Browns' X's & O's - Anatomy of a Scoring Drive #7: Attacking Matchups with the Fade/Stop

After analyzing the Y-Stick + Backside Isolation Route Concept in Part 6 of the OBR's ‘Anatomy of a Scoring Drive: A Play a Day’ series, we stay in the air to watch Hue Jackson go for the jugular with a Fade/Stop combo off play action.

Play #6 Recap

Down/distance - 3rd and 3

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

Formation – Gun Trey Right Back Weak

Concept – Sticks + Backside Isolation Routes

Result - 11-yard gain

On 2nd and 10 Bengal's offensive coordinator Hue Jackson went to air, creating a personnel mismatch via formation by placing A.J. Green to the backside of a Trey formation (one tight end and two wide receivers to the same side of the field), forcing Browns' cornerback Tramon Williams to guard the all-world receiver in man coverage. To the strong-side of the play Jackson ran a ''Sticks' concept, using a clear-out route from the #1 receiver to create room for a quick out and option route from the #2 and #3 receivers respectively. Because the defense bluffed a blitz and played Cover 1 Robber after the snap, quarterback Andy Dalton immediately looked to the backside hitch/comeback for an 11-yard gain and another first down.

Trends we see after six plays:

  • The defense’s front-seven alignment continues to create large run bubbles
  • Hue Jackson has attacked the outside gaps two out of four running plays with the Counter OF (C-gap) and Pin-and-Pull (D-gap). He has also 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.
  • We now see Jackson attacking match-ups throught he air. In two of the previous three plays he has schemed one-on-one coverage in space via alignment and concept for his Pro Bowl tight end and wide receiver. While the ground game dominated the first five play calls, we are starting to see Jackson's pass-catching playmakers get opportunties for big gains.

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Play #7

Down/Distance - 1st and 10

Field Position – Left hash of the Browns’ 27-yard line

Formation – Gun Trips Closed Back Strong

Concept – Play Action Stop/Fade Concept

Hue Jackson's entire playbook is available here: the ground game, the passing game, play action, and vertical routes are all viable option due to field position and down/distance. You will see a variety of calls in this situation based on a myriad of factors including the offensive coordinator's preference to throw on 1st down, personnel, game flow, and what he has put on tape in previous situations (can take advantage of opponent's film study by breaking tendency here).

True to form Jackson chooses to be aggressive in this spot, aligning wide receiver (Marvin Jones) over embattled Brown's cornerback Justin Gilbert, going for the jugular with a Fade/Stop concept off play action.

After utilizing Gun Trey Right on the previous play, Jackson sticks with a spread-type formation aligning in Gun Trips Right Closed Back Strong. The offense has 'closed' the left-side of the formation with inline tight end Tyler Eifert, while placing three wide receivers and the tailback to the 'field' (wide-side). Notice that A.J. Green is aligned as the #2 receiver in the Trips set. Jackson will often 'hide' Green in this spot, forcing the defense to cover him with a slot cornerback. Through eight games Green has run a variety of routes from this alignment including shallows, outs, corners, posts, and seams. The Browns' defense knows this from film study, so they likely have some type of 'alert' call on to remind the nickel and free safety that the Bengals' show a tendency to target Green here, particularly on vertical routes.

On the other hand, the defense knows Jackson will ride his run-game into the ground; in light of the consistent yardage tailback Giovani Bernard has gained this drive, Jackson could chwell chose to keep the ball rolling via his ground attack.

The defense appears to expect a run here as both linebackers aggressively approach the line of scrimmage before the snap, likely run-blitzing an assigned gap. 

Jackson outguesses his defensive counterpart, dialing up a Stop/Fade concept off play action to his outside receiver, Marvin Jones. This is another match-up based targeted shot (like the A.J. Green backside isolation route and Tyler Eifert Vertical/Shallow concept). There is no progression here; it's all or nothing with the outside receiver getting a chance to win a one-on-one battle with Gilbert. The Bengal's play caller is likely banking that the free safety can be removed from the play (thus removing Gilbert's over-the-top help) via the attention he must devote to Green in the slot and the play action flow, which should keep his eyes in the backfield long enough to prevent him from helping on the fade route.

The tight end and tailback will stay in to block after executing the play action fake, giving the offense seven blockers to give Dalton the time he needs to let the vertical route develop. The #2 and #3 receivers will run quick hitches to pull up their defenders , eliminating any deep help, creating space, and providing a quick check down should the defense roll the strength of their coverage over-top the #1 receiver or Green. You will rarely see the ball here; Dalton is more likely to chuck it out of bounds or throw it in the dirt if the fade is taking away via a hi-lo bracket (cloud coverage). In fact, he may be coached to hit the fade or throw it into the stands. The routes are designed to act as bait for the nickel and free safety, holding both up long enough for the fade to get behind them. 

Let's see the concept in action:

Jackson has indeed outguessed the Browns' defense as the defensive line and linebackers execute a run stunt, slanting away from the tailback's alignment expecting 'Inside Zone Left'. MIKE Karlos Dansby has exchanged gaps with the LDE, expecting an Andy Dalton pull and bootleg when the end crashes the B-gap (Dalton will pull and run on Inside Zone several times per year; scheme must account for this threat). 

The right cornerback will play secondary force on a hand-off with the weak safety playing the alley fill. Against the pass the defense appears to be running an outside-in bracket with the cornerback and weak safety on Tyler Eifert. To the trips side Gilbert plays Jones in press man while the nickel and free safety play the #2 and #3 receiver in off-man coverage using a flat-foot read technique. Both will align so they can dual read the quarterback and their assignment:

  • If the quarterback executes a 3-step drop they will break on their man
  • If the quarterback executes a 5-step drop or the receiver threatens their cushion, they will open the hips, turn, and play man coverage.

The important point here is that by running a play action concept while the defense had a run slant on, Jackson created a situation in which his primary target is running a vertical route against Cover 0 because the safety must take the #3 receiver. Great coaches consistently put their players in position to succeed. The new head coach has cooked the meal and set the table for his offense; it is up to the players to sit down and eat.

The play action is inconsequential due to the defensive play call at this point. There is no deep safety to hold because Tashuan Gipson is responsible for the #3 receiver in man coverage, giving Marvin Jones a free go at Justin Gilbert. The play's result rests on who emerges victorious from this one-on-one battle. 

Before looking at the fade route, notice the quick hitches by the #2 and #3 receiver. It is very easy to see that neither expect to be targeted here as both simply turn after four yards. If they were running a 'true' route here both would attack the stem (break) by getting their head over their toes, sinking their hips, chopping their feet, and exploding back to the ball. Again, they are bait.

The star attraction is the match-up outside between Jones and Gilbert. Jones want to release inside to create room before bending back to the sideline for the ball. Go back to the GIF to see how Jones attacks Gilbert's outside foot before cutting across his face and bending back towards the right-corner of the end zone. These route-running subtleties are often the reason players have major issues converting to wide receiver from other positions. The footwork and steps have to be extremely precise to generate separation against NFL cornerbacks. It's not something that most guys (even NFL players) can learn overnight, if ever.

Gilbert starts the play at a disadvantage due to his outside leverage against an in-breaking release (this is not Gilbert's fault; his alignment is coached). We see him take a 'scooch step' at the snap, a technique designed to keep the defensive back from lunging when executing a jam. The issue with 'scooch stepping' here is two-fold: 1. Gilbert could align tighter to the line of scrimmage 2. The receiver is aligned off the line of scrimmage, creating natural distance for his release. If Gilbert buzzed his feet rather than retreating, he likely could have executed a one-hand jam if Jones continued his path to the sideline (although Gilbert's jam is often an adventure and his lack of confidence in his technique sometimes leads him to skip the jam altogether). Once Jones crosses his face the cushion is broken and Gilbert needs to flip his hips and stay in phase with the receiver. While the  'scooch step' prevented Gilbert from executing a jam, the technique did keep his hips square, allowing the cornerback to open to either side without wasted motion. His loose hips allow him to effortless flip his body and run with Jones.

There is no doubting Gilbert's athletic ability. He easily sticks to the upfield hip of the receiver, putting himself in good position to make a play on the ball when it arrives. He does not look back for the ball until the receiver turns his head (although he could have waited slightly longer by reading the receiver's eyes and waiting for the hands to come up to make the catch). He correctly uses the inside hand to swipe at the ball (using the outside hand would take his upper body out of alignment with his hips and should be used to secure the receiver's waist), although he does make contact with the receiver's neck early. Focus on Gilbert's right arm.

The ref decides to keep the yellow hanky in his pocket and Gilbert has made a great play after being isolated and targeted on first down, putting the offense behind schedule and setting up an advantageous down and distance for his defense.


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