The NFL combine 40 yard dash has always been the hot topic. Seeing the best athletes in the world run at blazing speeds has a certain wow factor. But what is speed to the game of football? Coaches will talk about sprinter speed vs. football speed, and debate the ability of both.
Defense is reaction based, and really relies on both what we term sprinter and “football speed.” Offense speed is based and hinged on the ability to separate and manipulate. I have spent some time doing the mathematical equations of how fast, FAST really is, and how mathematically SPEED translates to feet in the turf.
Now also take into consideration of the ideas behind coverage disguises, zone blitzes, stems, and stunts, the defense uses in order to make the match up even. This places a premium on speed for the offense. Now think about the pure speed of a receiver and all of the space created in routes, spacing, route stems, change of direction, leverage, etc. These are all used to combat that
Please take into consideration, that every receiver I am comparing has the same football tangibles. This is a controlled experiment. We are just examining the difference in separation and manipulation.
So lets look at the math equation.
1 MPH = 1.46667 FPS
40 yard time divided by 80= MPH
Taking these into account study the difference in MPH.
Chris Johnson ran somewhere in the 4.2 range = 19 mph = 28.92 FPS.
Now lets go with an average linebacker.
4.6 range = 17.4 mph=25.51 FPS
The difference between these 2 players per second is: 1.6 MPH and 3.41 FPS.
You could create this for your own players, match ups etc. But as you can see this is why the 40 time is always a big piece of the NFL draft, and high school kids going to different levels of college.
Distance = Leverage
So why doesn’t everyone just go get speed. Well for the most part it is not available on the snack isle at the big box store, nor available through your a sporting good supplier. It is a genetic talent that can be slightly improved upon.
I spoke earlier on how defense was a reactionary speed. Defense uses distance to create leverage, and disguise to created time. These are used together in order to slow the reaction speed of the game. Thus why the nickel and dime defense is used at a much higher percentage now.
Now lets dive deeper in to advantage/disadvantage principal. If you have ever been to a drag race or watched the NHRA on ESPN, you have seen where sometimes they will race different classes together. One car will get a head start (the mathematical equivalent) or difference maker vs. their opponent who is the faster car. To make the race come down to the driver, not raw horsepower. Defense does the same in coverage, with depth of secondary players. It allows for the even race, but also sacrifices space. Unlike a drag race (which is a straight line race), the football players has 53.3 yards x 110 yards to work in. Routes, Timing, and many other aspects go into the initial success of an offensive play. So how does this translate to trying to equalize the offensive opponent? Lets look at some numbers:
If the Defensive Back has a 6 yard cushion, that is the equivalent to 18 ft.
If the Corner is a 4.7 player that means at full speed he can run 17mph or 24.96 ftps.
If the receiver is a 4.5 kid, then he can run at full speed 17.8 or 26.07 ftps.
So the net difference is 1.11 ftps. Now 12″ might not seem like a lot, but many
say that if football is a game of inches, that is a 12 piece difference in the game. Basically that 18 ft cushion can be erased in less than a second to a plus 6ft margin for the offense (hence the old saying “even we leaving” when throwing the fade). We have not even discussed stemming, fakes, extremely great footwork or any other tool the receiver might use, such as change of direction etc. Even with a flip of the hips the corner can be in grave danger of getting burnt.
Wes Welker, Julian Eldelman, Cole Beasley, and many others have been tremendously successful due to scheme and mismatch of speed versus the interior defensive players they face. Hence why the nickel defense is now the base defense, and the dime is a close second in the NFL and college. Football is a game of space, where it was once a game of out flanking. We can all think Jimmy Johnson and his Miami Hurricanes for setting that trend. It was actually the defensive side that evolved football, not the offense. Jimmy was one of the first to play powerful quick and fast defensive players in his Miami 43 defense. He basically said, I will beat you to your flank and spot you a 2 yard loss and a bad collision. So offenses had to evolve and place the speed evenly distributed across the field. Creating space by alignment, not by flanking. Offense had to even up the race because his idea of defensive football was devastating. So now it has evolved into a match up game, just like the game of basketball.
Switch on Screens or Not?
I know that maybe a basketball discussion, but in reality it is a team sport element. In the golden ages of basketball it was hedge and recover or switch. Some teams did not like to switch for fear of getting a 5-8 pt guard on a 6-8 center, but what about the team who does the hedge and recover? They meet a player who can stay over the top and shoot the lights out. What does one do? Well football has become the same mind set. If we motion receivers to get match ups do we leave the corner or slide the coverage? Speed is the number one match up piece in the football equation, so do you switch or hedge? Well look at conversion chart in this post? How do you match up? Are we in Nickel or Base? Much thought has to be put into this, in order to decide if you can live with your match up. That is game planning in a nut shell.
I spoke earlier on the idea of drag racing. If you are a fan, or even have
understanding of racing, you know that reaction time is the key to most victories. How fast can you get on the accelerator when the last light turns green? From a defensive stand point reaction time is crucial. How fast can you react to what you see. This all happens from eyes to brain. It makes MLB hitters great, Quarterbacks legendary, and Defensive Players HOF players. It also decides who has the upper hand. From an offensive stand point our speed is the difference to equalize this skill by a defender. You have to be able with your speed to force the defender to process his reaction time at a higher rate that he is capable of. If you cannot win this battle, then you cannot equalize the depth=leverage, switch or hedge, or reaction time of your defender.
So why is speed a premium in sports? Well speed can make up for poor reaction time. It can equate depth=leverage. It can determine match ups of switch or hedge. Pure speed can be defined as Difference. What that difference is, well that is basically the age old question in racing, “what does your opponent have under the hood.”
Written by: Coach Patrick Taylor
Offensive Coordinator/Air Raid Offense