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:
Super Bowl 51 is a matchup of juggernaut offenses and underrated defenses. Here’s what to expect from both teams from an X’s and O’s perspective:
When the Patriots have the ball
Expect the Patriots to spend their first couple drives combining fast paced tempo with information gathering. The Patriots use motion and non-traditional sets early to analyze the defense. For example, the Patriots line up fullback James Develin or a running back out wide to see who goes out to cover him. If a linebacker goes with the back, it’s man coverage. If a corner stays with the back, it’s zone coverage. From there, Brady picks the best matchup.
This will help diagnose the Falcons relatively simple defensive scheme. The Falcons primarily play Cover 1 or Cover 3, and don’t blitz often. Although the Falcons have blitzed more frequently during the playoffs, I don’t expect them to blitz Brady a ton in Super Bowl 51. Nor do I expect the Falcons to sit back in Cover 3 and let Brady pick apart zone coverage. Instead, the only consistent strategy for beating the Patriots in the playoffs has been pressure with 4, preferably up the middle.
With Clemson and Alabama set for a rematch in the National Championship game, I’ll be looking for two specific plays Clemson had success with in their win over Ohio State: the QB counter pitch and a unique jet sweep pitch. Let’s take a further look at each scheme.
QB Counter Pitch
The QB counter pitch is a natural evolution of the QB counter trey read, depicted below:
Instead of riding the QB/RB mesh point and reading the end man on the line of scrimmage, Clemson creates fast flow and misdirection with the QB’s first step and a fake pitch. As for the blocking, there are two pullers like counter trey read, but the Center and H-back pull instead of the Guard and Tackle. This makes the blocking scheme more like Counter OF, and is a better fit for the backfield action. Below, Clemson gets the middle Linebacker and play side Defensive End blocked without ever touching them because of the pitch action:
The Panthers made it to Super Bowl 50 with one of the most dangerous running attacks in the NFL, having racked up at least 100 yards rushing in 29 straight games. Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula has utilized the strengths of Cam Newton to create a versatile and unique running attack that is very difficult to prepare for because of its mixed flow and deception. This article breaks down 6 key concepts from the Panthers running game that Denver will have to prepare for:
QB Buck Sweep (RPO)
QB G/T Counter Read or “Flash”
Jet Sweep Split Zone
QB Buck Sweep (RPO)
Carolina is not the only NFL team that runs Buck Sweep, but Cam Newton allows the Panthers to run QB Buck Sweep, opening up other possibilities for the offense. Like the traditional version, the Panthers Buck Sweep involves 2 pulling lineman leading the way for Cam to run around the edge:
One of the keys to New England’s 28-21 Week 1 win over the Steelers was their red zone success, where they were 4/4 with 4 TD’s. Three of the touchdowns came from a unique formation: Four Tight Ends and One Back– or “Aces.” Using a four Tight End set in this manner is difficult because it requires all four Tight Ends to be capable run blockers, and at least two of the tight ends to be above average receiving threats. The Patriots personnel fits; #47 Michael Hoomanawanui is a solid run blocker and #85 Michael Williams played Tackle for the Lions but Tight End at Alabama. Meanwhile, #88 Scott Chandler is an average run blocker and a massive target at 6’7 260. And of course, there’s all-world Tight End Rob Gronkowski. Let’s further analyze how the four Tight End set was used in Week 1 and how it will be used by New England going forward.
Shane Vereen Sets Up Rob Gronkowski’s 2nd Quarter TD
The Patriots Super Bowl 49 game plan began as expected, with New England lining up Tight End Rob Gronkowski extremely far out wide in order to see how Seattle would respond. The Patriots then motioned Julian Edelman across to the slot. This first play would give New England a ton of coverage information for a Touchdown later in the game:
The second quarter of Week 4’s Bears vs. Packers game featured a wide open Alshon Jeffery receiving touchdown on a play where only 2 Bears ran routes. Jeffery is an excellent Wide Receiver, but got an assist from both fellow Wideout Brandon Marshall and Coach Marc Trestman on the score. Before the snap, Alshon Jeffery went in Ghost motion, which is to arc behind the line of scrimmage from the outside.
Here is the pre-snap look with how the Packer defensive assignments will match-up with the offense: Jeffery will run back to where he started toward the goal line. Brandon Marshall will run a skinny post from the slot. (Both in navy blue). On the defensive side, Sam Shields (#37) for Green Bay is playing Man-to-Man on Jeffery (in red). Brandon Marshall is being “bracket” covered, or double covered, which is highlighted in orange. The slot Cornerback will play outside leverage, and #33 will be responsible for any in-breaking route from Marshall. The play is accompanied by play-action to the right, with a “Max-Protection” of 8 blockers.
Safety and slot corner “bracket” inside WR Brandon Marshall