September 2016 – Calvillo School, Lesson One – Protecting Your Quarterback (Guest Teacher: Wally Buono)

In a recent RDS piece, writer Bruno Heppell reported that the Alouettes’ plan was for Jim Popp to remain as Head Coach for as long as Anthony Calvillo needed to “go to school” and learn what he requires to eventually take over. Inasmuch as Popp will NOT be returning as coach in 2017, Calvillo’s future would appear to be unclear…and perhaps fading with EVERY loss suffered by this beleaguered team.

Still…if Anthony has ANY chance of sticking with this team in his present position, he’ll need to start making some adjustments to his way of doing things. Calvillo couldn’t have MORE “immunity from prosecution” in this city if his home address was a foreign embassy. Such is the JOY of being a legend. But if the Alouettes continue to lose, SOMETHING, at some point, is going to HAVE to give.

While it might be fair to say that it was Noel Thorpe who was sent to the Principal’s office in BC Place last night, Buono and the Lions did a LOT of things on offence that Anthony Calvillo would do well to learn, emulate and “coordinate”.

1) Blitz and Screen. This is a term that was coined by a fellow Alouettes fan as we watched the goings on together. What Thorpe needs to learn is: if you CAN’T get pressure rushing 3 or 4, you CAN’T blitz on EVERY passing down.

A screen play is basically a form of judo, where you use your opponents POWER and intentions against him. Offensive linemen hold their blocks JUST long enough to trick their opposites into thinking they’ve made a GREAT move and will get to their  slavering, bloodthirsty DESIRE: sacking the quarterback. At the right time, they release their block and proceed upfield  to get into position for the play. The quarterback then sucks the pass-rushers in, waiting until the last moment to lob the ball over their heads, into the arms of the waiting running back (generally), who now has a flotilla of hogs in front of him, and a bunch of frustrated rushers behind.

Unfortunately, the Alouettes oline is SO porous that opponents RARELY need to blitz, often pressuring and even sacking the quarterback while rushing only 3. THIS allows 9 to drop into the coverage of 5 or 6 receivers…not giving a pressured quarterback a whole heck of a lot of options. So while THIS lesson may not necessarily apply AT THE MOMENT, if the Alouettes EVER have the good sense to start an effective offensive line, AC will have THIS knowledge in the bank, ready to be applied.

2) Run the ball. The SINGLE greatest discouragement to a MANIC, all out pass rush, is an effective running game. Last night’s game was an excellent case in point. In a season where the run has been abandoned by ALMOST everyone BUT the Calgary Stampeders, Wally Buono saw a weakness that has plagued the 3-4 defence since it was first conceived: the Alouettes, DESPITE having (before tonight) the best overall defence in the CFL, have the league’s WORST record against the run.

So Wally ran…FOR OVER 250 YARDS!

Football “squads” run on confidence. It’s fair to say this Alouettes defensive squad has been one of the MOST confident bunch around. The hesitation, the insecurity engendered by THAT degree of success on the ground CANNOT be over stated.

Of course, as Ticats Head Coach Kent Austin so cleverly puts it, if you want to run, you have to be able to block. With (arguably) the WORST offensive line in the league, THIS is where the lesson fails to take hold with Calvillo at this point.

Another one for the brain-bank.

Oh and Anthony, one thing… There are PLENTY of great times to run the ball. Second and two, DEEP in their zone. On one of the FEW drives all night where you’ve got your sophomore quarterback moving the ball effectively. And your running back has been stopped REPEATEDLY in the backfield…MAY NOT be one of them. WOW. My TV’s DAMNED lucky it survived THAT experience.

3) Roll your quarterback out of there. Get him “out on the edge”, as Dunigan likes to say.  OK. It’s fair to say that rolling your quarterback is a concession. If you’re starting on the left hash, and you roll your quarterback to the right, you’re effectively cutting the field, and hence the amount of space for your receivers to maneuver by a third, or more. If the ball is placed on the right hash, you have the option of rolling him right (will little more than a third of the width of the field available) OR…assuming your QB is up to it…roll him left.

One effective play will instill doubt in those pass rushers, who suddenly need to worry about containing an athletic quarterback, who could just as easily take the ball himself. And if he’s one of the few QB’s as capable of rolling left as right (Cato, Reilly, Collaros), the defence has THAT to worry about too. ANY indecision you can create buys your QB literally DOZENS of seconds over the course of a game. For a defence it’s maddening. Trust me.

But what’s the difference, you ask? If your QB sits in the pocket, and rolls out when forced by pressure…what IS the difference? It’s worth remembering that the difference between success and failure in sports is often MINUSCULE. Athletes are trained to such a high pitch, and at a professional level are so even in skill level, speed and quickness…it is often the slightest of advantages that win the day.

A quarterback drops back into the pocket, with a primary receiver in his mind. He looks to his first read, often AFTER looking “off” in another direction FIRST. In the event THAT receiver is covered, he then looks to his second read, then third and so on. THIS take TIME. At some point the pressure begins to break through, and the quarterback needs to either abandon the process of going through his reads, or adjust his position in the pocket in order to escape the rush, and continue to execute the play.

Assuming the decision is to abandon the pocket, the quarterback is now in the unenviable position of REACTING to the oncoming rush, and creating something from the ether, assuming he has the gifts to do so.

In a situation where some kind of rollout is called, the quarterback IMMEDIATELY abandons his position behind center after receiving the snap. Planned routes mirror the quarterback’s trajectory (either left or right, depending on his abilities) through the backfield. OR any number of complex route combinations and downfield blocking schemes can be employed. Perhaps two or three receivers will run routes at different depths, giving the quarterback several targets from which to choose.

The obvious advantage is that your quarterback NOT ONLY is not forced to create something on the spur of the moment, from jagged fragments of abandoned pass routes, he has the advantage of being ahead of the play…in the drivers seat, as it where. The defence is in a position of REACTING to him, the blockers ahead of him and to the play as it unfolds. It can NOT be overstated that ACTING is infinitely more conducive to success on the field than REACTING.

Another OBVIOUS advantage to getting Cato “out on the edge”, is to take a young, but inexperienced group of offensive linemen who are STRUGGLING to protect their quarterback in the pocket, and give them something more active to do. There’s EVERY reason to believe that our young Oline could make some hay, using their youth and energy as a weapon of attack, rather than ALWAYS being on the “defensive” . The same is often said of the running game, for that matter.

While I have to admit, last night there WERE moments where I had to hide my head and stop watching altogether…I can’t seem to recall ONE instance where Anthony Calvillo had Rakeem Cato rolling out of the pocket, as a deliberate part of any play. As far as I remember, it was ONE BORING, dropback pocket pass after another.

And “dropback” is a misnomer, because it was somehow decided that Cato would stand, IMMOBILE in the pocket after receiving the snap. I’d like to break with this format for a second to point out that Mike Reilly is said to have the “deepest drop” in the CFL. No doubt Reilly feels this deep drop affords him the precious time in the pocket he needs to make his magic. Someone OBVIOUSLY has decided that GLUING Cato to one spot in spacetime is the best way of assuring he won’t go a-wandering. IMBECILIC!

Oh, there were some quick releases, no doubt. But not any sort of roll out, as far as I recall. I do recall Jennings rolling out on numerous occasions. I have to say I’m getting rather tired of watching how creatively OTHER teams use their young, athletic quarterbacks.

Rolling your quarterback is only ONE of many methods of using your quarterback’s athletic abilities, keeping him safe and ahead of the rush.

Next week the Alouettes are off to Hamilton. It should be LOADS of fun seeing how Kent Austin and the Ticats use Collaros. Another opportunity for Anthony Calvillo to be:

 

SCHOOLED

 

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3 thoughts on “September 2016 – Calvillo School, Lesson One – Protecting Your Quarterback (Guest Teacher: Wally Buono)

  1. I imagine your “somewhat” has to do with the fact that the words “Calvillo”, “Coach” and “BAD” were not used in conjunction with each other.
    Still…with all due respect to “Zeke”…Jack Todd’s few articles on the Alouettes are ALWAYS the highlight of the season.
    Thorpe (and anyone ELSE, for that matter) would be a FOOL to accept his one and potentially ONLY head coaching gig with an anchor around his neck…SUCH is the state of Anthony Calvillo offence. I can (just barely) imagine Kavis Reed talking himself into it, but NOBODY wants THAT.
    The Alouettes will be without Popp as HC in 2017…THAT at least is official.
    HOW they resolve his “unattactiveness” to prospective coaches is certainly another issue.
    One IMNSHO ONLY a new GM can resolve.

    Like

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