One of my favorite aspects of the draft season is the John Gruden QB Camp specials, on ESPN. If you missed Andrew Luck's trip to camp this year, check out this video for a sample. If you did watch it, you are now very familiar with the terms "Spider 2 and Spider 3 Y Banana." This play is a staple of the Stanford West Coast Offense. Which also means it is a staple of several NFL offenses, so I think it makes it worth taking a closer look at the play as well as how a coach like Rob Ryan might look to do to take away a play like it.
We'll look at personnel, formation, and scheme for the offense, as well as a coverage a team like the Cowboys could use to negate these types of plays after the jump...
Ok, in the video linked above the play call discussed is Green Right Slot Spider 2 Y-Banana. This play is run from Base Personnel (2 backs 1 TE 2 WR). Lets translate the play call first. Green Right is the formation, Green is an offset I formation with the Full back offset to the strong side, in this case right, Slot tells the Z receiver to line up on the weak side in the slot rather than wide to the right or strong side. Let's take a look at what the formation looks like.
Now we look at the rest of the play call. Spider is a run action that is made to look like the Power run concept that is in virtually every NFL playbook. In Power the backside guard pulls around to lead block, while the TE blocks down on the 3-4 DE or 4-3 OLB, and the FB kicks out on the 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB. The 2 makes this action to the right side, so the tightend takes an inside release as he would in the run play, and the FB looks to kick out.
The Y-Banana tells the TE or Y receiver what his route will be. The banana is a corner or flag route (the 7 route in the number system). The other receivers routes are implied in the combination.
Lets look at it on paper...
As you can see the protection is a full slide to the left. The full slide is a zone protection where each lineman is responsible for protecting an area, if no one attacks your gap, you help your teammates. After the fake the FB slips past the man he would block and slides to the flat. This with the TE's route creates the Flat-7 combination which is a staple in every NFL offense, because it is the best Cover-2 beater. The X (outside) receiver runs a comeback route, which is an alert route (presnap read). The Z (slot) runs an under or drag route at about 5 yards, in most cases this guy will continue to run across the formation if he sees man coverage and will stop and settle in a void against zone.
The primary, number 1 read is the FB, followed by the TE on the 7 route, and then the Under route from the slot. As I mentioned above, the comeback route is a pre-snap alert read thats not part of the actual progression.
This play is good for alot of 5-7 yard gains by the FB followed by a shot to the TE down the field.
The formation, combined with the play action usually means the FB ends up with some room to work with on the edge, and as Luck says in the video, "you can't go broke making a profit."
Now lets look at a scheme I would carry in my gameplan if I were an NFL defensive coordinator that we could use to combat this type of offensive attack. Not just this particular play, but the formation, and the tendency (because of the play action this would be a play you might see on 1st and 2nd downs or 3rd and shorts).
For our purposes we'll use the 49ers personnel for the 2012 season, because hopefully, we'll be seeing them come to Jerry World in January!
Because of the base personnel on the field for the offense, I as the Cowboys Defensive Coordinator run my base 3-4 personnel onto the field. aligned as shown below.
So we can now see how we align ourselves against this formation, but what in the world do we call on 1st or 2nd down to stop the run, but not leave ourselves overly vulnerable to the play action game.
I would call, Cover 7, or combination man. This coverage is essentially every kind of man coverage a team can play, all rolled into 1. The play call from the sideline would be 4-3 Cover 7, and our safeties, Pool, and Sensabaugh would be responsible for making the calls presnap which technique will be played by each member of the coverage.
This allows us to keep 7 in the box, or walk Sensabaugh up to make it 8 and still have complex coverage for Alex Smith to read. Let's look at what the calls would look like.
So starting from the open (weak) side of the formation we have a "Fist" call which means they are playing 2-man on that side. Brodney Pool drops to the deep half as if he's playing Cover 2, and Carr and Claiborne play an inside trail technique trying to force their WR toward the safety. Then on the closed (strong) side we have a slice call between Sean Lee, and Gerald Sensabaugh, which is basic bracket coverage to be played on Fred Davis the TE. In this call, Sensabaugh is responsible for playing underneath any out cuts, or over the top of any in cuts, and Lee is responsible for playing under any in cuts and over any out cuts.
This leaves Carter, or Conner with responsibility for Gore, and Spencer with responsibility for Bruce Miller, the FB. So what does this allow us to do conceptually as a defense? We can walk up Sensabaugh to give us 8 in the box and stil put a top on the defense on the 2 WR side, to keep Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, or Michael Crabtree from getting deep in a 1 on1 situation, and double cover their biggest weapon in the pass game in Davis.
These 2 calls are only an example of the kinds of calls used in Cover 7. This coverage is extremely versatile because of the variation you can have on the back end. It also allows a guy like Rob Ran the ability to blitz guys from different places and still maintain the integrity of the coverage on the back half.