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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Five Plays that Paid Off: Week 1 - What Neck Injury?

In our first Play that Paid Off, we showed you how the Redskins used play-action effectively to open up one side of the field for Garcon, leading to RG3's first professional touchdown (that counts). In our second play, we show how deadly play-action can be when coupled with a well-executed screen to the outside.

Be sure to check out our the intro to the first play we broke down for details on how YOU can nominate a play to be broken down for next week.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos: 3rd Quarter, 5:41 on the clock, 2nd & 1.

Watch the play here

Broncos: Singleback 3-wide
Personnel: #78 Ryan Clady (LT), #68 Zane Beadles (LG), #50 J.D. Walton (C), #65 Manny Ramirez (not that one) (RG), #74 Orlando Franklin (RT), #18 Peyton Manning (QB), #23 Willis McGahee (RB), #81 Joel Dressen (TE, right), #88 Demaryius Thomas ('X' WR, left), #84 Jacob Tamme (lined up as slot receiver, left), #12 Matthew Willis ('Z'/flanker receiver, right)

Steelers: 3-4 base
Personnel: #99 Brett Keisel (RDE), #98 Casey Hampton (NT), #96 Ziggy Hood (LDE), #54 Chris Carter (WLB), #94 Lawrence Timmons (RILB), #50 Larry Foote (LILB), #56 LaMarr Woodley (SLB), #24 Ike Taylor (RCB), #23 Kennan Lawrence (LCB), #29 Ryan Mundy (FS), #43 Troy Polamalu (SS)

After the huddle/pre-snap: The Broncos line up with Manning shotgun, McGahee to his left and slightly behind him. TE Jacob Tamme is lined up as a slot receiver on this play on the left, while Joel Dressen lines up as the TE on the right of the line. Initially, the Will linebacker, Carter, lines up over Tamme; however, pre-snap, he moves down towards the LOS fairly wide outside the LT, while Polamalu comes over and lines up across from, but playing off deep, Tamme. (Fig 1)

Fig 1.

The play: the play is a quick receiver screen to Thomas, off of play-action. The play is defined by five key events, marked A, B, C, D, and, surprisingly enough, E, as you can see in Fig 2.

Fig 2

The first part of the play is the fake handoff. McGahee runs across Manning's face, pretending to receive the handoff, then continuing as if he is running off-tackle to the strongside. This usefully draws the two middle linebackers across to the strongside, away from where the play will be happening, but the key part of that play is marked by the two 'A's in Fig 2. Here, you can see that both Carter and Keisel have been allowed to come through unblocked, as the left side of the line have peeled off to form a screen. This illustrates why the play-action is necessary; generally, defensive players know that if they get through the OL so easily, there is a fairly good chance that the play is going to be a screen pass. By including the play-action, the two Steelers cannot go straight in and hit Manning - if he had actually handed off the ball, then it would have been an unnecessary roughness penalty, 15 yards to the Broncos and an automatic first down. Instead, as shown on the board, the two defenders initially trail McGahee before realising it is a play-action and heading for Manning. That extra second delay caused by the defenders trailing McGahee allows Manning to get the ball off quickly to Thomas, as shown by the green dotted line.

In order to sell the play-action, Thomas initially takes a few steps downfield, which causes the corner, Taylor, to backpedal a few steps - a key moment in the play's development. With the corner having backed off, Thomas then turns back infield and waits for the pass, knowing he has enough time to catch it now that the corner has backed off. Those few steps downfield, causing the corner to move back, did more than just giving Thomas the time to catch, however; it also gave time for Tamme to run up and block Taylor ('B' in Fig 2). If Taylor is closer, Tamme has no chance of getting across to make that block, and the play is stuffed behind the LOS for a loss of a yard or two. Instead, Taylor is sealed the outside, allowing Thomas to catch the ball and turn downfield.

The next key block on the play is marked as 'C' in Fig 2. Troy Polamalu is, obviously, one of the best safeties in the game, and once he sees the screen developing, comes down to try and stop the play. Now, Polamalu has a lot of ground to cover, and there is no way he could have stopped the play from getting a first down, but he could still have stopped Thomas after a few yards, instead of the 71-yard touchdown he ended up having. The block comes from left tackle Ryan Clady, who, having taken a dummy step at the snap, released immediately into the left flat as a lead blocker. Clady appears to be attempting a flying shoulder barge at Polamalu, but Polamalu's speedy instincts sees him ducking inside of Clady's shoulder, avoiding contact. As a block, it is pretty horrible - but it achieves its main target. By forcing Polamalu inside of him, it takes Polmalu an extra second or two to go around Clady's body, by which time Thomas has already shot downfield past him. Polamalu tries running him down from behind but cannot catch him (not drawn on Fig 2); by delaying the safety long enough, Clady has done his job, as ugly as it looked.

However, don't think take that as proof that lineman don't have the speed to get to DBs. LG Zane Beadles (excellent name, by the way) does a textbook job of how linemen should block on a screen. After a dummy step, Beadles follows Clady, albeit inside and at a wider angle. Beadles, now outside of the left hashmarks, looks downfield and sees the other Steelers safety, Mundy, coming across the top of the play to stop Thomas. With Thomas slightly outside of him, Beadles runs inside of Mundy, matching him step by step (D in Fig 2), before engaging Mundy in a block (shown in Fig 2 by the black squiggly line between the two), as Thomas runs behind him. Mundy tries to get outside of Beadles, as that's where Thomas initially is. Beadles uses Mundy's momentum against him, but letting Mundy get to the outside, and then blocking him towards the sideline as Thomas cuts inside, sprinting past Mundy and Beadles. Mundy is able to separate from Beadles but has no hope of chasing down Thomas.

The last key element of the play is the actions of the other receiver, Willis. Willis runs a standard crossing route, with the corner, Lawrence, trailing him. As Thomas runs downfield, Willis turns downfield with him, running parallel to him and keeping watch on Lawrence. Lawrence is attempting to chase down Thomas, but Willis stays with him all the way; when Lawrence gets close, Willis engages him (E in Fig 2) as they run downfield (squiggle); Lawrence eventually does break away from Willis, but at that point, Thomas is long gone.

And so, by selling the play-action (A) and by four key blocks (B-E), Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas turned a quick receiver screen into Manning's first regular season touchdown as a Bronco.

Next play will be up later today; in the mean time, check out the first Play that Paid Off, as well as our new and exclusive statistic devised by Phil, OLR. Enjoy!

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

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