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Friday, 28 September 2012

Five Plays that Paid Off - Week 3: The Music City Miracle - Motown edition

When I decided to start the 'Five Plays that Paid Off' series, I wasn't expecting to break down two punts within the first three weeks of the season, but then again, who was expecting Tennessee to pull out this sneaky little number? This play comes nominated by James Tipper in our Facebook group - nice one James! Remember that you too can nominate a play to be broken down - and get your name in TPL - by nominating a play in the group (which you should be joining anyway, for all your Facebook-hosted football-y goodness) or by tweeting a description of a play you would like to see broken down using the hashtag #TPL5plays.

Right, on with the play, a callback to one of the most famous returns in Titans history...

NB: As always, diagrams are not to scale.

Detroit Lions @ Tennessee Titans, 1st quarter, 0:49 left on the clock, 4th & 5

Watch the play here

Lions: punt formation
Personnel: #2 Ben Graham (punter), #42 Amari Spievey (personal protector), #35 Joique Bell (right up-back), #34 Keiland Williams (left up-back), #57 Doug Hogue (RT), #50 Travis Lewis (RG), #48 Don Muhlbach (LS), #54 DeAndre Levy (LG), #58 Ashlee Palmer (LT), #29? John Wendling (right gunner - it is very, very hard to tell the jersey number of the right gunner, but using every camera angle available my best guess is that it is #29), #10 Kassim Osgood (left gunner)

Titans: punt return formation
Personnel: #33 Michael Griffin (left punt blocker), #57 Patrick Bailey (left end), #84 Taylor Thompson (tackle), #53 Zac Diles (right end), #26 Jordan Babineaux (right punt blocker), #59 Tim Shaw (linebacker), #20 Alterraun Verner (left outside jammer), #30 Jason McCourty (left inside jammer), #29 Ryan Mouton (right inside jammer), #37 Tommie Campbell (right outside jammer), #25 Darius Reynaud (returner)

Fig 1
After the huddle/pre-snap: Nothing really particular to mention, the Lions are in standard punt formation with the personal protector on the punter's right, the Titans are relatively balanced with two jammers on each gunner, three down linemen on one side of the formation, and two down linemen and a linebacker on the other side. There are no pre-snap shifts or movements by the defense, all very uneventful.

The punt: This punt return, unlike the last punt return we featured, is not a product of a marriage of good blocking opening lanes and equally good recognition by the returner in finding those lanes. Yes, obviously that's a bit redundant since this was actually a case of special teams trickery rather than just a well-executed traditional punt return, but still: with the exception of a single block on a Lions player that likely wouldn't have been able to get to Campbell anyway. The play really only revolves around the the lateral throw from Reynaud on the presupposition that the Detroit coverage unit would react as it did, i.e. swarm towards the returner and not leave defenders on the outside.

Fig 2
From the way the play evolves, it is clear that the Titans special team co-ordinator must have seen a tendency for Lions punter Graham to punt towards his right, or at least a preference for aiming punts towards sidelines rather than down the middle, or else this play could never have worked. Key to the play, of course, was for the Titans to try and sell it as being a standard punt return, so the two down linemen on the left side of the field (right side from the Lions' perspective) appear to attempt to fight through the right up-back and right tackle to get to the punter, marked by the two 'A's in Fig 2. Having eventually gotten past their blockers, these two Titans, Griffin and Bailey, loop around the back of the other Lions players (the ball having been punted and every Lions player save the punter having run to where the returner, Reynaud, is waiting) and run down the right of the field, then pause and wait at the points marked 'B'. From Tennessee's perspective, everything appears to go as planned, with the Lions punter, Graham, toeing the ball towards the left sideline, shown in Fig 2 by the green dotted line marked 'I'. Almost the entire Lions side flood towards the returner, clearly seen in Fig 2, and most of the Titans players go with them to keep up the illusion, with three exceptions - the aforementioned Griffin & Bailey, and Tommie Campbell, who peels off running with his gunner at point 'C', watching as the Lions coverage unit run away from him.

At this point, of course, we all know what happens. Reynaud turns inside and throws the ball across the field laterally (in fact, slightly backwards, marked in Fig 2 by the green dotted line marked 'II') to Campbell, who catches it at point 'D' and turns downfield, with Griffin & Bailey positioned to block Lions players who are too quick across the field. The Lions players try and get across to him, but many are blocked, or at least delayed, by Titans (not illustrated in Fig 2 in order to keep things neat & simple). Campbell, Bailey and Griffin run downfield ('E'), with only Bailey needing to block a Lion (again, not illustrated to keep the diagram simple but represented by his arrow being shorter than the others), though it's speculative as to whether that Lions player would have actually gotten to Campbell, who is pretty much free to run down the sideline with the ball to score the first first-half touchdown of the season for Tennessee.

One last point - there was one Lions player who, theoretically, might have been able to stop Campbell, though realistically he would have been blocked by Griffin; that was Ben Graham, the Lions punter ('F'). However, you can see during the replays that he is hobbling as he runs/limps towards Campbell. For those of you who have Game Pass and/or Game Rewind (which I would highly encourage everyone to get), then if you were to watch the play on the 'Coaches Tape', you can see clearly from the endzone camera that as soon as Graham punts the ball, he grabs the back of his leg and bends over as in pain, suggesting that he hurt himself during the punt - the hobbling you see during the replay appears to be caused by something Graham has done to himself in the action of punting. Later in the week, Graham was put on IR.

Another shoutout to James Tipper for nominating this play to be broken down, and even for providing the link to the play included above - now that's good nominating! We can never, ever have too many plays nominated for our breakdowns, so nominate away this Sunday & Monday - the more plays you nominate, the better chance you have of getting your name in the blog!

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

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