October 9, 2013 by Sean Childers and Charlie Eisenhood in Analysis, Preview with 5 comments
Of all the championship contenders, Colorado’s Johnny Bravo may be the toughest to forecast and the hardest to understand without context. Undeniably one of the most respected and storied teams in the country, Bravo blew up in the 2012 regular season before suffering a disappointing 12th place finish at Nationals.
It’s the consequences of that 12th place finish that make Bravo one of the most interesting storylines heading into Frisco. Finishing 12th pushed them out of the Pro Flight tier for the inaugural 2013 Triple Crown Tour. And unlike other absentees — notably PoNY and Subzero — Bravo’s claim into the top tier rests on more than a surprise midseason hot streak. Especially at the Pro Flight Finale, everyone knew in the back of their mind that Bravo should probably be along for the ride and battling the top teams.
What’s most unclear is whether the series of events will play itself out at the Club Championships as a burden or a blessing in disguise. Bravo hasn’t been tested as much as the other contenders. But avoiding the Pro Flight Finale bloodbath also helped Bravo keep their #3 USAU ranking, secure a top pool seed, and generate fewer looks and tape for their opponents.
Johnny Bravo in a Nutshell
- Overall #4 seed at Club Championships
- 2012 Nationals Performance: Twelfth place
- #4 in Ultiworld Power Rankings
- #2 in Skyd Power Rankings
- #3 in USAU Club Rankings
- Third place in USAU rankings in part because of some domineering score lines; has the talent and system to put other “Elite” flight teams to bed early
- Incredible off-season acquisitions highlighted by pickup of two star handlers: Bart Watson and Nick Lance
- Good roster mix between experienced talents like Watson and Team USA’s Ryan Farrell, plus younger NexGen stars like Lance, Mickle, Eric Johnson and Tim Morrissy
- Strong downfield man-to-man defensive structure that may be the best in the division
- In aggregate scoreline, got the better of Doublewide in the regular season despite 1-2 win-loss record against the regional rival (two of those games were Bravo losses on double game point)
- May be the hardest team to scout heading into the Championships
- Hasn’t really been tested like the other title contenders. Bravo’s new pieces may not have had enough time to gel against the elite “Pro Flight” competition
- Arguably the least consistent of the top 7 seeds. Losses to Boost Mobile, Chain Lightning, and Buzz Bullets appear inconsistent with the resume of a title contender, though two of those came very early in the season
- Focus and intensity comes and goes, epitomized by a downright bad performance against Buzz Bullets at the West Coast Cup
- Can they beat a Doublewide team when Doublewide is determined to beat them? What if they have to in order to win the title?
- Offensive system and structure may be a bit behind the defensive play
Again, the 2013 Bravo season can only be fully understood with one eye on their 2012 past. Last year, Bravo was one of the hottest teams in ultimate heading into the Club Championships. The lackluster finish there certainly left an impression on the team and its leadership, with captain Ryan Farrell telling Ultiworld that “the [Johnny Bravo] model for this season has been really different this year than in past years.”
Farrell admits that the early summer season was rough for Bravo as the squad dealt with injuries, absences, and getting new pieces like Watson, Lance, and Johnson together. The results echo Farrell’s assessment; Bravo’s Terminus record, with a loss to Boost Mobile and a lopsided scoreline in their loss to Chain Lightning, certainly didn’t scream contender. But they’re not the only team to have puzzling early season results that correlate with serious absences, and Bravo knows as well as anyone — especially after last season — that it’s better to be hot at the end.
Their performance at Colorado Cup was more in line with their talent, where Bravo won their pool, defeated Doublewide by five points on Saturday, and placed second after losing to the Texas squad on double game point in the finals. Yet even Colorado Cup speaks to how hard it is to really know this team; the pool play opposition was weak and Bravo was playing close to home. Bravo was again somewhat shorthanded (missing Johnson and Matty Zemel) at the West Coast Cup, going 2-2. The game tape from that tournament paints a less positive picture of Bravo. Yes, there are some offensive spacing issues, but their loss to Buzz Bullets also raised energy and effort questions. Bravo’s defenders are too good to be beaten deep by the smaller Japanese receivers and they’ll see much tougher height matchups at Nationals.
Bravo is known for their size and athletic playing style, and a Club Championship for them would probably start on the defensive side. Farrell is a bit short to be the type of defensive stopper who can matchup anywhere, but he makes up for it with excellent body position (constant shifting and shuffling of hips), good body control, and a high work rate.
Farrell, along with Lance, are probably the two most likely to see extended playing time on both sides of the disc. And it may play to Bravo’s advantage to have them matching up on handlers: As a whole, Bravo is as good as any Men’s team at playing tight man-to-man defense on downfield cutters. Against Rhino at the West Coast Cup, Bravo did a great job of staying tight on the cutters and denying downfield space. Instead, it was Dylan Freechild and Eli Friedman who caused the most problems for the Bravo defense, and they did it from the handler spots.
Expect Bravo to primarily play man defense in Frisco but with a few minor tweaks. They’ll hedge a little bit of help deep, especially on pull plays, but it’s typically only from one defender rather than an all-out switching or zone-man hybrid. That level of more minor poaching is also evident when teams are stuck on the sidelines against Bravo, as handler and swing defenders will sometimes take a few (or ten) steps into the open side lanes. The defense is primarily built on staying close and forcing teams to throw discs into tight and covered windows, so a few steps into the lane is about as creative as Bravo seems to get. The one exception may be occasional switches on upline handler cuts, of a similar vein to GOAT’s at the Pro Flight Finale.
Offensively, Bravo likes to keep things spread and primarily attacks with a horizontal stack. Watson is the main handler on the offensive unit and is a tremendous addition given his vision and consistency on both short and deep throws. Like a lot of horizontal stack teams, Bravo isolates cutters in the center of the field and attacks from there. But the West Coast Cup footage also shows typical horizontal stack issues. Too often Bravo’s stack got too deep, too often the spacing looked more like a horizontal-vertical hybrid, and Bravo struggled against Buzz Bullets to transition into an effective endzone set. Commentator Kyle Weisbrod said it looked as though Bravo was playing a huck-first, huck-only offense at times and struggled to show off a brand of possession offense. Hylke Sneider is a big target downfield, but the eventual champion may have to adjust to a variety of defensive looks on the way to the crown.
Watson and captain Josh Ackley take a lot of O Line touches, and Farrell and Lance also get heavily involved when playing offense. This sometimes makes Mickle, who played as a handler on the 2013 NexGen Tour, look a bit out of place and underutilized, and it could be something to keep an eye out for at Nationals. The D Line offense also has plenty of talent and could be lethal if Lance and Johnson push the disc and work together as well as they have in their NexGen past.
National Champion. The pool of death may have been a blessing in disguise for Bravo, who will have a tough game in every round and may not struggle with energy or motivation. More importantly, they have the talent. As Farrell told us, “I don’t think anyone really feels like we’ve played anywhere close to the level that we can.”
Quarterfinals exit. The other hidden advantage of Pool D is that even if Bravo drops to second or third in their pool, they’re likely to only see PoNY or Truck Stop in the prequarters. They’d be heavy favorites in that matchup. But Bravo is the least polished of the top four seeds, and even Farrell admitted that “we’re still waiting for it to totally click in.”
Doublewide. Yes, Bravo had the win over Doublewide on Saturday at the Colorado Cup. But that pales in comparison to two-straight Regional defeats, a defeat in the Colorado Cup championship game, and a defeat against Doublewide at Nationals last year. Even though a lot of those games were close, losing double game point games may only serve to heighten the Texas team’s mental edge were the two to meet in the finals.