X's & O's - Anatomy of a Scoring Drive #6: Y Stick + Backside Iso Routes

After analyzing an Iso/Lead concept in Part 5 of the OBR's ‘Anatomy of a Scoring Drive: A Play a Day’ series we move back to the passing game to look at a Sticks/Isolation concept.

Play #5

Down/distance - 2nd and 10

Field Position – Ball on the left hash of the Browns’ 45-yard line.

Formation – Heavy Wing Right

Concept – Iso/Lead

Result - Seven-yard gain

Bengal's offensive coordinator Hue Jackson went back to the well to take advantage of large run bubbles along the defense's front seven with another Iso/Lead concept out of heavy personnel. The offense was again able to create movement on the line of scrimmage and wall-off linebackers with multiple combo blocks, leading to a seven-yard gain by tailback Giovani Bernard. The offense now faces a very manageable 3rd and 3, leaving the playbook wide open for Jackson.

Trends we see after five plays:

  • The defense’s front-seven alignment continues to create large run bubbles
  • Offesnsive coordinator Hue Jackson has attacked large run bubbles with the Iso/Lead on the previous two running plays 
  • The offense has consistently created numbers at the point of attack via well-designed blocking schemes 
  • NT Danny Shelton has yet to prevent a scoop to the second level when he is combo-blocked (three plays). As a result, the Browns' linebackers are unable to freely scrap to the ball, leading to solid gains on the ground.
  • Great individual plays by defensive lineman Randy Starks, MIKE Karlos Dansby, and SS Ibraheim Campbell have prevented the offense from gaining extra yards in spite of having leverage at the point of attack. Unfortunately individual effort will cover up for structural deficiencies only so long

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Play #6

Down/distance - 3rd and 3

Field Position – Left hash of the Browns’ 38-yard line

Formation – Gun Trey Right Back Weak

Concept – Stick Concept with Backside Isolation Route

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson flips his personnel for the third consecutive play, running out 'Trey Right' (two receivers and an inline tight end to the same side of the field) and a single tailback, or 11 personnel (Jackson has now shown five-wide, heavy personnel with three tight ends, and trey three consecutive plays). He is likely doing this to force defensive substitutions on the fly--we all know Pettines prepensaty for multiple personnel groupings/sub packages and his defense's tendency to poorly communicate alingments and checks--and to create personnel mismatches (Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert matched-up on a linebacker the play before).

Due to the down and distance, Jackson has several options here. He can run the ball against a light box, banking that his offense can gain three yard. Notice that the Bengals' have six blockers for six in-the-box defenders. Based on previous results the offense should have no issues creating numbers at the point of attack.

Jackson could elect to throw to the Trey side using a variety of route concepts that include short out and in-breaking routes like a flat or shallow. If he wants to be aggressive in this spot he can run vertical routes off play action as the defense must respect the run. He can target Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green running a variety of routes as he is isolated on the right cornerback on the top of the image.

Jackson decides to air it out, running a 'Sticks' concept the three-receiver side and a hitch to the backside where he has his start receiver isolated in man coverage.

The 'Sticks' concepts can be found across all levels of football. The Patriots in particular love the play ("Ghost" in their terminology), often running it five-six times a game. The Pat's offense will combine the concept with a man-beater like 'Double Slants' or 'Slant/Arrow' to the opposite side, giving the offense built-in options to attack man or zone coverage. Fl.p ran the concept into the ground succesfully last year, although he generally utilized two receivers.

We will examine the routes from outside-in:

  • The #1 receiver will run a clear-out nine route to remove the cornerback from the area the stick routes target
  • The #2 recevier will run a quick out route. The depth of the route is generally 4-8 yards; the specific depth will vary by coach
  • The #3 receiver will run a 'stick' route,  break outside at the depth of the #2 receiver and playing off the defender's movement. If the defender widens with the #2 receiver he should throttle down in the hole and wait for the ball.

Against man the quarterback will 'peek' the vertical route and then read the shorter routes outside-in. Against zone the quarterback will read the curl/flat defender, creating a horizontal stretch. If the C/F defenders widens, throw to #2. If he stands pat, throw to #3.

The second part of the play occurs on the backside of the Stick concept, where A.J. Green is matched-up on cornerback Tramon Williams in man coverage. Because the weak safety drops into the box presnap, both quarterback Andy Dalton and Green know they are facing man coverage with no over-the-top help. It is important to note that the field-side could still be a form of zone, as many teams will 'roll' zone coverage to the strong-side while playing a MEG (Man Everywhere he Goes) technique to the back.

Like most smart, aggressive, attacking offensive coordinators, Hue Jackson consistently identifies mismatch, isolates the mismatches via formation, and ruthlessly exploits them until the defense takes them away. While A.J. Green on all but a select few NFL cornerbacks is an obvious mismatch, we can see how he isolates his receiver using formation by putting him to the backside of Trey. Oftentimes isolated receivers will have more than one route built into the play, as both will 'read' the cornerback's depth, leverage, and post-snap movement to determine the best route to run against what coverge and technique they see after the snap. It goes without saying that the quarterback and receiver must be on the same page to utilize multiple routes within a single play (for example many of Tony Romo's interceptions that come from targeting Dez Bryant occur because they do not make the same read). 

This play looks to be a simple hitch/comeback route. Release outside the cornerback, drive to 7-8 yards, and get the head around as the ball will be on the receiver quickly (the ball should be out before the receiver enters his break). If Green makes the catch the offense continues the drive with a first down inside the Browns' 30-yard line. If Green can break a tackle this is going for six as the free safety must cheat to play deep middle towards the three-receiver surface.

Start with the coverage at the bottom of the screen. The defense has bluffed the blitz and played Cover 1 'Robber' behind, with the safety dropping into the middle of the field to rob any routes into the strong hook. Notice that the sticks concepts does not play out well against man coverage, as it is a zone-beater. This is why the backside is tagged with an isolation route or man-beating concept (go back to the image of the Patriots' Ghost/Tosser concept to see how they package beaters to opposite sides of the field).

Dalton immediately looks to Green after the snap as the Browns' tipped their man coverage when the weak safety dropped down to play robber in the strong hook zone. If the safety had not dropped so early, Dalton would not have been able to eliminate zone to that side as the defense could play 'cloud' coverage against Green (cornerback jams and sinks underneath Green to rob the short throws with the safety over-top to help against intermediate and vertical routes). Furthermore, with the linebackers aggressively filling gaps pre-snap Dalton knows Pettine' has a strong tendency to play Cover 1 or three-deep, three-under (a modified Cover 3) behind his blitzes. The process of elimination tells him Green will face man coverage here and he acts accordingly.

William's technique is very poor. He tries to get away with a surprise off-hand jam before losing Green by retreating and turning his back to him. He *might* be able to get away with this on a third/fourth wide receiver-type, but A.J. Green's elite strength, speed, and release make this a high-risk,no-reward move. Williams will not disrupt Green's release with the move and he commits the cardinal sin of losing the location of his man. Just a poor decision with predictable results.

If Williams wanted to press he should have used proper technique, reading Green's hips for release, mirroring his movement at the line by moving his feet, opening his hips to whatever side Green releases to, and jamming with the opposite hand. If he does not want to jam flat-foot read from a depth of six yards and pray he can make the tackle if they smoke the ball out to Green.

After making the reception Green drags Williams another three yards, putting the offense well into field goal range (45 yards) and gaining the thrid first down over six plays. The Bengals' have hit their stride and the Browns' defense is clearly on their heels.


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