Not About the Election

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Fascinating story in the California Bay Area, where Piedmont High School football coach Kurt Bryan has exploited a loophole in the rulebook to develop an entirely new offensive scheme, which he has dubbed the "A-11."  The wide-open formation features two quarterbacks, and makes every offensive player on the field receiver-eligible (they all wear uniform numbers in the receiver-eligible range).

Because both quarterbacks stand seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, and because there’s no one under center, the formation is under the rules a legal kicking formation.  But you don’t have to actually kick the ball when you line up in a kicking formation (otherwise, fake kicks would be prohibited).

The offense has befuddled both defenses and referees, and has allowed tiny Piedmont to stay competitive with much larger high schools.  The genius of the offense lies in the number of options it opens up for the offense, which makes it much more difficult to defend.  From the New York Times:

According to Scientific American magazine, a standard football formation permits 36 possible scenarios for taking the snap and advancing the ball; with the A-11, the possibilities multiply to 16,632, providing a controlled randomness to the offense and potentially devastating chaos to the defense. Even the center becomes eligible to catch a pass if he is at the end of the line of scrimmage.

Detractors say the offense is gimmicky, and not real football.  Of course, detractors once said the same thing about the forward pass.  One critic calls the A-11 "deceptive and unsporting."  But misdirection and trick plays have always been part of football.  Witness the gimmickry in the Boise State-Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl from a couple of years ago—arguably the greatest college football game of all time.  Or the resurgence of the Wildcat formation in the NFL this year.

It’s not yet even clear if the A-11 will give offenses a lasting advantage, or if coaches will eventually figure out how to defend it.  Seems a little early to talk about banning it.

But so far, ten states have done exactly that.  And more may follow next year, when the National Federation of State High School Associations may address the issue.

Here are some clips of the A-11 in action:

 

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31 Responses to “Not About the Election”

  1. #1 |  jwh | 

    It’s basically what Mississippi State played when Jerry Rice was there……you need some good receivers and a half way decent quarterback…..or two.

    You’re betting the farm that you don’t need a running back.

  2. #2 |  Ron | 

    re:

    “To its detractors, the A-11 is a gimmick that cleverly but unfairly takes advantage of a loophole in the rules. To these critics, the offense places an inequitable burden on defenses to determine who is eligible for passes and makes the sport nearly impossible to referee.”

    To me, it sounds like just what football needs to become interesting again.

    The A-11 makes so much sense, they will ban it for sure.

  3. #3 |  thomasblair | 

    Every one of those plays can be chalked up to shitty high school pass coverage and tackling. There’s nothing remotely tricky about the offense. Their QB’s have good arms and their WR’s have good hands. They’re just out-throwing and out-running the DB’s.

    The thing about this offense is that most HS football teams center their playbook around a single person – the RB. This school ain’t doing it and so it’s confusing to HS defenses. That said, even a running team could beat these defenses – they can’t tackle for shit.

  4. #4 |  B | 

    I think it’s interesting, but I bet if you tried this in the NCAA or NFL you’d probably end up with a crippled QB.

  5. #5 |  ceanf | 

    tom, you beat me to it. that was pretty much exactly what i was going to post when i saw the video. it may work in high school, against some high school teams. but it ain’t gonna cut it against a more disciplined defenses.

  6. #6 |  Lori Wilson | 

    Piedmont is a VERY wealthy enclave bordering Oakland. Several years ago the high school came under some negative publicity for allowing the students to chant at every game:

    We’ve got money, yes we do! We’ve got money, how ’bout you?

    Very classy! On the other hand, this strategy seems quite innovative, and fun to watch. In this case I say – Go Piedmont!

  7. #7 |  Mike Leatherwood | 

    B-
    I think that the same could be said for the 5-wide spread, QB-option pitch and triple option. So, yeah, it may not be right for the NFL, but certainly for HS and most colleges.

  8. #8 |  thomasblair | 

    10. Sweep left. Broken tackles.
    9. QB rolls right. Slot receiver runs post. Simple.
    8. Fly route, fades to the sideline. 30 yd play.
    7. 10 seconds in the pocket (no excuse, D). WR on an out. Bad pursuit, missed tackles.
    6. 10 yd dig, but the DB goes for the glory of the pick rather than just defend the pass.
    5. QB roll right. Slot (at least I think it’s the slot WR) chair pattern. Poor coverage by DB.
    4. QB keeper by a very mobile QB, ala Vick, McNair, McNabb, Culpepper. Poor tackling.
    3. Something of a hook-and-ladder. 12-15 yds gain. Nothing special. This is just a timing thing that any team with a pair of smart receivers can work out.
    2. WR outran his coverage. Deep safety again goes for the clean pick instead of defending the pass. WR fumbles immaculately. Referee inexplicably calls it a TD when the ball carrier rolls in the last three yards.
    1. Handoff as in a reverse. Player pulls up and hits a deep WR flag.

    There’s really nothing exceptional I can see about this, though it’s only my first time looking at such an offense. If any of you other readers know something I’m missing, I’m certainly open to correction.

  9. #9 |  TC | 

    http://a11offense.com/

    Interesting, BUT, as others have pointed out, the vid shows a country ton of very poor defense!

    The refs seem to like it, there claims that the players are not getting hurt as much.

    It is like all changes to offensive sets, smart coaches will learn to defend it.

  10. #10 |  OGRE | 

    This really isn’t new, just like the “spread” offense in college. Its as old a formation as there is. I have a sports book from the 40′s (author Clair Bee, the Chip Hilton series) that talks about using a formation like that (sans the 2qb’s). And its not like very person is eligible on every play, they still need 7 men on the line, and the 5 center linemen are ineligible. Everyones become so dependent on jersey numbers to determine eligibility that it was just a matter of time till some coach decided to use only eligible receive numbers for everybody (which is smart), and that only came about because lazy coaches never taught defensive players to watch for the tackle eligible. Or so ref’s wouldn’t have to watch carefully who was eligible each play.

    Certainly don’t think it should be banned (and I never thought jersey numbers should determine eligibility) But its not some new-fangled invention. Its basically what was done before/during the advent of the single wing and was almost completely lost when the T formation and variants became dominant.

  11. #11 |  nobahdi | 

    I would like to see how it works play-in and play-out, not just a highlight reel of poor tackling and heaving the ball downfield.

    But didn’t KC run one of those plays yesterday afternoon?

  12. #12 |  James D | 

    I could see it working in college (as many ‘gimmicky’ offenses do) but I can’t imagine it working in the NFL …. the defenses in the NFL are just too fast for any of the ‘gimmicky’ offenses. It’s always cool to see something new though … the same old formations do get quite boring (especially in the NFL).

  13. #13 |  Alex | 

    Put me in the skeptical camp. It appears to just be a spread option system some guy teaches for money, like Tony Franklin’s system. There’s nothing wrong with that; Tony Franklin’s system has worked very well (he was a consultant for Hoover H.S., the team on Two-A-Days, among many others), but marketing claims should be taken with a grain of salt.

    “the defenses in the NFL are just too fast for any of the ‘gimmicky’ offenses.”

    They said that forever about the SEC, until Tebow came along. Then again, it’s gone pretty horribly for Auburn and Michigan this year. And the Falcons had a bit of a gimmicky offense when Vick was there. Of course, imo he’s also the most overrated QB ever.

  14. #14 |  Mike | 

    I thought the gimmick about this offense was that all 11 players are eligible recievers up until they start running down the field anyway (when there is a max of 5-6) So yes all these plays certainly look like poor defense but if the DBs didn’t know which players were likely to run down the field how do they know who to cover?

    Certainly I’d doubt that this would work at a pro level as there is enough trouble getting 1 NFL quality QB per team. Doesn’t seem to be any real reason to ban it though. I guess I am a libertarian when it comes to sports as well as politics. The fewer rules the better. Illegal offenses/defenses in any sport always annoy me.

  15. #15 |  Danny | 

    “Witness the gimmickry in the Boise State-Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl from a couple of years ago—arguably the greatest college football game of all time.”

    Hell yes!!! I’ve been saying this ever since it happened, and I had to download the game on iTunes for memory’s sake. I should have been there with my girlfriend, but she hurt her ankle and couldn’t go. My parents left before the end, and missed the awesome end of regulation and overtime.

    Anyway, I hope they can continue to use this offense. I can’t see the videos here at work, but I’m definitely checking it out when I get home! Thanks Radley.

  16. #16 |  OGRE | 

    Unless they are playing in a league with some really screwy rules, all 11 players can’t be eligible. Although it does sound like theres some weird rule regarding kick formations in their league, but that is likely particular to that league. In any event, its pretty standard that at least 7 men have to be on the line of scrimmage, and only the 2 on the ends are eligible receives; anybody ‘covered up’ is ineligible. Thus at most there are 6 eligible receives, the 2 Ends and the 4 Backs; although you could have 8 or more on the line of scrimmage but that results in less eligible receivers.

  17. #17 |  Rolo Tomasi | 

    I agree with Mike. This strategy causes the defense to be out of position before the play even starts. Also, by making the defense spread out to cover all the possible receiver, it forces the defense to make good open field tackles. Most high schools have very poor tackling. How many Friday night highlights happen every week because someone missed an open field tackle?

    This offense confuses the defense, gets them out of position, and forces them to do things they are not good at doing. I would call that smart.

  18. #18 |  Rolo Tomasi | 

    Ogre,

    from the article:

    “But in the A-11, all the players wear eligible numbers — and anyone can catch a pass, as long as he lines up in a legal position. While seven players are required to be on the line of scrimmage, defenses often have no hint of which seven players will be on the line.”

  19. #19 |  GU | 

    Sheesh, who knew there were so many football strategy experts who read and comment on this site! I don’t understand the mean-spirited skepticism. If it doesn’t work, teams won’t use it, and vice versa. Get over it!

  20. #20 |  GU | 

    Just to be clear, non-mean-spirited skepticism is o.k., but there’s no reason for the apparent vitriol.

  21. #21 |  David | 

    It’s an interesting offense, and telling that the schools who are “supposed to win” are looking to ban it to keep the smaller programs from being able to complete.

    It is the sort of thing that would only work at the H.S. level/lower college though. The D1 and NFL players are too big and fast to get that many uncontested shots at a QB during a game without someone getting maimed.

  22. #22 |  OGRE | 

    Rolo:

    Yeah I read that. But it doesn’t change the fact that there still has to be at least 5 interior lineman, and no matter what their jersey numbers are or how far apart they are spaced, they are still ineligible receivers. I imagine the confusion on the defense comes from spacing the ineligible lineman among eligible backs..for instance, the center flanked by two slotbacks with the guards 5 yards outside the slots. Just takes solid coaching to teach the defense to be aware of which players are eligible.

    If they are finding ways to get around the requirement for 5 interior linemen, such that they do have more than 6 eligible receivers on a play, then that is an abuse of the rules and probably requires a little cleanup.

    Point is, this is nothing new (except for using 2 QBs, which actually has its own disadvantages)…its very old in fact. Just like the ‘new’ spread we see in college, its older than the single wing.

  23. #23 |  Highway | 

    Ogre, actually I think the rule is that 5 lineman can’t go past the line of scrimmage prior to the forward pass. So as long as there are adequate people on the line, and the ‘covered – uncovered’ outside receivers are met, there is still a lot of flexibility in who goes out into patterns.

    I agree that the videos are mostly bad defense. I’d imagine that some of the bad defense is caused by confusing offense, but there’s still bad defense (bombs that are just jump balls, etc).

    I think the main issue with this in top flight college and pro football would be the sheer speed of the defensive line. Much more is dictated by the limited amount of time a QB has before those monsters bash his head in in those contests than by what the patterns are. It would be really tough to keep what is essentially a decoy on the line in a wide position to make sure you don’t have too many guys out in the pattern, and not have one of those linemen blocked. And QB’s can’t roll out EVERY play. The D-lines are just too fast.

  24. #24 |  PTLindy | 

    The formation consists of 3 WR – TE – Center – TE – 3WR on the line and two QBs. Based on the rules, the only restriction is that 5 of those on the line cannot go downfield, not “5 interior linemen.” Hence the added deception that any of the players (all with eligible numbers) “can receive” the ball.

    From the website http://a11offense.com/ :

    The A-11 features up to all eleven players wearing an eligible receiver jersey number, either 1-49 or 80- 99, with two quarterbacks in the shotgun formation at 7 yards, and with nobody under center – thereby meeting the criteria for a scrimmage kick formation. In “base” sets, the A-11 Offense has a center, and a tight end on each side, and three wide receivers to the right, and left respectively. By spreading the potentially eligible receivers across the entire field, it forces the defense to account for every possible receiver on each play. Of course, on any given play, only six of those players can go downfield to catch a pass, and the five “covered” players remain ineligible to catch a downfield pass on that particular play.

  25. #25 |  OGRE | 

    Thats just a round about way of saying what I said. “Interior Lineman” would be any person on the line of scrimmage whose not an end, and is therefore ineligible. It certainly is NOT “any 5 lineman” can’t go downfield. Its the lineman who aren’t ends that can’t. Its not adding receivers, its just spreading them out along the front. You have 3 pockets of 3 along the front, and 5 of those 9 are going to be ineligible “interior linemen.”

    And I agree, the speed of the D line plus bump and run coverage which is sometimes prohibited in high school ball would make it much more difficult to run this offense at higher levels of play. It can certainly have its uses, but its questionable if giving up the pocket of protection is worth it.

  26. #26 |  thefncrow | 

    Yeah I read that. But it doesn’t change the fact that there still has to be at least 5 interior lineman, and no matter what their jersey numbers are or how far apart they are spaced, they are still ineligible receivers. I imagine the confusion on the defense comes from spacing the ineligible lineman among eligible backs..for instance, the center flanked by two slotbacks with the guards 5 yards outside the slots. Just takes solid coaching to teach the defense to be aware of which players are eligible.

    Actually, the confusion becomes because the actual formation doesn’t become clear until just at the snap.

    The offense breaks the huddle and lines up in an illegal formation, with only the center lined up on the line of scrimmage. Prior to the snap, 6 players step up to the line of scrimmage, satisfying the requirement for 7 men on the line of scrimmage, everyone sets for 1 second, and then the ball is snapped.

    The defense has only 1 second to adjust to who is and is not an eligible receiver.

  27. #27 |  thefncrow | 

    Also, on the A-11, I’d imagine you’ll see it go away soon.

    The rule they’re exploiting is in place to allow coaches flexibility with their special teams.

    On punt coverage, you want a suicide squad who are quick, in order to get downfield and disrupt the receiving team’s blocking scheme.

    However, without the scrimmage kick rule, you’re required to have 5 ineligible linemen with numbers between 50-79, who are then ineligible by number.

    Quick coverage guys are getting buried if they get assigned a #62 jersey, because they won’t be eligible, at least without informing the referee of such on every play(should the league be like the NFL and allow players to report eligible. The NCAA does not allow it.) These guys are probably WRs and TEs who are very low on the depth chart. The scrimmage kick rule is in place so that they can line up and count as the 5 ineligible linemen on the play without requiring that they be ineligible by number.

    Previously, there was a solution to this problem where suicide squad members were given tearaway jerseys with ineligible numbers on them. If you’re reporting in as a 4th WR in a spread set, you go in with your standard #89 jersey, but if you’re going in on the suicide squad, you snap up your tearaway jersey and go out as #71 instead of #89. This was such a hassle that the scrimmage kick formation rule was put in place.

    The rule will be amended to what it is in the NCAA, which is that the scrimmage kick formation only exists when a kick may actually occur. 1st and 10 from your own 20 after a kickoff is not a position where a punt or field goal attempt would actually occur, so you can’t use a scrimmage kick formation.

  28. #28 |  bago | 

    If this is a binary progression the number is 16,632.

  29. #29 |  mike | 

    I think the interesting thing is the way they move the pocket sideline to sideline. They can set up their pass protection 15 yards to either side of center, which makes it a long way to run for the traditional D-Lineman. Leach does some similar things at TxTceh, with wide splits and a lot of good hands guys. As we saw in the Tceh TU game Harrell can create a lot of time by sliding with his pocket to one side or the other. You still have to have athletes and some of these kids looked pretty talented, and thinking that they have an edge probably gives them a lot of confidence.

  30. #30 |  Ron | 

    I like it. I am for anything that makes football less boring than it is.

    http://www.ehow.com/how_4561990_improve-game-football.html

  31. #31 |  lenny | 

    What a brilliant idea!

    This offense is wild, truly electric and wide open.

    Awesome!

    Lenny

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