THE “BIG GAME” MATCHUP
This Sunday’s “Big Game” pits two teams against each other that have found success in very different ways. The matchup will be interesting as we watch a San Francisco defense that has been a wall take on the prolific spread offense of Kansas City that will try to open up the field with vertical routes while containing the athletic Patrick Mahomes.
GAP SOUND DEFENSE
You could list a number of reasons why San Francisco’s defense has been so difficult to crack this season, but one area in particular that has helped them allow only 41 rushing yards/game in the postseason is their gap integrity. So, what does gap integrity mean?
When looking at the offensive line from the perspective of the defense, there are specific gaps identified between each Offensive Lineman. The space between the Center and each Guard is the “A gap”, between the Guards and Tackles are the “B gaps”, and so on.
After the defense gets their play called in from the sideline, the front 7 or 8 players have a specific gap assignment that they’re responsible for covering. If a player comes through your assigned gap you better be there to either plug it, or stop the runner if they attack your gap.
Each formation may have different base gap assignments and to complicate things even further, playcalls can include additional tags that may indicate a blitz or a stunt to confuse the offense. It’s imperative that each player understand their gap assignment, as it only takes one missed assignment to create a huge hole in your defense – and if that’s the hole the offense is attacking, you’re in trouble!
Watch the 49ers defense this Sunday and see how they stick to their assignments and ensure that there front is not vulnerable.
On the flip side, Kansas City has shown how their offense can attack a defense in multiple ways. While their running game is stable, their ability to move the ball down the field through the air is what has brought them to the Championship Game.
Even when a team knows they’ll be passing, (Exhibit A: the AFC Divisional Playoff game), they’re able to read the defensive coverage and identify the best opportunity to find the open receiver. Yes, Patrick Mahomes is key to this process, but there’s a lot that goes into what the receivers need to do as well as they get on their route.
When the offense breaks the huddle after the play is called, each player scans the defense as they line up in position. The offensive line needs to know what protection they’re in and who their blocking assignment will be. The backs and receivers need to know how the coverage is aligned and if they may need to run a route inside or outside, depending on leverage. And the QB needs to determine if the play that’s called will be successful against the coverage they’re seeing, and if not, call an audible to change protection, change a route, or even change the formation by bringing players in motion.
Mahomes gets most of the credit for their success in this area, and in many cases it is well deserved, but it takes an entire team to be on the same page to ensure the play is executed properly.
HOW DO THEY DO THAT?
So now that we know WHY this year’s "Big Game" contenders have found success, the question is HOW do they do it? Practice. And more practice. But even before practice, there’s a tremendous amount of work done to learn the playbook.
Today’s playbooks might not be recognizable if you’re 25-30 years removed from playing the game, like myself. While the core concepts of the game haven’t changed much, the complexity of a playcall has grown significantly. Each player is expected to understand every detail and be ready to execute their assignment without hesitation.
On top of that, each week brings a new opponent who may be running schemes that your team hasn’t seen yet. So, not only are players staying fresh in their playbook, but they’re also learning to read the opposite side of the ball, and specifically how their upcoming opponent plays.
Sound like a lot of work? Any player who’s played at a high level would confirm this. We all see the time they spend on the field at practices, walkthroughs, and games, but it’s the time away from the field that can truly make a player great.
Until recently, the standard in playbook study has involved watching film (i.e. video), reading through a playbook, and drawing out plays on a whiteboard with the coaching staff as they test their players. These approaches are useful but can be time-consuming, exhausting, and in some cases not engaging enough to keep a player’s attention long enough to sink in.
Enter Smash Routes. The Playbook Game. By creating an interactive approach to putting a player through their playbook in various ways, players are finding that they spend more time learning their plays, while also comprehending the playbook quicker than they have ever before.
Additionally, coaches are given access to data analytics on their players’ comprehension, as they can see how their players are performing in their playbook, as well as how much time they’re putting into it – all within a professional mobile app interface. Instead of scheduling one-on-one meetings with each player to give the “whiteboard test,” they can have their players constantly doing that work within Smash Routes, and can see in real-time how they’re doing.
If you’re a coach’s spouse, just think of all the time you could get back for you and your family!
PREPARE LIKE THE PROS
So, if you want to see how Smash Routes works and what it could do for you or your team, take a shot at the Smash Bowl 2020 Challenge. You’ll be put into the shoes of the mighty 49ers defense and asked to identify your gap assignment from different positions. Then, see what it’s like to be Patrick Mahomes and learn to read defensive coverages, while identifying the primary route to look for in a pass play based on the coverage.
After you climb the leaderboard, you’ll feel like you could take the field this