2017 Divisional Round Review

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:

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How Clemson Beat Bama

Clemson did it–they scored 35 points against what some previously considered to be the best college defense of all time. Just how did Clemson beat Bama? I charted Clemson’s offense throughout the game and found they had consistent success with a few concepts; in the pass game, Clemson beat Bama with tosser and empty smash divide. In the run game, Clemson gained significant yardage with several buck sweep and jet action runs.


The Tosser pass game concept is a double slant combo from the same side of the field. The inside slant usually runs “fat,” or at a lower angle, while the outside runs “skinny,” or at a higher angle. Clemson struggled early, but was able to move the ball with tosser. On 2nd & 11 from their own 29, Clemson gets its first completion of the game on empty left tosser right early in the middle of the first quarter:

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Analyzing how the Patriots Offense Manipulated Matchups in SB49

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:

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Seattle occasionally moved Richard Sherman into the slot when they felt the Offense’s biggest threat was there, or when either a Tight End or Running back was the furthest outside Receiver. By lining up Gronk out extra wide and motioning Edelman, the Patriots were able to gather information even before running a play. Continue reading

How Malcolm Butler knew what Play was Coming on the Interception that Changed NFL History

By now everyone knows the story: With under 30 seconds to go and the Patriots about to lose in heartbreaking fashion, Malcolm Butler jumped the 2nd & Goal route, and made an impressive interception to win the Super Bowl for the Patriots. The Seahawks were in a Stack formation and ran a pick play with a slant route coming underneath the pick. The Patriots were in man-to-man coverage and had Brandon Browner jam front Seahawk Wideout Jermaine Kearse:

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Butler attacked and drove hard downhill to make the interception. After the game, he eluded to the fact that his decisiveness in going for the interception was based on him anticipating the route combination/pick play from film study. He also said he had been beaten by the route in practice during that week.

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Super Bowl XLIX: Previewing the X’s and O’s of the Big Game

Super Bowl 49 features the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, two teams with very contrasting styles from an X’s and O’s perspective: one team is very simple, and the other is constantly changing. Seattle’s defense plays a 4-3 under and either Cover 1 or Cover 3 for over 90% of its snaps. The Seahawks have a fierce pass rush and the best secondary in recent memory. On the other side, New England could become the first team to win the Super Bowl without recording a sack in the playoffs. The Patriots use their athleticism, position versatility, and lockdown man to man corner Darrelle Revis to change their defensive scheme nearly every game. On the offensive side of the ball, Seattle loves to run inside and outsize zone with bruising Marshawn Lynch, play action off of it, and some Zone Read with ultra mobile Quarterback Russell Wilson. As for New England, they may throw the ball 50+ times and not run the ball at all (Divisional Round), or run the ball 30+ times for 3 TD’s (AFC Championship) depending on the defense. Let’s take a further look at the X’s and O’s of Super Bowl 49: Continue reading

Keys to Victory: Previewing the 2015 AFC Championship

Like the NFC Championship, the AFC Championship features a regular season rematch, with the Colts visiting the Patriots. The Patriots won the regular season game 42-20, but the Colts now have a different set of key players. New England will have to deal with a whole host of new players and schemes:


The Colts are almost a new team on the offensive side of the ball; since the 42-20 loss to New England, Boom Herron (#36) has replaced Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw at Running Back, Donte Moncrief (#10) has emerged as a go to Wide Receiver, Tight End Dwayne Allen (#83) is healthy, and future Hall of Fame WR Reggie Wayne (#87) has become severely hampered with a torn triceps and hobbled groin. Additionally, the Colts have swapped and replaced two new offensive lineman into the mix.

The Colts did an excellent job last week of protecting Andrew Luck against Von Miller and Demarcus Ware, while the Patriots pass rush was abysmal against the Ravens, recording 0 sacks on 45 pass attempts. The Colts do not have a strong running game, so look for them to spread it out in Empty formations and use QB Andrew Luck as a run threat. Continue reading

Keys to Victory: Previewing the 2015 NFC Championship

The 2015 NFC Championship features a rematch from Week 1, with the Green Bay Packers visiting the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks won handily in September, but the NFC championship will have different key players, schemes, and match ups:


Green Bay cut the field in half when they chose not to attack the right side of the field to avoid Richard Sherman Week 1; Green Bay aligned #11 Jarrett Boykin to the right on the vast majority of snaps. The Packers must attack all parts of the field in order to be successful this week.  While the Packers will almost certainly line up #87 Jordy Nelson to the right more often, the emergence of rookie #17 Davonte Adams gives Green Bay a viable threat even when Jordy Nelson is on the left side of the field. However, attacking the right side of the field doesn’t necessarily mean attacking Sherman 1 on 1. Look for Green Bay to manipulate formations to move Sherman away from the outside most Receiver. Dallas was able to do this from a Trips tight formation, with the TE as the lone eligible receiver to the left, and 3 Wideouts to the right:

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Sherman moves with Dez Bryant to the slot

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Packers v. Patriots: A Superbowl 49 Preview?

Week 13 features a cross-conference matchup between the two hottest teams in the NFL, the Packers v. Patriots. Let’s take a further look at what to expect in this potential Superbowl 49 showdown:


In their last two games against some of the NFL’s most prolific passing offenses (Colts & Broncos), the Patriots shut down the opponent’s run game early and forced obvious passing situations with New England in the lead during the 2nd half. (Broncos under 40 yards rushing, Colts under 20 yards rushing). This plays right into Belichick’s hands, as he wants to primarily stay in either Nickel, Dime, Big Nickel (3 S), or Penny (4 CB 1 S) personnel. Expect New England to be in some kind of sub-package (More than 4 DB’s) for most of the game. With that, Green Bay should try to establish some kind of run game in the 1st half to make the Patriots Safeties downhill players. However, Vince Wilfork and recent acquisition Alan Branch have done a good job against the run, and the Packers have had struggles of their own in the run game. While Eddie Lacy was able to seal the game late last week, Minnesota was able to effectively stop the run in the 1st half multiple times with Nickel Personnel (2 LB 5 DB), even when Green Bay played with a Tight End or Fullback (seen below). Overall, the success or failure of the Packers run game will likely be essential for how the Patriots use their defensive personnel.

Packers Wide Receivers vs. Patriots Secondary

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Kiffin’s Creativity leads ‘Bama over LSU in Death Valley

Alabama pulled out an exciting OT victory against LSU in Death Valley Saturday night. LSU rarely loses in Death Valley, and it appeared LSU was headed for a sure victory, leading with less than a minute remaining in regulation. Alabama got the ball to start OT, and Bama Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin called the perfect play to essentially guarentee an Alabama TD drive. The play involved deception, shifting, and a quick count. Alabama sprinted to the line and came out in an odd formation: Unbalanced. #74, who traditionally plays Tackle, was split out wide and ineligible. On the other side of the formation, a Tight End lined up traditionally where the Tackle would have and actually eligible. Alabama then quickly shifted into an “Empty” formation, where the Quarterback is in the backfield by himself:


Note that #74 is not actually an eligible Receiver on the play, because the Receiver outside of him, #2, is on the line of scrimmage. #2 is “covering” #74, and #74 therefore cannot be illegally down field at the time of the pass. (He is ineligible) However, the Tight End noted in the picture IS eligible, although he is lined up traditionally where a Tackle would be. He is eligible because he is the first “uncovered” player on the line of scrimmage. This means no player outside of him is on the line of scrimmage. Alabama then shifts, with the Running Back moving from the backfield to the outside Receiver spot, and All-American Wide Receiver Amari Cooper moving a few steps toward the sideline. This seems to cause a bit of confusion in the LSU secondary, as they are unsure how to handle the formation:


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Brady vs. Manning Part XVI: A preview of one of the NFL’s Greatest Rivalries

Excited for Brady vs. Manning Part XVI? These two Hall of of Famers go at it once again, and as always it should make for a great X’s and O’s chess match. Let’s analyze what we could see when each team has the ball.


I’ve previously written about how Denver loves to use Tight End Julius Thomas as a threat from the Dakota formation. How will New England match up? Expect Darrelle Revis to play plenty of man to man on Broncos Demaryius Thomas, and Kyle Arrington to follow Wes Welker in the slot. With that, what if 6’5 250 Julius Thomas splits out wide? Most teams must match up either a Safety or Linebacker against Julius Thomas, which reveals the Defense and creates match up problems elsewhere and opens up the running game. However, expect New England to occasionally match up 6’4 220 Brandon Browner in man to man coverage when Julius Thomas splits out wide. This allows Safety Devin McCourty (#32) to remain the middle of the field and also allows Linebacker Jamie Collins (#91) in the box to play the run. (These would be the other two candidates to cover Julius Thomas). The Patriots appeared to implement a form of this strategy last week against the Bears, where Browner was matched up man to man with 6’6 265 Martellus Bennett:

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