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Lombardi invented philosophy 'Run to Daylight'

Posted May 25, 2011

Kamen from Bethel, CT

One name I was surprised to not see on your top 10 list was Sammy Baugh. Back in Jacksonville, someone asked you who your top 10 players of all-time would be and you had seven quarterbacks on your list but you also had Sammy Baugh. I know you probably only gave it casual thought at the time, but I'm wondering what happened that he didn't make it on the top 10 quarterbacks list.

I no doubt was ranking Baugh as a quarterback/defensive back/punter. Did you know he has 31 career interceptions? Did you know he’s one of the greatest punters in the history of the game? In 1943, he led the league in passing, punting and interceptions. Baugh was a lot more than a quarterback. That’s a pretty impressive combination: offense, defense and special teams. Strictly as a quarterback, I don’t think he fits in the top 10, but I think it’s a greater distinction to be ranked among the top 10 of all players, don’t you?

Andy from Abbotsford, BC

I read an article on ESPN that talked about how the lack of OTAs would lead to the 2011 season being simpler because there just wouldn't be the time needed to implement as many and as complicated plays. Do you think this is true and would the fans even notice?

If that ends up being the result of the lockout, then at least some good will have come from it. We need a simpler game. How about a return to the simple act of sound tackling? I think the fans would notice that.

A.J. from Streator, IL

Which offense do you like more, big play or slowly chip away at the defense?

Slowly chipping away at the defense is what allows for the big play. You pound, pound, pound. In the process, you make the defense defend the line of scrimmage, and then you put the ball in, take the ball out and throw it over the top. Play-action is one of the most beautiful plays in all of football because it is the result of several plays. You have to set the table to make play-action work. Play-action is more than a play, it’s a game plan. When I see a quarterback fake to the back on third-and-10, I know there’s something wrong with that team’s game plan. They’re just running plays, instead of using plays to achieve a strategic goal.

Jeff from Saint Paul, MN

You said half the teams in the NFL use a 4-3 defense. Since the NFL is a copy-cat league, and both Super Bowl teams employed a 3-4 defense, do you expect more teams to convert to a version of the 3-4 next year?

Coach Capers knows this stuff inside and out and I believe he told me a few days ago that the split right now is 18-14 in favor of 4-3 teams. We might see another team or two swing to the 3-4 side, but I think we’ve pretty much reached the saturation point and here’s why: Back when there were only a few 3-4 teams, one of the reasons those teams used the 3-4 is because it allowed them to draft from a much deeper pool of pass-rushers and run-stuffers. A 4-3 team is looking for every-downs ends, which means guys that can stop the run and rush the passer, and those guys are in short supply. A 3-4 team can turn tweeners, college ends that can rush but aren’t big enough to play the run against mammoth NFL tackles, into linebackers. Also, the supply of short, squat linemen that can stop the run but aren’t good pass-rushers is usually plentiful, and those guys fit just fine in a 3-4 because 3-4 defensive linemen are hold-the-point guys, not rushers. Now that we’ve reached a split of 4-3 and 3-4 teams, the pool of players applicable to both systems is starting to even out, and that might slow the trend toward change.

Dylan from Niagara Falls, Ontario

With the tight ends added in the draft and Coach McCarthy's apparent love for them, is it possible we will see some exotic four- and maybe even five-tight end sets? I think if we can get five capable tight ends on the field in some short yardage/goal line situations, it would be extremely hard to stop.

I guess it’s possible. Call me old-school, but I’ve never completely understood this fascination for the tight end, and I’m mostly talking about the fans’ fascination for the position. Since I first started covering the NFL, I have heard fans complain that their favorite teams need to throw to the tight end more. Why? I’ve never understood that. What is it about the tight end that makes people want the ball to be thrown to him more? What is it about the tight end that makes you want five of them on the field at the same time? When Aaron Rodgers completed those touchdown passes to Greg Jennings in the Super Bowl, should he have been throwing to the tight end? When Lynn Swann was jumping to the moon to make those dramatic touchdown catches in Super Bowls X, XIII and XIV, should Terry Bradshaw have been throwing to Randy Grossman? Remember Brent Jones? He was a pretty good tight end, but in an offense that includes Jerry Rice, I don’t think you should be throwing to the tight end more. You know what I mean? Somebody please tell me why every quarterback in the league should throw more to the tight end. What is it about the tight end that you love so?

Ted from San Francisco, CA

Vic, have you done an all-time best team? I have wasted countless hours with friends putting different combinations of players together. I would love to see your list.

I like that idea.

Otis from Pearland, TX

How about a contemporary nominee for toughest Packer? Chad Clifton has suffered numerous ankle and knee problems, as well as a shattered pelvis due to a cheap shot by Warren Sapp, but has missed only 20 games in 11 years. All this while playing one of the most physically demanding positions in the sport at a (high) level. His toughness has contributed greatly to the durability of Packers quarterbacks for the last decade.

You’re absolutely right. Clifton is one tough Packer. I remember having seen that play when it happened. I don’t remember where I was or how I happened to see it, but I saw it happen and when they showed the replay, I got angry. I remember Mike Sherman going off about it and I felt just as he did. That was cheap with a capital C.

Cody from Des Moines, IA

I was just reading the new safety rules the NFL owners approved. While I don't like seeing cheap shots or players getting injured, I do enjoy seeing a clean, hard hit to make a play. Do you think this spells the end for hard hits?

What the league is doing is condensing the hitting area. The league is shrinking the target. It’s a safety measure that is going to require players to play with their heads up and eyes open. The head-down, eyes-closed tackle is the one the league is bound and determined to get out of the game. The league isn’t saying you can’t hit hard, it’s saying you must hit hard with a specific technique and to a specific area of the body. Improved tackling, in my opinion, is the next frontier of defensive innovation. The teams that tackle best will be the teams that play the best defense.

Travis from Buffalo Grove, IL

Could you describe what the war room is like on draft day? It seems like an intense atmosphere.

It’s not a war room in Green Bay because one man runs the show. Leaguewide, the whole war room thing is largely a myth. The debates about prospects largely occurred in the weeks leading up to the draft. By draft day, each team’s board and it’s draft-day strategy is set. The BAP teams pick from the top of their boards and the position-specific teams have a list of players they’ll target.

Ryan from Andover, NJ

I've been noticing that you've been mentioning that offenses tend to run to the right more often. What is the reasoning behind this?

The fundamental reason for that goes way back: Most runners are right-handed and prefer to hold the ball in their right hand, dip their left shoulder and cut off their right foot. In the old run-the-ball days, the right tackle was the dominant offensive lineman because he was the best run-blocker. Forrest Gregg was a right tackle. In today’s game, he almost certainly would be a left tackle, because it is the more premium of the two tackle positions. As the game evolved and trended more toward the pass, defenses put their best pass-rusher at right defensive end, which is the blindside for the vast majority of quarterbacks. At one point, the philosophy was run right and throw left, the latter being a simple remedy for allowing the quarterback to look directly at his blindside rusher. The game is too sophisticated nowadays for that kind of simplistic philosophy. If you charted running plays, I think you’d find that the ball is still run more to the right than to the left, but the passing game uses the whole field these days.

Randall from Hugo, OK

So Tom Landry devised the 4-3 to clog the running lanes and improve the pass-defense. Did Lombardi invent anything?

He coined the phrase, “Run to Daylight.” What we didn’t know then was how that phrase would be applied to football in the 21st century. In Lombardi’s “Run to Daylight” philosophy, the back aimed for a zone where the blocking was concentrated, and then he would run to where he saw daylight, instead of hitting a pre-designated spot, which was the norm in design up to that point. The Packers’ off-tackle slant, for example, might see Jim Taylor hit the guard hole. This is the fundamental philosophy of the zone-blocking scheme of today. The line walls off the defense as it slides right or left, and then the back cuts back behind the wall and runs to daylight.

Brad from Madison, WI

I think your dismissal of Peter from NJ was foolish. I can vividly recall the Packers switching their best pass-rusher to the opposite side of the field when facing a left-handed quarterback such as Kurt Warner. Thoughts?

Warner is right-handed.

Tyler from Pierre, SD

So no cheering in the press box, but what about exclamations, or at least murmurs, upon seeing a spectacular play?

Sometimes I cover my mouth and say, very softly, “Hooray!”

Pat from Kansas City, MO

Thanks, Vic, for crediting my “pops” for the “Stunt 4-3” defense. I always enjoy reading your pieces. You do an outstanding job.

Let me tell you how your father’s defense got its name. He had been playing around all-season with a defense called “Cross hands.” It’s an old-fashioned tackle twist that is very good at getting penetration, but it also risks getting creased and allowing a long run. Well, your dad desperately wanted to do some “Cross hands” stuff but Coach Noll kept cautioning your dad against it so, for the playoffs, your dad invented a way to play a form of “Cross hands” without the risk of getting creased. He turned Joe Greene sideways. It was a wonderful defense that was the star of the 1974 postseason and it stood the test of time. When we asked Coach Noll what he called that defense, he said, “I don’t know. Go down and ask George what he calls it.” So, we went down to your dad’s office and asked him. Your dad later told me he didn’t have a name for it, so when we asked him, he gave it quick thought and then blurted out, “Stunt 4-3.” And that’s how the “Stunt 4-3” was born. Tell your dad I said hello.

David from Sammamish, WA

ESPN recently did an article where multiple analysts ranked the best defensive players in football today. Clay Matthews was ranked fifth behind Troy, DeMarcus, Darrelle and Patrick, in that order. How do you feel about that?

In my opinion, if you gave every team a chance to pick one defensive player in the league, Darrelle Revis would be that player. He is the most premium of players. He’s one of those rare cornerbacks that cuts the field in half. He allows you to focus all of your attention on one side of the field. The way he’s played to this point in his career, he’s the best pure coverage cornerback I’ve ever seen. Deion Sanders was great at closing on the ball, but nobody “mirrors” as Revis does. It’s as though he knows the route.

FritZio from Stevens Point, WI

I enjoyed your video about the genesis of the 3-4 defense from the 5-2, but I'd say that most 3-4 teams, including the Packers, are actually still playing the 5-2, just with speedier defensive ends (linebackers). To me, it seems the 3-4 defense is a misnomer but, to your credit, I never thought of it that way until seeing your video description.

You got it. When those outside linebackers are in press position, the 3-4 is the “52,” but with personnel that fits the 3-4, not the “52.” That’s why I say it’s not about the Xs, it’s about the personnel. Put two defensive linemen in there and have them put their hand on the ground and it’s a “52.” Take them out and stand up two linebackers and it’s a 3-4. What’s the difference? Personnel. For those who haven't seen the video explanation, click here.

 
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