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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Five Plays that Paid Off: Week 1 - Griffin-to-Garcon

While we hope all our readers enjoy TPL, we do get some suggestions about ways we can improve the blog. One suggestion we've gotten a few times is a request to deal more with the X's and O's of football, to try and break down for the more casual fan how the theory of football works in practice.

Well, we've decided to give the people (person) what they want: we're proud to introduce our new weekly series, Five Plays that Paid Off. Each week, we'll break down five plays from the recent slate of NFL games, showing how the play unfolded, and why it worked.

But we want your help too! Next Sunday, when you're watching football, if you see a play that impressed you and you want to see broken down, let us know. Tweet the play you want broken down, and use the hashtag #TPL5plays (for example, if you wanted to see this play broken down, you could have tweeted out "Griffin 88 yard TD to Garcon #TPL5plays"). We'll choose our five favourite plays, and if you were the first person to suggest that play, you'll even get credit in the blog!

So keep your eyes peeled for those plays next Sunday; until then, check down our Week 1 Five Plays that Paid Off.

NB: The diagrams are not to scale but should serve as a rough guide to what you can see on the video linked below

Washington Redskins @ New Orleans Saints: 1st Quarter, 3:12 on the clock, 1st & 10.


Redskins: two-TE formation
Personnel: #71 Trent Williams (LT), #78 Kory Lichtesteiger (LG), #63 Will Montgomery (C), #66 Chris Chester (RG), #74 Tyler Polumbus (RT), #10 Robert Griffin III (QB), #46 Alfred Morris (RB), #83 Fred Davis (TE, left), #84 Niles Paul (TE, right), #15 Joshua Morgan (WR, left), #88 Pierre Garcon (WR, right)

Saints: 4-3 base
Personnel: #90 Turk McBride (RDE), #77 Brodrick Bunkley (DT 3-tech), #96 Tom Johnson (DT 1-tech), #94 Cameron Jordan (LDE), #58 Scott Shanle (WLB), #50 Curtis Lofton (MLB), #57 David Hawthorne (SLB), #21 Patrick Robinson (RCB), #24 Corey Whitey (LCB), #27 Malcolm Jenkins (FS), #41 Roman Harper (SS)

After the huddle: The play opens up with the Redskins in a two-TE formation (though technically both TEs are lined up as H-backs), with Griffin under center and Morris in as the lone back. The Saints line up eight in the box, with free safety Jenkins lined up outside weakside linebacker Shanle. Montgomery identifies Lofton as the Mike. (Fig 1)

Fig 1

Pre-snap: Davis motions across the formation and sets up outside, and slight in front of, Paul. The three Saints LBs shift over towards the right (strongside) in response. Jenkins moves closer towards the line of scrimmage (LOS), as Robinson starts backpedalling away from Morgan. (Fig 2)

Fig 2


The play: The play is a drop-back pass off of play-action. The Saints appear to be in Cover 1 (Harper), with corners playing man coverage (Robinson off, White press), the outside linebacker in man coverage on the TEs, the middle linebacker in a soft mid-deep zone (likely spying Griffin), with five rushing (the DL + Jenkins) There are three key phases of the play, the first two marked "A" and "B" in Fig 3.

Fig 3


A: The fake hand-off. Griffin takes the snap and runs towards Morris, who is looking to head towards the strongside B-gap. All three linebackers are sucked in by the play-action, while White appears to pause while running with Garcon, looking backwards, which suggests he was checking to see if he was needed in run support.

B: The blocking. The Redskins offensive line run a zone-blocking scheme, in this case blocking to the right. Polumbus washes Jordan upfield and past the play. Johnson is initially doubleteamed by Montgomery and Lichtensteiger, but moves inside of Montgomery; Morris comes up and blocks him, keeping him away from Griffin. Bunkley is initially blocked by Williams, but as he tries to follow Morris, ends up inside of (and being blocked by) Lichtensteiger. McBride, being the end man on the DL, is initially unblocked; but as Jenkins is the outside rusher, McBride tries to go inside, not outside, of the LT, who then blocks him inside. (Note: while it seems strange that the RDE put himself in position to be blocked, it is likely he was maintaining gap integrity, and therefore did his job on the play).
Hawthorne, initially flying down to play against the run, is blocked very well by Davis. Lofton backpedals to the middle of the field after realising that is a fake, but does not get back deep before the ball is thrown. Shanle, seeing it is a fake, tracks Paul (the green dotted line) as he runs across the formation. Jenkins is bearing down on Griffin, who has planted his foot and is about to throw the ball downfield. Morgan has run a deep in. Garcon has run a slant.
The field now looks like Fig 4.

Fig 4


C: The catch. At the bottom of Fig. 4, we see the OL has shifted the DL to the strongside of the play. Griffin looks downfield and throws to Garcon, who has crossed into the middle of the field, while taking the hit from Jenkins (green dotted line). Morgan's deep in route has drawn both Robinson and Harper towards him. White, having paused momentarily to see if he's needed in run support, is a few steps behind Garcon. The only defenders underneath would have been the linebackers, specifically Lofton. However, Lofton is slow backing off into the middle of the field after recognising the play fake, and was in no position to pick off the pass underneath. As a result, Garcon has an easy catch. After the catch, Garcon continues running towards the left sideline. Robinson cannot change direction quick enough, so Garcon is able to turn up far enough outside of Robinson that the CB has a poor angle on him - at that point, it is only a matter of Garcon having to outpace Robinson for the touchdown (D).

Of note: White runs back, and presumably could have gotten a better angle on Garcon, but instead chooses to lay his shoulder into Morgan and drops him to the ground (E). Porter appears to give up on the play once Garcon has run past him.

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Why did it work?

This type of play starts off with one simple question: how do we get the ball to our receiver without any defenders stopping him?

It's a pretty obvious question, the question behind pretty much every pass play - the only difference in pass players is how they choose to answer it. This play has two basic objectives they need to achieve for the play to be successful: to get as many defenders as possible on the right-hand side of the field, and to get Garcon to the left-hand side of the field. The play-action does a great job of drawing in the linebackers, leaving plenty of empty space underneath for the ball to sail throw as it gets to Garcon in the middle of the field. At the same time, Morgan running a deep in draws the lone high safety towards him (if he had remained deep, he would have been in position to stop Garcon going all the way for a TD, though it would have been a long reception either way), while also drawing Robinson into the middle of the field.

With the whole of the left side of the field vacated by the defense, it's only a matter of getting Garcon to that wide-open space. As Garcon catches the ball on the move, he already has the momentum heading towards that left sideline. The play becomes purely a matter of speed, though theoretically it is helped by White choosing to decleat Morgan instead of trying to get across to stop Garcon getting to the endzone. The play is simple in theory, perfectly executed, and resulted in an impressive first career touchdown for Griffin.

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Hope you all enjoyed the first entry in our new feature, the next play will be up early tomorrow. Let us know what you think of this new feature in the comments below.

- Gur "Fred" Samuel (@FredTheGur)
- The Pulling Linemen

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