This week, I will be drawing up signature plays for each of the eight teams participating in the first round of the playoffs. This article covers Saturday’s games. It’s your chance to brush up on the X’s and O’s, and to get a closer look at an offense you may not have paid much attention to during the season.
Let’s start with two rookie quarterbacks why rely on play-action to make up for their lack of experience. We’ll then move on to some vintage Drew Brees deep passing, and the type of defense the Lions will use to stop him. (Or at least try.)
For those who crave even more inside analysis, check out these detailed breakdowns of the matchups.
As impressive as T.J. Yates has been this season, he is still a rookie, and his role in the Texans offense is carefully scripted. Gary Kubiak’s offense is full of simple reads that are designed to take advantage of his team’s rushing attack, limiting Yates’ decision making while forcing defenders to worry about the run first and treat pass coverage as a side job.
At the snap, Yates, Casey, the running back, and the entire line veer to the left. This is heavy run action, and the Titans' defensive front and linebackers follow the offense. If this were a running play, the Texans would use their cut blocking tactics to chop down defenders as they moved laterally. But this is a play-action pass; Casey reverses field and leaks into the right flat, and Yates turns to flip a short pass to him before the unblocked linebacker delivers a blow. With the linebackers out of position, Casey has room for a 15-yard gain.
Casey has extra running room because the wide receivers take the lid off the defense, running deep routes that clear the cornerbacks and deep safety out of the action. Kubiak likes to throw deep off play action, particularly on first down. Instead of playing duck-and-cover with Yates in the game, Kubiak has created a simple sequence of runs, deep passes, and play-action rollouts like these that keeps the chains moving and the defense honest. Little wrinkles, like Casey’s motion, make it hard for the defense to load up to stop the run.
The Bengals also use play-action and clever wrinkles to make life easier for their quarterback. Thanks to the league’s most impressive rookie receiver, the Bengals are also not shy about throwing deep.
Another rookie quarterback, another 1st-and-10 rollout pass! You should not be surprised. Plays like these are the best way to let young quarterbacks use their arms and athleticism to pick up big chunks of yardage on early downs. For the Bengals, that means finding ways to allow Andy Dalton to throw to A.J. Green against single coverage, or at least out-of-position double coverage. Coordinator Jay Gruden will go out of his way to make a bomb to Green look like a running play before the snap, even if it means using a sixth offensive lineman in place of a tight end.
Green runs a “flag” route, faking a move to the corner before turning and running to the post. Joseph loses a step during this double move. The safety is briefly drawn in by the fake handoff. The Bengals use both Roland and the fullback as blockers, and the handoff action slows the pass rush, giving Green time to run the deep route and Dalton a clean throwing lane.
Dalton under-throws his pass to Green, giving the defense a chance to converge. No matter, Joseph is too late to arrive, and the safety has no chance to beat Green to a jump ball. The play nets 36 yards and sets up a field goal. The Green jump pass is the Bengals’ greatest weapon, and the best way to stop it is to pressure Dalton -- not easy to do when there are extra blockers on the field.
To hammer a point home: the Texans and Bengals plays shown above are both one-read passes. The Yates-Casey play is designed to set up the easy flat pass, and Dalton only has one other receiver in the pattern. The weakness of using a rookie quarterback is that the passing game becomes programmed, so defenders do not have to worry about second options or check-down receivers. That favors the defense, and it creates the likelihood of a low-scoring game, just like the 20-19 Texans win over the Bengals in December.
The Lions will not have the luxury of predictability when they face the Saints.
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