New England vs Baltimore – A quick throw to the flat turns into something more

We’re on to the fifth play in the drive, and the Ravens are in the red zone for the first time in the game.

With all the momentum right now, Baltimore goes back to a simple boot concept and manages to turn a short pass into a big play thanks to a great throw, acceleration after the catch, and great play design.

Play #5 – 12:32 1Q – 1st & 10 – NE 19 – Left Hash

Flacco carries out a great playaction fake, once again finding his target and producing a touchdown for the Ravens on their opening drive.


This is an interesting play design, and not just because of the playfake that allows the receiver #11 Kamar Aiken to delay release into the flat and get open, it’s also because of what happens with the receiver and corner outside of him, and what happens after he catches the football.

Against a corner playing inside-leverage man aggressively, a comeback route can be used effectively not only as an option in the pass game, but also as a way to put the Z in position to create an alley for the flat route to catch and turn upfield, blocking out the defenders coming on a pursuit angle.

This is the opposite effect that a fade/clearout route could have, since the receiver can clear out the space initially, but they have a tendency to outrun the defender, allowing the secondary to collapse on the receiver after he makes the catch, and now the only thing the Z can do is get a block in the back penalty.

Notice also that there isn’t an attempt to create any kind of hi-lo effect coming from the backside of the formation, since the X receiver is sent vertical into the secondary to attack the middle of the field, instead of the more conventional drag route at an intermediate depth.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look back and review the whole drive.

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Attacking the middle of the Patriot Defense

Now Baltimore has New England back on their heels. They’ve got the momentum, now it’s time to press the advantage.

Play #4 – 13:11 1Q – 1st & 10 – NE 41 – Left Hash

Building on the previous play, Baltimore keeps the same personnel grouping on the field, once again lining up the fullback out wide before motioning him back into the backfield. This time however, they’re throwing the football, and once again, the middle of the field is left wide open for the deep crossing route past the chains, picking up another first down.


Because of the personnel on the field, the Patriots defense moves both corners over to the bunch side of the formation and locks up in man coverage. This in turn means that by using the crossing routes you see in the diagram above, Baltimore can create some space in the middle once again as long as they gain some depth, and have the tight end Owen Daniels clear out the coverage to the opposite side. As Daniels goes vertical and takes the strong safety #23 Patrick Chung with him, the path becomes clear for the Ravens receivers crossing the middle.

Flacco drops back and opens to his right, while flashing the football to the opposite side with a token fake gesture, which holds the linebackers just long enough so that the receivers can get behind them and beat them to their spots deep.

At the free safety position, Devin McCourty is reading pass all the way, and drops deep and aggressively into the middle of the field at the snap. Once he sees the crossing routes begin to develop in front of him, and the large hole in the pass coverage starts to appear, he heads immediately to get in front of the route by #82 Torrey Smith, but can’t get in there in time to stop Smith from hauling in the pass over the middle and picking up another first down for the Ravens.

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Patriots Defense vs Ravens Offense – Part 3

Today, we examine the third play in the opening drive of the 2014 AFC Championship Game.

Play #3 – 13:47 1Q – 2nd & 1 – NE 43 – Right Hash

The play starts out with the fullback split out wide to get the defense to reveal their coverage scheme, then moves him back into his natural position in the backfield.

This is an interesting way that Baltimore is choosing to block the backside of the play, because of the way the combo block with the backside tackle and guard isn’t too aggressive about moving to the second level. Instead, they’re sealing off that side and trying to create a running lane should the play be forced back that way, and they have a very good reason for doing so.


New England’s use of two-gap defensive linemen means that the inside linebackers can afford to be a lot more aggressive with the way they go after plays, especially in the run game. To put it simply, as the big guys up front eat up the blocks of the offensive line, the linebackers are freed up to chase the ball carrier, with a lot less resistance to stop them.

As a result, on plays like these that hit a bit wider, the linebacker away from the play ends up coming over the top of the pile that ensues when blockers meet defenders at the point of attack, but the Sam ends up making the tackle since he’s completely unblocked and coming from the backside.

Thus, the reason Baltimore was trying to set up some kind of cutback play here was because the Sam was so ready to vacate his position in the middle of the defense and chase after the play developing to the left.

Baltimore picks up two yards and the first down.

I’ve got a new book out.

Check out my play-by-play analysis of Carolina’s Offense vs Denver’s Defense in the Super Bowl, and learn how Wade Phillips and his squad shut down Cam Newton and the ‘unstoppable’ Panther Offense.

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The Baltimore Bunch Screen

Wanna know a secret about coaching football? OK, here it is:

It’s a lot easier to call plays on Tuesday than it is on Sunday.

Coaches spend a lot of time during the week putting together an opening script, that way they make sure they can fit unconventional plays like this into the game plan and keep the defense off-balance. 

This isn’t something I’d call a crazy play, but it’s also not something you see every day either.

Let’s continue our look at this drive from the 2014 AFC Championship Game.

Play #2 – 14:19 1Q – 1st  & 10 – BAL 48 – Left Hash

On this play, New England brings on an extra defensive tackle in response to Baltimore bringing on an extra tight end and switching to a 12 personnel group. For all the talk of the Patriots trick formations that would come after the game, in this situation it turns out to be Baltimore who comes out with a tricky wrinkle early on, and it pays off.

This is a very creative use of the bunch set, and it comes from being able to reasonably anticipate how New England will react to the formation.


The idea behind the design of the play is that the tight alignment of the receivers to the bunch will force the New England defenders to do likewise, and if they’re playing man coverage (which they are), then the two outside receivers running in-breaking routes crossing the field will do two important things:

First of all, they’ll take the defenders who are lined up out on the edge with them in coverage.

Second, they’re also running their routes on a path with the specific goal of obstructing, or rubbing the defenders to the inside of the formation, in order to open up space for #80 to the outside.

Couple this strategy with a run fake in the opposite direction, and you’ve got a winning combination.

Obviously the run fake holds the defense in place, but it also allows Flacco to time up the throw to the right flat.

He’ll open up to his left and carry out the fake, never seeing the tight end coming open until he comes around to his right and completely turns his body around, at which point he’ll have to get rid of the football fairly quickly to take full advantage of whatever amount of surprise they’ve managed to gain on New England’s defense before they recover and recognize the play.

Even better for Baltimore, Rob Ninkovich comes straight up the field, as he’s playing the linebacker position this time, and the tight end #80 Crockett Gillmore blocks him for a count before releasing into the flat. Meanwhile the right tackle will give the defensive end to his side a token shove before getting out wide to the flat to clear a path for Gillmore once he catches the football, careful not to get too far down the field until the ball is thrown.

New England is fooled initially, but the Sam linebacker recognizes it fairly quickly and begins to chase down the play from behind, as does the safety #23 Patrick Chung. Baltimore picks up nine yards and sets up 2nd & 1.

We’ll look at that 2nd & 1 play tomorrow.

Until then, why not sink your teeth into my latest breakdown of all 16 drives of Denver’s Defense against Carolina’s Offense in the Super Bowl?

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Breaking down the Patriots Defense vs the Ravens Offense


Even with all the negative attention from the outside world that was focused on Baltimore in 2014, they still managed to accomplish a lot on the football field, reaching the divisional round and nearly knocking off the eventual world champs in Foxborough.

Joe Flacco and the offense managed to build a 14-point lead twice before eventually succumbing to Brady and the aggressive New England defense.

In many ways, this game was a lot more interesting to analyze than the Super Bowl, at least from the perspective of Bill Belichick’s defense and how he prepared for the multiple offensive threats from Baltimore.

Guys like Rob Ninkovich, who can play both the defensive end spot and the outside linebackers spot, allows the Patriots to present a wider variety of defensive fronts and looks in the tackle box with a minimal amount of personnel substitutions.

Baltimore presents a unique set of challenges for any defense, with their impressive mix of speedy receivers, a power run game, and the ability to jump in and out of multiple formations that can put stress on the structure of the defense.

Over the next few days we’re going to examine Baltimore’s opening drive of the game, and the different looks the Patriots used on defense.

Play #1 – 14:55 1Q – 1st & 10 – BAL 29 – Left Hash

There’s a lot going on with this play, but let’s start with the routes and coverage in the middle of the field, since that’s where the catch was made.


Baltimore is running an adapted version of the shallow cross concept here, with the tight end #81 Owen Daniels crossing underneath the drops of the inside linebackers. Once he clears the hash, however, he’s going to settle down in the window in the zone coverage before he runs himself into the linebacker sitting out there in the flat.

Coming from the opposite side of the formation, the receiver #14 Marlon Brown takes care to take an inside release and get vertical right away until he gets to around an eight yard depth, at which point he’s heading at an angle across the field, trying to gain depth, while at the same time trying to get across the face of the free safety to the left side of the field. He ends up past the fifteen yard mark at the end of his route.

This is where Smith comes in. The two routes we discussed previously do a good job of opening up the middle of the field and occupying the linebackers as they widen in their drops, leaving a nice-sized opening past the chains in the middle of the field.

From a defensive perspective, Rob Ninkovich isn’t as concerned with rushing the passer as he is with just containing any play to his inside. Starting the play in a two-point stance and lining up just to the inside shoulder of #14 Marlon Brown, he makes sure to give the receiver a good shove as the ball is snapped in an attempt to disrupt the timing of the route. Ninkovich usually lines up wide at his position anyway, and in these situations he has a good amount of freedom to “chip” or disrupt receivers in a tight split to his side like this one, especially if he expects some kind of timing route or shallow crosser coming.


New England starts the game with 4-3 personnel on the field, which is a curious strategy against the 11 personnel that Baltimore comes out with on the first play. The Ravens go right to the reliable veteran receiver on the first play, as #89 Steve Smith hauls it in on the dig route over the middle, picking up an immediate first down and moving the chains.

If you want more of this kind of analysis, check out my latest book breaking down all 16 drives of Carolina’s Offense vs Denver’s Defense in the Super Bowl.

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How Chip Kelly Eliminates Darrelle Revis as a Threat

Screenshot 2015-12-21 at 7-6

It’s 3rd and long, and Chip Kelly’s offense faces a brutal pass rush and one of the league’s best shutdown corners in Darrelle Revis.

Staring down the barrel of an 0-3 start on the road, and facing the possibility of a 3rd-straight week of coming up empty on their opening drive, things look pretty grim at this point.

Fortunately for the Eagles, this offense has a plan for just such a situation.

As we covered a while back, in some ways a long-yardage situation makes things easier, because the number of options you have available to you is greatly diminished, and now you’ve got a much simpler decision to make. » Read more

Bruce Arians & His Version of the Wheel Route

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Bruce Arians doesn’t give a damn what you think about him, and that attitude has served him well.

The longtime NFL assistant finally got his shot at a permanent head coaching job a few years ago after guiding the Colts to the playoffs in the absence of Chuck Pagano’s health problems, and to put it plainly, all he does is win.

Arians is considered by a lot of people to be one of the brightest offensive minds in the league, and it’s not because he’s someone inventing a brand new offense. Instead, he’s able to take what other teams are doing, and put his own spin on it. » Read more

How Chip Kelly Uses the Wheel Route


Adapt or die, it really is that simple.

Plays, concepts, and offenses are only as good as the yards they produce, and their merit is constantly being tested in the Darwinian contest of ideas that is the NFL. If a coach has a great idea, and after a few tries it doesn’t work, it won’t be long before either the idea or the coach (or both) end up being tossed.

That’s exactly what makes innovation so exciting, or depending on your perspective, so scary.

A guy who has the balls to do his own thing, even when it’s not working the way he thinks it can, isn’t just participating in a friendly debate on football theory, he’s putting his job and the jobs of those under him at risk.

Chip Kelly is trying to do just that in Philadelphia, though he’d never phrase it in that way.

It’s been a lot of fun watching the scheme Kelly brought with him to the NFL, even if it hasn’t always resulted in the big plays many Philly fans hoped for.

One of the things that I take pride in when writing for this site is not just focusing on the big plays that make the SportsCenter Top Ten each Sunday Night. Sure, 70 yard bombs are great, but the design of a short bubble screen is just as intriguing, and it’s something that not a lot of other people are talking about.

We’re going to talk about the wheel route, and its importance in this offense, even though it wasn’t even thrown to on the play below.

The Play

This is a great change up to the mesh play Chip Kelly uses with so much efficiency.

» Read more

A Page From Sean Payton’s Playbook: Good Design and Better Execution


Super Bowl XLIV was an incredibly entertaining game between Peyton Manning’s Colts and Drew Brees’ Saints teams. Ultimately, it was New Orleans who prevailed, thanks to plays like this one.

New Orleans found themselves down 10-3 to the heavily-favored Colts, but they executed a great two-minute drill at the end of the first half to get into field goal range and narrow the lead to 10-6, building some great momentum going into the locker room at the half.

A successful play depends on a lot of things, from a great design on the chalkboard, to the actual execution, as well as proper fundamentals, and a good amount of football intelligence from the players involved.

So let’s look at a great example of all of those things working together on the biggest stage of them all.

The Play

Here’s the situation:

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It may be 1st and 10, but with the time left on the clock this is a passing down, and both teams are treating it like on. New Orleans still has a timeout left, so they have the ability to use the whole field instead of picking their spots along the sideline. » Read more

How to Gameplan for Richard Sherman

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Richard Sherman is undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best cornerback in the NFL right now. His mix of athleticism, ball skills, and football intelligence make him a force to be reckoned with in the Seattle secondary, and he’s a big reason why the aptly-named “Legion of Boom” has set the standard for NFL defenses the past several seasons.

When you’re preparing to play a team with a defender in the secondary with Richard Sherman’s caliber, obviously a large part of your preparation should focus on how to avoid, attack, or neutralize his effects on your game plan.

Before a coaching staff develops any sort of detailed plan of attack it’s important to figure out where the guy lines up and why. » Read more

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