Just when you think you’ve seen everything in the NFL, you get a week like we just had. Whatever you think about Tim Tebow as an NFL quarterback / media circus, you can’t deny it’s great to watch the Broncos break out a college offense for him to run against the Chiefs.
In this week’s Analysis Notebook our top analysts, Ben Stockwell and Sam Monson, cast their eye over some suicidal blitz calling, a carbon copy of a play previously featured on the Notebook, and exactly what the Broncos are doing to make Tebow work.
So sit back, relax and enjoy the Xs and Os from another week of NFL action.
New Orleans @ Atlanta | 4th Q, 1:55 | 1st & 10
The Saints send the house as the Falcons launch a game-tying drive from their own 6-yard-line. Atlanta beats the blitz to the tune of a 23-yard pick up.
Why it worked:
Greg Williams likes to blitz, a lot. Everybody who takes even slightly more than a passing interest in New Orleans Saints football knows this. Sometimes it works for him; covering the cracks in their often patchy coverage. Other times it doesn’t because he throws too much into the pot or calls it at the wrong time. Hindsight is 20:20 but this play would appear to be one of those calls that Williams either got wrong or someone on his defense has made a catastrophic mistake in timing.
With the Falcons in the shadow of their own goalposts, Williams wants to put the heat on to try to elicit a mistake and close out the game, and he’s got a cushion of 60 yards to scoring range. In that situation it’s not unreasonable to gamble a little, but Williams goes all-in and loses. Blitzes are great when they work but when they don’t, they give the offense an easy hot read, often for a big play. From the pre-snap look that Williams gave Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense, the Saints were onto a loser … and it only got worse once the blitzers came.
With the Falcons aligned four wide (Tony Gonzalez lined up slot right), the Saints kept their four linebackers on the field and none of them adjusted out to cover Harry Douglas in the left slot. Immediately Ryan has the read that they are either blitzing – especially the linebacker nearest Douglas (Jonathan Casillas) or they are going to have an incredibly tough job to drop and cut-off a quick pass. Douglas is presented with a gaping chasm behind the linebackers, none of whom is deeper than two yards off the line of scrimmage. Pre-snap, the play is on, even if the linebackers do drop.
When Casillas and Scott Shanle blitz, the play opens as expected and Ryan has the hot read he needs to get the ball out long before the blitz has any chance of getting to him. Douglas goes up the field outside the left hash marks and when he catches the ball, Tracy Porter – at right corner covering Eric Weems – is the closest defender to him. Even if JoLonn Dunbar had crossed the formation from LLB rather than cutting underneath Gonzalez, this play would have been big; the Falcons simply had the right play called to beat an excessively aggressive blitz and New Orleans completely failed to account for an immediate threat. Ryan and Douglas found a large hole in coverage on the next play and within two snaps and 30 seconds, the Falcons went from their own 6-yard-line to the New Orleans 48.
Arizona @ Philadelphia | 2nd Q, 5:33 | 1st & 10
On an end-around taking the ball in front of running back Chris Wells who was running a fake pitch to the right, Andre Roberts picks up 12 yards on 1st-and-10.
Why it worked:
This play is almost a carbon copy of a run by Julio Jones against the Packers that we highlighted in this column way back (it seems a long time ago anyway) in Week 5. But because we like good play design here at Pro Football Focus, we thought we’d show this version as well. This end-around preys upon a defense keying on one player and over pursuing to a play headed in the opposite direction. Against a defense as aggressive in pursuit as the Eagles, this type of play is dynamite and the Cardinals may even be slightly disappointed that it netted them just 12 yards.
Chris Wells had only had one significant run on this drive – a play from the shotgun – and had only gained four yards on two other attempts in the series. With the Eagles still being a touch weak at the point of attack, however, they needed to flow aggressively to the football to gain any advantage and the Cardinals caught them cold for a first down looping back in the opposite direction.
Just like the Falcons’ run earlier in the season, the Cardinals have their offense set up with a bunch to the right side. A pitch play to the right is perfectly set up to seal the defense and get around the corner, even to the short side of the field. The Eagles know they need to get over the top of the play and the Cardinals make use of that.
Andre Roberts comes from the outside of the bunch and takes the pitch from quarterback John Skelton, coming in front of Wells. The defense’s left should be of no concern; the backfield speed should be more than enough to make them a non-factor. This play is all about drawing in the backside of the D, and they do just that.
Trent Cole at right end keys on Wells’ movement to the pitch and the line blocking away from him to hare down the line after the fake, taking himself completely out of position and allowing Roberts to get up the field in the spot that he vacated. What limits this play – which could have been a big one – is that Arizona doesn’t completely lure in the entire backside. The right side linebacker gets out in front of the play preventing Roberts from getting to the outside. This gives the rest of the defense better pursuit angles, though a good block from Daryn Colledge on Jamar Chaney helps and a good cut by Roberts allows him to pick up the first down.
Denver @ Kansas City | 2nd Q, 1:37 | 1st & 10
Tim Tebow keeps the ball on a read-option play and rushes for 19 yards on first down.
Why it worked:
I’m sure you’ve all heard the term ‘read-option’ thrown around from time to time, but what exactly does it mean, and why do we so rarely see it in the NFL? At its heart, the read-option concept is designed to make things as easy as possible for the quarterback, by limiting his read to just a single player. The actions of that one defender will determine what the quarterback does with the football, everything else on the play stays the same. This is a far cry from the complex reads NFL quarterbacks are expected to master and it is rarely used much at this level because it converts the quarterback into just another ball carrier, one open to all the full-force hits like any other runner. In short, you’re paying your quarterback far too much money to expose him to that kind of beating on a regular basis, but Tim Tebow is something of a different player, isn’t he?
In this instance, the Broncos are going to isolate Tyson Jackson, the left end in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense, and force him to make a decision about which player to play. No matter which one he chooses he will lose if the Broncos execute correctly. This scheme is the definition of a lose-lose play for the isolated defender.
The Broncos line up in the shotgun, with a running back flanking Tebow to his right. They have a receiver split wide to either side of the formation and a tight end on either end of the line. The Chiefs come out in their base 3-4. At the snap, the Broncos down block on the O-line from the right guard inwards, collapsing the Chiefs’ front. The right tackle and tight end from that side double-team the left outside linebacker, taking him out of the play. This leaves Tyson Jackson alone in a huge hole at the point of attack, and what Jackson does will determine who carries the ball.
Tebow reads Jackson’s choice when Lance Ball passes in front of him looking for the hand off. If Jackson stays at home to play Tebow, Ball will get the carry and be able to run through the gap where Jackson was. If the Chief honors the run of Ball, as he does in this instance, Tebow will pull the ball back and take off himself, outside of Jackson’s path crashing down onto the running back.
Jackson goes after Ball and Tebow keeps and takes off to his right. Orlando Franklin comes off his double team on the outside linebacker and gets a block on the Chiefs’ safety who is shooting down to meet Tebow and that springs the unique QB into 15 yards of open real estate.