Here’s a look at some of the most well-designed plays of Week 11.
Passing Design of the Week: Colts burn Titans for long TD with Mills concept
The red-hot Indianapolis Colts hosted a Tennessee Titans team that seemed to be surging after two big games from Marcus Mariota. However, it was his counterpart, Andrew Luck, who came out on top Sunday afternoon.
Luck completed 23 of 29 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-10 rout of the Titans. He connected with wide receiver T.Y. Hilton nine times for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and their early chemistry set the tone for the game.
Already enjoying a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter, the Colts dialed up a deep shot. Facing first-and-10 on their 32-yard line, they lined up with Luck under center and 12 offensive personnel on the field, showing both tight ends in a wing to the right. Hilton (No. 13) is split wide to the right, as well:
The design, known as the Mills concept, dates back to when Steve Spurrier coached at Florida. It’s a two-receiver route combination involving a post route and a dig route.
Hilton is running the deep post route, and the goal of this play is to “high-low” the free safety in the middle of the field. If he stays deep, Luck will throw the dig route. But if he breaks down – either on the Colts’ run fake or the dig route – the quarterback will throw the post route over his head. Free safety Kevin Byard (No. 41) is highlighted in the red square.
Byard breaks downhill. He’s rendered a non-factor as Luck airs it out to Hilton, and the wide receiver does the rest.
This was a very good play design from Frank Reich, pairing the route combination with the play-action fake to impact the free safety’s eyes. Once Byard starts down toward the line of scrimmage, Luck has his opportunity for a big play, and he takes advantage.
Rushing Design of the Week: Kamara decoy leads to Ingram TD
Pre-snap motion is one of the biggest weapons available to an offensive play designer. It allows quarterbacks to gather a ton of information and puts the defense under stress to adjust. It’s often used on passing plays, but one of the newer trends in the NFL is using jet motion as misdirection to set up running plays.
In their blowout victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints used this strategy to free Mark Ingram for an easy touchdown run.
Early in the second quarter, the Saints were already up by 10 and faced a second-and-2 on the Eagles’ 13-yard line. The critical part of this play – and the reason that Ingram is untouched on his way to the end zone – is the usage of Alvin Kamara (No. 41). The second-year running back is a matchup nightmare. On this play, Payton puts him in a wing on the right side:
Here is the design the Saints use, which begins with Kamara coming in motion:
Watch the defense’s reaction:
Two players – safety Malcolm Jenkins (No. 27) and cornerback Chandon Sullivan (No. 39) – slide inside in response to Kamara’s motion. Drew Brees takes the snap, fakes a quick handoff to Kamara, and then hands the ball to Ingram (No. 22) to test the right edge – the spot that Jenkins and Sullivan left. The Eagles’ defense overreacts to the potential end around to Kamara and completely vacates the left side.
The end-zone angle tells the same story:
The Saints’ offense is rolling right now – and with their defense stepping up over the past few weeks too, New Orleans looks like a truly formidable foe.
Pressure Design of the Week: Broncos’ radar alignment confounds Chargers
More than ever, the NFL is a copycat league.
Last week, the Titans used a “radar” defensive alignment to confuse the New England Patriots and harass quarterback Tom Brady. This formation puts all of the defensive players in the box or on the line of scrimmage in a two-point stance, making it difficult for the offensive line and quarterback to decipher which defenders will come after the QB and which ones will drop into coverage.
The Denver Broncos called this formation against the Los Angeles Chargers, and it helped change the course of the game.
Late in the third quarter, the Chargers held a 19-7 lead and were in Denver territory with the football on the Broncos’ 35-yard line. Facing a third-and-9 with a chance to take control of the game, the Chargers put quarterback Philip Rivers in the shotgun. The Broncos countered with their version of the radar alignment:
The player in the red square is edge defender Von Miller (No. 58). The Chargers try to run a quick tunnel screen to Travis Benjamin (No. 12), who is the outside receiver in L.A.’s three-receiver bunch formation. Safety William Parks (No. 34), in the orange square above, aligns right in the A-gap showing blitz. He puts immediate pressure on Rivers, who throws in Benjamin’s direction under duress. Miller, on the edge, reads the eyes of the quarterback and gets into the throwing lane:
Miller steps in front of the attempted screen and returns it into Chargers territory. The Broncos scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession and eventually came all the way back for a 23-22 win.
Taking a page from the Titans’ playbook, the Broncos were able to pressure another veteran AFC passer.
Coverage Design of the Week: Giants’ Jenkins, Ogletree team up for pick-6
One of the most challenging responsibilities for a cornerback is playing in a Cover 3 scheme. Lacking dedicated safety help over the top, a CB needs to respect any potential vertical threat. Aggressive cornerbacks can be beaten on double-move routes in these coverages, so if a Cover 3 CB tries to jump a route, he’d better be sure he’s not being baited into a mistake.
Janoris Jenkins is one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks, and when he decided to jump a route Sunday, it paid off in a big way for the New York Giants.
On the opening possession of the third quarter, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the football and trailed by seven. They aligned for a second-and-8 play in a 2×2 formation with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the shotgun. Jenkins (No. 20) is across from DeSean Jackson (No. 11), and gives the speedy receiver about 7 yards of cushion pre-snap:
The Buccaneers run the Tosser concept, which is a double slant-route combination:
As a Cover 3 corner, Jenkins can jump this slant route – though if the offense is running a double-move, such as a sluggo (or “slant-and-go”), Jenkins might get burned. But here, the corner reads the eyes of the QB and his aggressive decision is rewarded:
Jenkins beats Jackson to the football and tips the ball into the air, where linebacker Alec Ogletree (No. 52) eventually secures it. Ogletree turned the interception into six points for the Giants, and they went on to earn their first home win of the season, 38-35.
Game Ball: QB Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Don’t look now, but Luck and the Colts are back. Indianapolis won its fourth straight game Sunday, putting itself in the mix for a wild-card playoff spot and joining four other teams at 5-5. Luck’s mistake-free afternoon helped lead the Colts to a huge divisional victory. Under the guidance of Reich, the Colts seem poised to be playoff contenders this season and beyond.
Mark Schofield writes 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 more than 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.