Football is Over – Now What?

Here we are.

NFL and college seasons are over. For some, it was once again a season filled with thrills and excitement; for others disappointment and dismay leave us counting the hours and minutes until next year.

This time always comes much to our chagrin. Just when we reached the Mt. Olympus of football viewing pleasure, it all comes crashing down.

Don’t fret. There’s still plenty to look forward to. The NFL Draft, March Madness, the Masters. And don’t forget, we get another round of football. The XFL begins its inaugural season in February, and with the new rules announced recently, we’re on the edge of our seats anticipating kickoff.

But, before we turn the page on 2019, let’s look back and see what we learned about the game.

Fullbacks might still have value

According to a FiveThirtyEight post, during the 2019 season, only 14 teams in the NFL had an official fullback listed on the roster, and the number of two-back snaps are on the decline. However, expected points added (EPA) was up a quarter of a point, just not where you’d expect.

(If you aren’t familiar with EPA, Advanced Football Analytics breaks it down here)

The increase in points scored showed up more on passing plays than it did on traditional running plays, meaning fullbacks might still be valuable in the NFL, just not in the traditional fashion.

Teams running the most two-back sets this season were New England, San Francisco, Minnesota, Detroit, Denver and Baltimore. Some of these teams are not like the other.

Evolution of the running QB

If you haven’t seen what MVP Lamar Jackson and the Ravens did this season, you need to put on the tape immediately and be in awe. Jackson’s ability to run and pass is completely changing what anyone ever thought a quarterback at the NFL was capable of.

Is this replicable elsewhere? Ask Josh Allen in Buffalo, who’s doing some of this.

Coaches are probably hoping so, but Jackson’s dynamic running ability is other-worldy, and likely impossible to duplicate at the position. At least for now. Not to mention the Ravens good offensive line.

What’s probably more troubling for league personnel is how defenses can evolve to stop something so unbelievable. NFL defenses are not built to handle someone of Jackson’s size and speed on a consistent basis, especially with how well he’s developed his skills as a pocket passer.

One thing everyone can agree on – playing defense against Lamar is a nightmare. If other quarterbacks like this begin to emerge more consistently, look out.

Play-action passing works better, even when you can’t run well

As detailed by numerous outlets throughout the past couple of seasons, the play-action pass is one of the most efficient plays in football.

Football Outsiders took a deep dive last season at the effectiveness of play-action vs. traditional passing in addition to play-action vs. runs. The results even today are telling. Teams using play-action more often are averaging more than a yard per play better than those not, regardless of effectiveness in the run game.

Expect to see more of that as teams continue to get more information from analytics than ever before.

In-game decision making with analytics

The growth of analytics is widely discussed in baseball and basketball and has been for more than 10 years. Not so much for football, but that’s changing. Teams like the Ravens and Eagles, among others, are using analytics to their advantage. Not only for talent evaluation, but also in-game decision making.

Just this year, the Ravens fourth down attempts per game skyrocketed as they added a full-time quantitative analyst who calculates win probabilities throughout the game. The Ravens are abandoning traditional football strategy and instead going for it on many of their 4th down situations, and finding success doing so. With increasing boldness, they’ve found success that many teams are likely to attempt to replicate.

College player and coach movement at all-time high

The NCAA transfer portal is getting used on a more frequent basis and by much more high-profile players. Three of this year’s Heisman finalists were transfers from a previous school the year before, leaving some to wonder if player movement might become even more fluid than ever before.

With the coaching carousel in full swing each winter, it seems natural many players are looking to find a better scheme or situation under a new staff.

The portal, just following bowl season, is already filling up with under and upperclassman alike, looking for a better opportunity to showcase their skills.

For those of you wondering what the transfer portal is, NCAA breaks it all down here.

In other news…

For some, tradeshow and clinic season is upon you.

Word to the wise – go in expecting to pick one or two concrete ideas that you can execute effectively amongst your program. Even just one new tip or trick can make you a better coach, player or administrator.

February 5, 2020