In my previous posts I have covered alot of conceptual ideas, base schemes on offense and defense to talk about how teams attack one another on Sundays in the NFL. Now that we've covered alot of the basic ideas on both sides of the ball I want to look at a play from the Cowboys 2011 matchup with the Buffalo Bills that will show some things that are very important to notice when we look past the "what happened" to find the "why" and "how".
Catch the video here, and then we'll break it down after the jump...
Here is the pre-snap alignment with the routes that will be run by each eligible receiver.
Here we have Cowboys in base personnel (2 RB, 1 TE 2 WR) with Jason Witten lined up split away from the OLine. He is bunched with Robinson who has taken a reduced split (inside the #s). Dez Bryant is split wide right and Fiametta takes a slide motion from right to left to create an offset I formation (This would probably be called "Far Right Open Motion").
A few important things to look at here to determine what the coverage might be presnap. First the safeties (how many, and how deep) we have 2 deep safeties at 10 yards. We know that in Cover 2 or Tampa 2, the standard alignment is 12 yards, but we still have 2 deep, so we have options here. Next we look at the front, the Bills here align in an "even" front (no one heads up on the C). Wittens alignment forces the Bills OLB to roll out over the top of him and the stack with Robinson forces the CB to play off the WR. This is very important, as a defense you want your LB close to the LOS, and you don't want to guys playing coverage to align at the same depth, so this gives Robinson room to get a clean release into his post route.
Let's roll the tape forward slightly to see if we cant figure out the coverage a little better.
Here not much has changed, in fact, the game clock hasn't even moved by 1 second, but we can begin to get some clues into the coverage that we are facing. the first is a true example of why I despise TV angles on passing plays, if you look at the red arrows on the screen, those are the 4 members of Buffalo's secondary. Let's focus on the safeties, you can barely see the FS's foot and leg, still planted on the First down line, meaning he hasn't begun to retreat, while on the other side of the field the SS has disappeared from view.
If you notice the yellow circle, both Witten and Robinson take vertical stems into their routes, seeing the SS and CB on that side react to the vertical releases, when combined with the FS staying flat footed when not threatened by an inside receiver make me thing they are playing a pattern matching principle called Cover 4. Pattern matching will probably be the subject of my next post but the big picture in Cover 4, is that the CB on each side is responsible for #1s vertical route on their side, and the Safety is responsible for #2's vertical route and then he will help on #1 if #2 doesn't run vertical. So when Witten and Robinson both release vertically, the CB will take Robinson and the SS will take Witten.
Here we have Romo at the top of his 7 step drop, the focus here is on the protection. The red curve represents the pocket. Here we have an indication that this play is the opposite of what most fans assume happened on Cowboys passing plays in 2011. On this play, the interior of the line does a very good job protecting the integrity and setting the depth of the pocket, however, both Smith and Free look to be at a disadvantage and thus the pocket is very deep, but very slim.
This shot is almost simultaneous to the one above and we see Witten coming out of his break on the dig route, and Robinson coming out of his fake to the corner. His move to the corner has his CB's hips turned wide open, and with Witten breaking over the middle, the SS breaks on his dig route. This CB is already hung out to dry.
Here we see Romo making the throw down the field. The yellow dot is exactly where Romo was when he reached the top of his drop. You can see the LDE running directly over that spot. Romo's pocket awareness, and ability to quickly "climb" the pocket make this play possible.
Here we see Robinson has his man burned both deep and to the inside, and with no deep middle help, it's time to strike up the band and hear the fight song...
Romo makes a good throw that Robinson catches on the hash at about the 12 yard line and walks in for 6.
A few points about how Robinson got so wide open...
A) Alignment-Stacking with Witten inside the numbers forced the CB to play off and with outside leverage.
B) Route Combination- The Post-Dig combination is a base scheme you'll see every week. Wittens vertical release holds the safety's attention, and his in breaking route makes the safety break away from the deep post.
C) Route- When a WR lines up inside the numbers, it alerts DB's to look for the 5 (out) and 7 (corner) routes. When Robinson sticks his foot and turns his shoulders outside just before he breaks to the post, the CB has to respect that. This CB isn't burned by speed, he's killed by a slight move by Robinson at 10 yards, and gives up a big play and a 58 yard TD as a result.