Constraint Theory of Offense


I just wanted to point out this post over at Smart Football. I think Chris Brown originally wrote it three years ago, but it bears repeating.

Constraint plays thus work on defenders who cheat. For example, the safety might get tired of watching you break big runs up the middle, so he begins to cheat up. Now you call play-action and make him pay for his impatience. The outside linebackers cheat in for the same reason; to stop the run. Now you throw the bubble screen, run the bootleg passes to the flat, and make them pay for their impatience. Now the defensive ends begin rushing hard upfield; you trap, draw, and screen them to make them pay for getting out of position. If that defensive end played honest your tackle could block him; if he flies upfield he cannot. Constraint plays make them get back to basics. Once they get back to playing honest football, you go back to the whiteboard and beat them with your bread and butter.

I think this has applications beyond the gridiron, but I’m mainly linking it as a bookmark to myself.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Constraint Theory of Offense

  1. Craig

    The pitcher/hitter confrontation works the same way, Jon. Pitchers, in baseball, have the ball and are therefore, like the offense in football, in charge of the basic shape of play (since in both cases, the aim of the other team is to stop the ball – baseball’s base interaction is more complex but the same basic facts apply). The pitcher therefore has constraints to stop the hitter from cheating, because most hitters will cheat if you let them – only cover part of the plate, sit on a particular pitch, etc.

    Many of the fastball variations are constraints in this way – you throw two or three different fastballs (a four, a two, a cutter) with different wrinkles in order to prevent a hitter from sitting on a precise location. Lots of pitchers with a basic fastball/curve or fastball/slider approach bust out an occasional changeup for the same reason, to keep a hitter honest and keep him from sitting dead red. Changing speeds is similar, but far more subtle than the kinds of basic constraints Chris is talking about.

    Likewise, the brushback pitch, a classic constraint to punish the guy who it crowding the plate, especially the guy who leans out to cover the outside corner. Lots of time it is the little guys without the big heat who have to brush guys back – lacking the speed to punish a dead pull hitter IN the zone, and wanting to make their living painting the outside edge, they are forced to hit guys or scare them in order to get that part of the plate back. Josh Towers comes immediately to my mind. Towers would also punish guys who crouched low and in the strike zone, by dealing his high “cheese” and watching them climb the ladder, swinging and missing but unable to resist his challenge pitch. That’s a constraint – make them back up, and stand up, giving him the outside corner back.

  2. Jon

    Thanks. I had some of that stuff in mind, but you put it better than I would have. I like the example you gave of Towers.

  3. Pingback: Constraint and pitching | The Cuttlefish Peña

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