jab series. This family of runs shares the distinctive ball-handling of the quarterback. He opens to one direction with the ball extended, then turns quickly and hands the ball off to the tailback heading in the opposite direction. Similarly, the tailback takes a step in one direction, then quickly cuts back to receive the hand-off. Jab runs were called 41 times (13.3%) by the Irish in 2008, and we'll take a look at two of them below. However, one note of caution before we proceed. These running plays, as well as the ones to be analyzed in future posts, can be harder to classify because of nuances in blocking schemes. Possessing only a partial Patriots/Notre Dame playbook leaves chance for error.

Jab 32/33 Bend
This play, seen to the right, is a weakside counter play. The halfback reads from inside out, meaning he starts with the first covered lineman to the playside. The fullback's responsibility is to block the last man on the line of scrimmage. Linemen just fire out and hit the guy in front of them-- this is not a zone blocking scheme.

Jab 32/33 Bend appears to have been used most in 2005, when it was called 28 times. It averaged 7.0 yards to the left and 5.6 to the right; the Irish ran it left just about two-thirds of the time. It was also spread out amongst three different personnel groupings: Regular (HB, FB, TE, WR, WR); Detroit (HB, TE, TE, WR, WR), and Two Tites (HB, FB, TE, TE, WR). In addition, it was a very common play at the end of games when the Irish wanted to wear down an opponent. The following year, it was used about half as often, just 15 times. Knee injuries to Asaph Schwapp and John Carlson likely contributed to that decline in use. Again the run worked extremely well to the left, averaging over 8 yards per carry to the left, and again it was run to that side two-thirds of the time. When run right, the graduation of Mark Levoir and Dan Stevenson were likely reasons for the average dropping below 4 yards per carry.

In 2008, this run was seen primarily with Regular personnel, although it was also utilized with a second tight end early in the season. When Will Yeatman was suspended, that incarnation of the play disappeared from the call sheet. Like in previous years, it was also a common play for the back-ups (Jonas Gray, Steve Paskorz, et al.) to run in garbage time as the Irish tried to run out the clock.

Rushes Yards
Per Carry
Median Yards
Per Carry
Detroit 9 4.6
Regular 17 3.6 3
(Garbage Time)
8 3.0

Performance in Regular looks mediocre until one breaks down the individual carries, where it becomes clear that Aldridge ran the ball with authority while Hughes struggled.

Rushes Yards
Per Carry
Median Yards
Per Carry
Aldridge 12 4.8
Hughes 7 1.7 1

Yet before one entirely dismisses Hughes for those woeful stats, keep in mind that all of the Detroit carries are his. Perhaps he works better alone than with a fullback in front of him, although these two runs against Stanford from 2007 suggest otherwise. Notice this third run is the same play but with Yeatman replacing Schwapp.

Jab 36/37
Two primary differences exist between Jab 32/33 Bend and this run. First, it's always run to the strongside of the formation. Next, as you can see from the diagram to the right, the backside guard pulls and takes on a linebacker. It's almost exclusively run from formations with three wide receivers, which places a lot of pressure on a defense because if they cheat a linebacker or defensive back into the box to support the run, that opens up the passing game. On the other hand, choosing to keep just six men in the box obviously makes running the ball that much easier. Every now and then it'll be run with two tight ends, although to be honest, those seem to be against smaller, outmatched fronts like Navy's.

The best examples of this play from 2005 and 2006 can be seen below. I'd recommend watching it twice, once to watch the offense, and a second time to watch the linebackers. The play is most effective when linebackers bite on that initial quarterback movement because that gives the linemen an extra moment to get to the second level and seal them off. (USC's linebackers are probably the worst in this regard.)

In terms of playcalling history, the Irish dialed up this run 16 times in 2005 and averaged 4.4 yards per carry. Only twice was it run to the left, so it's quite likely that pulling was not one of right guard Dan Stevenson's strengths. Then again, Stevenson pulled on other plays, like tosses, so there might be something unique with this play that caused it to be run almost exclusively behind Dan Santucci. Also of note is that Darius Walker was tackled in the backfield on one out of every five carries. The following year its use doubled. Because the more athletic Santucci became a full-time starter, the Irish called it 20 times to the right and 10 times to the left (behind Bob Morton's pull). Results were outstanding as it averaged 6.3 yards per carry to the right and 8.0 yards per carry to the left. Not once in 2006 was it stopped behind the line of scrimmage, and only once was it stuffed for no gain.

Last year, Jab 36/37 was called just six times, but four of those runs picked up ten yards or more. In fact, it averaged 9.7 yards per carry, and the median carry was 12 yards. Twice it was called against North Carolina, once against Pitt in overtime, and then three times in the bowl game. All six plays are below.

So why wasn't it called more often? Your guess is as good as mine, but it's hard to fathom that the staff didn't have a legitimate reason. Although some might point to our guards' athleticism and talent at pulling, it is also worth noting that, according to the playbook, there are more offensive line calls to make depending upon the defensive front that is faced. In other words, it seems to require more communication than other runs. That could explain why the bulk of these carries occurred in the bowl game, when the Irish could have spent more time practicing it.

Looking at the series as a whole, the two Jab runs averaged 4.5 yards per carry this year, a pretty solid stat until you consider that it averaged 5.4 yards per carry in 2005 and 5.6 the following year. Further reflection yields the following questions:
  • Will the other strongside counter, Jab 32/33, return to gameplans? That run showed up twice, against Michigan and Stanford, and then took a sabbatical for the rest of 2008. It was a much bigger part of the Irish offense in 2005 and 2006. Along those lines,will the addition of another running play make the Irish offense more efficient and less predictable?
  • Similarly, will the return of Mike Ragone allow for the Irish to become more varied and less predictable in who-- and how-- they line up to run these plays?
  • Who is going to play fullback, and if it's Aldridge, will the Irish still run Jab 32/33 Bend? Can the tailback/fullback hybrid block a defensive end, and if not, will personnel substitutions make playcalling more predictable?
  • Will Jab 36/37 find its way into more games than just the three of 2008?
The Jab series has important implications in terms of the overall ground game. At the same time, it's also proven to be one of the most dangerous play action passes in the arsenal. (Here's a tease.) But play action is meaningless if the ground game doesn't earn the defense's respect. As the questions outlined above clearly suggest, the entire Irish offensive coaching staff, not just Frank Verducci, has their work cut out for them.