Xs & 0s: Evil Twins

Our popular Xs and Os feature from Doug Farrar now expands to twice a week with a preview of the Browns upcoming opponent. Today, learn why will smart fans keep an eye on TE David Thomas as a clue to the Saints intentions...

In 2009, the New Orleans Saints had the NFL's most dynamic and varied offense. Head coach and offensive mastermind Sean Payton confused and confounded every defense his team faced by putting up a ridiculous array of formations and schematic possibilities. The bridge between the team's vertical offense and surprisingly effective running game was halfback Reggie Bush. When he came out of USC, it was thought that Bush might be able to provide hybrid production at the Marshall Faulk level. That hasn't proven to be the case, but Payton managed to find ways to make Bush devastatingly effective by motioning him into or out of receiver sets from the backfield. But when Bush suffered a fractured fibula in late September and fellow halfback Pierre Thomas started dealing with his own injury issues, Payton had to back up and refocus.

One of the ways in which Payton adapted his offense was to run different types of twins formations. The basic concept behind twins formations is to get route combos going in tight, quick spaces when blocking may be an issue. Figure 1 shows a play out of double twins tight in which the four-wide concept actually comes from a three-wide inside set and a fourth outside receiver. Payton will use tight end David Thomas in an H-back role, frequently lining him up in supposed and potential receiver slots when his actual role is first to block and then to catch. The common theme in the two plays shown is a clearing route away from the first read; the first read in this case is actually the receiver running the crossing route – the one covered by the linebacker dropping into coverage. Drew Brees was able to complete that pass in this case, but the clearing route  would have given him another option, and no quarterback reads his options more quickly and productively than Brees.

Figure 2 is an example of how Payton may use the twins concept hidden within different formations. The play shown looks like the bunch right formation you'll see the Pittsburgh Steelers run about 20 times per game. But once the ball is snapped, the two receivers run deep routes, while the tight end hangs back to chip the left defensive end before running a quick route to the right flat. On the weak side, the receiver and halfback run a staple clearing route combo in which the cornerback and weakside linebacker back off to deal with the side line route. On the strong side, when the slot receiver breaks off his route on a comeback, the deep receiver beats coverage for the touchdown.

Like all great coaches and play-callers, Payton knows how to scheme around personnel shortfalls to retain some measure of an effective offense. New Orleans' offense isn't as dynamic as it will be when Bush and Thomas are at full strength, but in the meantime, the Saints will be in good shape with Payton's offensive genius … and that same genius could very well put the Browns' defense on its heels.


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