Getting Vertical with the Smash/Post Concept

The following post is an excerpt from a comprehensive look at Hue Jackson’s favorite pass concepts at the OBR. Click here for the entire article.

Our final route concept is known as the ‘Smash-Post’. The play design integrates another coaching-favorite, the ‘Smash’ concept, with a post route coming from the opposite side of the field. Like the previous ‘Shakes’ concept, ‘Smash-Post’ is a split-safety killer.

Before putting the routes together, let’s look at each individually to see how the combination stresses the two-deep safeties.

‘Smash’ is the classic split-safety beater, consisting of a short in-breaking route like a hitch or fin from the #1 receiver and a corner route from the #2 receiver (should sound familiar to the hitch/corner in ‘Snag’). The play works best against the Tampa 2 (two-deep, zone-under), as it puts the flat defender (the cornerback) in a bind by creating a vertical stretch using the hitch and corner routes. Jump the hitch and the corner route will be thrown over his head against a safety that has to cover the distance from hash-to-sideline. Sink to cushion the corner route and the quarterback will throw the high-percentage hitch in front of the cornerback with opportunity for yards after catch. In this case, the short bait route is run as a flat by the tight end. The specific short route doesn’t matter here; as long as it breaks in front of the cornerback he still faces a vertical stretch.

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Want to Stop the Run? It All Starts with the Nose Tackle

The following post is an excerpt taking from a comprehensive look at breakdowns in the Cleveland Browns’ run defense during the 2016 season. Check out the entire article at The Orange and Brown Report.

Later in the season we see another example of the nose tackle losing the double-team battle, allowing a blocker to ‘jump through’ to the second level.

The Bengals align in 11 personnel, utilizing a single tailback and an inline tight end. The Browns’ defense counters with an ‘Odd’ front, aligning a 0-technique over the center and a 4-technique over the guard. When teams align with two or more players in an even technique (0/2/4/6) they are frequently two-gapping or slanting into a single gap. On this call the nose tackle and closed end (defensive end aligned to the tight end’s side) are slanting to the field across their defender’s face, betting that the offense will call a run play to the defense’s right.

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Defending the Run: When ‘Block Down, Step Down’ Goes Wrong

This post is an excerpt taking from a much-longer breakdown of the Cleveland Browns’ poor run defense posted at The Orange and Browns Report

Our final example examines both the schematic weakness and the information overload Browns’ defenders complained about throughout the season.

The Bengals utilize 11 personnel with an inline tight end and twin receivers to the right-side. The Browns’ set the strength of their defense to the tight end, utilizing a 1, 5, and 9-technique. The entire front is 1-gapping, as ILB Craig Robertson will run blitz his left A-gap at the snap. To his side, the 3-technique will play the B-gap and the 5-technique will play the C to cover all run fits.

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Running the ‘Split-Dig’ with Hue Jackson

Another HueJackson-favorite that shows up on tape several times against split-safety coverage (Cover 2, Cover 4, and Cover 6) is the ‘Split-Dig’ concept.

Split-Dig is a popular three-man concept that can be run out of a variety of formations including 2 X 2, or ‘Quad’s, if the running back is used as the #3 receiver.

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Hue Jackson Passing Game Preview: Going Air Raid with the ‘Shakes’ Concept

A Hue-Jackson favorite that shows up over and over again on tape is the split-safety beating ‘Shakes’ concept, an old-school Air Raid classic.

The Shakes combo is a Cover 2-killer, putting the flat defender in a hi-lo bind while holding the safety on his hash too long to make a play on the ball.

In our example the concept is run with a flat route from the inside (#2) receiver in conjunction with a corner route (#1) from the outside receiver. The play is unique in that corner routes are rarely run by outside receivers, as the route is cut off by the sideline due to the compressed space along the edge of the field. In order to create room for the corner route, the wide receiver must use an inside release (release towards the middle of the field) while bending at 45 degrees, push vertical for 8-10 yards, and break back to the corner. This route must be precise, as there is little room for error due to the lack of space and timing with the quarterback’s throw.

Note: This image is pulled from an old Bob Stoops playbook. Be sure  to ignore the quarterback progression.  Several coaches much smarter than me in the passing game have told me they would read the play: 

  1. Rhythm (Top of the drop) Seam route
  2. Corner
  3. Flat/Flare 

Pro Tip: Follow smart people on Twitter and listen to what they say!

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God’s Gift to Offensive Coordinators: The Mesh Concept

After several hours of film study, it is very clear that New Cleveland Browns’ head coach Hue Jackson wants to get the ball into his playmakers’ hands. The former Bengals’ offensive coordinator does an outstanding job identifying and exploiting personnel mismatches using formation and alignment to isolate and deliver the ball to his skill-position players in space. As a long-time play caller, the well-respected coach has a variety of pass concepts in his toolbox to put his star receivers in position to make plays. A noteworthy play that shows up on tape is the  Air Raid-classic ‘Mesh’.

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The Carolina Panthers’ Sweep Read

Breaking Down the ‘Sweep Read’ RPO

The idea behind RRO’s (run-pass options) is surprisingly simple: merge a pass play and run play into a single concept. The offensive line will run block while the receivers and tight ends run pass routes. The quarterback will decide whether to hand-off to the running back or throw a pass to the receiver based on the action (or key) of a single ‘read’ defender. The goal is to put the read defender in pass-run conflict by forcing him to choose between a run fit or coverage responsibility, making him wrong no matter what.

RPOs work particularly well in a no-huddle, hurry-up offense as they allow the quarterback to make quick, simple decisions without the need to make complicated line calls and pre-snap coverage reads. The passing aspect of the play allows the offense to get the ball to playmakers in space, as the pass routes consist of quick-game slants, hitches, and seams that are a broken-tackle away from going for six. Most packaged plays do not utilize intermediate or vertical routes (although this is changing) as the offensive line cannot block further than five yards downfield (a controversial issue within the coaching community as this rule is rarely enforced).

Let’s examine the various moving parts of an RPO by breaking down Cam Newton’s signature moment of the 2015 playoffs, a 12-yard touchdown scamper during the third quarter of the Carolina Panthers’ 49-15 NFC Championship victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

The Panthers have the game well in hand, leading the Cardinals 27-7 late in the third quarter. The NFL champs have driven the ball into Arizona’s red zone using an effective combination of pass and run calls that have the defense off-balance. Facing 1st and 10 from the 13-yard line, offensive coordinator Mike Shula dials up a beautiful RPO combining a quarterback ‘Sweep’ (popularized by Vince Lombardi with his classic halfback sweep) with a flare screen to the running back.

We’ll look at the run and the pass individually, and then put both together to see how they put the defender in run/pass conflict.

Let’s start with the running back flare. After aligning to the right of the quarterback, Panthers’ fullback Mike Tolbert motions pre-snap across the formation to the left flat. With three receivers to that side of the field, the offense has enough blockers to pick up the MIKE (middle linebacker), cornerback, and nickel. The strong safety is left unblocked; although he is aligned ten-yards deep making it unlikely he will make the tackle before a positive gain

The Quarterback Sweep is run to the right side of the field, opposite the running back flare. The concept is a variant of the famous Wing-T Buck Sweep (run by many coaches including Gus Malzahn, Urban Meyer, and Chip Kelly)

The backside (away from the play direction) tackle and guard will block the right defensive linemen and defensive tackle, with the center and frontside guard pulling to pick-up the cornerback and first defender that threatens to cross the face from the inside. The right tackle and tight end will down block the 3-technique (outside shoulder of guard) and defensive end, walling them off from the play. The only unblocked defender is the alley fill (responsible for the area of the field between the front seven and cornerback), although like the strong safety his depth will likely prevent him from making the tackle before a positive gain.

Putting the running back flare and Quarterback Sweep together gives us the RPO, or ‘packaged’ play. Because the play decision is made post-snap, the next question naturally leads to how the offense chooses which play to run.

The play decision hinges on a single pre-determined read man–in this case the MIKE (middle linebacker)–located behind the right defensive end. The read is very simple by design: If the MIKE widens with the running back’s motion, run the Quarterback Sweep as a run defender has now been eliminated from the box. If the MIKE stays flat-footed, throw the running back flare as the offense will now have blockers for the cornerback, nickel, and strong safety (the MIKE will not be able to make the play as he is out-leveraged by remaining inside the box).

Moving on to the play, we see how aggressively the MIKE widens with Tolbert’s pre-snap motion. Because Tolbert initially aligned to the right of the quarterback, his motion to the left changed his coverage responsibility from the WILL to the MIKE. You’ll see the WILL tear after him at the snap, taking another run defender out of the box. This is a great example of using pre-snap motion to confuse coverage assignments.

  • The left tackle and left guard do a great job walling off the right-side of the defensive line. Notice how the left tackle ‘swings the back door shut’ on the defensive end, while the left guard reaches the play-side shoulder and turns the 2-i technique (inside shoulder of guard)
  • The tight end and right tackle execute outstanding down blocks to seal the D-gap. Part of concept design’s beauty is the blocking angles created for the down blocks. It is much easier to execute the block on a defender aligned away from the play’s direction, as the angle allows the blocker a clean shot into the vee of the defender’s neck
  • The right guard (#70) pulls around the tight end looking to block the first player he encounters in the alley, while the center (#67) looks for the first threat to cross his face from the inside (in this case the free safety, as the WILL ran himself out of the play with the blown coverage assignment).
  • Cam Newton does the rest, reading his blocks and leaping over the final defender for six.

Hue Jackson-Super Bowl X’s & O’s: The Counter Trey Read

After looking at the Counter Trey in a previous post, I want to breakdown another variant we’ll see the Carolina Panthers run tonight during the biggest game in franchise history. The film is pulled from the Bengal’s 34-21 week-six victory over the Bills.

First, a quick review of the concept. The original Counter Trey was popularized by Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins teams of the 1980s. It falls under the ‘power’ run game umbrella, as it is gap-blocked, requiring offensive linemen to both down block and pull. The ubiquitous play is run at all levels of football in a variety of offensive systems.

An element of misdirection is built into the concept as the running back will take a hard jab-step away from the play’s direction, often causing hesitation and pulling linebackers away from the ball (known as an ‘influence’ step). Used in conjunction with zone-blocked plays such as inside zone, the concept is an outstanding constraint (adjustment) to defenses that key the running back’s flow for play direction and over-pursue the ball.

I chose to breakdown this particular play as it constantly shows up on Panthers’ film (and is a Hue Jackson favorite), and should work well against Denver’s aggressive edge rushers (Miller and Ware). When game-planning for edge rushers that fly off the line of scrimmage, ‘trap’ blocks are a must-have. The idea behind a trap block is simple; give the defender a free release at the line, then bring a blocker across the formation to ear hole him from the side. This eliminates the edge rusher’s ability to beat blocks by shooting gaps, creating havoc in the backfield before the blocks can develop.

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Cleveland Browns Film Room: Beating an Odd Front with the Pin-and-Pull

With the announcement that newly-appointed Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson will call his own plays, a review of the 2014-2015 Cincinnati Bengals’ offense provides a potential template of what fans can expect next season. A review of the tape shows several tried-and-true run and pass-game concepts Jackson leans on to move the ball. Building off my previous post (Counter/Power), I want to continue looking at base run concepts the new play-caller ran last season.

Although Jackson is well-known for running a gap-based scheme (Iso, Counter, Power), a look at the game tape shows several zone-based concepts including tight zone, split zone, and outside zone. Today I want to break down a clever variant of outside zone that I’ve observed several times through six games, the Pin-and-Pull.

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The Hue Jackson Run Game

With the announcement that head coach Hue Jackson will call his own plays, All-22 film provides a wealth of knowledge and insight into what to expect from the 2016 Cleveland Browns’ offense. Several base concepts that Jackson leans on in the pass and run game jump out of the game tape immediately. A popular run-game concept executed at all levels of football (and Hue Jackson favorite) that we can expect to see next season is good old-fashioned ‘Power’.

Before getting into the details of the play, let’s look at the world famous ‘Power’ concept. The play falls under the ‘power’ run game umbrella, as it is gap-blocked, requiring offensive linemen to both down block and pull.

The running back will take a hard step away from the play’s direction to allow the pulling guard to cross his face, with the added bonus of often causing hesitation by pulling linebackers away from the ball as they read the tailback for run flow.

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