ITP Mailbag #1: Next Question

Inside the Pylon wants to provide quality, educational and engaging content to our readers. Got a question about football? We will answer it, either here in a future edition of the ITP mailbag or in a longer article. Thanks for reading!

Drocca: Other than QB, what is the most important position on the field in today’s NFL?

Mark Schofield: Edge rusher. During the 2013 NFL Draft, when the pick of Dion Jordan was announced, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock commented that the seven yards behind the football – in the offensive backfield – have become the most important place on the field. Offenses need a quarterback that can handle playing the position, and a left tackle that can defend that real estate. On the other side of the football, defenses need a player that can attack that area and put pressure on the opposing QBs.

Dave Archibald: I really wouldn’t want to have a terrible left tackle or free safety; on the other hand, I don’t see a large difference between a great player and a decent one at those positions. A superstar pass rusher can partially neutralize the opposing QB and make the rest of the defense better; he at least has to be accounted for at all times.Houston-Texans-JJ-Watt-001

David R. McCullough: Can I answer J.J. Watt? I know that’s not a position but it is the most important person on the field other than QB. The impact of an elite interior defensive lineman is unparalleled. Whereas a cornerback can only cover one guy at a time, a monster like Watt takes two and sometimes three blockers to slow down. And if you don’t slow him down, your QB is down. There’s a reason defensive tackles and ends go #1 overall and cornerbacks don’t – when measuring total disruption, nothing beats a beast in the middle.

Dan Graulich: Why is soccer-style place-kicking more effective than the old “straight-on” style?

Chuck Zodda: Much like a golfer or batter generates most of their power through rotational torque, soccer-style kicking allows for greater power than straight-on kicking. But the biggest benefit is improved accuracy, as straight-on kicking with the toe can be significantly more unpredictable because of the rounded nature of the toe, as opposed to the wide, smooth surface the top of the foot provides.

soxfanSCJA: Are there any subtle (or not so subtle) emerging trends in NFL offensive or defensive schemes that you find interesting?

Mark Schofield: More and more NFL offenses are incorporating “packaged plays” into their playbooks. A prime example of this could be seen in the Steelers offense in the Hall of Fame game last week. At the snap the quarterback has three options: Hand the football to the running back on the inside zone, throw a seam route to the slot receiver or throw a bubble/swing route to another running back. These plays stretch and attack a defense both horizontally and vertically. With more and more high school and college offenses using spread concepts and packaged plays, more quarterbacks will enter the NFL with experience in these systems. Soon enough the NFL will catch up.

Dave Archibald: No one’s had a more interesting offseason than Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia chipkellyEagles. If he can churn out a top-line offense after jettisoning LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin over the past few seasons, and get Sam Bradford to finally live up to his #1 overall talent, we might see the NFL making the same shift towards high-tempo, high-octane offense that took place in the college game a few years ago. The league is ripe for an offensive paradigm shift, as Andrew Luck is the only under-30 QB that’s taken a seat at the table of the game’s great signal-callers. The other 31 franchises are going to have to figure something out when the old guard rides off into the sunset, and Chip’s success or failure in the next six months could ripple through the league for a generation.

David R. McCullough: I’d like to use this space to declare the “base” defense dead. Five defensive back personnel groups are now the predominant formation in the league. The Detroit Lions spent nearly 75% of their snaps in a nickel package in 2014. That’s their base defense, not a sub package.

Within this move to more defensive backs is a clear delineation between outside and slot corners. As my colleague Dave Archibald has written, they are two very different skillsets and roles. Meanwhile, the line between strong and free safety has all but been erased. The “in the box” safety is disappearing – or becoming a linebacker, like Shaq Thompson. Having two players capable of dropping deep and supporting the run is becoming much more common.

NortheasternPJ: Many NFL players don’t consider kickers or punters as football players or real athletes. Scott Zolak referred to kickers as glorified nerds. How does a kicker react to 50+ people giving them no credit as athletes on their team?

Chuck Zodda: A lot depends on the personality of the kicker and what the kicker puts into his time with the team. During my three-year “career”, I made a massive effort to involve myself in as many aspects of practice and team events as possible. I would sit in on positional meetings, run scout team wide receiver and cornerback, work with the returners for extra reps after practice, and generally do anything and everything to be active with my teammates. It didn’t hurt that I was actually a recruited athlete for soccer as well, as I could generally test well during drills and lifted and worked out with the skill position players. It also helped that I loved the culture. At the end of my senior season, one of our freshmen came up to me and said, “When I first met you, I thought you were the biggest asshole on the field. But later on I understood you were just trying to get everyone pumped up every day and I had never seen that from a kicker before.”

soxfanSCJA: Were you (Patriots offensive coordinator) Josh McDaniels, what would you do to make up for Shane Vereen‘s departure? It seems to me that Shane extended more than his fair share of drives, and most importantly was totally in sync with Tom Brady. The return of two big TE’s is one aspect, but I view Shane’s previous role as more specialized. Any thoughts on this?

Mark Schofield: New England seems to place a premium on the ability of a running back to block, protect Brady and, pick up the blitz. Vereen is very adept in those areas, as were Danny Woodhead and Kevin Faulk before him. For this reason I’d imagine BranNew-England-Patriots-Shane-Vereen-Seattle-Seahawks-Bobby-Wagner-Super-Bowl-XLIXdon Bolden gets the initial crack at this position. The coaching staff seems to have a great deal of faith in Bolden handling these tasks – as displayed by his level of playing time in the divisional playoff game against Baltimore during the 2014 playoffs.

Dave Archibald: Vereen played a lot when the Patriots couldn’t run the ball effectively, such as in the Super Bowl or against the Detroit Lions’ imposing defensive line. Perhaps the addition of Tre’ Jackson (and maybe fellow rookie Shaq Mason) and improvement from some of the holdovers (such as second-year players Bryan Stork and Cam Fleming) means that the Patriots don’t have to abandon a sputtering run game and turn to a Vereen-style back as much.

soxfanSCJA: Does every kicker utilize a precise foot location that is common, or is the point of contact between the ball and the foot a giant variable?

Chuck Zodda: Generally, most soccer-style kickers (nearly every kicker today) make contact with the hard bone on the top part of the foot called the navicular. This is the hardest and least flexible part of the foot, so it allows for the maximum force to be transferred into the ball, instead of lost to flexion or compression.

PaulinMyrBch: On Butler’s INT, had he just taken a knee in the end zone, we get the ball at the 20 right? Momentum of the INT-hit took him into the end zone? I understand why he came out even if that is true, but I’ve thought of that a few times since February.New-England-Patriots-Malcolm-Butler-Interception-Seattle-Seahawks-Ricardo-Lockette 002

Dave Archibald: The NFL rules say:

If a defensive player, in the field of play, intercepts a pass … and his original momentum carries him into his end zone where the ball is declared dead in his team’s possession. The ball belongs to the defensive team at the spot where the player’s foot or other body part touched the ground to establish possession.

It wouldn’t have been a touchback; they would have gotten the ball at basically the same spot.

soxfanSCJA: Has anyone ever measured the force generated by a kick?

Chuck Zodda: There are some pretty smart people at Carroll College in Montana who put together pretty much everything you want to know about the physics of kicking. It can be found here.

soxfanSCJA: What is the peak speed of a kicked ball?

Chuck Zodda: Most kickers typically have exit velocities on kickoffs around 65-70 miles per hour, though this begins to slow nearly immediately because of drag on the ball. Most field goals and extra points see a maximum exit velocity around 55-60 miles per hour because of the shorter run-up available to kickers on these plays. Punters can see peak velocities around 60-65 miles per hour, and punts can also maintain their speed for longer periods of time if kicked with a spiral that minimizes air resistance.

Rook05: I’d be interested to hear your take on Scott Chandler‘s impact on the offense, particularly inside the red zone. Do you see the Pats adopting more of a road grader approach with a lot of heavy sets, or do you see them aggressively using him in the passing game down near the end zone?

Mark Schofield: Can I say both? One of the things the Patriots do very well is put together offensive personnel groupings that can attack a team in a variety of ways depending on the defensive personnel. This dates back to the days of Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Woodhead, and how New England could go up tempo and attack the defensive personnel that was on the field. If the defense went small in nickel or dime, they would line up Woodhead and Hernandez in the backfieStill-12-Personnel-2-optild and run. If they went heavy with base personnel or nickel, they could go four- and five-wide and throw on them.

I imagine Chandler can be used in a similar method. The Patriots can run 12 personnel out onto the field, with Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Gronkowski, and Chandler and see how the defense adjusts. If they stay in base you can line Gronkowski up outside or in the slot and throw the ball. Should the defense go nickel or dime, you can run behind Chandler and Gronkowski off-tackle and on the edges.

Dave Archibald: It will come down to how teams defend them. If opponents match up on tight ends Gronkowski and Chandler with defensive backs, the Patriots can run, and if they use linebackers, they’ll pass. Brady obviously has the mastery of the offense to change the playcall in the huddle. Think this play against Denver in the 2014 regular season where New England lined up heavy, only to split Gronk wide for an unfair one-on-one matchup against a linebacker.

deanx0: For years, punters looked to perfect the “coffin corner”, punting balls that went out of bounds somewhere between the 5 and goal line. This seems to be a lost art and instead teams look to down punts in the middle of the field as close to the goal line as possible. When did this change happen, and it it really a better choice on field position as it seems that a number of kicks end up in the end zone?

Chuck Zodda: I am in the process of working up a season-long study on punting tendencies, and hope to have this answered with a significant amount of data after the season. But tendencies vary from punter to punter, as elite specialists such as Pat McAfee employ directional kicks on a much higher percentage than those in the middle of the pack or at the bottom of the league.

soxfanSCJA: Has a professional sports collective ever exhibited more effort to overtly tarnish and defame one of its GOAT players ever without any proof? spartacus

James Mastrangelo: Spartacus?

mwonow: It’s often said that drummers are people who like to hang around with musicians. Is the same true of kickers and football players?

Chuck Zodda: More the other way around. How else do you explain nine guys blocking with every ounce of their strength while a diminutive athlete with massive quads attempts to launch a football 50+ yards? If the answer isn’t “love and adoration”, it is probably “points”, which to kickers, are the same thing.

soxfanSCJA: That you know of, has anyone ever been knocked out/rendered unconscious by a kicked ball (in practice or in-game)?

Chuck Zodda: I had never played football before going to college. I was a soccer player throughout high school and into my first year at Dartmouth. When I walked onto the football team, I was invited to camp in August of my sophomore year. Right at the start of practice, we lined up the three kickers with long-snappers and holders. I had never kicked with a snap before, but I was determined to show I was going to be a force. I took my steps back (three back and two over), and nodded to the holder to snap the ball. The snap was fired back, and I began my run-up. I planted my right foot and promptly launched the ball right into the exposed lower back of our starting center and captain, Preston Copley. That was somewhat of a low point for me, and while it does not conclusively prove anything, I suspect the worst injury a player can sustain from a kicked ball in full pads is a massive welt. And great shame.

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Follow Mark SchofieldDave Archibald, David R. McCullough, and Chuck Zodda on Twitter.

Inside The Pylon covers the NFL and college football, reviewing the film, breaking down matchups, and looking at the issues, on and off the field.

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