This is a guest post by Benyamin Elias and Giovanni Danforth. -ed
The DC Current’s new “flood stack” offense attacks space somewhat differently from the more common horizontal, vertical, and side stack offenses. This new offense carried DC to their recent MLU Championship Title. We’ll be working through the offensive points of the first half of DC’s Week 2 game against the Boston Whitecaps to determine what exactly makes the flood stack so different.
Boston 3 - 2 DC at 23:31
This offensive point gives us the first good shots of DC’s offense. They set up in stack that runs vertically down the field with one player isolated in the force side lane.
As the disc swings towards the stack, the stack readjusts, moving to the space behind the mark. It is also worth noting that a player makes a force side under and doesn’t immediately clear into the stack; rather, he hugs the sideline. This allows him to occupy dead space (space the thrower can not easily or typically throw to) rather than disrupting live space with his clear.
Boston 3 - 2 DC at 24:33
Now we can get a better sense of how the offense functions. It again sets up on the break side, in the dead space behind the mark, with a single player isolated in the force side lane. After that player clears, a new cutter is isolated in the same space.
It’s worth noting is how shallow the stack is; the front of the stack is only about five yards from the handler. This allows quick handler movement to move the disc until cutters get open for big gainers.
As the disc moves towards the break side the stack adjusts to keep players in dead space directly behind the mark.
Boston 4 - 3 DC at 28:21
We don’t get to see most of the stack, but we can tell that players are setting up far in the break side (because that’s where cuts are coming from) and that DC has no fear of working the disc up the force side line. In fact, their offense has yet to use the break side of the field at all. Because the stack creates so much force side space, even same third hucks are fairly high percentage throws.
Boston 5 - 5 DC at 35:53
The camera makes it difficult to see the stack, but it’s pretty clearly set up on the break side. DC again shows that they are willing to march the disc up the force sideline. We see handler movement aggressively attacking the upfield force side space, as the point begins with consecutive strike cuts. Kolick even runs through all the way into the cutter set.
This possession also give us a better look at the angles used by cutters. For most of the point the disc is trapped up against the sideline, but handlers have little trouble throwing shallow breaks because of the width of the force side space. This allows them to hit cutters on the force side with relatively easy break throws that give defenders absolutely no play at the disc.
Boston 5 - 5 DC at 36:17
It’s interesting to see the change in offense as DC approaches the end zone. The stack again sets up on the break side, but cutters have more difficulty gaining separation without a deep option. This necessitates movement over to the break side, starting with the swing from Kolick. Even then though, the break side movement stops there. Although there is a small I/O break, it’s really just a single break rather than break side movement. DC eventually scores when Kolick gets the disc and quickly throws a lefty O/I flick to the break side, which is slightly more conventional break side movement. This is the first time we’ve seen DC go after the break side, and their cutters don’t look incredibly confident attacking that space.
Boston 6 - 6 DC at 42:23
This is a very interesting point because of how Boston comes down on defense. DC starts to set up on the near sideline (backhand side) with the disc in the center of the field. Boston comes down in what looks like force backhand and DC stays where they are. Their stack is now set up on the force side. However, it is also set up significantly deeper than it has been, with the front of the stack a full 15 yards away from the disc.
But then it turns out that Boston isn’t really forcing backhand; they’re forcing middle. As the disc swings to the backhand sideline the stack moves over into the center of the field, even though this is the new the force side. DC tries to keep the stack near the center of the field regardless of the force. However, they do this differently depending on the force, setting up shallow and behind the mark if the break side is available and deep on the force side it is not.
Boston 6 - 6 DC at 43:47
After DC gets the disc back on a nice D from Prial, they again set up their stack on the force side. This time they start with one cutter a little further out in the lane.
Unfortunately the camera angles make it difficult to know what is happening upfield for most of this point. The only other potentially notable thing that can be determined is that they again set up on the break side at 45:55 and the front of the stack comes across the force side for the score. Also, the dump on this play is set up directly behind the thrower.
Boston 7 - 7 DC at 48:31
This point is quite interesting because DC looks like they are coming out in a ho stack. However, this turns out to be just a pull play. Immediately two DC cutters clear break side and Prial goes force side.
DC then has their cutters starting from the break side, but they are less organized in a stack and seem more to be just a collection of players standing on the break side. At 48:44 we see the offense clearly has cutters in a stack on the break side, but the switch in camera angles before the turn makes it impossible to tell what’s going on. DC gets the disc back with a short field and basically scores in transition.
Boston 8 - 9 DC at 56:53
A similar pull play out of a false ho stack into the flood stack. Again camera angles obscure what’s going on, but DC hasn’t really run anything but their flood stack. If it is a flood stack it’s again set up on the break side, as we can see the front of the stack. Whatever stack it is sets up quite deep, which is odd for DC, considering that it is on the break side. DC moves the disc around in the handler set before Shofner puts up a questionable huck. It’s possible that the depth of the stack worked against the offense here; the deeper stack cuts off some deep space, making deep shots more difficult.
Boston 9 - 9 DC at 1:01:01
DC sets up in the stack with one in the lane, as they have done previously. As the backhand force becomes clear the stack gradually shifts over to the break side, although it is off screen. Prial also shifts it in slightly, allowing him to get a short reset.
Boston 9 - 9 DC at 1:01:54
The disc moves up the sideline with cutters clearly positioned towards the center of the field. It looks like this is the break side, but Boston is marking extremely loosely, perhaps as an adjustment to stop the to-this-point effective march up the force side.
Keegan swings the disc across the field in response, something that has not yet happened in their offense. The stack has some difficulty adjusting to the movement of the disc, and doesn’t really move from the center of the field to attack the new space. The disc eventually swings back to the near sideline and a time out is called. DC runs a play out of the time out, with players flooding towards the flick side and Kolick coming under. This offense is a bit rushed with only 12 seconds on the clock, but Kolick attempts a hammer into the wind and DC eventually turns the disc.
It looks like the goal of this stack is to position the stack in dead space so that cutters can be isolated one after another on the force side. The offense chooses to use the space in the center of the field as dead space, accomplishing this by setting up either shallow and directly behind the mark or deeper and on the force side. However, players do not necessarily immediately return to the stack, instead finding other dead space to wait in until the active cutters have finished their cuts.
DC moves the disc up the force sideline using either big unders or quick and aggressive handler movement. The disc rarely moved the width of the field, which is unusual for most offenses. The only notable time swings did go off was when Boston marks adjusted to be looser and straight up, which made attacking up the force sideline slightly more difficult.
This offense is effective because it makes both elements of a pass easy. Typically there are two combinations: a cutter can make an easy cut to the break side and is thrown a hard throw that must break the mark OR a handler can make an easy throw to the force side and the cutter has to make a hard cut to beat the defender. Obviously there are gradations here (e.g. shallow breaks, some resets), but the general idea holds. The width of the field and the isolated cuts to the force side make getting open on the force side significantly easier, allowing DC to make easy cuts and easy throws. The width of available force side space also enables relatively easy shallow breaks to the force side. These throws are useful because they are to the force side of the field but the break side of the cutter’s defender, making it much more difficult for defenders to make a play for the disc.
I love defending against an iso stack. As long as defenders know their plan and play team D, the defense should be able to knock the offense back onto its heels.
Here I’ll talk about how I like to defend against it, not necessarily how Rhino intends to do so, but I’ll use the video above as a demonstration.
Step 1: force into the stack
The Rhino defender in this video has a very loose and active mark, and manages to seal off a very large area, disallowing the throw to the open iso cutter.
A common mistake that defenders make here is to mark the handler too tightly, allowing easy break throws. The marker here has just the right amount of spacing and the footwork to prevent the throw to space.
A defense that can successfully force towards the stack takes away the offense’s first option and forces the disc into a crowded area where it’s difficult to execute properly.
Step 2: deny the front of the stack
The defender marked in orange has taken a good position for defending a middle cutter in the stack, but he is too loose against the front cutter of the stack. He should be able to rely on the help of his teammates should his guy break out towards the middle or deep areas of the field.
When all four offensive players are stacked on the side, I like to have the front stack defender guard all in cuts, the middle two defenders to guard cuts into the lane and also help out on the isolation, and the last back to handle the deep cuts.
Although these players will start in semi-zone positions, they should be picking up the first man that makes a cut towards their area and handling that player in a normal man D from that point on.
Step 3: Fall back into regular man D
Rhino at this point has done a pretty good job defending the pull play. They stopped Sockeye’s first option into the cutting space with an excellent mark, and forced them into a crowded area. As a result, Sockeye ends up in an awkward position with 5 players behind the disc.
Sockeye does have Skip Sewell isolated in a bunch of space (offscreen to the left), but it’s an awkward position, and a miscommunication between him and the handler results in a turn.
Rhino didn’t play the point perfectly, but they did manage to apply enough pressure to Sockeye to generate a turn.
A few plays later, Rhino comes out in an iso stack, and Sockeye tries to defend using something similar to the scheme I described above.
Unfortunately, here their execution is lacking. The first cut is OK for Sockeye, it doesn’t gain Rhino any yards or position. The second cut, however, catches the middle defenders napping.
Note the last back trying to signal his teammates to pick up the in cut, but nobody does, and Rhino offense begins to flow.
This clip should start at 2:14; if not, skip to that time to see the play under discussion
This is a point from the final of the Dream Cup in Japan, pitting the USA All-Stars (purple) against the Buzz Bullets (white).
From the position in this picture, Masahiro Matsuno is going to cut to the corner cone and try to receive a pass. Almost inconceivably, Martin Cochran is going to cover nearly the whole width of the field to get a layout block.
The person that Cochran is guarding is not on the screen; you can see in this picture that he is hedging towards the force side, but keeping his eyes on a guy offscreen to the left.
The moment the pass is completed, the situation looks dire for the USA All-Stars.
Matsuno, a Buzz Bullets legend (55 goals and 26 assists in 11 games at WUCC 2010, for example), has steps on Stubbs and the force side cone is wide open. Driscoll, marking the disc, neither helps Stubbs out nor marks the strike cut; this ought to be an easy goal for Buzz Bullets.
Offscreen, Martin Cochran has seen what Driscoll hasn’t.
Cochran comes charging across the field from so far away that the thrower doesn’t even consider him a threat, lofts his throw just a bit, and watches as Cochran turns it into an incredible layout block.
This is D with brains, not with brawn. It is an extremely athletic bid to actually block the disc, but what got him the D was having his head up, not being locked into guarding his own man, seeing the field, and putting out a ton of effort just for a shot at the disc.
When you’re on the field playing defense, don’t just see your guy. See the whole field. When you see somebody get open deep, don’t just watch the throw go up.
If you have your head up, you’re willing to work, and the thrower floats it just a bit or the receiver takes it just a bit too easy, you might earn yourself the chance to make a play like this.
Ironside sets up in a ho stack, but all of the cutters bar Stubbs move slowly up the field. This leaves Stubbs completely isolated, and he takes advantage.
He’s been Ironside’s first look all game, so he runs up, fakes the in cut, and jets deep. There’s no help for Revolver this time, and Stubbs is open by about 10 yards by the time he reaches Rebholz’ excellent backhand bomb.
Ironside equals Revolver’s easy goal, and now both defenses are reeling.
The Ironside defense isn’t going to bring them back on this point. After a low, short pull, Revolver sets up in a vertical stack and scores in one cut:
Ironside sets up with a backhand force, and Revolver has again disguised their iso stack, this time with a vertical set. As the disc comes in, everybody immediately breaks for the force side except for Devon Anderson.
Anderson sets up in and to the breakside, Foster bites on the in fake, Anderson goes deep and there’s no help for Ironside. Easy goal for Revolver.
Ironside again brings out its horizontal stack, and runs the same play as they started to on the second point of the game.
Revolver comes out in a very standard flick force man-to-man defense, and Ironside runs a basic horizontal stack play. Peter Prial cuts flat across to the break side, while Stubbs clears space out and makes an in cut towards the disc. Ironside is trying to set up Stubbs’ flick huck to their best cutter, Peter Prial.
Stubbs gets the disc, but Revolver prevents his huck to Prial (offscreen, so I can’t be sure how). Ironside works the disc to the end zone line, but unfortunately most of the action in this point takes place offscreen to the right.
Once they reach the end zone, they switch from their horizontal stack to their vertical stack.
Note how well the stack is contained. Considering that the disc is live and in play at this point, their discipline is remarkable.
Their good stack set helps them score, as Markette’s defender is so worried about Rebholz hitting him with an IO that Markette makes the easy force side goal cut and receives the throw.
It seems like the Ironside offense has finally settled into this game, after having given up two breaks. This is their smoothest and easiest point of the game so far, and they’ve got to be hoping that their defense can bring them back into this game.
Revolver comes out in a horizontal stack and runs the same play they did on the first point of the game.
The two strong-side cutters (who I can’t recognize in the video, unfortunately) cross each other, hoping to get Beau isolated into a big space in the middle.
This time, Boston is able to stop the first throw with a handler poach and some good man D, so Revolver pulls the break side cutters across the field and over to the force sideline, creating a breakside iso space for Beau and Watson.
In the above screenshot, we can see clearly that Revolver’s ho stack is a bit of a fake out; they’re just disguising the iso stack that they want to play, and now they’ve got Beau and Watson isolated with lots of space.
It’s interesting that one Ironside defender (Christian Foster, I think) has recognized the iso and plays far off his inactive player, while the other two defending in the iso stack are playing their men fairly tight.
Bart Watson makes a long horizontal cut into the cutting space, almost all the way over into the stack. Since Ironside has finally effectively slowed down Revolver’s offense, we can use this opportunity to get some insight into how Revolver’s offense works.
As Watson moves over to the force side, where the stack is, the stack cutters clear across the field. Goldstein’s mark (not sure who) clears behind the thrower, somebody else cuts across the field to dead sideline space, and Wiseman makes a deep cut. The effect of all this motion is that they’ve reversed the iso stack, again leaving Beau with a ton of room to work.
Their offense seems designed exactly to play against the weaknesses of Boston’s relatively straight man D. When Revolver sends 5 of their players into dead space, and Boston defenders stay with them, it leaves Watson and Kittredge each on an island with one guy. Guarding Bart or Beau without help is an impossible task, and Revolver to this point has consistently taken advantage of this fact.
Above, we can see Goldstein starts hanging out in the lane, leaving his inactive guy uncovered. After he does so for a few seconds, he gets guilty and moves back to cover his guy; Watson hits Beau coming across the field as soon as he leaves.
All that said, Boston has done a very good job defending Revolver up to this point. Their handler poach stopped Revolver’s play off the pull, and Watson and Beau were limited to mostly non-threatening short horizontal cuts.
Beau traveled after he caught the disc from Watson. On the restart, Wiseman cuts out when Beau thinks he’s going to cut in, and Beau throws the Revolver offense’s first turn to Jack Hatchett.
The Ironside offense sets up quickly after the turn in their base vertical stack, and Hatchett realizes that he is unguarded.
Beau, guarding the last back in the stack, sees the open player, pulls off his guy, and the throw is a bit short. The outcome of a 1v1 against Beau is predictable, and the Ironside defensive offense loses its first chance with the disc after just one throw.
Revolver sets up in an iso stack, with Robbie Cahill (I think) isolated on the break side.
After Watson makes it look easy to throw a flat laser to the break side through a 2-man cup, Revolver’s offense runs into some trouble.
ed: I think that’s Nick Schlag, not Ashlin Joye. Thanks harrisv3 for pointing that out.
The cut looks like it should be Wiseman’s, followed deeper by Nick Schlag, in a play straight out of the textbook. Wiseman makes his cut, but Watson attacks from the handler spot, and the two clog the lane, preventing any throw to either of them.
Surprisingly for a team that has so far been so good at leaving lots of space in front of its throwers, Revolver clogs upfield as it clears the backfield. Schlag reads the field well, sees the empty backfield, and gets the disc on a comeback.
Once he does, the Revolver offense starts to click again, creating a big space on the force side for Watson to cut into.
Before Schlag even gets the disc, Joel Schlachet catches his defender overplaying the dump, and takes off down the field. Once Watson cathes the disc in a power position, he easily bombs it to Schlachet who has run nearly a full 70 yards and has a 3 step cushion. (Young handlers of the world: take note of Schlachet’s play here.)
Last point, a nearly-exact replica of this situation occurred with the teams reversed. Recall that Josh Markette got open deep, Stubbs threw it to him, but Cahill poached off the end of the stack for the D.
This time, a Revolver handler has gotten open deep, and Boston has a player positioned in a place where he could help.
Christian Foster intelligently recognizes that his guy has gone into inactive space, and poaches into the deep lane. Unfortunately for Ironside, he doesn’t seem to catch Schlachet passing him in his peripheral vision, and makes no move to help out Jacob Goldstein with the deep cut.
I think that we can mark this as an advantage of Revolver’s dynamic iso stack against Ironside’s more static vertical stack: it’s much more difficult for Boston’s players to make intelligent poaches because their guys are moving more often, giving them more to think about.
The Ironside D had its best point so far, and earned its first turn. An unfortunate huck decision cost them the disc, and Revolver made them pay. It’s now 5-2 instead of 4-3.
Ironside sets up in their ho stack for the first time since 1-0.
They run a different play this time, though. The three cutters nearest to the camera all break away from the disc, as Alex Kapinos, from the far side, makes a cut across the field for an easy 20 yard gain.
As soon as Kapinos catches the disc, Jim Foster breaks inside from the wing, leaving a nice lane for Kapinos to look for Prial breaking deep.
Revolver stops the throw because Kapinos’ marker recognizes the force side huck lane, and cheats out to stop huck for just one stall count. Since Prial’s cut comes from pretty deep, Kapinos is forced to holster the throw.
After a pick and a foul, followed by some action that isn’t on the tape, we see that Boston has an interesting setup.
They don’t have a single player within 20 yards of the disc! A few plays ago, we saw how Revolver likes to open up downfield space by clearing all their cutters behind the disc; here we can see that Boston wants to keep the space in front of their stack open to facilitate the big dump-swing plays that keep their offense alive and moving. The location and use of space by each offense says a lot about the different ways they like to work.
From this position, Stubbs sees Josh Markette breaking deep from the middle of the stack and launches a huck to him. Off screen to the right, Mac Taylor sees it happening, poaches from his last back position, and easily Ds the much smaller Markette. Revolver manages to get the poach D that the Ironside couldn’t at 1-0.
Revolver gets the disc on the goal line sideline, and Ironside sets the trap force. Revolver sets up in an “L-stack”, which is basically a vertical stack moved off to the weak side of the field, leaving space for an iso cutter. In this case, Mac Taylor is the iso and does some nice work to get open on Prial.
He picks up about 20 yards.
After this cut, the Revolver defensive O begins to break down. Following some non-enlightening foul, travel and stall calls, the Boston O line buckles down and gets the disc back on a high stall count handblock by Matt Rebholz.
Ironside sets up after the turn in their vert stack, again with nobody behind the disc. This time, we get to see how the handler motion in their dump-less vertical stack works.
Taylor cuts to the dump spot from the front of the stack, allowing Rebholz to get him a break ahead of the disc and in an excellent position to turn and swing to Foster, who makes an swing cut for an easy 20 yards.
By clearing the space where a vert stack offense normally keeps their dump, Ironside hopes to put their dump cutter in a more dangerous position, where a mistake by the defender potentially leaves him vulnerable to an open force-side huck. Furthermore, it makes it more likely that their dump catches the disc ahead of the thrower on his dump cut, making it easier for the offense to gain yards on the dump and swing instead of being stalemated.
Foster gets the disc back to Rebholz, who lasers a blade to Prial. Goal Ironside.