Here’s a look at the well-designed plays that made our list in Week 9:
Passing Design of the Week: Brees, Thomas ice victory
The shootout in the Bayou lived up to the hype, as the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams combined for 80 points in a thrilling contest that came down to the fourth quarter.
Despite facing a 35-17 halftime deficit, the Rams stormed back with 18 unanswered points to tie the score in the fourth quarter. But the Saints reclaimed the lead with a field goal and forced a punt on the ensuing Rams possession.
Then, with a chance to put the game away, New Orleans did this:
The beauty of this play is how Sean Payton and the Saints use alignment and personnel to stress the defense and get the matchup they want. Quarterback Drew Brees is in the shotgun with an empty backfield and three receivers to the left. The inside receiver is Alvin Kamara (No. 41), who’d already accounted for three touchdowns on the afternoon.
The dangerous Kamara draws two-man bracket coverage, which leaves No. 1 receiver Michael Thomas in a one-on-one matchup with Marcus Peters. Thomas runs a vertical route and gets the separation he needs by beating the jam from Peters at the line of scrimmage. That’s partly because the Saints’ pre-snap movement has Peters trying to direct traffic as the play begins:
Once he makes the catch, Thomas glides into the end zone to seal the victory. And while his celebration – a tribute to Joe Horn using an old-school flip phone – got most of the attention afterward, the play design and execution was a major factor in the Saints handing the Rams their first loss of the season.
Running Design of the Week: Dalvin cooks Detroit’s run D
For a zone running play to be successful, the offense needs a number of elements to come together. The running back must quickly identify the best lane and use explosiveness and footwork to split through the available crease. The offensive line must work in unison, moving their feet and finding the right blocks while certain players move up to handle linebackers at the second level.
Those elements came together on this 70-yard scamper by Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook:
Here, the Vikings run a zone-read play to the left, as every offensive lineman – including tight end Kyle Rudolph – flows in that direction. Cook takes the handoff and makes his “bang” read – attacking straight through the middle of Detroit’s defense – while picking up some critical blocks along the way.
The first is from center Pat Elflein (No. 65), who handles the defensive tackle on his left shoulder, creating one seal. The other seal comes from right tackle Brian O’Neill (No. 75), a rookie who executes a perfect reach block on a defender who’s aligned outside of his left shoulder. Meanwhile, quarterback Kirk Cousins puts the football in Cook’s belly while reading the backside defensive end, whom the Vikings leave alone as Rudolph (No. 82) immediately climbs to the second level:
The two big blocks at the second level come from Rudolph and right guard Mike Remmers (No. 74). As you can see above, they do a great job of taking on defenders, ensuring that Cook’s untouched when he hits the secondary.
The 70-yard burst gave the Vikings a first-and-goal. They hit pay dirt two plays later on a touchdown pass from Cousins to Adam Thielen, and ultimately walked away with a 24-9 victory.
Pressure Design of the Week: Vikings maul Lions in red zone
A few weeks ago, the Baltimore Ravens set a franchise record with 11 sacks and were recognized with our Pressure Design of the Week. On Sunday against the Lions, the Vikings set their own franchise record with 10 sacks – as six defenders were credited with at least half a sack – so it’s only fair that they receive the same honor.
The tone was set on two straight red-zone plays in second quarter with the Lions trailing 7-3. On a second-and-10, Vikings middle linebacker Eric Wilson shows pressure in the A-gap, but he drops back at the snap and the defense rushes just four. Still, defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen beat their respective blockers and meet at quarterback Matthew Stafford to split the sack:
Next, facing third-and-long, the Lions look to throw a quick screen pass to the left. But watch how fast Griffen (No. 97) and Sheldon Richardson (No. 93) penetrate into the backfield on that side:
Their quick pressure forces Stafford to pull the ball down, and he’s sacked by Hunter (No. 99) for a 1-yard loss, forcing the Lions to kick a field goal.
When a defense can get pressure with just four pass-rushers, it can mix up coverages in the secondary and make life difficult for the opposing passer. The Vikings’ front four did just that throughout Sunday’s game, and the results were all over the stat sheet – and on the scoreboard.
Coverage Design of the Week: King’s pick-6 paces Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers pulled out a 25-17 road victory in Seattle, thanks in no small part to defensive back Desmond King’s game-changing pick-6.
With the Seattle Seahawks trailing 19-10 midway through the fourth quarter and facing a first-and-10 on their own 36-yard line, Russell Wilson lines up in the shotgun with two receivers to his left. The Chargers counter with a 4-2-5 nickel defense, with King in the slot to the left side of the offense:
The Seahawks are running the “Hoss” concept, which combines a hitch route from the outside receiver and a seam route from the slot receiver. The Chargers are in a Cover 3, which means King’s responsibility is the curl/flat zone underneath (red circle). He must eventually work to the outside, but also needs to respect a potential curl route from the receiver across from him. Wilson knows this and looks to throw the hitch on the outside, as he assumes King can’t break quick enough to get there.
But King reads the play perfectly. He passes off the seam route to the safety behind him and quickly gets underneath the hitch route near the sideline:
The angle below gives a better view of the second-year defensive back coming off the seam and immediately working to the flat, getting into perfect position for the interception under the hitch:
The pick-6 gave the Chargers a 25-10 lead, and they held on for a pivotal victory in hostile territory.
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.