October 31, 2013

Film Study: Miami's offense

Though it is not his first season as an offensive coordinator, James Coley is getting a real shot at calling plays and commanding gameplans for the first time this season in Miami. The former Seminole OC brings some familiar principles to the Hurricane offense such as multiple formations and concepts. When Miami is operating at its highest level this season, it's doing a bit of everything. That includes shotgun, pistol, I-formation, four-wide, two tight ends and personnel mixtures in between.

Given some limitations - both in skill and due to injury - this week's breakdown speculates on what Miami has to do in order to make a 20-plus point betting line look silly. It should come as no surprise that it all starts with the running game.

Power, counter and zone: A quick overview

The Hurricane offense uses a healthy amount of zone running technique this season. Zone runs are fairly simple, even though they are made out to be as complicated as calculus. It starts with the offensive line and whether a lineman is covered or uncovered. Man blocking techniques are used if a lineman is covered - that is to say if a guard, for example, has a defensive lineman in front of him, it is the guard's job to handle the lineman. Same goes for tackles and the center.

Where the scheme finds its wrinkle is in the uncovered lineman. Whether run is an outside zone (where the running back is looking for a crease closer to the sideline), or an inside zone (where the back is looking to cut it up vertically quicker), the uncovered lineman's job is to slide in the direction of the play to assist his teammate. Let's say, for example, a run is to the offense's right. If the right guard is uncovered, he will slide to the right to help the right tackle seal his assignment. It can be as simple looking as a chip or a little more drawn out, but once the job is done, one of the two offensive linemen take off upfield to seal a second level defender.

The best way to know if a run is a zone run is simple: If the group of five (and any tight ends/H-backs) are "sliding" in unison diagonally in the same direction. The theory here is to provide a cutback lane or crease for the back.

Power running focuses on overloading an area of the field, and because of Boston College, it (and counter) are what scare Seminole fans. Power runs are fairly simple. If an offense is running to the right, the right offensive tackle will attack outside-in to seal an interior defensive lineman. The fullback or H-back will take the defensive end to the play side, and the pulling guard will act as the lead-blocker for the tailback, finding the first defender upfield.

In this graphic example, the blocking assignments are widely exaggerated to make the point about the tackle's assignment and the fullback attacking the unblocked defensive end/edge rusher. In reality, these assignments are happening much closer together.

The counter run, a power concept with some trickery, is what Miami has been succeeding with lately. The assignments are relatively similar; the playside tackle blocks towards the interior, while the H-back/tight end pulling guard hits the crease. But as you can see here with Miami, it's all about the formation pre-snap and what it shows leverage-wise. Given this look in presnap, the defense has to account for the extra blocker.

We've cheated ahead and shown the running back's jab or counter step before he takes the ball to the designed place, but notice the pulling guard and tight end. In this example, it's the guard that leads the way, with the tight end arriving second to the point of attack. Power and counter runs complement each other well, because when successful, they leave second-level defenders either flat-footed or guessing.

A tipoff

In watching Jon Feliciano, Miami's left guard, it's easy to tell when he's going to be the pulling guard. Feliciano cheats at times, as many do, but his alignment is daringly close to off the line of scrimmage. Take a look at these two examples of Feliciano pre-snap before a pulling assignment.

And another example:

On Stephen Morris

Prior to the start of this season, many NFL draft pundits had Stephen Morris near the top of their rankings. Halfway through the year, Morris has fallen short of expectations. He has, however, played the majority of his game with an injured ankle all while dealing with inconsistent play from his wide receivers. At times, Morris has shown flashes of being a good quarterback. He also has a propensity to leave everyone confused and scratching their heads.

Let's take a look at the good Morris here against Wake Forest. Morris reads the defense and looks off the safety before delivering a 35-yard touchdown pass to Herb Waters.

Now for the bad Morris, let's go back to Miami's game against North Carolina. The Tar Heels bring a blitz here on third down but Morris does not change his protection to account for it. Instead, the pressure causes him to force a throw from an awkward position that gets picked off.

Notice how the pressure causes Morris to throw the ball off of his back foot. Even though he has a receiver open, the poor mechanics lead to an inaccurate pass that gets intercepted.

There is no doubt that Morris has all the physical tools to play quarterback. He can make NFL-level throws, but has not handled pressure well this season. Though this could be attributed to a lack of mobility, Morris can ill afford to make the same kind of mistakes against an FSU secondary widely considered to be the most talented group in the country.

It will be imperative of Miami in this game to establish a running game (see above) because it will shorten the game and keep the ball away from Jameis Winston. The running game also happens to be the Hurricanes' greatest strength. We all know what Duke Johnson is capable of in the open field and Miami's offensive line has done a fairly good job generating a push and opening lanes for Duke to run through. Contrary to the styles of most offenses FSU has seen, the Hurricanes will also utilize their fullback and tight ends as well.

Under the radar

Perhaps one player of note who does not get much attention is tight end Clive Walford. The 6-foot-4, 259-pound junior out of Belle Glade has either scored or secured a first down on 23 of his last 26 catches, dating back to last season. While he is not going to "wow" many people at first sight, that stat alone proves Walford's worth to the Hurricanes offense.

Miami also likes to move Walford around. He has lined up as a tight end, H-back, fullback and wide receiver at different times this season. Considering that Miami is a bit thin already at the receiver position without Phillip Dorsett, it would not be surprising to see Walford split out wide as a receiver, especially near the goal line where Morris has been known to throw him the back shoulder fade.

Breakdown: Miami fan

Evident with the current spread, the city of Las Vegas does not believe in the Miami Hurricanes. This does not mean however that Canes fanatics will not be heading up to Tallahassee to cheer on their team. Keeping this in mind, let's take a look at the film to see what a distraught Miami fan looks like.

As you can see this particular Miami fan went (far) out of his way to customize a Darth Vader mask and some shoulder pads along with some sweet weight-lifting gloves. No, it was not Halloween yet. Nevertheless, this poor fellow braved a trip into Chapel Hill fully believing his Cane brethren would put up a big number against a struggling North Carolina team. Unfortunately Miami struggled and "Cane Vader" did not have much to cheer about. Will the force be with him this weekend in Tallahassee?

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