Monday, September 24, 2012

The Spread Offense Doesn't Work

I mainly cover basketball on Hoke's Mad Magicians, but once in awhile I like to comment on a football related topic.  Earlier this year, I wrote an article called "When Will Michigan Be Michigan Again".  In the piece, I attacked the argument that Michigan isn't as good as Michigan used to be under coaches like Lloyd Carr and the notion that fans should want to go back to the old ways of Michigan football.  Today, I'm looking at another argument frequently made by Michigan fans and others on an almost routine basis.

Before I actually discuss the topic, I want to go through a few reasons why I actually decided to take the time to address it.  I have been in numerous conversations over the past few years that ended in someone telling me about the spread offense and its failures.  Whether it was the classic argument, "the spread doesn't work in the Big Ten", the "spread quarterbacks can't throw" argument, or the "spread offenses don't work against good defenses" argument, it always seemed to revolve around the failures of spread offenses and about how teams that use them will never succeed.

I would hope that most readers would realize the massive logical flaws in these arguments, but there is a strong faction that believes in these theories.  However, I'm not talking about just fans.  We all know there are some lunatic fans and predictions out there, but I'm talking about people who get national coverage.  I actually exchanged a few tweets last weekend with a nationally televised sports personality who told me that the spread offense doesn't work against athletic defenses.  This argument is out there and I really feel the need to address some of its points.

The first thing to note is what I described above.  Whichever of these arguments you select, they all boil down to the argument that spread offenses fail against good defenses.  This is the main argument I will be addressing because the other ones are primarily just smaller points in this broader argument.  However, before we even breakdown the argument, you can already see some problems.  What is a spread offense?

Here is a definition I found through a simple Google search:

"As its name implies, the spread offense spreads a defense horizontally with the threat of an option game (double and triple options) and vertically because of the threat of 3 or 4 quick wide receivers. The spread formation features five basic runs (the zone dive; the trap; the trap option, the triple option; and the speed option). The passing game consists of play action and sprint out passes. The quarterback must be able to run and pass." - Football 101

What's even more confusing about the spread offense is that just about every team uses some of its concepts.  So in reality, when people say the spread offense, they are referencing just about every team at almost every level of the game.  However, we're going to look at teams that primarily use the spread and are referred to as "spread offenses".  But with a little analysis of these teams, the concept of spread offense becomes even more convoluted.

Take a look at four teams: Arizona, Ohio State, Oregon, and Notre Dame.  All four of these teams run the "spread offense".  Despite this, they have massive differences in the way they move the football.  Anybody who has seen Oregon move the ball knows that are extremely unique.  Along with this, I don't think I have spoken with anyone that thought Rich Rod's spread was the same as Brian Kelly's system.  The basic reason for this is because these systems aren't the same.  The spread offense is as diverse as anything else in college football and labeling it with this broad terms isn't fair or accurate.

So where does this leave us.  Just about every team uses some type of spread offense and even the teams that primarily use the spread offense can't be easily labeled.  The original arguments have already proved faulty, but let's look at them a little deeper.  The label of "spread offense" isn't exact, but for the teams that primarily use the offense, do they really struggle against good defenses?  This is what many would make you believe, but the question is much more complex.

If we want to test whether the spread offense works against good defenses, we first have to define a good defense.  Anybody who is reading this has probably figured out where I'm going with this definition.  Good defenses are....good.  A good defense is a unit that decreases the average production of the opponent's offense.  For instance, Alabama and LSU have good defenses because they take teams that get a lot of yards and score a lot of points and make them get fewer yards and score less.  It doesn't matter what kind of offense they run, a good defense is going to make it a lot harder for any opponent to move the ball and score.

You could look at stats and they would yield the same result, but the bottom-line is that spread offenses can be just as effective against good defenses as pro-style teams can be against the same teams.  Let's just take a look at Oregon.  Does anybody think they have a bad team and a bad offense because they run the spread?  I don't think so.  Let's also not forget to mention that they scored the same amount of points last year against LSU that Alabama did and it took Alabama two games to do it.  Oregon didn't lose that game because of their offense, it was because their defense gave up 40 points.

The spread offense is perfectly fine.  It can be just as or more effective than the pro-style system and we need to stop labeling it with these unfair and inaccurate descriptions.  Yes, bad spread offenses can't do anything against good defenses, but the good ones can do plenty.  And just to address the two remaining minor arguments I described above.  Tommy Rees is in a spread offense and can throw just fine, even if he makes mistakes, and Oregon's spread offense seemed to work just fine against a Big Ten team (Wisconsin) in the Rose Bowl last year.

I'm fine with differentiating the offenses and pointing out when certain systems and teams fail, but we need to stop taking one game like the Michigan vs Notre Dame game and claiming that spread offenses don't work for a variety of reasons, especially when Notre Dame is the team that runs the spread system!  The bottom-line relates to a lot of different sports and non-sports related issues.  Stop generalizing things based on labels that you may not fully understand or explain beforehand.  I apologize if this comes off as a rant, but I think the evidence is pretty conmpelling that spread offenses alone are not the reason certain teams succeed or fail.

1 comment:

  1. It's not about the type of offenses colleges or pro teams use, it's always the players. It gets mis-labeled a lot. Figure it this a spread offense Steven Threet sucked. In a pro-style offense, he still would have sucked. Chip Kelly uses the spread better than anyone, but that's due to the kind of players Oregon has