Each week Inside the Pylon takes a look at the standout offensive plays from around the league in Reel Film Recap. In this Wild Card Saturday edition, Mark Schofield examines three ways the Carolina Panthers attacked the Arizona Cardinals defense in the run game, and the importance of Steve Smith, Sr. to Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens offense.
Three Consecutive Plays… Three Different Ways
In the Arizona-Carolina preview, we illustrated the three methods used by the Carolina Panthers to attack the edge of the defense in the running game: Power, Option, and Finesse. On three consecutive plays in the 2nd quarter against Arizona, the Panthers used each method in turn, gaining 40 yards over the trilogy. While the drive ended in a missed field goal, these plays illustrate the effectiveness of this offense – and the problems facing the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday.
1st and 5 – Power
The Cardinals have their base 4-3 personnel on the field. The linebackers slide their alignments to the slot-side of the offense, and strong safety Tony Jefferson (#22) walks up to the line of scrimmage on the opposite edge. This gives the defense six defenders on the line and eight defenders in the box. Quarterback Cam Newton lines up under center with 12 personnel on the field. The two receivers are in a slot formation to the left, while tight end Ed Dickson (#84) and running back Jonathan Stewart form an offset i-formation in the backfield: Carolina runs a power toss play to the slot side of the field. Dickson leads Stewart around left end, blocking the outside linebacker, while left guard Andrew Norwell (#68) pulls in front of the running back to block the middle linebacker. Not to be outdone are the center and left tackle. Byron Bell (#77) collapses down on the defensive tackle, while center Ryan Kalil (#67) explodes upfield at the snap to seal off the weakside linebacker: These players execute their blocks in unison, giving Stewart a nice running lane: [wpvideo Om2IEetG] The RB picks up a gain of 10 yards to give the Panthers a first down at their own 40-yard line.
1st and 10 – Finesse
Without a huddle, the Panthers line up for the next play with the same 12 personnel. Now, both tight ends are on the line of scrimmage while the two receivers align in a slot to the right. Newton is in the shotgun with Stewart to his left. Arizona keeps its base defense on the field and shows a 6-1 alignment with both outside linebackers on the line of scrimmage: Just prior to the snap, slot WR Philly Brown motions deep towards the QB and RB. The Cardinals are in man coverage, so cornerback Antonio Cromartie (#31) trails Brown across the formation. This is a look Carolina has used previously this season for an end-around with Brown, so the defense adjusts accordingly. But, at the snap, Newton does not give the ball to Brown, instead giving it to Stewart off-tackle: [wpvideo IP4aCGew] You can see the respect the defense pays to Brown’s potential end-around. Three defenders flow in his direction – away from Stewart’s off-tackle run. Meanwhile, the offensive line moves in concert to the right to lead the way for the RB, including right guard Trai Turner. The rookie from LSU pulls through the hole and paves the road for Stewart. The RB rips off an 18-yard gain, setting the Panthers up with a 1st and 10 at the Cardinals 42-yard line.
1st and 10 – Option
The final part of this trilogy is the read option play. Carolina again forgoes the huddle but does substitute, Newton is again in the shotgun with 11 personnel. Arizona counters with its nickel grouping: RB DeAngelo Williams is in the backfield with Newton to the right of the QB. At the snap, Williams and Newton execute the read option. The QB reads outside linebacker Matt Shaughnessy (#91), who is lined up on the edge as a defensive end in this alignment for Arizona: [wpvideo ia25pxgQ] The OLB is pulled inside on the run fake to Williams giving Newton an alley to the outside. The QB finds the lane and races into the secondary for an easy 12-yard gain and another Panthers first down. Carolina ran the football 41 times against Arizona, gaining 188 yards for an average of 4.6 yards per carry. While they may not enjoy the same level of success against the stout Seattle defense, these three plays illustrate the pressure the Panthers put on a defense in the running game. Flawless execution – the type displayed in these three examples – will give Carolina a chance to travel west and pull off the upset.
Steve Smith Sr., or Anquan Boldin Jr.?
In their 2012 run to the Super Bowl, Joe Flacco and Boldin connected on a number of big plays against Denver and New England. The QB showed tremendous faith in the physical receiver and Boldin rewarded his quarterback for his trust. The WR pulled down some tough catches in traffic and over the middle during that title drive. Flacco has developed a similar level of trust with Steve Smith, Sr., and that relationship was on display Saturday night. The parallels to Boldin are eerie. First a trip down memory lane to the 2012 AFC Championship game: [wpvideo QMTdEAQQ] Lined up in the slot, Boldin runs a vertical seam route against the coverage. Flacco simply throws the ball in his direction, trusting that the WR will come down with the football. He does, for the back-breaking score to end New England’s season. The angle of the throw forces Boldin to contort his body back toward the line of scrimmage to secure the pass. Fast forward to Saturday night. Smith is split wide to the right and runs a vertical route. Flacco tosses the football in his direction, trusting that Smith will win the battle with the defensive back. Smith does: [wpvideo mGhGWG3z] Similar to Boldin, Smith is forced to turn back toward the football and fight off the defender for the ball. Flacco’s trust in these two men is not limited to the sidelines. The QB loves to find these players over the middle and both receivers are willing to hang in and secure the ball knowing that a shot or two is incoming. First, Boldin against the Broncos in the 2012 Divisional Round: [wpvideo OIXvgx6u] Boldin lines up wide to the right and runs a deep curl against Denver’s Cover 3 coverage. While the throw is high, he pulls down the football for a big gain as Baltimore drives toward the game-tying touchdown. Here is Smith on Saturday night: [wpvideo Mm8tx3F2] Smith lines up to the right and runs a deep curl against Pittsburgh’s Cover 3 coverage. Again, the throw is a little high, but Smith secures the ball in the middle of a tight throwing lane and absorbs two or three hard shots before being brought to the turf. Baltimore’s win Saturday has them onto Foxboro for a matchup with the Patriots. Flacco to Smith looks eerily similar to Flacco to Boldin, so you can understand if Patriots fans are feeling a nauseating sense of déjà vu.
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Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.