Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Getting to the Second Level

Last year the Colts were dead last in the league in stopping the run. They gave up 173 yards a game. This year they are in the middle of the pack with 105. But still, you expect LaDainian Tomlinson to have a big game against them.

That did not exactly happen, but on this play he rushed for a gain of 16, his longest of the night.

There are a couple keys to this play. The tight end (Antonio Gates) blocks the right defensive end (Dwight Freeney). But it is not just a block, he simply does not let him move for the duration of the play. It helps that Freeney was running around the edge before he realized that it was a running play.

The right guard (Mike Goff) pulls to the left and leads the running back through the hole. He has to move quick, because LaDainian Tomlinson is the one chasing him. He does a great job and gets through the hole to block a linebacker.

The left tackle (Marcus McNeill) helps double-team a defensive tackle. But he's able to get to the second level—he breaks off the double team to block the middle linebacker. If he doesn't do that, the middle linebacker stops the play for no gain. As it is, the play went for 16 yards. Big difference. Moral of the story? The defensive tackle needs to occupy two blockers to give your team a chance to stop the run.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Goal-line Pass

Normally defensive players in the NFL don't play a single offensive snap. But linebacker Mike Vrabel has seven career regular-season pass receptions... and seven touchdowns. So when the Patriots form up on the one-yard line with Vrabel lined up as the left TE, he draws a bit of attention.

In this play from week 6 there was also a Patriots defensive player in the offensive backfield, linebacker Junior Seau who was lined up just behind the QB. Seau was in front of fullback Heath Evans who was in the HB spot. At the snap, Brady fakes the handoff to Evans, and he and Seau head for the right C gap (between the tackle and tight end). This draws three of the Cowboys' linebackers towards that hole.

Meanwhile, TE Kyle Brady has chipped one of the Cowboys' linebackers and released into the back of the end zone. Since the Cowboys were so concerned with Vrabel, both the SS and a LB had drifted over to cover him. That left Kyle Brady wide open.

In other words, a linebacker acted as a decoy for a tight end. Play-action pass from Brady to Brady and New England took over the lead and held it for the rest of the game.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Wide Receiver End Around

Everyone can see how explosive Devin Hester is when he's returning kicks and punts. So naturally the Bears want to get him the ball when the offense is on the field too. But if they only put him in when he's getting the ball, then the defense will know what's up the second he enters the game.

The trick is to work him into a normal series where he runs some routes and makes some blocks until the defense is no longer worried about him exclusively.

That's what the Bears did in their week 5 victory over the Packers. Hester was in for three plays before he got the ball (he's highlighted by a lightly shaded circle in the diagrams). In those three plays, he lined up at wide receiver and ran routes. In the third play he actually made a nice block on a safety to spring Adrian Peterson for a few more yards.

And then on the fourth play, Brian Griese faked a handoff to Cedric Benson, while actually giving the ball to Devin Hester on the end around. It seemed like putting Hester in for the whole series paid off, because all three Packers linebackers fell for the fake run up the middle and were in no position to stop him.

If not for a nice play by the Packers safety who just managed to trip him up, Hester would have been in the end zone.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Smoke Pass

This play took place during the 2nd quarter of the Bengals week 4 loss to the Patriots. Until this point the Bengals had employed a balanced attack of 7 rushes and 7 passes, but they were trailing the Patriots 10-0. Chad Johnson had only been targeted once, with most of the passes being either short stuff to WRs or dump-offs to RBs.

This drive started with three Kenny Watson runs for 8, 3, and 2 yards. The Bengals had reserve guard Scott Kooistra in the game as an extra right tackle and were using the no-huddle to push the pace of the game.

The Patriots had a 3-3-5 nickel package on the field, but in this play they responded to the Kenny Watson runs by stacking eight players along the line of scrimmage, with the three cornerbacks playing 10 yards off their men.

Carson Palmer noticed how big a cushion the RCB (Ellis Hobbs) was giving Johnson, and the two made eye contact before the snap. That seemed to be enough to change the play from the run they had called, to a short "smoke" pass. Johnson started to sprint off the line, but then stopped after one yard and received a pass from Palmer, who had simply taken the snap and thrown immediately. Johnson then used his athleticism to make Hobbs miss in the open field, and was only brought down on the 1 yard line by the FS (Eugene Wilson).

Friday, October 5, 2007

Freezing the Linebacker

In week 4, the Broncos ran this play in the 1st quarter of their loss to the Colts. It was the second play of the Broncos second drive. Both DTs and the play-side DE are double-teamed. The HB (Travis Henry) starts to head for the B gap (between the guard and tackle), which freezes the WLB who is responsible for that gap. This hesitation gives the TE (Daniel Graham) enough time to get off his initial double team and block the WLB (Freddie Keiaho) while Henry abruptly changes direction and runs around the right end.

Aside from freezing the linebacker, the key to the success of this play was the blocking by the wide receiver (Domenik Hixon). He holds the FS in place, and then manages to block both the FS and CB long enough for Henry to squeeze by for a big gain. Henry gets tackled after 13 yards by the SS (Bob Sanders).

What reward does Hixon get for his great play? The Broncos released him two days after the game. And people wonder why wide receivers often don't put in a lot of effort to become better blockers.

Denver ran the ball effectively in the first half, racking up 160 rushing yards on 24 attempts. Unfortunately they were forced to get away from the running game in the second half as the Colts took advantage of a Cutler interception to take a 28-13 lead with 8:55 remaining in the 3rd quarter. The Colts eventually won 38-20.