Football vernacular is filled with complex terminology, which is standard in a game where the X’s are always trying to pound the crap out of the O’s.
But “chunk plays” only sounds complex. It’s a term used to describe plays in which the offense is able to gain a chunk of yardage on one play, as opposed to using multiple smaller plays to gain that same yardage. The exact yardage required to achieve a chunk play varies, but generally 15-20 yards is sufficient.
The motivation to feature chunk plays is simple on the most intelligence-insulting level. More yardage picked up on one play means the offense is moving down the field quicker, and their odds of scoring and having a productive drive increase.
Conversely, the consequences of struggling to accumulate chunk plays are pretty obvious too. But once data is provided to analyze the importance of the chunkiest plays, you begin to understand why coaches include them as part of their super secret Stoncutters language.
While he was cruising around the Interwebs on another matter, Brian Bassett over at The Jets Blog stumbled on this note regarding chunk plays from former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer, who also of course presided over the mythical rise of the Tim Tebow god, and his collegiate dominance.
Chunk plays were vital to Meyer’s spread offense, and here’s why:
A team has only a 20 percent chance of scoring on a drive with no plays beyond 15 yards, [Florida Coach Urban] Meyer has calculated. One play of 15 or more yards increases the chances to 50 percent. Two plays raise the chance to 80 percent. The fastest players are the ones most likely to make the biggest plays. So Meyer gets them the ball as frequently and creatively as possible.
As Bassett also notes, having smaller and faster players increases the likelihood of chunk plays, since players that run fast can therefore cover more ground and gain yards after the catch. When Tony Sparano rolls out his wildcat it may often look like the spread, which is why fast guys are preferred.
Jeff Demps is fast, and he demonstrated that in the Olympics when he won a silver medal with the American men’s 4 x 100 relay team. The running back and kick returner was also Tebow’s teammate in Florida, and the rapid movement of his legs in a forward motion led to a per carry average of 5.8 yards during his senior year.
So yeah, it’s easy to see why the Jets were connected to Demps before the Patriots reportedly snapped him up today, and why Tebow would have enjoyed having him as a teammate again. That connection and any future connection to similar burners gets even easier when we look back on the severe lack of chunk plays by the Jets offense in 2011, a unit that very much preferred its chunks in small sizes.
With Mark Sanchez struggling, the Jets had only 41 receptions for 20 yards or more, which ranked them 23rd in the league. There were a few exceptions (Ravens, Bears, 49ers), but the teams below 20th in that category were mostly the opposite of good (Bills, Chiefs, Vikings, Rams, Bucs, Browns, Colts, Jaguars). Extending it further, there were significantly less really large chunks for the Jets with only three receptions for +40 yards, which tied them for last place.
It didn’t get much better on the ground either. With Shonn Greene averaging a pedestrian 65.9 yards per game, the Jets had just seven carries for 20 yards or more, which was good enough for only 24th. For some perspective, the Panthers — the league’s best rushing team in 2011 — had 24 carries that broke the 20-yard barrier.
Maybe Tebow and this wacky wildcat concoction will lead to more chunks. Maybe it won’t, and he’ll fail miserably. But it’s clear that the Jets need to try something, because the status quo has failed.