Photo by Burt Granofsky – UltiPhotos.com
Offense vs. Defense…Offensive fireworks…Comparative offense…Rainwater…Matchup-forcing specialists…Defensive handlers…The pick…Bellweather players…
Short Sips of Hot Bitter Blackness. A hint of far-off stone-fruit sweetness. A smoky thickness lingers from the roast.
When I see numbers like this, I wonder if the defense and the offense in Philadelphia ever compare notes:
In perusing the above list of playoff team offensive and defensive rotations when ordered by what percentage of the club’s goals they account for, it becomes clear how outsized a burden the Philadelphia offense shoulders. They account for nearly 70 percent of their team’s goals. The other four teams whose offensive sides accounted for 66 percent or more of their goals failed to make the playoffs.
More than that, the Spinners offense completes passes at the highest rate in the league (94.25%) while their defense completes passes at 88.09 percent, which leaves a gap between the two sides of the disc of 6.15, easily the highest in the league as the only other team with a difference of four or more was the New York Rumble.
To continue considering how exceptionally different play on the two sides of the disc is for the Spinners, let’s examine the percentage of throws for the offense versus the defense. Philadelphia is the only team to make the playoffs with over 70 percent of the team’s throws coming from the offense. The thing is that the Spinners offense is much more reliable than the defense as they account for 74.31 percent of the throws but only 58.29 percent of the incompletions. This leaves the defensive side to account for a mere 25.69 percent of the throws and a whopping 41.71 percent of the incompletions. The difference between these two numbers is 16.02. The closest other team? Boston at 7.93.
Philadelphia is an outlier in this league in terms of playing style and team structure. The weight of everything they accomplish lies on their offensive efficiency.
Tastes good so far. Future health consequences are sticky.
These two teams have a lot to offer in terms of viewing pleasure. Superman Graham, Cricket Markette, Gutter Rainwater…wild rookies Billy Sickles and Tyler Chan…wait. Let’s just stop there. These two teams have two of the best offenses in the MLU. They score at such a high rate that they deflate the opponents rather than blowing them out of the competition. Watch the way that Philly pings the disc around and creates open throws to dangerous places. Watch the way Boston isolates cutters and forces their opponents to attempt to generate a block against an unendingly fundamentally sound offense. Watch as hucks fly up to open receivers on pull plays. Watch as throwers manipulate the mark to deliver the disc wherever they need to keep the stall count alive.
Ah, the core of the non-veganoid breakfast. Boiled. Scrambled. Poached. Fried. Loco Moco’d.
First to compare the numbers on offense:
1 player with > 20 assists
8 players with 10-20 assists (most in league)
9 players with > 100 throws
4 players > 200 throws
1 player > 300 throws (Nick Hirannet)
Points leader is a rookie (Sickles)
7.72 Thr/Poss (league leader)
G/Poss: 51.72% (league leader)
4 players with >20 assists (only team with more than 2)
0 players with 10-20 assists
6 players with > 100 throws
3 with > 200
0 > 300
Points leader is a rookie (Chan)
6.00 throws per possession
G/Point: 71.20% (league leader)
The Philadelphia offense relies on two things: Handler motion and Rainwater. While Hirannet is a top-shelf handler in on any team, and everyone else on their offensive line is a more-than-competent player, it is Rainwater who makes this offense cohere into an attack rather than a meandering mosey up the field. As their offense consistently moves the disc between handlers, when they slow, the connection from the handlers to the receivers is the likely culprit. This is precisely the gap which Rainwater fills adroitly. He can be relied upon to give a quick underneath cut if the stall is rising. This is enabled by the constant deep threat his 6-foot-3 frame provides. With an ability to either go up for the disc first or prevent his opponent from going up at all, Rainwater is the total package.
It should be noted that this offense suffers from a lack of clearly defined roles which intermittently results in multiple players cutting to the same space at the same time. This is the negative side of the positive freedom that players have to move on their own outside of the defined structure, but it has not been well-controlled over the course of the season. Rather, it has been merely mitigated by the ability of the Spinners to consistently find their way out of tight spots before continuing down the field.
Another note on the weight foist upon Philly’s offense: Every Spinner save one who has played 30 or more points on offense completes passes at over 92 percent. The lone exception is Dave Baer who, while pulling double duty on O and D, has completed his offensive passes at 89.1 percent.
If the Spinners can complete passes on offense at a particularly high rate (94% or so) they will win this game. However, that could be said of any team. The reason we mention it here is that the Spinners have proven that they are both capable of reaching this mark and indeed rely upon it for victories. Their offense is quite capable and has carried them to a 6-4 record. On any given possession, their offense is the likeliest to score in the league. On any given point, their offense is the second most likely to score in the league. The difficulty naturally being that they are playing the offensive side most likely to score over the course of a point:
Any discussion of the Boston offense must begin with four names: Jeff Graham, Josh Markette, Teddy Browar-Jarus and Tyler Chan. Each threw 21-24 assists and tallied from 29-40 total points. Graham and Chan are cutters first, but more than competent throwers. In Graham’s case, he is one of the most consistent and powerful deep throwers in the MLU while Chan is a steady thrower who knows which throws he has and takes advantage of defenses which fail to either recognize or respect his abilities. To fill in the picture consider that all seven players who have played more than 100 offensive points have more assists than goals. Of those, only Graham and Chan have caught as many as seven goals. Of all other players who have been involved in at least two scores, none have more assists than goals.
This paints a picture of an offensive side with a stable core of throwers (whether handlers or receivers) with a set of cutters rotating through to fill out the offense. Chief among this group are Sam Kittross-Schnell and Piers MacNaughton. They are the first to be noted not because they are the absolute best cutters, but because each possesses a specific attribute that forces matchups for the opponent. Kittross-Schnell is goal-scoring height who demands to be covered by the tallest downfield defender. MacNaughton is pure speed which similarly requires awareness from the defense. Both certainly have other skills, but their outlier attributes force the opposition to a decision point: They either match strength vs. strength or accept a mismatch and hope to recoup the losses somewhere else on the field. The problem arises when you assign your best deep defender to Kittross-Schnell and your fastest player to MacNaugton… who is left to cover Graham and Chan?
The structure of the Boston offense is relatively simple: A vertical stack with both resets at the top of the stack. This leaves two huge cutting lanes on either side of the thrower and grants the thrower vision of all six teammates and their defenders. The resets at the top of the stack consist of two primaries and one fill. The primaries generally split with one to each side of the thrower, which then leaves the third a parted Red Sea in front of him and a two-way option.
The cutters are presented lots of space and time to work against individual defenders, and the Boston throwers are adept at throwing deep with pace to cuts which, in other offenses, would be too deep to reach. The weak point of this offense, while not frequently relied upon by Boston, is in the timing of the third reset. If a thrower gives the lane cutters sufficient time to make more than one move against the defense, and then the two resets make their cuts, the third reset can be pressed for both time and space. If the defender can, either by body or by position, slow the progression of this cut, Boston can be either stalled or pressed out of their offensive structure.
While I’m not sure there is a uniquely weak player or circumstance for this iteration of the Whitecaps, they will provide opportunities for the Philadelphia Spinners. The relevant question is more, “What can the Spinners do with those opportunities?”
Of the six players with over 30 throws for the Philly defense, only one (Michael Panna, who is out this weekend) completed over 89 percent of his passes.
Philly’s defense tends to commit to and believe in a one-directional mark which prioritizes taking the around away over the inside. It isn’t that they wholly concede the inside throws, but there is a larger window for breaks as well as IO hucks. The team works hard on defense and does switch up their marks over the course of a game, but they are neither the Rainmakers (varied defensive looks) nor the Current (dominant individual defenders). Which leaves them to rely on either the occasional individual play (Leon Chou and Matt Esser are the team block leaders) or the less dramatic but still effective suffocating whole-team defense.
That is to say that the Philadelphia defense, on the whole, relies on the opponent to make errors, which is a lot like the Boston defense. However, when the turnover comes, the Spinners have serious difficulty translating opportunity into advantage as they score on 41.96 percent of their defensive possessions despite averaging the most throws per possession.
Boston, on the other hand, converts 48.45 percent of their defensive possessions. The question becomes how does Boston manage a higher conversion rate?
Simmons Simmons Simmons. Alex Simmons, like D. Baer for Philly, is clearly the leader after the turn. And, generally, this is characteristic of a competent offense after the turn: Moreso than offensive sides, which tend to be populated with a surfeit of above-average offensive talents, defensive sides tend to rely on one player to anchor their offense to reality. The main reason is that there are players on the defensive side who get playing time in spite of rather than because of their offensive competency. If we essentially remove players from the majority of the offense due to their inability, it increases the load that other players must shoulder. This is part of the bargain of defense, which is reflected in the lower completion percentages for defensive sides when compared to offensive sides league-wide.
The Boston defense is generally a tight man defense on Philly’s resets and physical all over the field, repeatedly causing bumps and redirections. While they have a few players who gamble for blocks (Jack Hatchett in particular), most of their defense is a team-level concept that works to apply consistent stress across the field rather than risking uncontested passes for block opportunities. However, on long in-cuts or on poorly executed swing passes, every player on the roster can close to the disc with enough speed to take the disc away.
The exceptions to this are when Boston can dictate their opponent’s starting position through a midfield pull, a sideline roller or an extra-short pull when time is running out. In these cases, the Whitecaps tend to have a couple of predetermined areas in which they are looking for blocks while the rest of the defenders remain in basic coverage.
The key for this defensive unit, as it is for Philadelphia, is actually their offense rather than their defense. Rather than forcing a particularly high number of turns, they have been the second-most efficient offense in the league after the turn, lagging behind only Portland’s 53.46 percent over the season.
Stake with your eggs?
The winner gets the opportunity to challenge the Seattle Rainmakers for the the MLU title. Aside from the title game itself, this is as big as it gets!
(That said, it would be a huge deal if Philly got to play the title game in front of their home fans. Boston would merely earn a return trip in a bid to win their second MLU title.)
Waffles or Pancakes?
Choose… but choose wisely.
Boston 23, Philadelphia 21
I do not believe that the Philadelphia defense will find the breaks they need in order to win this game. The last time these teams met, Boston erased the Philadelphia offense. Philly has shown no ability to similarly dispatch the Whitecaps offense or, for that matter, any offense other than that of the Rumble. In a very basic way, this comes down to how each team can win. Philadelphia could certainly win a close game. But Boston could also win a close game. The thing that seems completely unlikely is the Spinners winning by a large margin. Boston, on the other hand, has proven in every season that they can win big against Philly. The biggest wins over three years in Boston’s favor: 2015: 26-13, 24-18, 21-13. The biggest Philly wins: 21-18, 22-20, two games tied at one. The smallest Boston victory on the list is eight points. The largest Philly victory on the list is three points. That alone is enough to pick Boston.
Beverage of Choice
Players or matchups to watch.
Sam Kittross-Schnell vs ???
I’m not sure that Philly has an answer for Kittross-Schnell. He is tall, fast, aggressive and opportunistic. There aren’t really any similarities on the East Coast in terms of playing style on offense (The West Coast has rough analogues in Aaron Adamson and Isaac Entz). Certainly, Kittross-Schnell is made far more effective by the quality of his teammates, but Philadelphia’s defensive ability has a gap where Kittross-Schnell resides.
Matt Glazer vs ???
If there is a single player whose performance is most likely to mirror the Spinners’ team performance, it is Glazer. He is the downfield cutter who, while his role is not front and center, plays a significant part in filling the downfield gaps left by higher-usage and -priority players like Rainwater and Sickles. It may seem odd for the team’s leading scorer to be a tertiary cutter, but in an offense like this in which individual plays are deemphasized for the sake of team success it makes a couple of kinds of sense. If the disc is swinging around and shifting on the field, it is more likely that the player who isn’t consistently involved in the baseline disc motion will lead the team in goals. That is: If you have the disc in your hand all of the time, it is hard to catch goals. Glazer has one of the lower TpOP (touches per offensive possession of the Philadelphia offense, but his catches tend to be quite valuable. Further, Glazer is the only Spinners offensive player with more than five blocks on the season. While it isn’t vital to get blocks in order to get the disc back, it is relevant that, just like Boston, Philadelphia only has one player with five or more blocks. In Boston’s case, it is Graham. For Philly, Glazer is the leader.
It is tempting to apply the lion’s share of defensive pressure to a player like Rainwater or Hirannet, but their overwhelming talent is unlikely to yield. While I do not mean to slight Glazer as he is a truly valuable player and a difficult matchup, his overall play has yet to match the more heralded stars. If Boston focuses their disruptive energy on Glazer, they may be able to force the one or two extra turns necessary to win this game.
Alex Simmons vs ???
Simmons is the key for the Boston defensive side. While he has registered six blocks and plays strong denial defense, his strength is commanding the offense after a turn. He has thrown 15.56 percent of the team’s throws and 14.29 percent of the team’s assists while contributing 12.82 percent of the team’s incompletions. He is the only player in the top two of each of those categories, being second in only one: assists. Whichever Spinner discovers that, after a turn, he who is covering Simmons would be wise to work to remove Simmons from the offense. If a defender can successfully keep the disc away from Simmons, Boston will be forced to rely on their second choice offense. If, in so doing, the Spinnsers manage to force one or two turns, they could tilt the table in their favor.
Tyler Chan vs ???
I’ve said this for nearly(?) every single game since Tyler Chan first laced ’em up for the ‘Caps, but the first thing to watch when Boston takes the field on offense is who draws the Chan assignment and how they deal with him. Do they attempt to run with him on cuts of his choosing? Do they attempt to play over-the-top to prevent the blazing away cuts? Do they attempt to play underneath (but not too much) to force covered deep cuts? The best part is that the first point is just an opening argument which sets the stage for what is yet to come. More likely than not, it will be a rotation of Spinners who try to chop Chan down to size. If the Spinners can limit him and earn one or two extra turnovers, they could earn a berth in the title game.
The Place to Be
Medford, Mass. No two ways about it.