Here’s a look at the well-designed and well-executed plays from Week 14.
Passing Design of the Week: Colts go big, throw deep
We’ve previously lauded Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich for his play designs, and he flashed more creativity Sunday while ending the Houston Texans’ eight-game winning streak.
Reich often uses multiple-tight end formations to create advantageous matchups in the passing game, and he took that a step further against Houston. In the play below – a first-and-10 in the second quarter – the Colts algin with an extra offensive lineman as a tight end:
That lineman is offensive tackle Joe Haeg, who’s on the right side of the formation with tight end Ryan Hewitt in a wing alignment to his right. The Colts have Andrew Luck under center and two receivers on the left, including T.Y. Hilton. Seeing this heavy offensive package, the Texans go with their base 3-4 defense and seven defenders in the box.
However, Hilton’s going deep:
The receiver runs a great post route, showing the safety a break to the outside before cutting to the middle. As Luck fakes a handoff, Hoston uses its extra lineman and tight end to handle Houston’s pass-rushers. With time to throw, Luck uncorks a beautiful deep ball to Hilton:
The Colts then punch in a touchdown from Marlon Mack on the next play.
Many coaches this season are doing an excellent job of dictating defensive personnel packages with their own selections, and Sunday’s connection to Hilton was just the latest example of Reich using bigger groupings to create passing opportunities downfield.
Rushing Design of the Week: Shepard’s block springs Saquon
Without injured receiver Odell Beckham against the Washington Redskins, the New York Giants leaned on phenomenal rookie running back Saquon Barkley, who continued his impressive season by carrying the ball 14 times for 170 yards and a touchdown. The scoring play matched a franchise record for TDs by a rookie (13) and came on a well-executed zone-blocking design.
Early in the second quarter, the Giants face a first-and-10 on their own 22-yard line. They align with Barkley as the lone running back, two tight ends in a wing formation to the left, and receiver Sterling Shepard in a wing to the right:
At the snap, the offensive linemen and inside tight end all flow to the right. Meanwhile, Evan Engram (bottom of picture) walls off his man to the outside while Shepard executes the key cross block in the hole against the flow of the line. The block stonewalls safety D.J. Swearinger and springs Barkley for the long touchdown:
The Giants are just 5-8 this season, but the continued growth of young offensive players like Shepard and Barkley could make them a team to watch in 2019.
Pressure Design of the Week: 49ers get on Broncos’ Case
After starting the season 3-6, the Denver Broncos played themselves back into the playoff picture with three straight victories, including impressive wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
However, the Broncos regressed Sunday in a loss to the struggling San Francisco 49ers as quarterback Case Keenum threw for just 186 yards and a touchdown while being sacked twice. One of those sacks came on play design by the 49ers that might have taken the Broncos by surprise.
On the play – a third-and-8 in the second quarter – the 49ers put five defenders on the line of scrimmage with an edge defender on both sides in a two-point stance:
Seeing this, an offensive line might expect one or even two stunts that see those edge players twist behind the defenders just inside of them. Instead, the 49ers use a different twist involving the nose guard and defensive tackle:
DeForest Buckner aligns at the nose guard spot, and he flushes Keenum to the right as he loops around. Then, the cavalry arrives and Ronald Blair drags Keenum down for the sack:
The Broncos might have expected an outside twist or two given the alignment and personnel, but San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh called the right design at the right moment to lock down a critical sack.
Coverage Design of the Week: Lions slay Cardinals with pivotal pick-6
Run the receiver’s route, and beat him to the spot.
These are some basic rules for playing tight man coverage, and they were executed perfectly by Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay on Sunday in Arizona for a 67-yard pick-6:
The Lions are in a Cover 4 scheme, meaning they have four deep defenders across the back of their secondary and Slay doesn’t have any help over the top. At the snap, the cornerback initially respects the vertical release of receiver Trent Sherfield, but then reads the comeback route perfectly and matches the receiver’s footwork at the break. By doing so, Slay drives underneath the route and beats Sherfield to the spot.
Both of these teams might be playing with 2019 in mind, but that doesn’t mean they can’t put together textbook defensive sequences.
Game Plan of the Week – Vic Fangio, Bears DC
The Los Angeles Rams entered Week 14 with an elite offense that’s scored points in bunches all season. That ended on Sunday night, as Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and his charges executed a perfect game plan to harass quarterback Jared Goff, stop the running game, and force turnovers.
The Bears intercepted Goff four times, held Todd Gurley to just 28 rushing yards on 11 attempts, and limited the Rams to a pair of field goals in a 15-6 victory. The biggest play might have been a safety (with a sack of Goff) on the Rams’ opening possession of the second half. The Bears scored the game’s only touchdown on their next drive, marking the final points of the contest.
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.