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Eagles Film Room: How To Stop The Whiplash Offense

What can you expect from the Mark Whipple playbook come Saturday?

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

In 1994, a Division II head football coach from the University of New Haven got his first chance at becoming a Division I head coach.  After posting back to back double digit win totals with trips to the NCAA Division II Tournament, Brown University handed the reigns of its program to a man named Mark Whipple.

At the time, Brown was a laughingstock of the Ivy League.  They hadn't won more than two games since 1987, having gone a combined 9-50-1 in the years since. By the time Whipple left, the program had a foundation on which it built an Ivy League championship in 1999.

When Whipple left Brown following the '97 season, he departed for fellow Division I-AA school Massachusetts.  The year before, the Minutemen were a two-win program.  In '98, they won 12 games and the I-AA national championship.  When Whipple left following the 2003 season, the groundwork existed for another run to the national championship game in 2006.

In 2004, as quarterbacks coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Whipple helped mentor a rookie out of Miami University named Ben Roethlisberger.  Big Ben became the first rookie quarterback to go 13-0 in games he started, making the NFL playoffs.  The year prior, the Steelers were the 11th overall pick in the NFL Draft.  The Steelers would win Super Bowl XL in Detroit before he departed.

Under Whipple's tutelage, Brown set Ivy League records aplenty in two of his four years at the school.  His UMass team set more than 40 offensive records.  And Ben Roethlisberger threw for no less than 17 touchdowns in a season at a time when NFL defenses were still allowed to defend the pass.  Under Whipple, the Miami Hurricanes had almost no problem scoring 30-plus points in their best year (9-4 in 2009).

Save for a stint with the NFL's answer to Charlie Brown (Cleveland), Mark Whipple's helped turn losers into winners.  He's developed a reputation as a fixer, a Dalton-like cooler who could turn the Double Deuce into a respectable bar.  Whether it remains to be seen if he can do it to UMass at the FBS level, he comes with a pedigree.  It's a blueprint, one where he's made existing players better and one with an offensive playbook that's helped rewrite record books.  An offensive coach, it means Boston College will need to take notice good, hard, and fast at the Minutemen and ready their defensive unit for a battle.

The offense, known at times as the "Whiplash," utilizes a Pro Style setup with multiple formations.  The sets and formations disguise play selections, just as any NFL team would.  It requires maximum efficiency, utilizing different schemes to deceive a defense, and it allows for both the running game and the passing game to get its motor running behind a zone blocking scheme.

A simple YouTube search can reveal the Whiplash as fitting that wide array of formations and selections.  Whipple isn't afraid to trot out multiple wide receivers, three or four guys with multiple slot catchers, and he's not afraid to double down on multiple tight ends and extra blockers.  But looking within the formations reveal a couple of different trends - 1) running plays more often than not utilize a fullback lead blocker with multiple tight ends and 2) passing plays result with the quarterback locking onto a receiver before the snap.

This isn't to say there won't be a trend to the deep ball, but the Eagles defense needs to be aware of short and intermediate routes.  Those routes expose different options, which in turn expose overmatched cornerbacks.  If Bryce Jones fades back into coverage, for example, he might find himself caught between two of the exact same routes at different lengths, usually a five-yard or ten-yard pattern.  If he's at the seven-yard mark in between the two, the quarterback can check to whomever he wants, even though he's probably made the decision based on the first read before the snap.  We can say, objectively, the QB will NOT check off to the other side of the field and will instead identify the mismatch to eat up defensive backfields.

This ultimately means BC needs to watch the quarterback for the pre snap read  As the offensive coordinator in 2009, the Miami Hurricanes found both success and struggles in this game.  When Jacory Harris makes the right decision at the line, it's a quick strike pass to a receiver looking right at him.  When he fails, it's a scramble, soiled pants, and shovel pass to a guy wearing the wrong color. When Harris looks down the middle of the field, the receiver is looking back literally the entire time.  Harris, while scrambling to get open for the pass, never checks off to a second option.  He can stretch the defense, but the defenders know who's getting it.  The receiver, for good measure, gets killed after the catch.

Here's another example, this one a deep pass by Ben Roethlisberger to Plaxico Buress from 2004 against the New England Patriots defense.  Ben's head moves on a swivel before the snap.  After the pocket starts to collapse on the outside, he steps up between the tackles and delivers a strike down the left side.  As the receiver goes in motion, watch how he looks off.  After the snap, he checks out the blitz off the edges, but he never checks off to a secondary target.  All of the reads were done presnap.

That makes pressure on the receivers critical.  Blake Frohnapfel is a big guy with some scrambling ability, but I fail to think any play will be designed for his feet.  That means UMass will either line up to pound the rock or spread the receivers wide for options.  That means Don Brown, who knows the cadence, knows the tendencies, and knows more about the Whiplash than anyone other than the Minutemen's head coach, will need to identify and get his players ready to go with adjustments all over the place.

This requires disguised coverages and different rushers.  I think the pressure needs to come up the middle in an effort to force Frohnapfel to move laterally.  If the big man ends up moving side to side, that takes out half the field unless he's willing to throw a home run ball across the field (the cardinal sin of quarterbacking).  If BC can force him to the side of the field that is not where there are primary targets, or if it disrupts any of the angles the quarterback takes to the receiver, then he's toast.  Likewise, if the coverage is disguised, it leaves Frohnapfel prone to making the wrong presnap read.

If BC can disrupt the Whiplash offense, then they'll find themselves in great position to win the game.  While that's ridiculously obvious to say, I would be more concerned with BC holding the Minutemen offense at bay than I would about the Eagles offense putting up big numbers.  Ultimately, an inability to move the ball will wear down the home team since the defense will subsequently get tired, and that leaves me marking the Whipple vs. Brown matchup as the most intriguing and key to victory for Saturday at Gillette.