August 1, 2014 by Sion "Brummie" Scone in Analysis with 19 comments
Japan’s number one men’s club is likely to make a strong run in Lecco. They won Club World’s (WUCC) in 2006 and came 3rd in 2010, losing only once to Revolver.
Buzz are one of the most popular teams in the world, amazing people with the speed of their play, outrageous catches and stifling zone defences. But how exactly does their offence work?
The Buzz Bullets play an easily recognizable brand of ultimate, comprising key patterns that are almost unique to their style of play. What makes it so effective is the modular way that these patterns bolt together. In addition to playing some fairly standard horizontal stack, side stack and running simple huck plays, Buzz employ two main offenses, which I call “The Cyclone” and “The Weave”.1. Both employ a number of simple movements that exploit defensive positioning, making it impossible to stop all of the available offensive options.
Crossfield deep shot
Many of the deep cuts used by Buzz originate directly in front of the thrower and go diagonally to the breakside.
Why? Because it’s so difficult to play defence on those throws.
Most defenders will be set up to prevent open side cuts, so all the Buzz cutter has to do is run away from their defender. The thrower generates space by pivoting so that they are facing the back corner of the pitch when throwing; this is to ensure solid throwing mechanics, although often the space to throw is generated by the defender over-committing on the mark. Note that this could come as a backhand or flick, over either shoulder, especially with lefty Matsuno on the pitch.
Japan crossfield flick huck v New Zealand
Buzz crossfield flick huck v USA All Stars
Buzz crossfield backhand huck v USA All Stars
Dump-to-Iso / Open-side Wrinkle
The principle is simple; throw the dump, and you are already isolated. Why not abuse it? Keep your eyes on the player who throws the dump in both clips. Notice how, in both examples, the defender fails to re-establish themselves on the open side. As a result, the cutter is able to use their body to “seal” the lane from the defender, and make significant yardage. Also note how the throw is really angled to allow the handler tonnes of time to pull it down and avoid over-throwing into a poach.
Japan wrinkle vs Great Britain
Buzz are excellent at taking advantage of motion to advance the disc to the breakside, rather than directly attacking the mark. The key to their success is the pivot. As they cut to the break side and receive the disc, the Buzz throwers tend to pivot backwards (in relation to the pitch), threatening the around continuation. The only way to prevent this is for the marker to get all the way around, which then opens up the inside lane. Buzz take advantage of this by pivoting directly forwards into the space and taking the inside throw.
Buzz hits an IO break & continues to the break side vs Revolver
Buzz move the disc to the break side vs Revolver
Buzz are not afraid to launch it deep directly from the brick either, shooting to a cutter streaking down the middle of the field.
Japan huck from the brick vs New Zealand
This cut can originate from a handler position as well.
Buzz huck from the brick vs Revolver
Huck plays aside, these patterns are rarely seen by other teams. Playing successful defence is largely based on knowing what the other team intends to do. From all of these videos, the only teams to play tight man-on-man defence with no help from elsewhere was Canada, and they were still largely unsuccessful in preventing flow. Most of the other examples result from poor defensive positioning, particularly around the handlers; quickly adjusting position when the disc moves is vital in preventing these options.
Cyclone is an offence where handler movement is used to generate short throws to the break side, then utilises continuation cuts from a vertical stack. Typically played with three handlers and four in a deep stack, there needs to be a significant amount of space between stack and disc to make this work effectively. Fundamentally, this is because the three handlers rotate around the disc and need their own space to cut in front of the stack.
How does it work? Below, I’ve listed the options that Buzz look for, in order. If anyone is free at any time, they can expect to get the disc; Buzz are quite happy to work the disc all the way down the sideline.
- The basic premise is that a player gets themselves into the open side space.
- If they don’t get the disc, then they make a strong lateral cut to the break side, looking for the IO break.
- After catching this break, the first look is continuation to the break side, or the threat of the huck to the break side. They create space for the around throw by pivoting backwards; if the defender tries to stop it, the IO lane is opened for a follow up cut from the open side.
- This cycling motion provides an endless supply of options without needing to directly break a mark.
Here’s the finished product, two examples that end in a break side deep shot. Watch the first example closely and you’ll see that the player who initiates the movement also throws the assist; after throwing the IO break he immediately sets off deep, making his cut directly downfield so that he is in position to cut across the field for the next cyclone cut. You can recognise this same movement in the other examples.
Japan cyclone vs Great Britain
Here’s another example; keep your eyes on the player who starts with the disc. 3 quick passes gets Buzz to the break side sideline.
Should Defenses Try to Clog the Break Side? Or Poach the Lanes?
Any attempts by downfield defenders to clog the lanes by overplaying the break side result in the disc being swung quickly to the open side; Buzz are quite happy working in a narrow channel where they can begin another attack to the break side once the defence begin to contest the open side again.
If the handler defenders back off too much to protect to the break side, expect the give and go, while any attempts to prevent the lateral cut can be countered by the open-side wrinkle move described above.
Whichever player is in front of the disc on the open side is the “live” player (note: this could be a player that has swung the disc towards the break side). Their role is then to make a lateral cut all the way across the width of the field. The thrower aims to hit them with an IO break. Once they have the disc, they threaten continuation to the break side.
Buzz score on the break side vs Revolver
The beauty of this offense is that it’s actually a series of back-up options. Take away Option A, and they’ll take Option B. Deny B, give up C. Because some of these back-up options are incredibly hard to defend, teams often adjust to deny options B or C, playing completely into the hands of the Buzz Bullets. The break side huck in particular scares teams, who often come up with a defense for what is actually the 3rd option in the offense.
Why is It so Hard to Stop?
Most defenders will avoid over-committing on a break side cut, to avoid being beaten to the open side. Buzz exploit this by committing to long, fast cuts across the front of the disc to the break side. The timing of this cut is important; it usually comes just after another option to the break side, so that the thrower is able to hit one or the other without needing to directly take on a mark. Watch all of the above footage and Buzz never attack the mark directly, relying instead on player movement to achieve the same effect; maximising reward while minimising risk.
Using only handler movement, the cutters downfield don’t move until there is a chance to score. In the first three examples, note poor defensive positioning that allow easy open side throws. The first two show Buzz moving towards the open side with a series of short throws:
Buzz give and go vs USA All Stars
This example, in strong winds, shows handlers busting up field repeatedly; if unable to get open, they cut across to the open side laterally to create separation. Note the aggressive forward pivots that free up the throws and make it more difficult for the defenders to stop the flow.
Japan go up the line repeatedly vs Great Britain
Even if the defense are better positioned, Buzz are great at exploiting smaller spaces with accurate IO breaks.
Buzz Bullets favour the repeated use of patterns over plays for the bulk of their offence. The most recognisable is the diagonal deep shot, thrown from one sideline and caught on the other, and many teams adapt to protect against this throw. However, the primary option for Buzz overwhelmingly consists of short range inside out throws, or throws to players cutting to the break side of the field.
Buzz times these cuts extremely well to take advantage of the momentum generated by moving the disc quickly to the break side, and their short range throws & quick movement makes them difficult to contain in flow. They exploit poor defensive positioning for easy gains, particularly in handler positions where they can exploit short field isolations with the dump. Key to all of this is the pivots; by pivoting aggressively after the catch they make it difficult for the mark to prevent the next throw without opening up another easy option.
In my opinion, a heads-up switching system off the stack to prevent the break side cuts, combined with a strict no-IO mark, could cause Buzz some problems. Or at least slow them down. The Japanese offense relies on the threat of the bladey flick huck, so when teams take it away they give up the shorter range inside throws that allow Buzz to work at blistering pace. Preventing these shorter throws can slow down Buzz enough to establish a mark, something that often disappears when Buzz are in flow.
Some readers are probably already familiar with handler weave offenses ↩