The 2017 NFL Divisional Round ended with one of the craziest finishes in recent memory, and had plenty of X’s & O’s to breakdown. Let’s review a bit from each of the four games this weekend:
Eagles v. Falcons
The play call on Atlanta’s do or die 4th and Goal from Philly’s 2-yard line is understandably what everyone is talking about. After motioning Tight End (#80) Levine Toilolo across the formation, the Falcons ran sprint right with two short outs:
It’s easy to second guess a play call after watching it on TV, but there’s a lot not to like about this call with the season on the line from the two yard line:
The first issue I have with the play call is personnel choice–Atlanta has Fullback (#40) Derrick Coleman lined up out wide at the bottom of the screen. A running back out wide by itself isn’t a bad choice (it can help a Quarterback assess coverages). However, Atlanta should have had its best playmakers on the field, which certainly includes Running Back (#24) Devonta Freeman.
The second issue I have is sprinting out on 4th and Goal; I don’t like cutting the field in half without one of the following: 1) some sort of rub/pick concept, 2) a flat route that can turn into a wheel if not open at first, or 3) some sort of throwback option, like below:
Without any of these, the Eagles’ defense has defended almost 2/3 of the field without doing anything, and there is no recourse if Matt Ryan’s first read isn’t open.
This 4th and Goal also could have been a game winning Field Goal had it not been for an inexcusable end of first half mistake from Atlanta. With seven (:07) seconds left to play, the Eagles had the ball at the 50 yard line and no timeouts remaining. Understandably, Julio Jones is on the field in the deep middle in case Philly decides to take a shot at the end zone. Atlanta is also prepared with four defenders pre-snap for Philly to run a 3-man Flood concept to try and throw an out route and get out of bounds in time for a field goal attempt.:
Players #1 (Linebacker Deion Jones) and #3 (Cornerback Desmond Trufant) in the graphic allow for the intermediate out to be completed and out of bounds in six seconds. First, Jones hops inside and does not defend the sideline, even though any completion in the field of play would end the half. Then, Trufant sinks to the deep out, even though another defender is over the top and the clock would have run out if the ball was thrown to the deepest out.
The next play, the Eagles make a field goal as time expires. Understanding game situation and clock management cost Atlanta on two separate occasions in the divisional round.
Jaguars v. Steelers
Jacksonville offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett called a near flawless game on Sunday, but my favorite play was their final Touchdown with 4:34 to play in the 4th:
Jacksonville is in I-formation tight, with an extra Tight End to the right side of the formation. Pittsburgh is still in a 2-high Safety look, although the strong side Safety is playing with a staggered stance somewhat closer to the line of scrimmage. The Jaguars are running iso play action Fullback seam, otherwise affectionately known as “pop pass:”
The outer most Tight End takes a wide release and runs a fade to hold the Cornerback, while the play action sucks up the only two players in position to stop the play, leading to an easy touchdown:
Patriots vs. Titans
The divisional round didn’t make the Patriots sweat, but they have added a small X’s & O’s wrinkle I’ve noticed a few times this year. Similar to a jet sweep or toss crack, New England has scored multiple times this year with a Running Back or Wide Receiver (usually Brandin Cooks) coming in motion and Tom Brady ‘dropping’ the ball to them as they run around the corner. Below, James White (#28) comes in motion slowly at first, and Titans Linebacker (#59) Wesley Woodyard follows, confirming it’s man-to-man coverage and a good look for the dropoff sweep. It’s possible the Patriots have a check out of this play if it isn’t man to man or against certain fronts:
As long as Left Guard Joe Thuney can reach his gap and make sure the Defensive Tackle (Pro-bowler Jurrell Casey) doesn’t penetrate, New England has great look: down blocks by Gronk and Wide Receiver Chris Hogan (#15) with Nate Solder (#77) pulling around to lead the way on the Cornerback originally lined up over Hogan:
Thuney does his assignment, there are great down block angles, and James White is able to catch the ball at almost full speed for a relatively easy touchdown:
Vikings vs. Saints
The game winning touchdown in the Vikings vs. Saints game began as the same exact situation as the Falcons vs. Eagles end of half scenario; there were ten seconds left and the Vikings had no timeouts, so any completion in the field of play would end the game. However, the Vikings were at their own 39 yard line, so a Hail Mary to the end zone was out of the question. The Vikings run the same play as the Eagles, a 3-man Flood concept:
We all know what happened next:
It’s obvious Saints DB Marcus Williams misplays both Stephon Diggs and the ball. But the Saints coaching staff could have put the defense in a better position. First, given the game scenario, the absolute number one priority is “do not let the Vikings complete the ball and get out of bounds,” yet the Saints only have 3 defenders guarding the sideline. Instead, the Saints should have either rushed only 3 down lineman or pulled their Middle Linebacker much closer to the sideline and the bunched Vikings. The Saints already have 3 defenders to account for the backside Wide Receiver Adam Thielen and Running Back Jerrick McKinnon, and the Vikings can’t complete the ball in bounds, so the Middle Linebacker does nothing but cover grass.
Overall, there was a lot to learn on game management this weekend; football fans can only hope the championship round and the Super Bowl bring as much excitement as the divisional round.