Friday, June 10, 2005

Mail Bag: The German Offense

I’ve been soliciting requests for suggested post topics both here and on the AFDC forum. The reason being is that all things being equal, we’d rather write about things that people are interested in rather than things they’re not. So, if you have a question please drop me a line. I may not be able to answer your question, but I can usually find someone who has something interesting to say about it.

Today’s question comes from Mike in Atlanta who writes, “Can you please post something about the German Offense? Is it just a normal spread offense? How does it differ from Horizontal Stack and Box?”

Thanks for reading and thanks for sending us a question. Since this is our first Mail Bag, I decided to turn this question over to Florian Pfender (expert on all things German), rather than just make something up. Flo played on various Atlanta teams (Chain, Gridlock, Rival) while completing his Ph.D at Emory. He played on the German Mixed National Team at the last Club Worlds. Currently, he has returned to the fatherland where he is living in Berlin teaching mathematics. He’s also a scheduling/format/rules guru – basically he’s the German Tarr who can dance. In any event, he wrote the great 4-1-2 write up that’s posted below.

The 4-1-2 is a possession based offense; some people call it lawn chess (it's certainly not the most exciting offense to watch). It tries to score with one mid-risk pass plus a few low risk passes.
The set up is as follows: 4 handlers in the back in a horizontal stack, one person in the middle (the 1) with almost the whole field around him to work with and two people all the way down-field.
An optimal sequence would be: handler catches pull, throws to one of the middle handlers. 1 posts up fairly close to disc, gets a lead pass, and the three down-field players homey it in for the score.

So the only risky pass is the one to the middle, and that's not so risky after all. the worst that can happen is that it turns in a game of 500 if you float it way too much (always rather throw it too high than too low, this way the 1 can save you on an errant throw). That's why I like to play it if I got someone like aj, Goffi or Goodson on my team.

The positions in detail

1. The two middle handlers
The two best throwers on the team. Their job is to hold the disc and wait for an opportunity to throw it to 1, preferably going away, but at least for a big gain in yardage. The main reason that they cannot get this throw off (if 1 plays well) are poaches from the handler defenders. In this case it should be easy to reset the stall count with a lateral dump throw. Never cut diagonally in front of the disc, this will lead to turnovers. If the other thrower has the disc, the best cut to get open for the dump is "go hard for 3-5 yards down-field, and cut straight back", works almost every time, since there is no immediate help down-field. Also be ready for the "angucker", the dump thrown to space (preferably to the down-field side) when the defender is face guarding.
Be patient. The reset is easy, so you can really wait for a good chance to throw it to the 1. At the prime of this strategy (when some teams used it almost exclusively in Germany, which is not done anymore), games could be really boring reset fests until finally the disc was thrown to the middle. often there would only be 1-2 turnovers in the first half before teams got a little too tired and lost concentration towards the end (well, Germans aren't really known for their stellar defense...).

2. The two side handlers
Two jobs-keep their defenders from poaching and reset the stall count. So if a thrower needs a reset, one option is to throw to the side handler (usually poached a little), and get it right back on a fake give-and-go.

3. The 1 (aka "the man")
Usually a player that combines ups/speed/boxing out with decent throws. He sets up in the free space. No big cuts, just find the spot on the field where your defender doesn't know if he should guard you from the front or back, from the left or right. In general try to position yourself, such that you can get the mid range go away pass with as much green as possible in front of you.
If the defender is always playing you from the back, push further out, and
See what happens when you cut in. if he chases hard, you are set up for the 180 and the go-away throw. If he is not chasing hard, break off the cut, turn around and push out even further. Now you are set up for the easy 20 yard gainer on the 45 in-cut.
If the defender is face guarding you, think "DUFUS!!" Move closer to your thrower (best is usually 10-15 yards), and wait for the angucker somewhere behind you. No cut on your side is required, let the thrower do the work. Just give him a good spot to throw to (you gotta know which throw he likes best). He will put the disc in a place where your body is between the disc and the defender. On top of that you get a head start (at this distance, an "up"-call doesn't help much).
If the defender is looking at the disc, move in a similar position, with as much green to work with on one side as possible. Now it's your turn to cut. One quick start should be enough to get you wide open.
Eventually (after you’ve schooled him several times), a good defender will find a mix of looking at you and at the disc. In this case, position yourself again at the sweet spot 10-15 yards away, a little to the forced side. Every time he looks at the disc, move a step or two to make him lose track of your position. Eventually he will either look at you long enough for the angucker, or he will no longer know where you are, and you can get a quick head start to the green space.
Once you get the disc, throw an easy continuation pass to one of the two deeps. You’ve got the whole field for 3 on 3, usually first throw unmarked. This should be easy. Remember, it's a possession offense, so usually you do not throw it directly into the end zone. You only have to move the disc down-field quickly enough that the other 4 defenders can't catch up.

4. The two deeps
These two players go all the way to the end zone. They will not get a pass from the handlers, their first job is to keep their defenders from poaching against the 1. Don’t worry about your man playing 10-15 yards off. This will not help him poaching on the 1, but it will make it really hard to catch up to you for your continuation cut (just run at him and turn him around---back paddling is really hard against someone at 90% speed). Once the throw to the 1 is in the air (it usually takes a couple seconds to get there, so you got enough time), set up your continuation cut. Most times the backs do some cross over action, but something is always open---take what they give you. It should take 2-4 passes from the 1 to the end zone.

Called Variations
One standard play we use out of the 4-1-2 is the 1 streaking all the way to the house, and the 2 coming upfield along the sidelines for the 30 yard gainer. In a way this is off cause a 4-3 ho-stack disguised as a 4-1-2. This is also the play that you usually run when one of the deep defenders is completely committed to poaching against the 1, and you can't really get the throw off.
But there are other ways to break this poach. Any pass that you can complete to the 1 in this situation will break the bank since the poacher will never catch up to his man afterwards. So look for a good spot to put it to. There is always a spot on the field the 1 is closer to than any of the two defenders (basic geometry). If the two defenders play really hard against the 1, he can simply run them to the side; one deep comes up the other side--> easy pass. The other deep defender has to stay deep after all.

One can also call a play out of the 4-1-2 that calls for the one to go to one side and the opposite side handler to streak down-field for the 30 yard gainer---a disguised 3-2-2. Especially effective in the case of handler poaches.

As for poaches from the handler positions (this will happen very often). If they don't poach very aggressively, a good thrower will just throw around/over them to the 1, no harm done. If they poach aggressively, 1-2 other handlers will be wide open for shorter gains. Also the last described variation is a very good way to break this poach since the poacher have to very focused on the disc and not their man to be effective.

Mixed Variations
In mixed, the extra dimension of athletic mismatches plays a whole ‘nother role. You can play a man in the middle and mixed genders in the back. After the pass to the middle, the deep defenders can't really switch, which makes life a lot easier. Another thing you can do is to play a man in the middle and three women deep (3-1-3). This way, there are no effective poaches from the back (a woman can't help defending a high pass to the middle), and there are only two available poachers with the handlers. It also gives you the opportunity to not use the women at all (wink, wink!), and take the 1 all the way to the house. Again, on a floater the deep defenders won't be able to help much. On the other hand, once you move the disc to your women, there are no male poachers preventing the women from scoring. If they go all the way and poach with a woman from the front so the man-to-man d against the 1 can play from behind, 1 makes the hard 45 in-cut--should get you open and then you have all kinds of match-up/switching problems for the d in the back.
Off course, you can also put a woman in the middle, but then you HAVE TO put two women deep. A man deep is just too dangerous should the pass to the 1 float a little.

If this offense is so good, why is it not played by everyone?
The fact is that this offense has fewer turnovers than some other strategies. The biggest problem is that IF you turn it over, you usually turn it over right in front of your end zone, so it is easy to score the break. More bomb heavy offenses don't have this problem. If you give the other team's d-line a full 70 yards to work the disc up after you run them a little, chances are you get it back. 4-1-2 is also difficult to play in windy conditions, since you throw a lot to space. But it is a GREAT o-set to have in your play book. you can change the whole pace of a game if you "run" an offense from time to time, that involves mostly standing around, and gives the other d-line no chance to run (if you play d a whole game against a good 4-1-2, you will not even break a sweat).



Flo said...

So AJ also asked me to tell you a little bit about the history of this O, and then what to do to defend it...

In the early 90s, a team called Zamperl was founded in Munich. A bunch of high school kids with an experienced player as coach. They were outmatched athletically by the other teams, so their coach Peter Schuetz designed this offense where you let the thrower do all the work, and players would not really have to cut.
The Zamperl threw together all the time, and they really perfected the "Angucker"-game: receiver moves a little to make your defender look at him, pass is thrown. A little shake from the receiver to confuse the defender about where the disc is coming from, 3 to 10 yards running, easy catch.
I think Parinella was talking about the Boston O with the Goal of less than 1 cut per throw. I think the Zamperl 4-1-2 had about 1 cut per 3 throws at its prime.
So Zamperl was really successful with this, culminating in a National Championship in 97. Other teams learned the system, too, and adapted it to their strengths.
Especially Mainz was strong at it (some US teams used to call this O the Feldrenner O, since this is where they saw it first---and were surprised how well Mainz would do against them eventhough Mainz was so much "weaker" than them). Mainz' 4-1-2 involves a little more running downfield, sometimes switching into a 4-3.
Nowadays, most German teams use 4-1-2 some but not all the time. I've mentioned some of the weaknesses above.

D against 4-1-2
There is different approaches to D-ing 4-1-2. AJs approach to spread-O D doesn't really work. Poaching the hell out of the handlers to prevent the disc from going downfield will not tire out the downfield players---they are not running anyways.
So figure out what makes this offense run---the lead pass to the middle with the homey afterwards. Prevent that!
What is usually most effective is the following:
handler D
the O team usually has one or two main throwers. So what you do is you put aggressive poaches in the lanes when they have the disc. When one of the other handlers get the disc, preferably close to the sideline, you play a hard man-on-deny the dump defense. This way one of the weaker thrower has to make the pass to the middle, and you have a better shot at getting it.
You want to prevent the 3-man homey downfield. There is two ways of doing this.
a) Deny the pass to the middle. Well--not so easy. But if the disc is trapped at the sideline with a mediocre thrower, and all the dumps are taken away, it's you and the 1 for 6-7 seconds. Chances aren't all that bad.
b) Force the pass to the middle to be short. If you can't D the pass to the 1, one thing you can try is to make the O throw a 5-10 yarder to the middle by playing him from behind. Then suddenly they are set up in a 5-2 with the 2 very far away---not exactly a "power position".

But there are other ways of playing D against 4-1-2. the most important thing to remember is that you don't need to create as many tos against 4-1-2 to win a game. Most tos will be easy scores, so even if a D doesn't feel likeit is doing its job, it might just be enough.

Tarr said...

Hey Flo, I'm interested in why you say this:

"Never cut diagonally in front of the disc, this will lead to turnovers."

It seems to me that this cut can be quite useful in holding onto the disc without losing yards. If it's set up properly, I don't see why it is any more risky than a lateral dump throw.

I see two disadvantages to using this throw:

1) If you overemphasize it, it gets in the way of cuts downfield. This seems like less of an issue in a German offense where there are fewer cuts. You can also minimize this problem by restricting this cut to times when you should be focusing on throwing a reset pass anyway (i.e. late in the count).

2) In order to make this cut, you generally have to be roughtly parallel with the disc on the breakmark side. This means that you and your defender are in the way of the break throw. As a thrower, I hate when my dump sets up there, except in situations where we are trapped. That said, in a German you have so many players parallel/behind the disc that you need to have someone there anyway.

I know in Purdue Women's offense this year (3-4 hostack), that diagonal cut, or at least the threat of it, was crucial to keeping the disc flowing. The offense definitely wasn't a German, but it had a much higher cut/throw ratio downfield than a typical hostack. The reason for that was that downfield cuts were triggered by handler motion.

Flo said...

Hey Adam,

the "never cut diagonally in front" comment is meant to read, "never cut diagonally in front unless the thrower is 100% committed to the reset throw".
The point I am trying to make is that often handlers thin "oh, there is all this free space---I can run there and get open" while the thrower is focussed on the 1. This leads to tos when the thrower tries to hit the 1 in this moment. If the thrower doesn't throw to the 1 in this moment, it still leads to a bad set up for the reset.

About the dumps:
In any o that uses a 4-person ho-handler stack, the dumps sghould be set up nearly parallel to the thrower, sort of like a center stack turned 90 degrees. This gives you by far the easiest resets. As soon as you have players behind the disc, you either don't get the dump off, or if you do, there will not be any upfield continuation, because there are 2 other handlers in the space.
Very often the closest handler will make a couple steps forward to open up the dump pass to the next handler in the reset situation.

Anonymous said...

Yeah its absolutely critical that the man with the disc and the runner can rely on all of this free space. The entire idea is that the defender of the runner is overwhlemed with all the choices of the runner. The thrower should also not have to worry about throwing a fairly slow, high spin pass into the free space that the runner can just pick up when he gets there.

However when I play the 1 another critical aspect is that I actually let the handlers pass the disc around on the line for a while. The idea being that defenders get over-sensitive to any motion I make after a while. They are thinking "this guy has to move, he is the _ONE_, why isnt he moving, oh shit he finally twiched .. now I need to run". As a result one or no cut gets me the disc.

So the handlers should focus on keeping the disc moving on the O-line and letting the runner get a feel for the flow. If they are stalled at 6 they stop looking at the runner and focus on the dump. This is the only situation where handlers are allowed to take a few steps forward and back.

The beauty if the system is that there is very few TO opportunities beyond flat out throwing errors. At the same time you have a great opportunity to continue with a flow pass to one of the two guys down field.

Its also really efficient in that you dont waste alot of energy. So its very good to play if you have a few injuries or if you need to rest from playing alot of high powered defense. Finally the system is great if you have a mix of fast runners and slow handlers.


Anonymous said...

One more comment. The 1 can also be a bit more active. He just cuts at an angle towards the open side for a real easy pass if the defense doesnt follow hard. If the defense follows hard, you just cut 180 in a circle that lets you carry over your speed a bit. So its critical that the angle doesnt require you to stop because then the defender will just run into you and you gain nothing. You need to be able to cut circling towards the sideline.

This way the 1 actually needs to run and cut, but you either get the easy open pass or a wide-open pass (usually an overhead) on the other.