Clay Matthews: “It's that wheel route! It's that wheel route!”
Cam Newton: “You’ve been watching film, huh? That’s cool, watch this.”
We really can’t fully understand how much goes in to game planning and play calling. It’s an art form that requires years and years of experience to understand the intricacies of offensive and defensive football. Even the reasoning behind the usage of certain run plays out of certain formations with certain personnel groupings. It’s all incredibly smart and detailed. In this weekly article, I try to shed a little bit of light on some of these well designed plays, but I don’t come close to truly explaining all the thought that goes into them.
The exchange this week between Matthews and Newton was a prime example of the preparation both sides of the football put into their weekly game planning. Matthews was prepared for the look, likely a tendency the team identified. Newton and the Panthers were prepared to counter off their own tendency with a route that looks like something they’ve done before doing the opposite.
Coaching staffs use their immense amounts of knowledge, film study and the tendencies of themselves and their opponent to create a plays for every situation. They have to be prepared for every possible thing they can see on game day.
It’s hard to fool good defenses twice. If it’s on film, they’ve been able to prepare for it. To counter that, offenses either run something off the play they’ve previously used (Panthers running an angle route for a touchdown instead of the wheel), or find a way to run the same play from a different look.
On Saturday, the Chiefs were able to run a common pick play from a different look on a critical 4th down conversion early in the game.
45 seconds is a deep dive into one play a week, or the roughly 45 seconds from the start of the play clock to the play being blown dead.
Here’s this week’s play:
This is a spin on a common crossers pick play. Hunt motions into backfield to confirm man, crosses formation from backfield into flats. Trips receivers create congestion. pic.twitter.com/JnxG9769c9— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 19, 2017
Here’s a condensed version in GIF form:
Here's the same play I posted earlier without the motion. Just posting for the article tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/2RkVr1Ym88— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 19, 2017
It’s 4th and 3 in the first quarter of a scoreless game. The Chiefs made it a manageable down after getting 18 yards on a 3rd and 21. They’re 35 yards from a touchdown. Andy Reid elects to go for it.
If you’re anticipating man coverage, pick plays work great in short yardage situations. The concept is to free a receiver by obstructing the path of the defender. A standard design is a backdoor play involving two receivers crossing the field, creating a pick for another receiver crossing the opposite direction. I’ve seen it designed that the single receiver run in between the two crossing.
The Chiefs designed a great play for a critical down. Kareem Hunt lines up wide and motions into the backfield to confirm man-to-man coverage. The three receivers to the left include the Chiefs two best pass catchers, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. They are getting extra attention. Chargers safety Jahleel Addae appears to be doubling Kelce.
The Chargers have to be thinking some kind of pick play. That three receiver side has a lot of fire power in it. Something is probably up over there. Maybe a throw to the flats to Hill?
Instead, Hill releases inside, forcing Desmond King to turn his back and run downfield. King is a non-factor now. There is now no chance King can see anything to the flat and pursue the play. Hill uses his speed to get out from off the line of scrimmage to a vertical release, nearly running King into Addae. Kelce and Wilson both run “crossing routes,” picking No. 31 Adrian Phillips the same they would if Hunt was crossing the formation from beyond the line of scrimmage.
Running the pick to Hunt is smart. He starts out as a receiver, and moves to the backfield to the right of the quarterback. He crosses the face of Smith and into the flats. Hard to think Hunt is the beneficiary of a pick from where he is when the ball is snapped.
Hunt has leverage on Phillips before the ball is even snapped:
The end result is a 21 yard catch and run to convert a big fourth down play. Sure, the Chiefs went on to kick a field goal on the drive. Future Hall of Fame Kicker Harrison Butker (this is his official title) probably would’ve made it from 53 yards anyway. But Reid set the tone early and the Chiefs built off it for a huge win.
The games only get bigger from here. The Chiefs will need more execution like this in big moments moving forward.