Week 13 brought its fair share of interesting plays to the table, including one that required a half-hour round table discussion between PFF Analysts just to try and work out exactly what one player thought he was playing at on a given play.
Sam Monson and Ben Stockwell return for another week of plays that deserve to be highlighted for one reason or another. We’re going to take a look at an all-too-rare sight this season for Chargers fans, an impressive run play, and a momentum-swinging pick-six.
So take a seat and enjoy the breakdowns.
San Diego @ Jacksonville | 3rd Q, 12:14 | 1st-and-10
A 52-yard scoring strike from Philip Rivers to Malcolm Floyd, establishing an unassailable 31-14 lead for the Chargers.
Why it worked:
Having the time to run a play-action fake, set his feet, and go downfield with no pressure is something that Philip Rivers has not had the luxury of this season. However, on Monday night with a new left tackle in tow, the Chargers’ gunslinger got time in the pocket and used it to great effect, making the most of some excellent play design on this third quarter touchdown for his longest play of the night.
The Chargers were faced with the Jaguars’ depleted secondary running a Cover-2 defense and chose to test it on first down off of play action by running their two lanky receivers deep to one half of the field. This put safety Dawan Landry in a Catch 22 situation – whichever he shaded to first, Rivers would target the other, leaving the Jaguars shorthanded on that route. Even with Vincent Jackson in the right slot inside Malcom Floyd, the Jaguars did not adjust and bring an extra defensive back over to take care of Jackson, though they had been beaten deep already in the game.
With the play action fake to Ryan Mathews freezing the linebackers just long enough, the Chargers ran Jackson on a post route in behind the linebackers and Floyd ran a go route with an inside release on left corner Ashton Youboty. Two verticals to your side of the field is tough for a safety to cover and with the linebackers held by the play fake, Landry had to step inside to ward Rivers off of the throw to Jackson. This left Floyd one-on-one with Youboty down the field and, even with the Chargers not at their best this season, that’s a matchup they are going to throw to almost every single time they get it.
Landry was held just long enough by Jackson’s route that when Rivers lets the pass go he cannot get back to Floyd’s route to stop him short of the end zone. Youboty has played with outside leverage expecting safety help in the Cover-2, but Landry couldn’t cover both deep routes to his side of the field. As soon as Floyd got behind Youboty, who had no other route to hold his attention from tracking Floyd deep, an accurate throw by Rivers was all it took to put this play – and this game – to bed.
Philadelphia @ Seattle | 1st Q, 5:49 | 1st-and-10
A 20-yard run by LeSean McCoy – a promising start to just another Eagles drive that ended in disappointment in their Thursday night loss to the Seahawks.
Why it worked:
The Eagles use a lot of lateral movement in their running game to take advantage of the speed of not only LeSean McCoy in the backfield but also the lateral mobility of their starting offensive line. This horizontal aspect to the running game stretches a defense and tests their discipline in pursuit, creating front side running lanes by cutting off immediate pursuit and opening up cutback lanes by virtue of any overly aggressive defenders on the back side of the play. This play is an example of some fine blocking on the front side opening up a big running lane for McCoy to explode into on his way to a big play. Given how the Seahawks line up and the assignments that they run, this rush was ambitious, but courtesy of some exceptional individual plays, the Eagles pull this off to the tune of 20 yards.
The Seahawks are aligned in their customary over-shifted 4-3 defense with strong side linebacker KJ Wright aligned over tight end Brent Celek, right end Red Bryant head-up on left tackle Jason Peters, MLB David Hawthorne head-up (at the second level) on left guard Evan Mathis and Brandon Mebane shaded to the strong side of center Jason Kelce. With the play being a stretch to the offense’s left, the open side of the field, these are they key players to take care of and the Eagles get every single one of them.
The first steps take the rush wide left with Celek immediately working to the second level to cut off the front side pursuit of Hawthorne as close to the center of the field as possible. The Eagles are trying to get upfield between Bryant and Wright and want to cut-off Hawthorne to allow McCoy to explode straight through the line and into the secondary. With Celek gone, this leaves Peters with the relatively easy task of widening Wright to the sideline and Mathis with the extremely difficult task of getting to Red Bryant’s outside shoulder to either turn him or halt his progress and allow McCoy a crease. In spite of Bryant being aligned head-up on Peters and Mathis getting only a chip from Celek on his way to the second level, he is able to do just this. The left guard is able to get all the way across Bryant and turn to get himself between Bryant and McCoy.
McCoy’s speed is the icing on the cake to this play as it allows him to keep up with Mathis and cut upfield off of his block as Mathis gets the turn on Bryant. With Celek getting a clean block on Hawthorne and Peters sealing Wright outside, McCoy only has to outrun the pursuit of Mebane at the second level as Kelce is only able to slow the progress of the big defensive tackle inside. Speed kills and this is exactly why.
Green Bay @ New York Giants | 2nd Q, 15:00 | 1st-and-10
Eli Manning throws a momentum-shifting pick-six to give up the lead of the game, a play the Giants would never recover from.
Why it worked:
This play is a perfect blend of fine individual play and scheming taking away what the offense wants to do. It all combines to force a mistake from Eli Manning that will cost the Giants seven points and the lead.
The Giants line up in a simple two receiver, two tight end formation with a deep tail back. They are aligned evenly, with no strong side for the defense to key on. Green Bay lines up in it’s base 3-4 defense, something they use far less than many teams. The Giants run a heavy play action fake, and keep both tight ends in to block on the play, leaving just two receivers out in patterns. Green Bay, unusually for them, drops both outside linebackers into coverage, and brings pressure with their inside linebackers. Erik Walden, dropping from his right outside linebacker spot, falls right into the space that Manning wants to hit Victor Cruz on his deep dig pattern. Manning waits as long as he can for this route to come open until pressure comes up the middle from a late-blitzing linebacker.
As soon as Manning feels the pressure, he looks for his check-down option to dump the ball off; Ahmad Bradshaw releasing to the right flat after his play fake. In this instance, Eli has done exactly what you expect the quarterback to do. The only trouble is Clay Matthews knows what he’s going to do as well. He drops from his left outside linebacker spot and reads Manning’s eyes. As soon as he sees Manning come off his intended receiver, he knows he is going to go to the check-down option and makes an immediate break on the ball. By the time the ball is in the air Matthews is in a full sprint to undercut the route, getting in front of Bradshaw just as the ball arrives with enough of a head of steam to coast to the end zone with reservations for six.
Eli Manning hung in the pocket for as long as he could and then went to his check-down option, just as you want your quarterback to do, but in the heat of the moment he forgot that the zone drop of Matthews would put him in the area of his check-down option with enough of a chance to anticipate the throw and beat the football to the receiver. This was a fantastic job of reading and reacting from Matthews to take advantage of some textbook football elsewhere.