Pass Down Pick Downs
By Joe Keegan | Apr 28, 2020
Fast breaks can take different shapes. There are uneven breaks: 4-on-3, 5-on-4, 5-on-3 (and 6-on-3 if you’re playing the Atlas). In these scenarios, the offense outnumbers the defense; the advantages of that are obvious. Then there are even strength breaks: 4-on-4 and 5-on-5. Although the offense lacks an apparent advantage, these even strength breaks can be sneakily dangerous.
With fewer players on the field, the extra space makes it difficult for defenses to contain playmakers. Slides are long. Second slides are longer. The most readily available help defender is often (*gasp*) an offensive midfielder. Even strength breaks are the perfect time for one of the game’s most dangerous actions: A pass down pick down.
Pass down pick downs in transition pit a defensive midfielder’s offensive ability against an offensive midfielder’s defensive ability. The catch? The offensive player is asked to do much, much more defensively than the SSDM needs to do. After clearing, the SSDM needs to find an attackman, hit him with a pass, and set a pick. The offensive midfielder – who is at the end of his shift, by the way – needs to position himself to defend the pick. Should he sit on the picker’s hip so that he can chip the ball-carrier? Or should he drop to give his teammate room to fight through? Too late! Matt Rambo’s already inside the hash marks.
Most defenses (understandably) don’t want to switch their exhausted offensive midfielder onto an elite attackman. The alternative to switching isn’t much better. On-ball defenders are asked to chase under, over, and back around picks to keep up with dodging attackmen. Justin Guterding plus a fullback will win against any individual defender in the league.
Chaos earned a reputation for running in the regular season. After attempting 9.0 transition shots per game in the regular season, the Chaos shot 2-for-9 (22.2%) in transition during the entire postseason. Opponents schemed out Jarrod Neumann's two-pointers. From inside 18 yards, the Bomb Squad's leader was automatic (4-for-7, 57.1%) -- but his only postseason looks were from 18+ yards, where he shot 1-for-9 (11.1%).
To compound the problem, the Chaos' go-to secondary break option -- Josh Byrne -- was injured. Byrne might be the league's most dangerous player off a pass down pick down. He can knife through the defense to the middle of the field in a true 4-on-4; in clunkier 5-on-5 situations, he plays the hang up two-man game, applying an added layer of pressure on the opposing offensive midfielder. With so much space, the margin for error for the offense is increased -- even though Byrne and Kyle McClancy cannot connect, there is nobody to rotate to Connor Fields who cleans up the garbage.
The Whipsnakes made it to the championship despite shooting 22.2% in 6-on-6 sets. All summer long, the Whips made their 4-on-4 and 5-on-5 chances count. They picked, re-picked, dodged, and re-dodged while they substituted, making the most of the 52-second shot clock.
(Sidenote: The Whipsnakes won the championship with their best 6-on-6 performance of the season. Against the Redwoods on the season's biggest stage, the Whips shot 10-for-28 (35.7%) in settled sets. Being able to play fast is one of the prerequisites to a PLL championship, but it's not the only one.)