While the focus of most of the football world has been on the transition of former Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly to the NFL, there's another former collegiate head coach bringing offensive innovation to the professional game.
Former Nevada Wolfpack head coach and creator of the Pistol offense, Chris Ault, was hired as a consultant by the Kansas City Chiefs this past summer, and the results have been an interesting mix of Bill Walsh-era passing concepts and modern collegiate formations.
Chiefs fans have already noticed their team's offense in many new alignments this season—quarterback Alex Smith taking snaps out of the Pistol formation, some of the ever-so-trendy read-option plays and quite a few formations featuring all of the receivers in tight to the formation, "compressed" as it is often referred to.
Compressed formations offer several distinct advantages. Having the receivers "bunched" allows for instant picks, or "rub," routes to be run near the line of scrimmage immediately after the snap. This allows the quarterback to get the ball out more quickly, almost instantly, rather than having to wait the couple of counts it takes for a shallow cross to develop.
In the play diagrammed here, this rub route is illustrated by option No. 1. Executed right at the snap of the ball, the play is designed to have the same type of effect that setting a screen has in basketball. Ostensibly, this route would wipe out the corner covering the slot receiver who is running the "corner" or "outside slant" pattern to the wide side of the field. If the corner isn't taken out of the play, then that receiver becomes a blocker for the tailback coming out of the backfield on the wheel route (option No. 2).
(Note: a "pick play" is technically offensive pass interference and is supposed to be flagged, though only the most obvious or blatant examples of a pick are ever called.)
If the corner and wheel patterns are covered, the quarterback comes back to the shallow dig as his third read (option No. 3). Although this play is named for the dig route, it really is a decoy. It is designed to set a screen for the corner route to the wide side of the field on the first read and keep the linebackers (assuming they've all dropped into coverage) pinned shallow for the tight end option pattern (option No. 4).
There's a reason for trying to keep the linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage and attending to the dig route. This alignment requires the tight end to read only the safety to the wide side of the field and the middle linebacker in order to find the soft spot in the coverage. This is illustrated in the following diagram.
As you can see, the tight end is keying on the middle linebacker, if the linebacker bites down on the dig route, then the tight end splits the safeties' zones and continues his deep post (option No. 1 of the second diagram). If the middle linebacker drops back into a deep middle zone, then the tight end runs an "in" route underneath the middle linebackers.
Finally, the quarterback looks to the near-side receiver (option No. 5 in diagram one, above). That receiver also has an option route. The receiver is simply reading how tight is the coverage. If the opposing defensive back plays him loose, the receiver runs a comeback at the sticks (first-down marker), if the receiver is playing tight coverage, the receiver continues to head downfield, attempting to outrun the coverage.
Another advantage is the functional blocking in the run game that comes from bringing your receivers closer to the formation.
In the following diagram, we see that the running back takes the handoff on a stretch run. In a normal formation, the running back would key in on the left tackle's outside leg and make his cut. Having the receivers compressed close to the formation allows for a greater use of the running back's speed, since it allows him to key on the outside receiver's block.
The formation also allows for other blockers to attempt to seal everyone to the inside, requiring the running back to have to look in only one direction for oncoming tacklers rather than from both directions (say, if he were cutting between the offensive tackle and receivers who are split wide).
These are just a few of the very basic building blocks of and advantages to a compression formation. I hope to continue this series in the future with a more in-depth look at the concept and how to build play-action and zone-running out of it.
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.