Analysis Notebook: The Best Play Nobody Noticed in 2011

| 5 years ago

Analysis Notebook: The Best Play Nobody Noticed in 2011

While doing some offseason work last week I came across a play that I missed completely during the season.

It took me a while to notice it, but when I did it stood out as one of the best plays I saw all season, and good enough that it was worth bringing attention to here. It was made by a player who is fast becoming one of my favorite players to watch in the league, Tyvon Branch.

In Week 3 of the season the Raiders hosted the Jets. Having taken the lead 7-0, the Raiders were presented with the Jets offense showing an empty backfield. Mark Sanchez was in the shotgun, and LaDainian Tomlinson and Dustin Keller were split out as receivers, Keller wide right and Tomlinson in the slot to the left.

As Oakland tends to do, they locked up in man coverage with each of the five receivers the Jets had lined up. They got even more aggressive when they decided to send Rolando McClain and Matt Giordano on a blitz off the right side along with the front four linemen. This was an overload blitz, with six rushers coming and just five linemen blocking, but the Jets had the perfect play called to counter it. The Raiders call left everybody in man coverage on an island with no help in behind, and if the blitz didn’t get there, anybody beaten badly was in trouble.

The play was a bubble screen to LaDainian Tomlinson who was able to use the body of D’Brickashaw Ferguson to shield Jerome Boyd from getting in on the play. The Jets kicked their LG back and out to pick up the blitz while Ferguson quickly made his way out to block in the flat.  McClain was actually pretty quick at reading the screen when he saw Ferguson release out to get the block on Boyd, but he turned himself in circles chasing the play and ended up falling off the tackle 5 yards downfield. Things went from bad to worse, taking a turn for the catastrophic for Oakland as Joe Porter made a pretty ugly attempt at a tackle after coming off his man.

From that point, Tomlinson was off to the races, with just Plaxico Burress and Chris Johnson out in front of him. Johnson gets blocked to the inside by Plaxico, giving LT a clean run down the sideline to the end zone. Johnson gives chase to try and make up for giving up the sideline but is knocked out of the play by Santonio Holmes at about the 15-yard line, before suddenly Branch streaks into view and puts Tomlinson out of bounds inside the 5.

In and of itself it is quite a good play from Branch who showed some good hustle, but it isn’t until you ask the question “Hang on, where exactly did Branch come from?” that you see what a play it really was.



When the Jets split Dustin Keller out wide right, Tyvon Branch went with him in man coverage as he was much of the day.  The safety therefore became the left cornerback in this formation, on the far side of the field.  Because the Raiders were playing man coverage, Branch set up with inside leverage–lined up inside of Keller, showing him to the sideline–and turned that direction on release, running with him down the sideline and with his back to the play for the first 10 yards.



By the time Branch sees what’s happening, Tomlinson is crossing the Jets’ 45-yard line. Branch himself is at the 50, but he is all the way on the far side of the field outside the numbers. In the space of half the field he manages to run down Tomlinson and save the touchdown (at least for that play, the Jets would score two plays later from that position).

People talk about Ben Watson running down Champ Bailey years ago on an interception over the entire field. Bailey was gassed and slowed, but it was still a great effort by Watson. This may have been more impressive from Branch, because he covers such a massive distance across the field in only 50 yards of hash marks.


Neither of the commentators picked up on it at the time, neither did we when watching it live. It was only months after the fact when looking through at something else that myself and Ben Stockwell both asked the question “just where did Branch come from?” after watching the play.

This is one of the best plays of last season, and something coaches love to see on tape, and until now I’m not sure anybody outside of the Raiders’ meetings (if even there) picked up on it.

Great play Tyvon Branch.


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| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • uppercut

    He is becoming quite the impressive player. Hopefully the Raiders consistently play him to his strengths like mentioned on here (man cov. on TE & RB, as opposed to WR in the slot & zone/space playing), so we can see him reach his full potential.

  • motorcycle

    If PFF could release/sell their individual rankings per player per play, then no good plays would go unnoticed. Members could simply put a comment underneath the rankings saying “what about Branch, Q1 08:00 remaining?”. Also it would help educate folk on what constitutes a good play and what to look for in certain position groups each play.

  • whatadai

    What idiot thought of this play? Oh yeah…Bresnahan…I had high hopes for the Raiders last year until I heard of that signing. You guys should start doing statistical analysis on coaches too!

  • darkvenom1972

    This play, while nice, is not as big a deal as this guy is making it out to be. It shows great heart by Branch, but the distance he closed is not “massive” as he suggests.

    The distance that Tomlinson travels from the time the author says that Branch notices him is approx 56 yards. He ran a distance of 55 yards to the end zone, and ran approximately 12 yards to the sideline (was at the numbers at the time). (square root of 55 yards squared + 12 yards squared)

    Branch ran approximately 62 yards. 50 yards to the end zone, and approximately 38 yards from the sideline that he caught Tomlinson on (numbers are 12 yards from sidelines). (square root of 50 yards squared + 38 yards squared).

    In total Branch caught up approximately 6 yards. He caught up with a RB 8 years older than him (like 15 years in NFL years), and Tomlinson on the play had already broken two tackles at that point, so his momentum was not at full speed like it was for branch.

    If the author of the article is wrong in that Branch was truly only 5 yards further downfield than Tomlinson when he started running him down, and instead was 10 yards ahead as the picture (and youtube video) shows it to be, then the distance Branch runs is closer to 60 yards, compared to Tomlinson’s 55 yards, catching up 5 yards in the process.

    So bottom line, Branch is one of the fastest guys in the league. Branch showed heart not giving up on the play (although a TD was scored 2 plays later). But one of the best plays of the season? No way. I just don’t think the author understands how distances are figured out.

    • jd

       Do you realize how hard it is to catch up with someone if you’re 5 yards behind them? It doesn’t matter how old they are, they’re NFL-caliber speed players. LT may have lost a step, but he’s not that slow.

      Your math is flawed. The width of an NFL field is 53.5 yards. There’s absolutely no doubt that Branch ran entirely across its distance, but for the sake of looking nice, we’ll say he ran 50 yards. That give us approximately 71 yards from when he started running to catching LT. So really, he made up a distance of 15 yards. That’s a huge amount of ground to cover to catch up to an NFL-caliber running back.