Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Evolution Of The Two Tight End Offense & Tecmo Super Bowl

8 Bits of Over The Top NFL Fun
New England utilizes a specialized passing game that uses two Tight Ends; Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.  Jim Harbaugh the Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers was famous for utilizing 3 Tight End personnel packages for his power run game which was integrated into his passing game.  With San Francisco he uses Pro Bowl Tight End Vernon Davis and former college wide receiver Delanie Walker in his multi-Tight End offense.  Michael Silver's article for Yahoo Sports about Bill Belichek and the origins of New England's dynamic two Tight End offense got me thinking about an offense I put together for Tecmo Super Bowl.

Tecmo Bowl
Fifteen to twenty years ago I played one of the greatest sports video games ever; Tecmo Super Bowl.  It was simple game that gave a player a limited number of plays to select and some of the star players had some outrageous and over the top abilities that added to the fun.  I think it was in one of the sequels to Super Tecmo Bowl that you were able to move players around in someway.  What I do remember was trying to get all of the best players on one team.  But when that became boring, my brother and I decided to draft players onto opposing teams.  What I came up with is in principle very similar to the two Tight End offenses you see today.  To best use a two Tight End type of offense, I used a Run and Shoot Playbook.

The Run and Shoot
Back then with these old 16 and 32 bit video games, certain teams had specific and limited offenses and playbooks.  The Lions, Falcons and Oilers ran the Run and Shoot.  Now traditionally the Run and Shoot was run with a personnel package of 1 running back, 4 wide receivers and zero tight ends.  The offense was run from under center or from the shotgun.  The drawback of the Run and Shoot was that it provided the quarterback little protection and could be overloaded with a blitz or simply overpowered by a superior pass rush fairly easily.  It was up to the quarterback to find the open receiver quickly making  it, as Buddy Ryan famously called it;  "The Chuck and Duck".  The running game was under-powered with only a single running back and no fullback or tight ends for extra blocking.  This caused red zone problems for Run and Shoot teams.  The rushing attack was completely dependent on defenses spreading out to cover the receivers and letting the running back find his way in space.  This worked fine for Barry Sanders most of the time but didn't work all the time or for all Run and Shoot teams.  

Two Tight End Tecmo Offense
Falcon's Run & Shoot Plays
Actually it wasn't just Tight Ends in the offense.  The goal was to have the most offensive options on the field. The Run and Shoot teams were the only ones that had all of their plays have all of the receivers available as receiving options for all of the limited number of plays available in the game.  But to mitigate the lack of blocking on the team I inserted receiving options at the inside receiving options that had some blocking ability.  These receivers were still to be used primarily as receivers but were to add extra blocking capability to my Run and Shoot offense on run plays.  The inside receivers were typically receiving Tight Ends that weren't necessarily the best blockers at their positions in the early to mid 90's this included such players as: Ben Coats, Shannon Sharpe, Jay Novacek, Brent Jones and Eric Green (who was also an awesome blocker) were Tight End options at the slot receiver positions.

Oiler's Run & Shoot Playbook
An even more dynamic personnel package was adding Wide Receivers that could block (in Tecmo Bowl, a player's ability to block was based on his Hitting Power trait).  Michael Irvin was the best blocking Wide Receiver in Super Tecmo Bowl, Jerry Rice was the next best.  Since some of the best Wide Receivers were being used as Slot Receivers, we had to use the next best type of receiver to work on the outside.  These receivers were the speedsters.  They didn't have the best hands but they were the fastest and could blow by cornerbacks: James Jett, Rahib "Rocket" Ishmael were some of the speedsters.  The execution was simple: the  first read was the outside receivers, the second read was the inside receivers.  One weakness of the offenses was that you had to have the top Guards and Centers on your Offensive Line because there were no extra blockers in the Run and Shoot plays.  A top Nose Tackle could humiliate a Center in Tecmo Bowl with sack after sack in a game.  Jerry Ball and Micheal Dean Perry could notch close to 100 sacks in a season!

Running The Ball
With Tight Ends or blocking Wide Receivers in at the slot positions on both sides of the formation, sweeps were the most effective run plays.  However, since there was no Fullback to lead block, you had to have the best interior offensive linemen to open up holes for you at the line of scrimmage.  But honestly, who really wants to run the ball when you have such a dynamic passing game?  

Limitations of the Offense
But inside the red zone was another story.  There were some limitations.  Inside the red zone the speed of the outside receivers is not a factor and since they don't have the best hands, they didn't challenge the Corners for the ball when tightly covered.  So that eliminated two receiving options from the get go.  Running sort of worked but thank goodness there were no line shifts in the game.  

Real World Applications & The Modern NFL Tight End
Flexibility wasn't a trait of Tecmo Bowl.  You could not change plays, add motion or call a hot route.  But in the real world NFL multiple Tight Ends are being used in a variety of ways.  It is not uncommon for a formation shift that has Antonio Gates or Vernon Davis lined up wide and the Wide Out lined up in the slot.  New England has sweep plays designed for Tight End Aaron Hernandez.  Having one of the Tight Ends line up in the backfield to lead block or two of them to overload one side of the formation adds flexibility for more types of play calling and power running in the red zone.  I will expand on the multiple Tight End personnel packages in another post.  

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