Watching every play of every game so closely, it’s understandable that the little things that set certain plays apart bring smiles to their faces. That idea holds true again as a couple of clever designs – one on an interior blitz, the other an ill-gotten but entertaining pass completion – are joined by a perfectly-executed run in this week’s Notebook.
Washington @ Buffalo | 4th Q, 0:53 | 3rd and 7
Off of a stunt and a twist, Kirk Morrison gets a free run to sack John Beck for a 10-yard loss on 3rd-and-7.
Why it worked:
This play was a perfect storm in terms of a defensive coordinator dialing up pressure. The Bills have four defenders aligned between the guards at the snap of this play – two defensive tackles and two defenders at the second level. All four of them cross immediately from the snap and the Redskins simply are not quick enough to diagnose, manage, and contain the Bills’ movement resulting in a sack of John Beck.
For a line playing as the Redskins’ did on Sunday even a simple stunt or twist can be tricky to pick up, this was play was way too much to ask of the trio of Will Montgomery, Erik Cook and Chris Chester. Even with the help of Roy Helu in the backfield they couldn’t account for the four rushers in time.
Up front, the Bills’ defensive tackles Dwan Edwards (lined up on an outside shade of LG Montgomery) and Alex Carrington (lined up in the right side A-gap between Cook and Chester) cross, creating immediate work for the trio, having to pass these two defenders off between them. Adding an extra level of complexity, Kirk Morrison at MLB crashes outside of Edwards (to the outside of Chester), and Bryan Scott crosses behind Morrison, blitzing through the left side A-gap inside of Carrington.
All of this crossing is too much for the Redskins interior. Helu comes up to pick up the blitz of Scott but the speed of the blitz is too much for the handover between the offensive linemen. They work just quickly enough to handle the first pass over of the two defensive linemen but Chester is left in a catch 22 situation when Cook is unable to work back quickly enough to take Dwan Edwards coming across to his right. If Chester takes Morrison or Edwards he leaves the other man free to take down Beck. Morrison ends up the lucky man with the free run. The pass protection wasn’t perfect but in the time they had, they would have been doing exceptionally well to keep out this perfectly-executed inside blitz.
Cleveland @ San Francisco | 1st Q, 8:36 | 1st and 10
The 49ers pick up 17 yards on a pass to left tackle Joe Staley.
Why it worked:
This play worked for a few reasons, two of which are fairly simple and predictable, and one of which lavishes a bit more praise around. Firstly, it worked because the officials goofed. The 49ers bring in Alex Boone as their sixth O-lineman/Jumbo tight end, and then line up with a receiver either side of the formation and two tight ends to the right of the field. This is a pretty standard heavy-package, but the wrinkle here is that left tackle Joe Staley reported as an eligible receiver, allowing him to release into a pass pattern.
Where things go wrong is that Staley ends up being covered by the receiver on the left side of the formation, Braylon Edwards. At the point Staley released into his pattern he should have been flagged for ineligible man downfield (even though he reported as eligible, he was made ineligible by the receiver covering him, giving the Niners eight men on the line). In essence, it worked because defenses rarely cover ineligible receivers.
Assuming Edwards had not been covering Staley, however, this would have been an extremely nice play (and since they got away with it, let’s run with this supposition). By loading up with an extra tackle as a tight end, San Francisco was essentially able to shift the line of scrimmage to the right by a man, allowing them to fake a run to that side, and then have Staley release to the left knowing even a feint at a block would be more than enough to prevent his man from affecting the play. Everybody is sucked towards the play fake and nobody comes close to accounting for the left tackle releasing out into a pattern (seriously, why would they?), allowing Alex Smith to flick him the ball five yards downfield from his bootleg and let the big man rumble for another dozen yards. Ignoring the officiating issue, this was a clever play design and it killed the defense.
Minnesota @ Carolina | 3rd Q, 2:06 | 1st and Goal from the 9
Adrian Peterson scores his second touchdown of the day to tie the score at 21.
Why it worked:
I’m a sucker for a good run play, and this one was a fine example. Often a big play in the receiving game can be made by one or two guys doing a spectacular job, but sometimes runs take six or seven guys all doing their job well to make it work, and there’s something great to watch about that. The Vikings line up with two receivers and a tight end, Visanthe Shiancoe tight to the left of the line, and Kyle Rudolph split wide to the right. Adrian Peterson is eight yards deep in the backfield. The Panthers stayed in their base defense, electing to cover Rudolph with Chris Gamble, and Percy Harvin in the slot with safety Charles Godfrey. If they knew what the play was that was coming they wouldn’t have wanted to do anything different, but the Vikings were able to beat it with execution and a little bit of magic from Peterson.
Peterson takes a hard step to his right at the snap, and that is enough to suck the linebackers down towards the right side of the Vikings’ formation where they get engulfed by the O-line. Ronald Fields tries to shoot the gap inside of Vikings LT Charlie Johnson and gets driven inside on the play, opening up a big gap between him and Charles Johnson at defensive end, who is trying to keep contain on his edge. Peterson is through the gap before Johnson can get near, and makes a nice cut behind Shiancoe’s block on James Anderson at the second level. Percy Harvin gets a good block alongside Shiancoe on Charles Godfrey (actually pancaking him) leaving just safety Sherrod Martin to make the tackle on Peterson to save the touchdown.
Martin wraps up well but Peterson is too strong and somehow managed to spin out of the tackle before powering through Charles Johnson’s late lunge to score, leveling the game. This play owed a little to some nice design, a lot to at least three big blocks by Viking players, and then a final bit to some unstoppable running from Peterson to get it done.