I think a lot of questions can be answered this year in the NFL by Chip Kelly. He has gutted the "stars" on the team and will be starting a bunch of new guys this year. Last years team was 10-6 IIRC and missed the playoffs. This year he will be starting a new QB be it Bradford or a drafted QB(yes there is a shot for Sanchez as well).
I have always been curious to see if an NFL team would take this type of approach with the QB. Will be interesting to see this year play out. Especially seeing the success of some of the other non traditional QBs such as Russell Wilson.
There is about to be a passing of the torch soon with the QBs such as Peyton, Brady, Brees getting closer to retirement and could be seeing a change in style soon enough. Great article!
This is a much more in-depth opinion of my own. It seems so painfully obvious.
using the Patriots is a perfect example. (yes I am a Patriots fan, so you can call me a homer)
but for years now they have worked to get their players the ball quickly and in space. While I think it was initially out of necessity its grown into their plan. taken players that were not thought to be the best or most athletic and giving them the chance to make plays
"because we couldnt go for three" ---- Cleveland born, Buckeye Graduate
Nice to see an article dedicated to this debate. I've been pondering this issue for years - since 2010 when Tress has Pryor and couldn't get us to the title game at the exact same time that Malzahn had Newton and won it all.
I think when you look to the recent history of the spread-to-run (power spread, zone read) offenses it came down to some coaches deciding that they had nothing to lose but to take a chance by doing something dramatically different to gain some advantage. In the NFL you have a collection of coaches that are extremely risk adverse and would much rather stick to doing what is known than take a chance on the unknown or untested.
Often I think NFL coaches (and some college) claim injuries as a reason to not adopt a power spread attack. But Ross nails it here with the reality that it is much easier to find the skill-set for a power spread qb than a pro-style qb. As OSU demonstrated you can get 3 or more guys with similar talents and not have to change around the offense entirely if one guy goes down. I've been surprised that Kelly at Philadelphia hasn't really gone this direction. I don't know if he truly gets it...
EDIT: This is all without mentioning the quick rebounds many teams have made at the college level from year to year after losing a a multi-year starter. Just to name a few off the top of my head: Oregon, Auburn, Texas A&M.....Ohio State! Have all done very well right away with first-year starting QB's with spread offenses.
The pro game is so far downstream of offensive innovation that they only move when they have to. Pro teams can't get great pro-style quarterbacks because colleges don't have them because high schools don't have them. Even the spread is now getting supplanted/expanded by more innovation at the HS level.
I hate the pro game.
The QB injury thing is overplayed to me. Both Brady and Manning lost full seasons due to injury. Griffin was injured on two passing plays and one was non-contact. There might even be something to be said for being running out in the open where a guy can get down to protect himself versus a guy being a sitting duck for 300+ pound missiles hoping to pile-drive him. The NFL is slow to change until one guy has success, then everyone mimics him. If Chip can continue to have success, others will give it a shot.
The NFL is in the business of making money, and the spread is becoming more and more in demand. While watching the sometimes pure brute force of pro-style offenses can be fun, to me the spread is just exciting. And to me, I'd pay more to see exciting.
Kind of off topic, but I wonder if there's been any discussion or studies around head injuries and how spread vs. pro styles compare? Seems like the pro style would have more overall hitting, but the spread seems to have more opportunities for full-speed collisions.
I've never really understood the argument either that in college, an offense may face 1 or 2 great players on a defense each game, where in the NFL, all of the players are great. Wouldn't this also apply to the offense? Also-I think the NFL should stop all of the focus on defensive penalties to create offense (more exciting game), and just widen the hash marks to match up with college. That creates a lot more space on the field, and will open the game up without handcuffing defenders. I would think Urbans version of the spread would work in the NFL, because of the focus on the power running game. (shhh, don't tell Urban I said that, I want him in Columbus for a very long time)
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If Chip Kelly can win a Super Bowl, the debate will be over, everyone will throw themselves on the bandwagon.
More likely though, some well-respected coach who always used a pro-style offense will come out in favor of the spread and shift his offense that way.
The difference I see is that in the NFL, there are 32 head coaches that can get fired for implementing a new system over a period of years and it failing. In college, you have tons of small schools that have significantly lower expectations so those coaches have more freedom to try new things. The new things don't become mainstream until smaller schools have proven that they can work.
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Very astute observation.
Good example of this was Hal Mumme putting his offense into place while the coach at tiny, NAIA Iowa Wesleyan College.
people never thought the big ten would transition, and now look! change is inevitable.
I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people.
Northwestern was a very early adopter of spread concepts at the collegiate level. In fact their win over Michigan in 2000 is seen as a seminal moment in the growth of the spread. Urban went to NW to learn more about their offense while he coached at BG. Purdue is another example of early spread offenses under Joe Tiller.
The NFL groupthink moves at an even more sub-glacial pace than the NCAA rules committee does, so any change would take possibly a half decade to move. I think this is largely because most head coaches get, at most three years before they're out of a job and building towards the players needed for an effective spread likely exceeds that timeframe.
With that said, I think a lot of teams think 'spread' and immediately associate it with the Oregon's and Baylor's of the world. Lots of points, pretty good amount of wins, but zero championships. I'm sure certain teams are looking at Ohio State's spread since a championship has been obtained with it, but it will still take awhile before anyone dives in.
I don't see The League adopting the Spread as a whole for awhile. Although it looks flashy and fun on our TV screens this type of offense was originally used by schools in the Sun Belt, WAC, MW, etc. to close the talent gap.
In Urban We Trust.
So if it helps a bad team beat a good team, then a good team should crush a good team. See what happened against Wisconsin. They had one of the best defenses and we just gashed them all night.
I'm just talking as a whole, not every single program. I think pro-style Bama would beat spread-Oregon more times than not.
Bama's ridiculous depth of talent doesn't hurt. Would you say the same for Pro-Style Michigan State against Oregon?
In fact, in talent-wise, MSU vs Oregon is probably quite equal. The offensive scheme makes all the difference.
Not if Oregon had the depth of talent that Bama had.
Does Stanford have Alabama depth? They've had Oregon's number more times than not the past few years. We could discuss this all day, but the overall point is spread quarterbacks in the NFL. Brady, Peyton, and Big Ben all came from pro-style college offenses. Brady, Peyton, or Big Ben have represented the AFC in the past dozen Super Bowls.
And even SATAN himself added lots of spread concepts to the offense this year.
They're all chickens. The rooster has sex with all of them.
I would love to see those Ohio pro teams utilize UFM's approach. Because, you know, they suck and He doesn't.
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I also like that it makes the QB less of an outlier with respect to salary. Less money sunk into that position means more to spend elsewhere; theoretically making the entire team stronger and more able to overcome injuries no matter the position.
The NFL already has embraced the spread. All of today's modern offenses use some variation of spread concepts in their passing and running packages.
I've always been in the camp that believes the spread is a quarterback killer in the NFL. This is the first article I have read on the subject that adequately addresses the injury issue, in my opinion. Rather than downplaying the concern, it offers a solution. If you can find 2 or 3 QB's who can successfully operate a spread offense (and those guys have traditionally been available after the first couple of rounds), it really diminishes the need for a "franchise quarterback" vs. several "system quarterbacks" that are more or less interchangeable. This is why you see college spread teams continually "reload" after losing a highly productive QB with little or no discernible drop-off in production.
Nice work, Ross.
Here we go Brownies, Here we go!
Boy, I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals! - Butch Cassidy
The Browns could do worse than drafting all three of Ohio State's current QB's. In fact, they have done worse. A lot worse.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that the NFL currently cannot find 32 competent quarterbacks.
I'd be more than grateful if the Browns could have found one in the past 15 or so years.
Sooner or later it all gets real.
Ross--I've often thought a significant, but underreported, difference b/t the college and pro game is the placement of the hash marks. In the NFL, there is never a "wide" side created by the placement of the ball on the hash which favors offensive speed, particularly lateral speed. You essentially have the ball in the middle of the field at all times which tends to encourage vertical play calling (b/t the tackles/off tackle/north-south running and down field passing...less dink and dunk and study body right/left type sweeps). What impact, if any, does this have on the adaptability of the spread to the pros? Anecdotally speaking, sure seems like a high percentage of big plays in the college go to the wide side (think jet sweeps; option etc).
This raises an interesting question: Can the NFL get past the notion of a "franchise" quarterback?
In the draft currently QBs and DLs command top dollar -- and the salary cap prevents teams from taking multiple high-demand players at any position.
In theory you could win with a great spread scheme and three "mediocre" QBs making less money, but it would take a fundamental shift in the strategy and culture of most NFL teams.
It would make a lot of sense though ... Remember Ohio State needed 2 QBs in 2013 for 13 games. We needed 2 QBs in 2014 for 15 games. An NFL team plays at least 16 games, 19 if you make it to the Super Bowl.
"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer
I have wondered about this my entire life
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If it worked, it would be used. It works when there is a definitive athletic advantage.
I hope not. I hate the spread.
Go Bucks! TTUN tears are best! Beat Wisky!!!
I guess you hate undisputed national championships too?
So Alabama won 3 times in 4 years because they didn't dominate the line of scrimmage? Interesting.
Great article, thanks for the insightful analysis...!
The NFL is a copy-cat league. I expect to see a lot of teams copy the Patriots short passing attack and power run game. I also expect the NFL to call more "packaged plays" from a no-huddle this season. It appears the Patriots were using "package-plays" on more than a few occasions in the Super Bowl. Would expect this trend to continue. I think the future of both college and the NFL will be "package-plays" and it will be silly to think back on an era where (1) specific play run or pass was called in the huddle. Football is about getting a numbers advantage and "package-plays" from a spread formation seem to be the best way to make it happen.
I've always thought the idea of a prototypical NFL quarterback had more to do with marketing than X's and O's. He's the guy that your average viewer stares at every single play and has the potential to sell the most tickets, jerseys, and themed sandwhiches. From a pure business perspective, you'd prefer to have a brand name guy over three guys who are pretty interchangeable.
The rookie wage scale has also severely hurt quarterback development. There's not nearly as much financial incentive to stay for your senior year and play your way up the draft. College players are apt to leave if they get a reasonable grade and get the clock ticking on a free agency contract. The players get less time to develop and the league gets less time and film to make a decision. A scout can spend a whole year looking at a senior, but he won't know if he should be studying a junior until the draft is 3 months away.