Analyzing the Growing Offensive Trends in Today's NFL

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Analyzing the Growing Offensive Trends in Today's NFL
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The NFL is constantly changing and evolving because of the dynamic talent being introduced into the league from the college ranks.

The likes of Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have changed the way quarterbacks play the game, while exceptional defensive athletes have given defensive coaches flexibility in attacking offenses.

Spread formations have been the popular topic among fans and experts, but there have been many more changes in the league that should be talked about.

There are six specific developments that have taken the league over: the roving tight end, desire for H-backs, option football, the ever popular spread formation, man coverage and blitzes from sub-packages.

 

Roving Tight Ends

The "roving-Y" as Ron Jaworski called it in his book, The Games That Changed the Game, has been constantly developed in the NFL since the days of Kellen Winslow running seam routes for the San Diego Chargers.

Nowadays, it's New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans Saints Jimmy Graham putting defenses in conflict because of their rare abilities.

Offenses will continue to utilize and seek tight ends that can move around on the line of scrimmage and do various jobs in order to put pressure on defenses in deciding if they are going to play with their base or sub-package defense.

Another reason why these types of tight ends have been able to have such great success in the league is because it's very difficult to cover the seam (area between the hashes) as a defense.

When tight ends are able to run freely in the seam and do damage, it opens up the rest of the
offense and his teammates for more targets, which is why we'll continue to see offenses look for versatile tight ends.

 

Seeking H-Backs

H-Backs are intriguing athletes because they are often labeled "tweeners" due to their lack of size, making them essentially a cross between a fullback and a tight end. Despite "tweeners" once being considered a knock on a player, offenses are seeking H-backs.

Why, you ask?

Because it gives the team roster flexibility if the athlete can flex out and catch a pass as well as move into the backfield in a traditional fullback alignment and execute basic blocks, such as a kick-out block.

As Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com noted last week, an H-back (he states "TEs" but this includes H-backs) can save a roster space, which can go to a more valuable area like the trenches:

One of the league's best and ideal H-backs is the New England Patriots' Aaron Hernandez, who has become the ultimate weapon and caused a significant amount of headaches for defensive coordinators as they try to determine which personnel package should be out on the field.

If Hernandez can develop into a consistent blocker, he'll be even more dangerous despite labeled a "tweener."

 

Option Football

Pass-happy offenses may be considered modern by many, but it has it's roots from option football, which has also found it's way back into the league.

Last season, we saw Cam Newton change the way quarterbacks can attack defenses by racking up more than 700 rushing and 14 touchdowns and that'll continue with the expanded role of the zone-read option—an option play with the quarterback reading the unblocked, backside defensive end.

The zone read option has been popular in college for quite some time, but the NFL has now added it to their playbooks with the likes of Alex Smith running it as well. This won't change with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III now in the league, two passers that are dangerous with their feet as well.

 

Spread Formations

Spread formations are the most known on this list and for good reason: They've had a significant impact on the football landscape.

Teams are using the width of the field to stretch out defenses and get simplified coverages in a time where defenses are only getting more complex.

This usage of spread formations will continue to make its way in the NFL with the league potentially going away from the stacked and bunched sets it's long been known for.

 

Man Coverage

Because of the spread formations, defenders are often stuck having to play man coverage because all zone eventually turns into man, especially when the spread out receiver is running crossing routes.

Cover 2 Man.

Defensive masterminds have countered this with going back to more split-field safeties, employing the likes of Quarters and 2-Man coverage. Both are easily checked into before the snap and are effective because there are more eyes on the football than the other forms of coverages.

Cover 2-Man coverage, in particular, has gained steam because it matches up best against the evolving personnel of offenses. It also enables defenses to potentially create "bracket" (double) coverage against deep defenders, which there isn't always the luxury of when playing single high-safety coverages.

 

Sub-Package Blitzes

Last but not least, sub-package blitzes are quickly growing and there are few better out there than Rex Ryan of the New York Jets.

Due to the multiple receiver sets that offenses are using, defenses have been forced to use their sub-packages nearly 60 percent of their defensive snaps, a significant increase from the numbers that we saw a decade ago.

Although sub-packages can be problematic in run defense, they offer a lot when it comes to blitzing defenders. Blitzing defensive backs are able to take more different directions to the quarterback because they are quicker than defensive linemen or linebackers, giving defensive coordinators more flexibility in designing their blitzes.

We'll continue to see this develop as defenses start to take more control through various pressure packages opposed to sitting back, reading and reacting.

 

Overall

The NFL is constantly evolving philosophically, which makes it more interesting than ever.

Coaches have been more willing to try new things and go from their original philosophies in order to find success. It has also helped that there are exceptional young talents coming into the league every year, who offer coaches more flexibility and versatility.

This has led to the development of roving tight ends, H-backs causing matchup problems, option football, spread formations, increased use of man coverage with split field safeties and blitzes from sub-packages.

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