The anatomy of a big play...

On Monday, we looked at a staple play of the Stanford West Coast offense, run by #1 overall pick Andrew Luck, Spider 2 Y-Banana. Today, we will look at another Stanford play, however, rather than looking at the design of the play, we'll look at the role that execution by the Offense, and poor execution by the Defense add up to create a big time scoring play.

Just a quick aside, I know that we did not draft Andrew Luck, or anyone from Stanford. However at this point I want to just cover several different ideas, and narrow it down to Cowboy specific schemes perhaps later on.

We'll take a look at a big play for Luck and the Cardinal vs Oklahoma State in the Fiesta bowl after the jump.

The situation is this, it's 2nd and 5, with 4:25 left in the 1st Quarter. These types of 2nd and middle to short situations are what Power run/Play action offenses live for.

Let's first look at some pre-snap alignment, and the route combination for the play.


The Cardinal are in Ace Personnel (2 TE's, 1 RB, 2 WR), in a Double Wing Formation. If my memory serves me correctly this is the Orange formation(2x2) with a close tag to bring both WR on or inside the numbers.

As we look at the route combination you notice only 2 players are out in the route at the snap, this allows for maximum protection. This is a play action pass based on the same Power scheme we talked about in the previous post. The route combination is a common one that Offensive Coordinators use to attack aggressive safeties playing the deep middle. The idea is to run a dig route on one side that crosses in front of the safety's face, hopefully getting him to jump that route, and allow the skinny post to get behind him for the big play, when you combine that with a running down and distance, and a play fake, it's really not fair to the poor safety.

Based almost entirely on the technique played by the far side CB, I believe the defense is in Cover 1 which is man coverage with the free safety playing the deep middle.

The orange lines I placed on the screen are for illustration, and mark the front toes of the near side CB, and the FS for Ok State.

Lets now look post snap.


Here we see several very important things going on as this point as well as the next single step taken by each player will determine the success or failure of this play.

First, notice the RG for Stanford (circled in yellow), on this play he has actually pulled across the formation and will help protect the backside, this is to give the true illusion of the power run, that Luck is faking in the backfield. Many times the LB's and DB's run keys, do not involve whats going on with the QB and RB, but rather what the O-Linemen are doing upfront, this move by the RG ends up being crucial to the play.

Secondly, notice the fake, Luck has the ball fully extended, in one hand, just as though he would if he were handing the ball to the back. When the defenders see the ball out they react, this will also prove vital to the play.

Thirdly, look at the orange line on our defenders toes. Each is within 1/2 yard of their presnap alignment, meanwhile, the X receiver, on the near side has gained 3 yards worth of ground on each.

Now we look in again after the fake.


Here we have Luck beginning his drop after the fake, and we look again at the feet of our favorite 2 defenders on the near side. Still within the same 1 yard area of their pre-snap alignment, but actually closer to the line of scrimmage. Look also at their heads, and body angles, both are going towards the back field. As a DB you can never get caught with your eyes in the backfield while in man coverage. Meanwhile the WR is now 8 yards down field, past the CB and quickly eating away the cushion of the FS.

Luck has his eyes down the field already, and I'm sure he has a grin on his face, this will be like taking candy from a baby...


At this point, Luck has completed his drop, including his hitch step and planted his back foot to make the throw. One other game plan idea to note here, check out the RB, and the Far side TE. They are releasing in routes once they have made sure the protection is solid. This is called a check release, and is used often when preparing for teams who have a tendency to bring pressure. The idea is to max protect your QB, but provide him with a check down if the coverage holds up.

Also note the location of Luck's back foot, the 38 yard line, many people questioned his arm strength in the pre-draft evaluation process. But our next picture will show the catch, and exactly how far the ball travelled in the air.


Here we see the catch made at just about the 8 yard line. So that's 54 yards in the air on a perfectly thrown ball down the middle of the field by Luck, and the drum major is firing up the band.

So as you can see, all it takes as a defense is one step in the wrong direction when your facing a QB like Luck to get burned for 6 points. And as an offense, it doesn't take overly complicated ideas to be successful, it just takes a good situational play call, and great execution by each member of your team.

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