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.   .    Empty V
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Empty V Offense

The passing lane offense is like the yin to the stack's yang. Rather than focusing on the person he intends to throw to, the thrower will watch one or more empty lanes where he can throw, and watch for any offensive player to make a cut into the lane.

For the moment set aside the question of the existence of these passing lanes, and assume one or more do exist.

This inversion of view has a very large effect. Any one of the 6 receivers on the offensive team can cut into a lane and be open, potentially at any time. Furthermore, if there are two lanes (which there should be) they have a choice of directions to cut to, and the thrower has a choice of directions to throw to.

A cutter can be in and out of the lane in less than a second. With 2 lanes and possible outlets, it is perfectly feasible to have more than 15 separate passing opportunities within the 10-second stall count.

Another way to think of it is who controls the offense. In a stack the offense first decides who will get the disc, and that designated cutter then decides where and when the pass will be, and it is up to the thrower to put it there.

In the empty V the thrower controls the offense. He decides where the throw will be, the who and when are determined by whoever cuts into the spot he selects.

The cutters should "look through the thrower's eyes": imagine where he wants to throw the disc - where, from his perspective, the holes in the defense are - and make their cuts to that location.

MAKING LANES

With 7 offensive players on an entire field it is not hard to assure that there are lanes in which to throw. In fact, the only requirement is not to clog - if people spread out and clear out and take their defenders with them, there should be several possibilities.

In a dynamic offense the lanes will move, appear, and disappear. Experienced players can look at the field and see them, and since the thrower and cutters see the same lanes they can run cuts wherever they appear. It does not need to be that complicated though. The offense, by choosing the locations to cut and the locations to wait and/or rest, can control the locations of the lanes.

The standard locations for the lanes (and the way we will play this summer) has two passing lanes forming a V, with the point at the thrower and the ends stretching upfield. The size of the V will not get longer than 15 or 20 yards - passes longer than that will probably curve or float, and not require a lane the length of their flight.

While not the only shape possible, usually teams try to use this configuration. For one thing, it gives the thrower a forehand and a backhand target - by pivoting he can prepare to throw down one lane or the other.

From the receiver's perspective, it divides the handler's and middle's field into 3 sections. Offensive players can lurk in any of these areas:

Passing lanes

In section 2 the receivers have the option of cutting into either of the lanes. In sections 1 and 3 the choice is between cutting into the nearer lane, or going back for an outlet or swing.

At any time, any offensive player is free to make a cut into either of the lanes. This could cause problems with clogging, specifically two players making cuts from different directions into the same lane at the same time.

For an experienced team, the two players making the cut should see each other, and the one with the poorer angle, or the one in the better position to make the second cut, would pull out before affecting the other cut.

In our case we will try to be more concrete than this. We will assign positions which are used for priority in making cuts. If a middle and a handler make a cut to the same lane at the same time, the middle should pull back. Similarly, if a deep and a middle make the same cut, the deep would be expected to pull out.

As we gain experience, we should quickly find that these conflicts will not occur often. The reason is that the players are not cutting in a vacuum, but should be playing off each other with two goals in mind: first is continuation of offensive flow, and the second is maximal use of the passing lanes.

There are three ways the offense can move: swing around the defense and up the far sideline before the defense can recover; pass into the middle and move through the defense; or pass long and move over the defense. Of course the third, if successful, is preferable, however it is usually too low percentage to rely on for the entire offense.

The second choice would be a pass up the middle. This has two advantages: not only does it directly gain yardage (a swing only has the potential to gain, if there is a followup throw immediately available), but it is harder for the defense to recover from. On a swing the defense knows exactly what to do - run to the strong side, *fast*! - but in a pass up the middle it is never as clear what to do. This breeds confusion, and confusion can be used by the offense.

The thrower keeps his eyes on the two lanes. It is easily possible to see peripherally any player preparing to cut into a lane, since it is only necessary to watch a spot rather than 6 players.

Furthermore, it makes faking and pivoting much more dangerous. The lanes are set up so one is a natural for forehand and one for backhand. As the thrower is set up for a backhand he can glance at the forehand lane and, if he sees anything developing, can pivot and throw in a single motion to a second cutter. In a stack, since the thrower is watching a single cutter (who can go anywhere, so it is not safe to take his eyes off him), a pivot or fake is only useful to try to free up a throw to that player. While throwing and defensive skills have improved vastly over the last 25 years, basic pivoting and faking have gotten worse.

Defense is a balancing act. It is not possible to shut down all possibilities unless the defensive team has such vast physical superiority that the game is pointless. If the defense collapses towards the middle of the field in order to close up the passing lanes, the swing option becomes easier to work. Once the disc has been swung successfully a few times the defense will try to adjust to that play, opening up the middle lanes for attack. The offense should try to see which way the defense is tilted, and go for the other.

The way this works in practice is this: as the play starts a handler takes a step or two towards a lane. He now must decide whether he is cutting into the lane or back for a swing. The middle on that side is watching the handler. If the handler cuts into the lane in a bid to receive a pass, the middle should prepare downfield for the continuation pass, assuming the pass is made. If the pass is not made the handler should continue out of the lane, leaving behind a vacuum that the middle can then cut to.

On the other hand, if the handler fakes and then goes for the dump, the lane is available for the middle to use. The middle then has a choice, to make the cut in towards the disc or to fake and go wide or deep. If he does not use the opportunity, either of the deeps, playing off the middle, can take advantage of the open lane to make an in-cut. While this sounds complicated to talk about, in practice it is not so difficult.

By initiating a sort of rotation on each side of the field as players cut through the lanes and continue running, this allows for a lot of flexibility of the actual positions of the offense. A handler can go back for middle cuts, middles can move up for handler cuts or go deep, and deeps can move in for middle cuts, and then even continue through to act as handler. The result of this movement is that the defense cannot make assumptions about the role of the one they are guarding. If a handler is fronted too blatantly he can, without disturbing the offensive flow, take off long and catch his defender off guard. Middle or deep defenders cannot assume by playing behind their man they are holding them back, instead they are giving them the opportunity to cut in for a shorter pass.

On the throwoff the offense should scatter to use the entire field: deeps should run 30 meters downfield, prepared to continue long if they want, middles and fronts should range from the left sideline to the right, forcing the defense to spread out as well. This leaves lots of holes in between the defenders for the offense to exploit.

As in the section on stack, here is a list of strengths and weaknesses of this offense. Pardon me if my bias shows.

Benefits:

  • Makes better use of time and field space than a stack
  • It has lots of offensive opportunities: should be more than 1 per second
  • It has simultaneous left and right opportunities
  • Any of the 6 cutters can be open and seen by the thrower at any time
  • Each of the cutters can go long at any time, forcing the defense torespect the long cut
  • It opens up the field, spreading out the defense to make lots of holes to attack
  • Beginning players have the potential to move into the offense, rather than sitting in back of a stack
  • Awareness of lanes helps improve defensive skills

Objections:
  • It is harder to learn than a stack.
  • There are more variations, so different teams use different dialects and it is harder to mesh people from different backgrounds.
  • It is harder on beginners because their role is less well defined than in a stack.
  • Leads to clogging

Addressing the objections:

  • [harder to learn] It is slightly, but only slightly, harder to learn. It is more difficult to describe, but if a team has 3 people that play together well, the other 4 very quickly will pick up the idea. I have seen this many times.
  • [has variations] This is true, and a pickup team may have trouble running this unless they are more experienced. On the other hand, if 4 or 5 people have the same style, it is not hard for the rest to work their way in pretty fast by observing the others and waiting in the dead locations.
  • [harder on beginners] Beginners' roles cannot be defined in a single sentance ("stand here and wait"), but there are places they can stand and watch if they are unsure. They can also learn how an offense works, and move into it gradually as their abilities and courage allow them, rather than making a quantum leap of moving up a position in the stack.
  • [clogs] There is a fallacy in almost all stack descriptions that the absence of a stack means everyone runs around wildly wherever they want. This offense will not clog once a team gets used to each others' cuts. On pickup teams or new teams it can clog. This can be worked on in practice, if in the early stages it clogs during a game the team can always switch to stack and work on it later.
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