The NFL regular season concluded Sunday with some thrilling contests that determined the playoff fates of multiple teams. The action kept fans – and even players – glued to screens to watch the closing moments play out in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota. Here’s a look at some of the great designs we saw Sunday.
Passing Design of the Week: Mahomes burns Raiders
The Kansas City Chiefs finished the regular season in style, dispatching the Oakland Raiders 35-3 to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in the AFC. They also set some individual and team marks on offense. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes finished the year by throwing for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, joining Peyton Manning as the only other QB to reach those milestones in a single season. Tight end Travis Kelce set a new mark at his position with 1,336 yards receiving (a record that stood for a few minutes before George Kittle eclipsed it). And lastly, the Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to score at least 26 points in each game of a 16-game season.
Mahomes’ first touchdown pass Sunday, a 67-yard strike to Tyreek Hill, showed the difficulties this offense and its young, talented quarterback present for defenses. The Chiefs line up with three receivers to the left on this third-and-5 play, with Hill (No. 10) the middle receiver in this trips formation and Kelce (No. 87) the inside receiver. The Raiders run a Cover 1 and use a linebacker to spy Mahomes, wary of a quarterback run.
The Chiefs run four verticals, and Mahomes drops in a perfect throw to Hill for the long touchdown:
Because Mahomes’ athleticism forces the Raiders to spy him with a linebacker, they’re a bit shorthanded up front and in the secondary. They try to defend this four-verticals concept with man coverage and safety help over the top, but Hill in the slot is a mismatch against most defenses, and this is no exception.
Kansas City may go as far as Mahomes and his right arm can take it in the postseason – possibly all the way to Atlanta.
Rushing Design of the Week: Carson explodes after key blocks
The Arizona Cardinals gave them everything they could handle, but the Seattle Seahawks finished their season 10-6 thanks to a last-second field goal by Sebastian Janikowski. While quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ passing game struggled in spots, the ground game under Chris Carson helped pick up the slack. Carson had 122 yards rushing and a touchdown on only 19 carries, and his biggest run of the day, this 61-yarder, is our Rushing Design of the Week.
The Seahawks used an inside-zone running play, with Carson exploiting the left side of the Cardinals’ defensive front. The two critical blocks are thrown by a pair of tight ends: Nick Vannett (No. 81) and Ed Dickson (No. 84). As you can see on the replay angle, they open up a huge hole for Carson to identify and burst through:
An element of misdirection is visible in this angle as well. Carson uses some counter footwork in the backfield, delaying his run for a step. Wilson (No. 3) reverse-pivots as well, in an attempt to get the defenders to flow to their right with the movement of Wilson and the offensive line. That gives Vannett and Dickson the ability to create their hole on the backside, and Carson rips off a huge run to get the Seahawks moving.
Pressure Design of the Week: Pats ground Jets with green dog blitz
The New England Patriots entered Week 17 with an outside chance to steal the AFC’s top overall seed, but they needed some help. A more likely outcome was securing the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye on their own with a win against the New York Jets and talented rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
In a dominant performance, the home team dispatched the Jets 38-3, easing concerns in New England about the Pats’ passing game. Yet it was the Patriots’ defense that turned in the play of the game on this scoop-and-score from linebacker Kyle Van Noy (No. 53):
The Patriots use a green dog blitz from Van Noy, who delays a bit before rushing Darnold (No. 14). Van Noy’s pressure is one part of this play – the other major contributors are defensive end Trey Flowers (No. 98) and defensive tackle Adam Butler (No. 70). Flowers wins his one-on-one matchup against the right tackle with a spin move, and his pressure on Darnold forces the rookie quarterback to try and climb the pocket. As he does, Butler gets his big hand on the football, punching it out from Darnold’s grasp. Then Van Noy comes into play. His green dog blitz puts in him perfect position to pick up the loose ball, and he runs into the end zone for six.
While the AFC’s road to Atlanta runs through Arrowhead Stadium, New England’s victory ensured at least one playoff game at Gillette Stadium. With a win and a little bit of help, the Patriots may get to host a second.
Coverage Design of the Week: Ravens’ blitz sets up Mosley’s heroics
The Baltimore Ravens and their fans were watching it all slip away.
In the closing minutes against the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens – up by only two – failed to pick up a first down and were forced to give the ball back to Baker Mayfield. After seven plays, the Browns faced a fourth-and-10 at Baltimore’s 39-yard line, just outside field-goal range. Cleveland was forced to go for it on fourth down, with the playoff hopes of the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers hanging in the balance.
Baltimore decided to blitz Mayfield, but linebacker C.J. Mosley (No. 57) wasn’t part of the pressure package. Instead, he dropped off the line of scrimmage to help in underneath coverage:
The pressure from the edge forces Mayfield to attempt a quick throw over the middle. Mosley’s able to disengage from a blocker and get his arms up, tipping the football into the air and then securing it – and the Ravens’ playoff hopes:
The victory locked down the AFC North and the fourth seed for Baltimore, which will host the Los Angeles Chargers on the weekend. With their defense and new-look offense under Lamar Jackson, the Ravens could be the proverbial “team no one wants to face” come playoff time.
Game plan of the Week: Cowboys’ Jason Garrett
In Week 17, some teams’ playoff fates are already sealed, so their coaches can either rest players – such as Sean Payton did with Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara – or they can keep their foot on the gas pedal. That was the decision Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys faced.
Locked into the fourth seed in the NFC, the Cowboys had only pride to play for against the New York Giants. Garrett, however, played his starters, including quarterback Dak Prescott, the whole way, resting only running back Ezekiel Elliott. The result was a last-second victory over the Giants, with Prescott hitting wide receiver Cole Beasley in the back of the end zone on a fourth down to score the go-ahead points. It remains to be seen if this was the right approach, but Garrett said he wanted the Cowboys to enter the postseason with momentum, and they certainly will.
Mark Schofield writes NFL feature content for RunSportBet. 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.