Saturday, September 02, 2006

Let's Talk Language: what is offensive conservatism?

Rob's comments on my Derrida/Patriots post made me think: what do we mean when we call a team conservative?

To me, conservative offensive teams:

1. Run the ball a lot (or, if you prefer, don't pass the ball very often, especially on 1st down).

2. Don't throw downfield very much.

3. Don't risk very much on 3rd and long (and in general might be short of first downs on 3rd down passes).

4. Sit on a lead, lacking aggressiveness late in games.

5. Rarely vary the gameplan, running the same type of plays every game.

6. Run occasional gimmick plays to mask their general conservatism (but typically do so with a lead).

7. Run or pass largely dependent on field position.

8. Get more conservative in close games, late in games, and in playoff games (in calling more runs, shorter passes, and playing for ties or close games rather than trying to bury an opponent).

An important point to add: this isn't an either/or proposition. Teams aren't EITHER conservative OR aggressive: all teams are on a continuum, and they show up at differnet spots on the continuum at various times.

In this case, I really don't see the Patriots as a conservative offensive football team. They throw a lot, they're aggressive on third down, they don't tighten up the gameplan in the playoffs, they do vary their game plan and use a variety of plays (see the 2001 playoffs: in Brady's 1st playoff start, 15th total start, and in a snowstorm, he threw 52 times, and in the Super Bowl after the Rams tied and they had the ball in their own territory with a minute and a half, they aggressively went for the win).

So two questions:
1. What other descriptions would you use for a conservative offense?
2. What on my list do you not consider a description of a conservative offense?


  1. notice i said the patriots are not a 'passive conservative team.' the difference between that and an agressive team is the difference between the mike martz rams and the patriots. the patriots build everything around shorts passes or the run game. everything deep comes off the run and everything else is short stuff-- screens, tight ends-- or lots of pick stuff. its really brilliantly done, though.
    i think number 2 and number 5 don't mean conservative. mike holmgren/ bill walsh didn't throw downfield. the difference between walsh and the patriots is walsh passed to set up the run... well, they were probably conservative too. they always did the same thing. they were so precise they did the same thing to everyone every week.
    throwing a lot doesn't mean agressive. i think throwing downfield alot means agressive. what i'm saying is, the patriots are agressive/conservative-- they play not to turn the ball, to play ball control, to play field position over whereas martz just tried to score a ton of points no matter the score, field position or worrying about turnovers.

  2. And I think #3 is the biggest sign of an offense that is conservative at heart. At the very least an aggressive team is going to try convert 3rd downs, whereas a conservative team might run draws or throw short passes.

    This is a continuum: even Mike Martz, the playoffs against the Panthers in the 2003 season, played for a tie when he could have gone for a win.