Here’s a look at the well-designed plays and schemes that made our list in Week 7:
Passing Design of the Week: Chargers mix up Titans’ coverage
This week’s London tilt between the Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans provided a thrilling finish, but our top passing design of the week came on a play that happened much earlier in the game.
On their opening drive of the second half, the Chargers face a second-and-3 on their own 45-yard line. Los Angeles uses the down-and-distance situation to take advantage of the Titans’ defense, which may be expecting a running play, especially because L.A. has three tight ends on the field.
Instead, the offense runs a play-action passing design using maximum protection, sending just three players out on receiving routes:
This design is a “sail” concept – which gives the quarterback an option at each of the short, intermediate, and deep levels – with Tyrell Williams (No. 81) running a deep corner route while tight end Antonio Gates (No. 85) runs an out pattern. Meanwhile, the running back releases to the flat after the play-action fake.
The Titans are in a Cover 4 defense here, and safety Kendrick Lewis (No. 28) and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (No. 25) get mixed up as the play unfolds. In this zone coverage, the safety is often responsible for handling the out route while the cornerback stays with the vertical receiver down the field. However, both Lewis and Jackson move toward Gates as he turns toward the sideline, and that miscommunication allows Williams to run wide open deeper down the field:
Here, the formation, personnel, situation, and design combine to create some confusion in the secondary, and it leads to a long touchdown pass for Philip Rivers and Co.
Rushing Design of the Week: Kerryon’s long scamper
The Detroit Lions entered this season with a rather dubious streak in progress: No rusher had gained 100 yards in a single game dating back to 2013. Thankfully, rookie running back Kerryon Johnson ended the drought with a 101-yard outing in Week 3. And on Sunday against Miami, he needed just the first half to exceed the century mark.
While the rookie never found the end zone against the Dolphins, his outing extended a number of drives as the Lions only punted once all game. Johnson’s best run was this 71-yard burst early in the second quarter:
Here, the Lions use a power/counter concept, as Johnson (No. 33) uses his blocks while running to the right side. Right tackle Ricky Wagner (No. 71) and right guard T.J. Lang (No. 76) both execute down blocks, while left guard Frank Ragnow (No. 77) pulls across to the right side and emphatically leads the way.
Johnson also sets up the run nicely by using his footwork, as he first takes a couple steps to the left before taking the handoff and bursting to the right. Ahead of him, Ragnow takes on the defender in the hole, clearing a perfect crease for the RB to burst through. Johnson’s eventually tripped up, but only after picking up a huge gain on this well-blocked play.
Pressure Design of the Week: Redskins confuse Cowboys, score defensive TD
It took a missed field goal in the final seconds, but the Washington Redskins held on to beat the rival Dallas Cowboys 20-17 at FedExField. That was largely due to the defense, which stepped up in a big way by sacking Dak Prescott four times and holding the Cowboys to just 5-of-14 on third-down conversion attempts.
No play was bigger than Washington’s defensive score with just under five minutes remaining in the game. Here, the Cowboys are backed up while facing a third-and-14. The Redskins’ defense shows Prescott a blitz look before the snap by putting five defenders on the line of scrimmage, including linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (No. 40):
As the play begins, both Harvey-Clemons and Ryan Kerrigan (No. 91) drop off the line into coverage rather than blitzing. Instead, Washington looks to generate pressure with an exchange stunt between Preston Smith (No. 94) and Jonathan Allen (No. 93) on the right side of the defensive line:
First, Allen starts upfield, attacking the gap between the left guard and the left tackle. Smith then loops around them to the inside of the line, attacking the spot now vacated by the left guard. And after initially dropping into coverage, Kerrigan sees an opportunity …
What Kerrigan sees is running back Ezekiel Elliott (No. 21) releasing on a route into the area Harvey-Clemons is responsible for. So, now that Prescott lacks a personal protector in the pocket – and since the RB is already covered by the LB – Kerrigan’s free to attack the QB. He does, knocking the ball from Prescott’s hands into the waiting arms of Smith for the defensive score.
This play ended up being the difference in Washington’s key victory.
Coverage Design of the Week: Mitchell’s read leads to INT
For the second straight week, our featured coverage play comes at the expense of a Buffalo Bills quarterback. Last week, it was Nathan Peterman; this time, it’s veteran journeyman Derek Anderson.
Late in the first half of Indianapolis’ 37-5 blowout of the Bills, Buffalo faces a first-and-5 on the Colts’ 43-yard line with under a minute remaining in the second quarter. Then, disaster strikes:
On this play, Anderson tries to hit receiver Kelvin Benjamin (No. 13) on a dig route in the middle of the field. At first blush, the quarterback makes the right read, as the Colts are in a Cover 2 coverage with the middle of the field seemingly “open.” Throwing to the route between the safeties is the right decision, and Anderson even uses his eyes and a pump fake to try and move one of them away from Benjamin’s route. However, the other safety, Mike Mitchell (No. 34), wasn’t moved at all. He reads the play perfectly and gets in the way.
Safeties in Cover 2 need to be wary of the middle of the field, as that’s one of the soft spots in the zone scheme. Here, Mitchell does just that and gets underneath the route in time.
Game Ball: Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
Granted, it took Titans coach Mike Vrabel’s questionable decision to go for two at the end of the game for the Chargers to leave England with a victory, but let’s not overlook the performance by their quarterback. While playing without star rusher Melvin Gordon, Rivers completed 19 of 26 passes for 306 yards and two long scoring plays, including the one broken down in this piece.
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.