Those of us who cover professional football for a living, or any sport for that matter, often face moments when the games remind us that we really don’t know what we’re talking about. Sunday was one such day. From stunning upsets to surprise rookie debuts, it was quite the week of NFL action.
Here are some of the play designs that led to twists and turns:
Passing Design of the Week: Josh Allen to Jason Croom
Few gave the Buffalo Bills a chance ahead of their road trip to face the Vikings, but in just his second start, rookie quarterback Josh Allen led Buffalo to a stunning 27-6 victory, completing 15 of 22 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown. Most will remember the scramble when Allen hurdled Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, but this touchdown to tight end Jason Croom was a beautifully designed and executed play.
Facing a second-and-11 on the Vikings’ 26-yard line, the Bills line up with Allen (No. 17) in the shotgun flanked by two running backs. Before the snap, running back Marcus Murphy (No. 45) starts in motion toward the right, where Buffalo has two pass-catching options: Croom (No. 80) and Zay Jones (No. 11). As the play begins, Allen takes the shotgun snap and first looks to Murphy, as if he’ll throw a quick screen pass to the running back. This fake draws the defenders toward the running back and the line of scrimmage, but Jones and Croom are running a switch vertical concept, which has Jones running a post route toward the middle and Croom running a wheel route toward the outside. The latter ends up wide open:
Allen hits Croom in stride and the tight end walks into the end zone for an easy touchdown. On this replay angle, you can see how the defenders react to the motion and fake screen, which allows Croom to leak toward the boundary undetected (sped up from the TV broadcast):
This design – and execution – from the Bills and their young quarterback was one of the better plays of the weekend.
Rushing Design of the Week: Emmanuel Sanders to the house
Denver Broncos wideout Emmanuel Sanders has many accomplishments on his resume. He’s a Super Bowl champion, a two-time Pro Bowler, and has caught 34 touchdown passes over the course of his career. But he’d never scored a rushing touchdown until Sunday.
With the Broncos and Baltimore Ravens knotted at 7-7, Denver lined up for a first-and-10 play with quarterback Case Keenum (No. 4) under center and “21” personnel on the field (two running backs, one tight end, and two wide receivers). Sanders (No. 10) is split wide to the right, and he comes in short motion before the snap, initially toward the quarterback near the line of scrimmage. But as the play begins, Keenum takes the snap and fakes a run to the right, simulating a handoff to running back Royce Freeman (No. 28). Then, with his back to the defense, he simply flips the ball to Sanders, who’s circled into the offensive backfield:
A critical element of this play is the blocking, led by fullback Andy Janovich (No. 32). He begins the play in a wing alignment to the right, but pulls across the formation to be the lead blocker in front of Sanders. Janovich throws a critical block downfield near the goal line, as does rookie wide receiver Courtland Sutton (No. 14):
Unfortunately for the Broncos, they ultimately fell 27-14. But for Sanders, Janovich, and Sutton, their execution on this perfectly designed play is worthy of mention.
Pass Coverage of the Week: Xavien Howard ends a Raiders threat
Something is rotten in Raider Nation.
NFL fans woke up Sunday morning to stories about turmoil in Oakland’s front office, led by new head coach Jon Gruden. The team then fell to 0-3 on the season with a 28-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins. David Carr completed 27 of 39 passes for 345 yards and a touchdown, but he was intercepted twice by Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. The second of those ended a Raiders scoring chance and helped preserve Miami’s victory.
With just over seven minutes remaining in the contest, the Raiders took over possession of the football on their own 10-yard line, trailing 21-17. The offense marched down the field in eight plays, covering 77 yards, and the ninth play of the drive was a first-and-10 on Miami’s 13-yard line. On the play, Oakland puts three receivers on the left side, with Martavis Bryant (No. 12) on the outside. Howard (No. 25) is right across from him:
Bryant runs a red-zone fade route, releasing vertically. Miami is in a Cover 1 scheme, playing man coverage with one free safety. That basically leaves Howard on an island with Bryant, but the defender is up to the challenge:
The interception stopped the drive and ended the threat, giving the Dolphins possession. They extended the lead moments later, while the positioning and execution from Howard on the above interception stood up as a key play in the victory.
Pass Rushing Design of the Week: Chicago’s Hail Mary blitz
Given how the Chicago Bears’ defense is playing so far in 2018, we might have to rename this category in the unit’s honor.
The new Monsters of the Midway notched multiple sacks for the third straight week, getting to Arizona four times in a 16-14 victory. The Bears got to starting quarterback Sam Bradford three times, but it was their final sack of the game, with rookie Josh Rosen on the field, that stands out. Arizona had one final chance to pull out the win, with the football on its own 46-yard line and just a few ticks of the clock remaining. It was time for a Hail Mary attempt from the rookie QB.
Usually when a defense faces a Hail Mary, it plays very conservative. Those defenses often drop eight or more defenders into coverage while playing a contain pass rush up front, just trying to keep the quarterback in the pocket.
However, Chicago’s defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, had a different idea:
Fangio blitzed Rosen, sending six pass-rushers after the rookie while using a seventh to spy the quarterback. The move paid off:
That prevented Rosen from even setting up to attempt the Hair Mary, and instead ended the game with a sack.
Game Ball: Drew Brees, Saints
There were a number of standout performances on Sunday, including Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan throwing five touchdowns, Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey racking up 184 yards on the ground, and Falcons rookie Calvin Ridley catching three touchdown passes. But in the shootout between the Falcons and New Orleans Saints, Ryan was ultimately bested by Drew Brees.
The Saints veteran completed 39 of 49 passes for 396 yards and three touchdowns. He also added two late rushing scores, including one in overtime that gave New Orleans the victory over its division rival. Ryan had the slightly better passing numbers, but to the victor go the spoils – and the game ball.
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.