Monday, October 31, 2011

Tricks ARE Treats: The Direct Snap and 2007 Fiesta Bowl

Today we wrap up our series on trick plays with perhaps the simplest of all:  the direct snap.  Then, we’ll take a partial review of our October tricks with a look at a college game that showcased three of them.

The Direct Snap

As you know, on a typical play, the center snaps the ball to the quarterback, who either:  (1) keeps the ball and runs with it; (2) hands it to a running back who runs with it; or (3) passes it to a receiver (a wide receiver or tight end).  With a direct snap, the center snaps the ball directly to the player who is to be the ball carrier, usually the running back.  That player either takes off with the ball, or he might toss it back to the QB for a flea flicker.

This is effective because it eliminates the time it takes for the quarterback to look for, and transfer the ball to, a teammate.  The defense counts on this delay, and uses that time to try and break up the play before the QB can get rid of the ball.  With a direct snap, the defense doesn’t have time to react to the offense and the ball carrier has the opportunity to make a big gain.

The direct snap is simple, but the offense can add another wrinkle to confuse the defense further.  One option is for the quarterback to pretend that the snap has come to him but something has gone wrong.  He can do this by leaping up as if the ball went over his head, or by searching the ground as if the ball is rolling around loose.  If the QB is convincing, the defense will try to recover the loose ball for a turnover while the runner is taking off with the ball.

Another bit of acting you might see is the quarterback leaving his place behind the center and walking toward the sideline as if to talk to the coaches.  If he does this, the defense will relax, expecting a time out to be called by the offense.  As the QB walks away, the ball is then snapped to the running back.  Why is this legal, you ask?  Under the rules, the offense can have one player behind the line of scrimmage that is “in motion” before the ball is snapped.  As long as that player does not move toward the line of scrimmage, and the rest of the offense stays completely motionless, the play is legal.

The 2007 Fiesta Bowl

I want to revisit the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, which I used as an example for a Statue of Liberty play.  This game, between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Boise State Broncos, was hotly contested and will forever be considered one of the closest and most exciting games in college football.  It is also interesting for the fact that Boise State used not only the Statue of Liberty play, but two other trick plays in its final efforts to win the game in overtime, 43 to 42.  Here they are in one clip: starting with a hook and lateral with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter; then a halfback pass in overtime; and finally, the Statue of Liberty for a two-point conversion to win the game:

Well, I hope you enjoyed our look at trick plays this month, and I especially wish you and safe and happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Recipe Timeout: Scrumptious Chutney Cheese Ball

Today’s recipe is absolutely the best cheese ball recipe I have ever found, and I found it through Stonewall Kitchen. It is also ENORMOUS. If you make the full recipe, make sure you will have a crowd. When I make it for our play group, or just for me and my family, I halve all the ingredients and still have leftovers. You have been warned.


16 oz. cream cheese
½ cup Stonewall Kitchen Old Farmhouse Chutney (or other brand you like)
¼ cup scallion, diced

1 clove garlic, crushed
Dash salt and pepper
½ cup Colby cheese, shredded
½ cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
½ cup chopped pecans


Mix together the cream cheese, chutney, scallion, garlic, salt and pepper.

Fold in the cheeses

Form mixture into a ball and roll it in the chopped pecans. Serve at room temp or from the fridge. I like to serve it with Wheat Thins.

This is soooo good…

Saturday, October 29, 2011

NFL's Week 8 Must-Have-On-In-The-Background Games

Naptime Huddle presents the week’s best games, although it was hard to find games to get excited about.  Again, the quarterbacks dominate the headlines, but there are also some games that pit division rivals against each other, which is significant for the rankings as we get to the mid-point of the season.

Minnesota Vikings (1-6) @ Carolina Panthers (2-5) (Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, FOX):  Rookie QBs Christian Ponder (Minnesota) and Cam Newton (Carolina) battle it out to give their one-win teams hope for the future.  With their seasons already in the tank, there’s not too much pressure for either to get a win, especially since this is only Ponder’s second start.  However, Newton undoubtedly feels personal pressure since he’s watched his incredible debut performances amount to almost nothing.

Detroit Lions (5-2) @ Denver Broncos (2-4) (Sunday, 4:05 PM ET, FOX):  Both offenses are struggling, but Detroit is feeling some heat for losing two straight after their fairy tale beginning.  Star Lions running back Jahvid Best is out again this week with a concussion he suffered in Week 6, putting more pressure on QB Matthew Stafford, who’s battling his own nagging ankle injury.  For Denver, QB Tim Tebow waited until the last minutes of the game last week to give Denver fans hope for the future.  Can he deliver on expectations a bit sooner this Sunday?

New England Patriots (5-1) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) (Sunday, 4:15 PM ET, CBS):  This one always promises to be entertaining, even though Patriots QB Tom Brady has owned the Steelers secondary, beating them in four of their last five matchups at Heinz Field, and with a record of 6-1 overall against the Steelers.  With any other two teams, I’d say that the nasty weather blanketing the northeast this week might affect the game, but these teams thrive in the wet stuff.  Expect the Steelers to play like they have something to prove as the front seven grinds it out against the Patriots offensive line.

Dallas Cowboys (3-3) @ Philadelphia Eagles (2-4) (Sunday, 8:20 PM ET, NBC):  Despite a rocky start for Philadelphia, they can still stay alive in the NFC East division race if they can pull off a win against the inconsistent Dallas Cowboys.  The Cowboys, for their part, could be facing a let-down game after their easy-breezy win against the woeful St. Louis Rams last week.  Can Cowboys rookie RB DeMarco Murray have another show-stopping performance against a stouter Eagles D?

San Diego Chargers (4-3) @ Kansas City Chiefs (3-3) (Monday, 8:30 PM ET, ESPN):  This is another division battle in a wide-open AFC West division.  With the Oakland Raiders imploding without their starting QB and the Broncos off to a dismal start, the completely average records of these two teams put them both in contention for the division title.  The Chargers are winning, but have also suffered from late-game hiccups that have cost them games.  The Chiefs, meanwhile, have won three straight after a depressing 0-3 start, and their confidence is growing every week.  They intercepted the Oakland Raiders’ QBs a total of six times in Week 7 and the Kansas City secondary must be licking its chops at the thought  of facing San Diego QB Philip Rivers.  Rivers has thrown nine interceptions this season, including two in the fourth quarter last week in the team’s loss to the New York Jets.  Can Rivers and the Chargers shake off the cobwebs and get their mojo back against the resurrected Chiefs? 

Another Week 8 note:  the Washington Redskins face the Buffalo Bills at the Bills’ sometimes-home field in Toronto.

Teams with byes this week:  Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Enjoy Week 8 and have a Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tricks ARE Treats, You Big Faker!

As we near the end of October, I wanted to be sure to get some fake plays in for our “Tricks ARE Treats” series, so you get them all in one post:  the fake punt, the fake field goal attempt, and the less common fake spike.

Fake Punt

As you know, in most situations, it is wise for the offense to punt the ball to the other team when it is facing a fourth down.  Unless the yardage needed for a first down is very short (maybe less than a yard), or the offense is very close to the end zone, it is no surprise when the punter comes onto the field on fourth down.

However, if an offense wants to be tricky, they will run a fake punt.  In a typical fake punt, the punter takes the snap and instead of kicking the ball, looks for an open wide receiver and throws the ball.  Another possibility is that the running back, who is standing near the punter to help protect him from the rushing defenders, takes the snap.  That player then either runs with the ball himself or looks for an open receiver.

Why does this work?  In a typical punt, it only takes a couple of seconds for the punter to kick the ball away.  Once the punter kicks the ball, the defenders who were rushing the kicker fall back downfield to block for their player who will catch the punt.  In a fake punt, the defense should relax a couple of seconds after the snap and prepare to backtrack down the field.  This gives the punter or whoever has the ball time to make the play.

This is a very cool fake punt that took place a couple of years ago in the Hall of Fame Game, which takes place every year in the preseason:

Not only was that a fake punt, but the play included a fake reverse and a variation of a Statue of Liberty play!  Too bad it was just a preseason game…

Fake Field Goal Attempt

Another option for the offense on fourth down is to attempt the field goal, if they are close enough to their opponent’s end zone.  However, as with punting situations, there is always a chance that the offense will fake their field goal attempt.  In a typical field goal attempt, one player (the “holder”) takes the snap, places the ball on the ground (standing on end), turns the ball so the laces face the end zone and the uprights, and holds the ball by his fingertip for the place kicker to kick it.  Picture Lucy and Charlie Brown, but without Lucy jerking the ball away before Charlie Brown kicks it. 

In a fake attempt, one of two things happens:  (1) the holder, who is usually the team’s quarterback, takes the snap then stands up and runs with the ball himself or throws it to an open receiver; or (2) the punter takes the snap and runs with the ball or throws it to an open receiver.  As you might imagine, the defense is usually even less prepared to cover the ball carrier than with a fake punt, because after the kick there is usually no further action so the defense relaxes that much more after the ball is snapped.

Fake Spike

When time is running short at the end of the first half or the end of the game (so, within the last two minutes), the team that is behind must move as quickly as possible to score when it gets the ball.  This is especially true if that team has no time outs left (remember, each team has three time outs per half).  Teams develop and practice what is known as a “hurry-up” offense to prepare themselves for these situations.  For example, to buy his team some time, the quarterback can take the snap and immediately throw the ball into the ground, which stops the game clock.  This is called “spiking” the ball and is legal under the rules.  In fact, it is expected to happen at least once when a team with no time outs left is trying to drive down the field.

Spikes are most typical after the offense has completed a long play down the field and the runner did not get out of bounds, which also stops the game clock.  Much of the game clock is eaten by the time it takes the rest of the team to catch up to where the runner was tackled.  Therefore, the quarterback will hurry his team to the line of scrimmage, take the snap and spike the ball.  With the game clock stopped, the coaches now have time to decide what the next play will be.

This scenario is so common and so expected that the offense can really surprise the defense by executing a fake spike.  In this trick play, the quarterback running a “hurry-up” offense pretends to spike the ball, but instead of throwing it to the ground, he keeps the ball in his hand while making the spiking motion.  The defense believes that no play will be run and is not ready for the play that develops.  The following is a rather famous fake spike executed by former Miami Dolphins QB Dan Marino against the New York Jets in 1994:

As you can see, instead of an exaggerated spike motion after the snap, Marino “sold” the fake spike by making the spiking signal to his teammates before the snap.  It is typical for quarterbacks to do this when they plan to spike the ball so that his teammates know not to expect a play to be run.   Here’s a more obvious example at the college level:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mind the Gap . . . and the Blitz

In today’s lesson we go from the big-picture, offensive side of the line of scrimmage to the in-the-trenches nitty-gritty on the defensive side.  Today, we discuss gap assignments and blitzes.

Gap Assignments

As we have discussed previously, the seven players closest to the line of scrimmage (LOS) before the snap of the ball are the defensive linemen and the linebackers.  The basic job of the defensive lineman is to try to break through the offensive line to put pressure on the quarterback or, better still, tackle the quarterback behind the LOS for a sack or tackle the ball carrier.  The linebackers, meanwhile, key on the running back(s) and tight end(s) and try to contain them, preventing them from gaining yardage.

So, if this is their job on every play, doesn’t the offense know exactly what each of these seven players will do when the ball is snapped?  Not necessarily.  Just as the offense calls a different play each time, the defense can also make changes from snap to snap.  One way they do this is by changing their gap assignments.  If you look at a diagram of the offensive line on a typical play, you see that there are physical gaps between each player on the offensive line.  Each gap is labeled by the defense in their game planning.  Here is an example that uses letters, a fairly typical method:*

Taken from:, at  Altered from original.

In this diagram, the gaps between the center and the left and right guards are called the “A” gaps.  The gaps between the guards and the tackles are the “B” gaps, and the gap between the right tackle and the tight end is the “C” gap.  The defense uses these gap designations to assign each defensive linemen and linebacker his own space to occupy for each play, called his “gap assignment.”

In addition to the gap he occupies, each member of the front seven can also be told on which side of each gap he should line up against.  This is done with numbers that signify the inside shoulder (i.e., toward the center of the offensive line) or outside shoulder (i.e., toward the sideline) of each offensive lineman, as shown below:

Taken from

Therefore, if a left defensive tackle has the assignment B3, he has to line up across from the right guard’s outside shoulder and try to rush through the gap between the right guard and the right tackle.


Gap assignments come are important for defenses and can change on every down, so the offense can’t always be prepared for the kind of pressure the front seven might bring.  Another way the defense can put pressure on the offense and, specifically, the quarterback, is with a blitz.  Simply put, a blitz is when a player that rushes the quarterback instead of doing his usual job on defense.  Blitzes are typically used when the defense believes that the quarterback is planning to pass the ball.  This will be obvious on many plays, either because it’s third down and the offense needs several yards for a first down, or because the offense has a lot of pass receivers on the field. 

On passing plays, the offense will usually have more players assigned to block the rush from the defense, to give the quarterback more time to throw the ball.  Using a blitz allows the defense to even out the number of players rushing the QB against the number of players blocking for him.  The most common blitz used is the linebacker blitz, where one (or more) of the linebackers rushes the quarterback instead of watching the running back or tight end.  Safeties and cornerbacks can also blitz, but this is less common.

Blitzes are often effective, but also have risks.  Because there are fewer players covering the receivers running down the field, the secondary needs to make sure they cover those receivers closely.  If they do not, the quarterback has an opportunity to find a receiver for a big gain in yards.

*Note, however, that this diagram depicts six linemen, probably to better illustrate the location of the gaps.  Usually there won’t be more than four linemen. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Two Wrongs Make . . . Nothing?!?

You may have seen several instances by now where yellow penalty flags fly during a play but when the referee explains the fouls, he closes by saying that the penalties “offset” and they replay the down like nothing happened.  Did this make you scratch your head?  Behold the wonder of the “double foul.”

It is entirely possible for fouls to be committed by each team either as the ball is snapped or during the play—called the “live ball” period.   By rule, when each team commits live ball fouls, neither is enforced and the down is a do-over.  There are a few exceptions, however:

1.  If a change in possession occurred during the play (for example, with a fumble), the team that ended up with the ball gets to keep the ball, unless that team’s foul occurred before the change in possession.
2.  If the penalties occurred after the change in possession, the team that ended up with the ball gets to keep the ball, either where its foul was committed or where the play ended.
3.  If one of the fouls is serious enough to merit ejection of the offending player, the player is still ejected.  However, there is no yardage penalty assessed.
4.  On kicking plays (kickoff, punt, field goal), if the kicking team’s penalty occurred before the receiving team gets the ball, the receiving team has two options.  First, it can choose to replay the down like nothing happened.  Or, it can allow its penalty to be enforced and then start its drive at the resulting spot.
5.  A major (15-yard) penalty will not be offset by a minor (5-yard) penalty.

Remember, the above only applies when the fouls by both teams occur during the play.  Therefore, if the offense commits a holding penalty during the play, but then the defense commits a personal foul penalty after the play is over, both penalties will be enforced.

What if the same team commits multiple fouls during a play?  Again, it depends on when the fouls occur:
1.  When all of the team’s fouls are committed after the play is over (the “dead ball” period), all penalties are enforced in the order in which they occurred. 
2.  If a team committed multiple fouls during the live ball period, only one is enforced, with the other team choosing which one it is. 
3.  If the same team commits fouls during both the dead ball and live ball periods, all of the penalties are enforced.

Easy, right?  These scenarios are often why the officials might have an extra-long discussion before the referee announces the penalties.  So, maybe you'll take it easy on them the next time their huddle takes a little while?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tricks ARE Treats: The Reverse, Double Reverse and Reverse Option

We continue our series on trick plays with the reverse and the even trickier double reverse.  While other trick plays fool the offense on the type of play, like the Statue of Liberty play, or on who is getting the ball, like the hook and lateral, the reverse and its variations are literally plays of “misdirection.”

The reverses will typically start as either:  (1) a bootleg, where the quarterback runs parallel to the line of scrimmage before handing the ball off to the runner*; (2) a sweep, where the running back takes the ball from the QB and then runs parallel to the line of scrimmage before running up the field; or (3) an end-around, where a wide receiver runs behind the line of scrimmage toward the opposite sideline, taking the ball in a handoff from the QB on the way. 

In any of these plays, the reverse occurs when the runner that received the ball from the QB hands the ball, or laterals it, to a teammate before crossing the line of scrimmage.  That teammate is running across the field in the opposite direction from the first runner—hence the term “reverse.”  A double reverse is just what it sounds like:  the second runner hands, or laterals, the ball to yet a third player, who is heading in the opposite direction.  Of course, the double reverse carries more risk of a turnover or loss of yards because it takes more time to develop.

So, why is the reverse effective?  Once the quarterback gives the ball to the first runner, the defense commits its pursuit laterally across the field toward the same sideline as the runner.  When the play changes direction with the handoff to the second ball carrier, it is very difficult for the defense to change direction, and the final ball carrier can usually outrun the defense for a big gain.

Here is an example of a reverse with a further wrinkle: the “reverse option,” where the second ball carrier passes the ball to a teammate downfield.  This play was part of the Pittsburgh Steelers victory in Super Bowl XL.   Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El played quarterback in college, at Indiana University, before coming to the pros and was the perfect candidate for this play:

Sending the ball downfield made it even harder for the Seattle Seahawks to catch up to the play, as most of the secondary would have already been committed to covering the opposite sideline, where the first ball carrier was running.

*Remember, the term “runner” is used to refer to whichever player has the ball, also referred to as the “ball carrier.”  Therefore, it does not necessarily refer to the running back; the runner can also be a wide receiver or tight end.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Recipe Timeout: Mike's Meatballs, BBQ Style

This week’s recipe is another one from my sister, Mike, who also brought us the Sausage Macaroni Casserole.  It’s delicious and promises to be a kid’s favorite.  I think of it as meatloaf in ball form.  Please note, though, that the amounts listed for the sauce are double what Mike had in her version; you might find my sauce heavy, though.  My feelings won’t be hurt if you revert to the original.


1 lb. ground beef

1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup milk
1 egg


1 cup chopped onions
6 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 cup ketchup (or “catsup” if you prefer)
3 Tbsp. worstershire sauce


Preheat oven to 400°.  Mix together the meatball ingredients and form mixture into balls (about 14-16).  Place into a lightly greased 6” x 10” casserole dish (I have also used a round glass pie dish).

In a skillet, sauté onions in butter.  Add remaining ingredients.  Cook over medium heat until hot, stirring occasionally. 

Pour sauce evenly over meatballs.  Bake for 45 minutes.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Week 7 GTW: Hop Aboard the Quarterback Carousel!

This week’s Games to Watch (GTW) feature:  AFC opponents each facing an identity crisis; a contest across the pond that is significant for both the NFC standings and the future of the NFL; and three games that evoke carnival music and the scent of cotton candy . . . The Quarterback Carousel Games.

San Diego Chargers (4-1) @ New York Jets (3-3) (Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, CBS):  The Jets have more at stake in this game by far.  Not only are the Jets their facing intense scrutiny because they are so far not living up to their own hype, but also because this week’s contest is the start of a very difficult stretch in the team’s schedule.  San Diego is no cream puff opponent and, after a bye in Week 8, they travel upstate to face the resurgent Buffalo Bills.  Then in Week 10 they face the Patriots, who have already beaten them this season.  After what should be a manageable game against the Broncos in Week 11, they play the Bills for a second time in Week 12.  With some competitive opponents coming up, the Jets need to find a way to play up to expectations this week.

Chicago Bears (3-3) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2) (Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, 6:00 local time, FOX):  The NFL is committed to broadening the appeal of football overseas, with possible expansion to Europe and elsewhere.  Part of that commitment has been to have a regular season game in London, England (in the past, the league has had preseason contests in other countries, but having a regular season game outside the U.S. is a significant step).  Unfortunately, these games have not showcased the best of the NFL, including the last time Tampa Bay played in London in 2009, when they were pummeled by the Patriots 35-7.  This year is a different story, however.  The Bears’ QB Jay Cutler is enjoying better protection from his offensive line and running back Matt Forte is having an incredible season.  The Bucs, meanwhile, are having a great start to the season and arrived in London on Monday to get adjusted to the new time and the turf at Wembley Stadium.  The Bears, however, didn’t arrive in London until today.   Will it make a difference?

The Quarterback Carousel Games:

In a typical week, these three games probably wouldn’t merit a mention on the GTW list.  However, their main plotlines center around one starting quarterback in each game.

Denver Broncos (1-4) @ Miami Dolphins (0-5) (Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, CBS):  Denver fans finally get what they have been screaming for all season:  Tim Tebow, the Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Florida, will get his first start of the season at QB, replacing embattled veteran Kyle Orton.  Though the Broncos are visiting the Dolphins, Tebow couldn’t ask for a friendlier crowd on the road in Florida, where he’s still a local favorite from his college days.  Tebow had a respectable showing when he started the last three games of last season when Orton was out with injury: he lost two games and won one, completing 49.4% of his passes, and scored seven touchdowns (four passing, three running).

Kansas City Chiefs (2-3) @ Oakland Raiders (4-2) (Sunday, 4:05 PM ET, CBS):  An injury to starting QB Jason Campbell last week led to the signing of Cincinnati QB Carson Palmer, a nine-year veteran who hasn’t played at all this year after demanding to be traded in the off-season.  Oakland eagerly acquired Palmer in exchange for a first round pick in the 2012 draft and their second round pick in 2013.  That second round pick will escalate to a first-round pick if the Raiders make the playoffs with Palmer at the helm.  Will Palmer show the Raiders that he was worth the price?

Green Bay Packers (6-0) @ Minnesota Vikings (1-5) (Sunday, 4:15 PM ET, FOX):  While refusing to throw veteran QB and off-season acquisition Donovan McNabb under the bus for the Vikings’ abysmal start to the season, the power-that-be in the Twin Cities have finally relented to the thunderous whispers of fans and pundits alike and have decided to start rookie Christian Ponder this week against the Super Bowl Champion, undefeated Green Bay Packers.  Well, at least Ponder should realize that he isn’t expected to win…but he should also know that his grace period won’t last long.

The following teams have byes this week:  Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Think on Your Feet: Free Kicks, Kick From Scrimmage and the Drop Kick

Today we revisit football’s kicking game with an explanation of the difference between a “kick from scrimmage” and a “free kick.”  You won’t hear these terms often when you watch games on television, but they are terms you should understand.  I’ll be mentioning them occasionally in other lessons, plus you may have the chance to use your knowledge to impress people at a bar or office party one day.

A “kick from scrimmage” is just what it sounds like: a kick that occurs when the ball is snapped by the center from the line of scrimmage (LOS).  Kicks from scrimmage occur as punts and field goal attempts and must be kicked from behind the LOS.  These are just like any other plays run by the offense; the offensive and defensive lines face each other on the LOS with only the length of the football separating them.  Therefore, at the snap of the ball, the defense will rush the offense trying to put pressure on the kicker before he can get the kick off.

A “free kick,” on the other hand, is one that does not take place on the LOS, but instead from a spot on the field that is ten yards away from the opposing team.  Not only are the teams separated by significant yardage, but the defense is not allowed to rush toward the kicker until after the ball has been kicked.  Free kicks occur on kickoffs, kickoffs after a safety and fair catch kicks.  Think of the word “free” as referring to the kicker’s ability to kick the ball free from pressure by the defense.

A very rare type of kick is the drop kick, which occurs when the kicker drops the ball to the ground in front of him and kicks it after it bounces. These can be done as a free kick after a safety or in a kick from scrimmage, like the following famous example:

This drop kick was made by former quarterback Doug Flutie to score the extra point for the Patriots after a touchdown in the last game of the 2005 season.  Flutie, at 43, was the backup QB behind Tom Brady and this historic kick was the last play of his career.

The last time a drop kick had been made before Flutie’s was over sixty years earlier, in 1941.  Why are drop kicks so rare?  They are very difficult.  Back in the day (waaaay back), footballs were rounder than they are now.  When the dimensions were changed in the 1930’s, the pointier shape made it more difficult to control how a football bounced, so the maneuver fell out of style.  There were a few players who had made the drop kick look routine, like Jim Thorpe (retired in 1928) and Paddy Driscoll (retired in 1929).  Driscoll actually made four field goals in one game in 1925 with drop kicks—one of them from 50 yards!

Again, the drop kick won’t come up in your daily football life, but one day it might help you get through an awkward conversation.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tricks ARE Treats: Hook and Lateral

Today’s trick play is the “hook and lateral,” although you will also hear it called the “hook and ladder” by fans and commentators.  As we’ve discussed, trick plays are all about making the defense think that the offense is doing one thing when it’s actually doing another.  The tricks we’ve looked at so far—the flea flicker, the halfback pass and the Statue of Liberty play—are designed to confuse the defense on whether the play is a pass or run.  With the hook and lateral, it should be clear to the defense that the play is a pass; it’s the final target of the pass that’s a mystery. 

In the hook and lateral, the receivers—the tight end(s) and wide receiver(s)—begin the play running their normal passing routes.  The running back might also go out for a pass, perhaps after making a block at the line of scrimmage.  The quarterback then selects his predetermined target, usually the receiver running up one of the sideline, and throws the ball to that player.  Instead of running with the ball, when the receiver catches the ball, he immediately pitches it back (laterals it) to a teammate (either another receiver or the running back).  The new ball carrier then takes the ball down the field, hopefully for a touchdown or a big gain.

So, what’s the point?  Once the first receiver catches the ball, the defense is keyed on him and all players in the area converge on him.  Because they are committed to tackling that player, it is very difficult for them to change course and pursue the second ball carrier.  As with all trick plays, of course, there is also the potential for disaster.  The timing of the first receiver and the second ball carrier must be perfect, and the lateral must occur quickly after the catch.  Otherwise, they risk fumbling the ball on the lateral, or having the lateral broken up by the defense.  Remember our discussion of the lateral versus the forward pass?*  Since a lateral is not considered a pass, if it is dropped, it is not an incompletion; it is a live ball that can be recovered by the other team.

Below is a clip of one of the more famous hook and laterals, executed by the Miami Dolphins against the San Diego Chargers in an AFC Divisional playoff game in January 1982.  I apologize for the grainy video, but it is almost 30 years old (gotta love the hairdos):

Part of why this play worked is that the Miami QB, Don Strock, absolutely stared down his receiver, watching him as he ran his whole route.  This usually spells disaster, as the players in the secondary of the defense can tell who the QB’s target is, and may be able to intercept the ball.  At the very least, they will either prevent the player from catching the ball or will tackle him as soon as he catches it.  However, because the target was so obvious in this play, the Chargers’ secondary was absolutely committed to tackling that receiver.  Therefore, it was that much more difficult to pursue the running back, Tony Nathan, who took the ball to the end zone.

Cool, huh?

*Click here to see that post.

Monday, October 17, 2011

You're Wearing THAT?!? (Uniform Rules)

For today’s lesson, I wanted to get back to football basics, and it dawned on me that I haven’t touched on an element of football that comes into play long before kickoff:  uniforms.  As you might imagine, many of the rules related to the uniform are in place to ensure the safety of the players and to prevent uncompetitive advantages.  However, it may surprise you to learn that some requirements are all about business, determined by who’s sponsoring various elements of the NFL uni at the time.  This can be touchy because such restrictions often conflict with individual players’ endorsement contracts.  Generally speaking, though, the financial influence of uniform rules is limited to the pros, and, to some extent, college.  At the high school and youth levels, the rules are concerned with safety and fairness. 

Below is head-to-toe summary of the rules of the football fashion police:


1.  Only Riddell brand helmets can be used.

2.  Chin straps must be buckled at all times.

3.  Visors and eye shields on helmets must be approved by a private doctor, as well as an NFL doctor.  In youth and high school, helmet/eye shields cannot be shaded and players can only wear goggles if they are required by prescription.  The purpose here is player safety.  The officials must be able to see a player’s eyes so they can check for signs of a concussion or other head injury.

4.  Mouth guards are required at the youth and high school level, but not in the pros.

Jersey, Arms and Hands:

1.  Jersey shirttails must be tucked in.

2.  Jerseys must be large enough to cover the player’s pads.  If you remember the fashionable midriff-bearing short jerseys of the ‘80s, you either love or hate this rule.

3.  Players may not wear “tear-away” jerseys, or a jersey made of flimsy fabric that comes apart when pulled by an opponent.

4.  Sleeves must be up under the jersey or all the way down to the wrists—no ½ or ¾ sleeve nonsense.

5.  Only white athletic tape and black or white wrist bands are allowed.

6.  Those trendy rubber bracelets—e.g., “Live Strong,” “WWJD”—are prohibited.  This is the case in youth and high school, too.

Waist and Legs:

1.  Players are allowed to keep a towel tucked in their waistbands, but their size is restricted at all levels; 6” wide by 8” long in the NFL.  Towels are used by players that need to keep their hands (or the ball) dry:  quarterbacks, receivers, cornerbacks, and the center.

2.  Pants must be pulled down over the knee.

3.  Knee, thigh and hip pads are not required in the NFL, but they are at the youth and high school levels.

4.  Socks are actually in two parts in the NFL:  one part is white and the other is in a team color.  Both colors must show and the white sock has to come to the midpoint of the lower leg.  The other color must meet the bottom of the pants.  In youth and high school, socks need to be kept pulled up.

5.  Players can actually use any brand of shoe they want, but there are rules concerning coloring.  Each team can pick one accent color for their shoes, but there can be no contrasting colors on athletic tape or shoelaces.  Kickers and punters are exempt from these color prohibitions, however.


1.  No slippery substances of any kind are permitted on the body or any part of the uniform.

2.  The NFL has to approve any changes to the uniform a team wants to make to commemorate individuals or special anniversaries or events (e.g., helmet stickers or jersey patches).

3.  All NFL players and coaches must wear Reebok attire on the field.  For example, if a player wants to wear a baseball cap while on the sideline, it must be a Reebok cap.

4.  A player can be cited for violations from the moment he steps onto the field for pre-game warm-ups until 90 minutes after the game.  This means that a player can be fined if he wears offending clothing (e.g., a cap with the Nike logo) during the postgame press conference or TV interviews.

So, how seriously are these rules taken?  Very.  Each team must designate a liaison to meet with NFL and/or game officials before the game to learn of any violations.  That team rep then reports violations to the coaches.  Uniform inspectors are present at games (and those postgame press conferences) and the on-field officials must also keep an eye out for violations.  Fines can range anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 and increase during the playoffs ($50,000 for a first offense, $75,000 for the second), the Super Bowl ($100,000) and the Pro Bowl ($50,000).  Fines collected are distributed among several NFL charities.