The (beautiful) connection between the Saints and Mike Leach

Saints fan

There's a reason Saints fans and Mike Leach are both usually celebrating.

Fans of explosive offenses may or may not have heard of the concept “4 verticals” depending on their understanding of the game, but they no doubt have enjoyed the fruits of that particular route combination countless times, because when it is run well (and/or by superior athletes), it has the effect of a chainsaw being introduced into a butter knife fight (New Orleans Saints observers have seen Drew Brees lean on this play for a number of years now.).

Mike Leach’s return to the college game marks not only the reemergence of one of football’s most colorful personalities, but also of one of the game’s staunchest supporters of the 4 verticals concept. Indeed, the most famous play of Leach’s career came out of this route.

Well, “The Pirate” is up to his old tricks, as at Washington State’s recent spring game, he ran the play relentlessly in order that he might humble his own defense (and entertain the rest of us).

The thing about the route that makes it so difficult for a defense to deal with is the offense’s freedom to attack it at any level. So for example, if any of the four receivers can get behind the defense, fantastic, the route worked. But if not, any of said receivers can break off the route in tandem with his quarterback, who has the option to throw it back shoulder, thereby giving the offense what amounts to four seperate option routes (And keep in mind, this only implies eight options, but it’s more significant than that, since the WRs are encouraged to look for the ball at multiple points during the route — not just once or twice — AND the running back is generally sent out to attack the underside of the defense as well … something Darren Sproles has proven can be a tremendous weapon in its own right.). This “option” break off is what happened on the above Crabtree play, which looked like a standard out pattern, but on replay you can see the “less scripted” nature of the play.

I think the simplest way to envision this play for Saints fans is the numerous back shoulder throws Brees completed to Jimmy Graham in 2011, which seemed impossible to stop (because they were).

I used to hate this stuff beyond belief, primarily because my team continually got punked by it (though also because it seemed like playground football — “Go down the field and get it!”). But I’ve since come to appreciate its significance, partly because of my admiration for the Saints offense, but also partly because when something is working so well, you kind of have to pay attention to it, regardless of whether it’s your team running it or not.

In the video below, you’ll see a ton of this route, including an 84-yard touchdown pass off of it at the 5:55 mark (best highlight of the video, if you want to skip ahead). My takeaway is this: It’s great to have Leach back. And if you’re a Saints fan who doesn’t watch much college, you might appreciate Leach’s offense as an occasional Saturday snack (well, probably not the whole “refusing to run” thing, but then no one is perfect).

* If you want to read more on Mike Leach’s offensive philosophy, you can of course check out his book (which I have been negligent about doing myself) or read this interview from X&O Labs (which I can heartily recommmend).

* Football really doesn’t have its own version of sabermetrics (yet), but coaches like Texas’ Manny Diaz are taking a closer look at the numbers anyway … and finding an edge there. (An example of a kind of “better” statistic is Football Ousiders’ S&P+ Ratings, which takes into account efficiency percentages and success rates. You can probably expect a blog post on this soon, but the basic principle is that a defense that gives up fewer yards per play is better than one that gives up fewer yards per game.)

* Also from Football Outsiders, if you did a spit-take or had another “WTF” moment when Seattle selected West Virginia pass rusher Bruce Irvin in the NFL Draft, you weren’t alone. This read on his actual value is a good one, as it takes a closer look at the film — film that tells us he has some real ability as a pass rusher. As an added bonus, the article also arbitrarily ranks the top five Saints running backs in history, coming up with a No. 5 guy I never would have in a million years.

* Since I referenced Saints running backs AND Darren Sproles above, I am inclined to include a video of Darren terminating defenders. Yes, today’s going to be a good day.

About Dave Gladow

Dave Gladow is the author of "Eyeblack Odyssey," a sports enthusiast, a New Orleans resident, and he enjoys eating pig nachos.
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