For those football seekers intent on expanding their knowledge not only of the X's and O's of football, but also of the contexts and trends both current and historically that altered the trajectory of football on the collegiate and professional levels, there's been no better place in recent years from Chris Brown's blog Smart Football.
Clear, in-depth, and with the expert perspective of a lifelong interest in the strategies and game behind the game, as well as the further perspective gained from the dedication of a lifelong learner in many other subjects, Brown's new book, "The Essential Smart Football" may well become the go-to source for all the current trends in the game of football (and is available here). It's already exploded onto the scene at Amazon and will soon be available for e-reader devices like the Kindle.
Here's the basic overview of the book, as described by Brown to SB Nation blog Big East Coast Bias:
It's a collection of individual pieces organized by theme -- Characters, History, Theory, and Concepts -- that really covers the gamut of modern football strategy through the lens of the coaches and players who devise and drive those strategies. Roughly two-thirds of the material consists of pieces I'd previously put out but have edited and in some cases expanded, with another third of the material that has not previously been published anywhere. The schemes I talk about -- from zone running schemes, to approaches to gameplanning, zone blitzing, passing, and so on -- apply to both college and the NFL, though the stories and narratives I use to demonstrate those concepts are split roughly even in subject between college and the NFL, from Bill Belichick to Nick Saban, Frank Beamer to Troy Polamalu, from Tom Brady to Mike Leach.
It's a fantastic interview that explores the impetus behind the book, Brown's early fascination with learning strategy and how it can facilitate a deeper enjoyment of the game both as it happens and in review, and other topics.
Of interest to Texas fans was his brief homage to the genius of Nick Saban, unquestionably one of the best defensive minds in the game of football, and how that impacted the Rose Bowl against Texas.
Obviously Saban has had amazing talent at Alabama the last few years, but the guy is a repository of football knowledge and knows how to defend everyone. Watch this video for how in the 2009 BCS Championship game versus Texas, because he was concerned with Texas's receiver screen game and outside passing game, figured out how to play a two-deep defense and stop Texas's entire running game with just five defenders in the box by having his middle linebacker "two-gap" depending what the center did. Jokes about former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis aside, it's extremely impressive, and arguably this tactic forced Texas in that game to try other run plays, such as the speed option which resulted in an injury to Colt McCoy. And obviously what his team did to LSU in the BCS game was impressive; equally impressive to me is the way Saban's defenses always manhandled the explosive Arkansas offenses orchestrated by Bobby Petrino. Petrino never met a defense he couldn't carve up, but Saban was always his cryptonite.
While the running games deficiencies of the Texas offense played a big role there and even the raw Garrett Gilbert had opportunities, that excerpt represents that type of incisive analysis and synthesis of information that defines Brown as a writer and incredible resource.
Also, sorry if that passage triggered any lingering PTSD.
Looking ahead, Brown even had some thoughts about the future:
All that said, given how the game has gone in the last ten years, I think the places to look for the next evolution in the next 10 years are probably not college but instead high school and the NFL. There's a lot of wild stuff going on in the high schools now, from pistol-based flexbone teams to teams that combine the Airraid with the triple option or shotgun Wing-T teams, and I think the NFL is finally catching on to some of the newest evolutions and has some of the players to do it. I don't think we'll see true spread offenses in the NFL, but we're starting to see spread-esque offenses -- with better passing than college spread-to-runs -- and defenses are becoming more like college defenses: instead of pure 4-3 or 3-4, they are going to hybrid structures that are maybe 4-3-but-really-one-DE-is-a-linebacker or 3-4 but one linebacker is really a safety, and so on. It will be interesting.
As an analyst whose proclivities lean towards understanding the offensive side of the ball first, the possibilities of Pistol-based flexbone offenses with some Boise State-style pre-snap motion and versatility to morph into spread sets are intriguing in the substitution and personnel pressure such an offense would put on defenses, while still having some capabilities with the quick passing game.
I'll be purchasing the book in the near future for my own edification and I would encourage any football fans out there seeking understand the game at a higher level to do the same.