Cleveland Browns' X's & O's - Anatomy of a Scoring Drive #10: Play Action and the Swap Boot

After analyzing the Stop/Fade as part of a 'Coverage Beater' package in Part 9 of the OBR's ‘Anatomy of a Scoring Drive: A Play a Day’ series, we stay in the air on first down to break down the play action 'Swap Boot' concept.

Play #9 Recap

Down/distance - 3rd and 6

Field Position – Right hash of the Browns’ 23-yard line

Formation – Quad Back Lo (left)

Concept – Fade/Out-Double Slants 

Result - 9-yard gain and first down

Facing a 3rd and 6 Bengals' offensive coordinator Hue Jackson went to the air with a 'packaged beaters' concept, running 'Double Slants' to the field and a 'Fade/Out' to the boundary, likely anticipating split-safety coverage. 

A.J. Green's clear-out 9 route removed the cornerback from the equation, creating plenty of space underneath for the speed out from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. With the nickel defender playing Sanu from inside leverage, the outside-breaking route was like stealing as quarterback Andy Dalton released the ball as the receiver came out of his break. After securing the ball, Sanu broke a tackle to take another four yards after the catch for a 9-yard gain and first down.

Trends through nine plays:

  • The defensive front-seven alignment continues to create large run bubbles
  • Hue Jackson has attacked the outside gaps three out of five running plays with the Counter OF (C-gap), Pin-and-Pull (D-gap), and Outside Zone (D-gap). He has also attacked large interior run bubbles with the Iso/Lead on two of the previous three 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. Jaime Meder's single appearance this drive resulted in the nose tackle bullying his blocker into the backfield, altering the tailback's path to the hole and likely saving the defense some yardage.
  • Hue Jackson is now attacking match-ups through the air. In three of the previous six plays he has schemed one-on-one coverage in space via alignment and concept for Tyler Eifert, A.J. Green, and Marvin Jones. The aggressive coach is creating opportunities to get the ball out in space to his skill position players.

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Play #10

Down/distance - 1st and Ten

Field Position – Right hash of the Browns’ 14-yard line

Formation – Pistol Pro Wing Left Z Nasty

Concept – Swap Boot

The Bengals' offense continues to lean heavily on the 'Pro' package using 21 personnel (two running backs and one tight end). The tight end is aligned just off the main formation, with the second running back (tight end Tyler Eifert but we will consider a Wing to be a back here) in a wing to the left-side. Quarterback Andy Dalton is aligned in a Pistol for the first time this drive, with the tailback two yards behind him. Notice the tight split--also known as a 'nasty' split--by the 'Z' receiver. This is an important pre-snap clue that often signals a crack block or a crossing route (the receiver aligns tight  to reduce the distance he must cover to cross the formation).

Bengals' offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has a bevy of options here. He can keep the ball on the ground as his run-game has gashed the Cleveland defense thus far. He can go to the air to run a variety of pass concepts or target Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green (isolated at the bottom of the screen at the 'X' receiver). In an attempt to out-guess Browns' defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil the play-caller elects to run the best of both worlds, a 'Swap Boot' off play action.

So why does Jackson go with a play-action call in this spot?

  • The offense has thrown the ball on the previous two first downs. He is guessing the defense believes he will break tendency here.
  • Jackson may very well have a meta-game run tendency at this down/distance and field position
  • The personnel (one tight ends and two backs) and alignment (tight split by the 'Z' receiver) suggest run. Every running play this drive has come out of 12 or 21 personnel.
  • The defense's alignment shows they are worried about A.J. Green at the 'X' receiver position by cheating a second deep safety to his side of the field. They know Jackson sees this, so might expect him to run at a 'light' box

The 'Swap Boot' is similar to a traditional bootleg in which the offense executes play-action, rolls the quarterback away from the "run", and uses three-level route concepts to 'flood' the defense. The key difference between a traditional bootleg and our concept is the flat route comes from underneath the formation through the backfield. This route helps sell the play action as many teams will 'Arc' block a tight end or H-back on the backside of many zone runs (like 'Tight Zone' for my fellow Buckeye fans). In addition, the backfield split (cross) flow between the tailback and H-back creates more movement for the pass defenders to read and react to, Well executed play action will create conflicting run-pass keys, causing defenders to chase the run action or hesitate in their read. The chase/freeze will allow the concept's routes to get open and the ball to come out before the defense has recovered in time to get to their coverage responsibilities.

Most play-action bootleg passes are similar in concept although the routes may be different. In fact, the 'Swap Boot' we will analyze is a kissing cousin of the famous West Coast classic 'Spider Y 2 Banana', popularized by analyst and former head coach Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football. 

Let's break down the route progression from right-to-left:

  • The 'X' receiver will run a clear-out route to eliminate the cornerback and create space for the flat and crossing routes. This route can be converted to a deep comeback against certain coverages, although it is rarely targeted
  • The Wing (tight end Tyler Eifert) will run a flat route underneath the formation
  • The tight end will bend to the middle of the field before flattening his route out across the goal line.
  • The 'Z' receiver will run a Dig route to the backside of the three-receiver triangle (clearout, cross, and flat)

The quarterback can read the concept two different ways based on the individual coaching preference.

The first progression:

  1. Clear out/Deep fade
  2. Tight end crossing route
  3. Flat route

The second progression:

  1. Backside Dig
  2. Tight end crossing route
  3. Flat route

Notice that the regardless of the order, the progression always reads hi-to-low. The only situation in which the read will chance is If the quarterback faces immediate pressure from the bootleg defender. If the play-side edge defender is not fooled by the play action fake the quarterback is coached to skip the progression and target the flat route before the pressure can get home or life to fight another day by throwing the ball in the stands.

(Note I have misidentified Craig Robertson as Karlos Dansby in the upcoming images)

Starting with the front seven we can see the play action initially influence the defensive line and linebackers. Despite the good play fake carried out my the offense, watch how quickly the MIKE, WILL, and outside linebackers recover to get to their pass responsibilities. Elephant Paul Kruger and Will Craig Roberston get to their respective quarterback bootleg and tight end responsibilities very quickly. This is the result of quick, accurate key reading (read the center-guard-quarterback triangle and then move to a 'hi-hat, lo-hat read on the wing). As soon as the Wing comes across the formation on his flat route Roberston instantly pumps the breaks and makes contact just outside the rigth hash.

(Note again the Dansby is actually WILL Craig Robertson)

As Robertson is collisioning Eifert as he runs the flat route, we see Kruger plays his 'BCR' rule (1. bootleg 2. contain 3. reverse)  effectively as well, crowding Dalton to force a decision. Remember, Dalston is coached to target his flat route immediately if he feels pressure. Because Robertson didn't bite on the play action, Dalton has nowhere to go with the ball.

(Note again the Dansby is actually WILL Craig Robertson)

The cornerbacks and safeties do a great job of reading their run/pass keys as well, playing sticky man coverage with little separation. The only route that shows slight separation is the backside Dig from the 'Z' receiver, although throwing across the body into the middle of the field would be a serious mistake here. Dalton decides not to die on this hill by chucking the ball into the stands, a smart decision in light of the defense's excellent coverage.

After ten plays the defense has finally beat the offense schematically, with every player reading his key and executing his responsibility correctly. While this is a great example of team defense, the offense has two more shots before trotting out the field goal kicker. Can the Browns' limit the damage already down by seven points? Tune in tomorrow to find out!


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