Week 1 is always one of the wildest, most surprising five-day stretches of the NFL season. Here’s a look at four plays from this weekend that impressed from a scheme and execution standpoint. We’ll also hand out our first Game Ball of the season.
Passing Design of the Week: Mahomes finds his FB
One of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Pat Mahomes’ four touchdown passes in a wild win over the Los Angeles Chargers came via a vertical route to fullback Anthony Sherman on a well-designed passing concept:
On this play, the Chiefs use an inverted wing alignment, with tight end Travis Kelce (No. 87) aligned outside Sherman (No. 42). Then they execute a switch verticals concept, with Kelce running up the seam while Sherman bends to the outside. That isolates him on linebacker Kyle Emanuel (No. 51). Sherman’s able to get past him, and Mahomes drops in a perfect throw for the score.
Running Design of the Week: Touchdown Trubisky
The biggest story to come out of Sunday night’s tilt between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears was Aaron Rodgers leaving the contest with an apparent knee injury before returning – and leading Green Bay to one of the biggest comebacks in franchise history.
But before all that unfolded, the much-anticipated debut of head coach Matt Nagy as a play-caller and offensive tutor for Mitchell Trubisky got off to a great start, as the quarterback took the Bears right down the field for an opening-drive touchdown. The score came on a creative, perfectly executed zone-read play that even included an offensive lineman lining up on the outside:
Nagy puts offensive lineman Charles Leno Jr. (No. 72) outside to the right as Chicago unbalances the formation. Tight end Dion Sims (No. 88) slides into Leno’s usual left tackle spot, next to guard Eric Kush (No. 64). The Bears then send tight end Trey Burton (No. 80) in motion to the right. Pre-snap, everything the defense sees indicates that the Bears will run to the right side, toward Burton and Leno.
Instead, Trubisky meets Jordan Howard (No. 24) at the mesh point in the backfield; once he sees Clay Matthews (No. 52) cut inside on the potential run, Trubisky pulls the football and keeps it himself around the left edge:
It’s a great design from Nagy and perfect execution from Trubisky.
Pressure Design of the Week: Panthers’ A-gap pressure
The Carolina Panthers sacked Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott six times in Sunday’s 16-8 win over the visiting Cowboys. The sixth was a strip sack that ended any chance of a Dallas comeback, but one of Carolina’s two sacks on the previous drive really stands out from a scheme standpoint.
With the Cowboys down by eight and the football at midfield, the Panthers put safety Mike Adams (No. 29) down in the box over the tight end, in position to either cover the TE or blitz:
Adams doesn’t blitz, dropping with tight end Geoff Swaim (No. 87). But defensive coordinator Eric Washington does dial up the pressure, blitzing linebacker Luke Kuechly (No. 59) to the left side of the offensive line. Kuechly winds up with a free shot at Prescott (No. 4):
Prescott slips away from Kuechly, but defensive end Wes Horton (No. 96) works free from his block for a clean-up sack. Adding insult to injury, the Cowboys were flagged for holding on the play, which was declined.
Coverage Design of the Week: Gilmore on the ‘cut’ call
Stephon Gilmore intercepted DeShaun Watson in the end zone in the Patriots’ Week 1 victory over Houston, making the pick on a perfectly executed “cut” call. On this play, Gilmore is aligned across from DeAndre Hopkins (No. 10), who’s using a “nasty,” or tight split, on the right side of the formation.
It looks like the Texans are running the Yankee concept, one of their favorite passing plays from last season – but they implement a twist. The Yankee concept is a two-receiver route combination with a deep post route and a dig route coming underneath it. But here, Hopkins runs the deep dig, crossing from right to left, while Vyncint Smith (No. 17) starts on a post route. He then breaks vertically. The standard route on Yankee is shown here with the dashed line:
The Patriots were ready for this design. They execute a “cut” call, which has free safety Duron Harmon (No. 21) come downhill to cover Hopkins on the crosser while Gilmore replaces him in the deep middle of the field:
That puts Gilmore in position to make a play on the deep throw, and he does, hauling in the interception:
Game Ball: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
The football world held its breath early Sunday night as Rodgers was carted to the locker room with an apparent knee injury. As the star quarterback was wheeled away, it seemed as if his season was in doubt.
He returned in the second half with the Bears up 20-0 and performed heroics, capping off the comeback with his third touchdown pass of the game, a 75-yard catch-and-run to Randall Cobb that gave the Packers their first lead Sunday. Rodgers finished 20-for-30 for 286 yards in a 24-23 win, all while clearly favoring his left leg – another impressive performance in a career already filled with them.
Mark Schofield write NFL feature content for theScore. After nearly a decade of practicing law in the Washington, D.C. area Mark changed careers and started writing about football. Drawing upon over a decade of playing quarterback, including at the collegiate level, Mark focuses his work on quarterback evaluation and offensive scheme analysis. He lives in Maryland with his wife and two children. Find him on Twitter @MarkSchofield.