September 17, 2008

Can Crane turn it around?

So Matt Ryan is now earning millions for the Atlanta Falcons and while all BC fans are following his career with excitement and anticipation, they can't help but feel a significant void left in the offensive arsenal at the Heights.

To the ire of many of the Eagle faithful, many of the national pundits had written the Eagles off without the Ice Man implying he was a one-man show. Their response is that the defense is good enough to carry the day, that with the return of Jeff Smith and arrival of super-frosh Josh Haden, the running game will game will once again rise to prominence and that coach Steve Logan's magic will rub off on fifth year quarterback Chris Crane.

However the reality is, as was shown against Georgia Tech, quite different. It's well understood that Crane is a mature, intelligent young man and his time spent behind Ryan will pay dividends over the long haul, but the film room is simply no substitute for gametime experience. If BC fans will recall, even Ryan's first game was not all that auspicious.

That being said, while the Boston College community waits for Crane to earn his wings, things will change for the Eagles. How? It's simply a matter of give and take. You see, a defense is going to give the offense something. You simply cannot have an answer for everything an offense can throw at you. As a coach, you watch film, you assess the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing offense and you game plan based on odds.

However, what made Ryan incredibly unique was that he had the ability, as a college player, to take what the defense was willing to give up and make them pay. That comes with a high level of intelligence and a lot of experience. While Crane possesses the former, that latter is in short supply. And with only one year to start, whether or not he will get there is a major question on the minds of the Eagle diehards.

So how does the offense change with an experience-limited quarterback at the helm? Well it's all about threat level and the offense's ability to deliver on that threat, how the defense can handle each threat and how that threat leads to other openings for the offense.

For example, if an offense has legitimate deep threat weapons, they will force the corners to play a little deeper, giving up the flat and the slant. Additionally, the deep threat will cause the safety to pause on play-action fakes, keeping him out of his running lane responsibilities a little longer which will lead to that many more yards on the ground.

Additionally, because second and third read receivers are much less likely to get a look than under Ryan, the defenders responsible for those patterns can play much looser and get to completed passes much quicker, dramatically decreasing yards after catches on completed passes.

With a situation like Crane's, where he is struggling to look off receivers to his next read, the game essentially becomes a half field game. What that means for defensive coordinators is that they can take a lot more chances from the backside, or non-play side, because the threat level to that side of the field is greatly reduced. Additionally, with his accuracy problems on the long to medium throws, the support typically provided by additional deep cover men can be redirected to either more pressure on the passer or to the running game.

You see, managing defensive game plans is all about risk mitigation. Defensive coordinators will sit and figure out where the opponent can beat them. They will take few, if any, risks in that aspect of the game and they will apply their strengths to take that away from the offense. Where they are confident they have the upper hand and they will increase their risk exposure.

If you are a defensive coordinator of an opposing Eagles team, you would take more risks on protecting the longer passes. Why? Two main reasons. First and foremost, Crane has a tendency to "lock on" a receiver. This allows the defenders to idenfity that receiver and on the longer patterns, they have more time to do that. Second is that he is struggling with his accuracy on the medium to long range throws and that changes everything in that aspect of the air assault.

So what would your game plan look like? Well, first and foremost you take your free safety and commit him to the box earlier in the play and more often in formation. This will take away the C gap and work well to stop counters, or plays against the grain of the flow.

Second, you put your coverage players in a much tighter formation. Why? Because the threat of the deep ball is mitigated and in a tighter coverage, one person can cover more patterns than one in a looser formation. If your cover men can eliminate more patterns, especially inside patterns because they are so close to the receiver now, it will free up the linebackers to bring more pressure on the quarterback and be in a better position to make plays on the play-action fakes.

Lastly, you bring pressure from the backside a lot more because if the quarterback is locking on to play side receivers, it becomes a numbers game and you have the upper hand. Odds are he won't look to your backside so attack from there.

By all accounts, Chris Crane has the skills, intelligence and work ethic to fill the very large shoes from last year. However, until his gametime experience rivals that of his off field qualifications, expect to see a lot more pressure and a lot more risk by opposing defensive coordinators.

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