Reel Film Recap: Wild Card Sunday

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 Sunday edition, Mark Schofield looks at Andrew Luck’s feet and left hand, and at the Cowboys’ offensive line.

Keeping Plays Alive is Good, Keeping the Football is Better

In the Colts’ victory over Cincinnati, Andrew Luck delivered a solid performance, completing 31 of 44 passes for 376 yards and one touchdown, including a dazzling 36-yard toss to wide receiver Donte Moncrief. The scoring pass was one of many plays the QB kept alive using his feet, and on each sequence below Luck demonstrates nearly flawless technique in the pocket – both with his feet, and his left hand.

Play One

In this first example, Luck aligns in the shotgun and the offense has 11 personnel on the field. Indianapolis utilizes a tight slot formation to each side of the field. Cincinnati displays a blitz posture, showing both a Double A gap blitz and a corner blitz on the offense’s right:

Off the snap both linebackers drop into coverage, but cornerback Leon Hall (#29) blitzes off the edge, beating right tackle Joe Reitz (#76) , and forcing Luck to slide in the pocket:

Hall is not the only threat on this play. The entire right side of the offensive line collapses, forcing Luck to keep moving ‒ but notice how the QB creates space as bodies fly around him. Luck even pumps once, but he keeps his feet moving with quick steps and his eyes down field. All the while, his left hand stays locked onto the football as he moves, until it is time to throw:

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This is perfect technique from the quarterback in the pocket: Two hands on the football at all times decreases the potential for a strip-sack.

Play Two

Next, the Colts face 1st and 10 with Luck under center and 12 personnel on the field. Tight end Dwayne Allen lines up as a fullback in the i-formation while Cincinnati counters with its base 4-3 defense showing Cover 1 in the secondary:

Indianapolis runs a no-frills play-action pass on this play, where Luck fakes the off-tackle run to the right, drops back, and looks for the big play. However, left end Carlos Dunlap gets loose on a speed rush, beating the RT into the backfield:

Luck slides ever-so-slightly to his left – with his non-throwing hand securing the football continuously – and delivers the ball to T.Y. Hilton for a 25-yard gain.

Play Three

Chances are you have seen this highlight by now. But if not:

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This still shows Luck beginning his scramble forward, just before releasing the ball:

Eyes focused downfield, both feet underneath him, left hand securing the football. This is NFL-logo type material here from Andrew Luck.

Ball security is so important in football – you can’t score without the ball. This is tremendous work from Luck on each of these plays, both in buying time for his receivers with his feet, and in keeping the football secure.

Cowboys’ Left Tackle Tyron Smith

Dallas escaped with a 24-20 victory against Detroit on Sunday evening thanks to late-game heroics from quarterback Tony Romo, who completed 19 of 31 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns ‒ the second a strike to Terrence Williams with just over two minutes remaining that gave the Cowboys the lead for good. The vaunted Lions defense performed very well, sacking Romo six times, but Dallas left tackle Tyron Smith turned in a very solid game in run blocking and pass protection.

Run Blocking

Romo is under center and the Cowboys have 11 personnel on the field. Detroit counters with its nickel defense, showing Cover 2 in the secondary:

The Cowboys run DeMarco Murray off left tackle behind Smith. Watch the movement Smith generates as he blocks defensive tackle C.J. Mosley:

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Left guard Ronald Leary (#65) gets the initial punch on the DT but Smith (#77) immediately closes on Mosley, freeing the LG to attack the next level, where Leary is able to handle inside linebacker DeAndre Levy (#54). These two blocks at the point of attack combine to spring Murray for an 18-yard gain.

This second play also finds Murray working behind Smith. The Cowboys again have Romo under center with 11 personnel on the field against the Lions’ nickel package:

This time, Smith shows his athleticism. At the snap he opens his hips to the sideline and takes two steps on the diagonal outside. This gives him the angle on outside linebacker Josh Bynes:

Smith then squares his shoulders and lines up the block, his head in perfect position to the outside of Bynes:

Murray cuts to the inside for an eight-yard gain, thanks to the flawlessly executed blocking from Smith on the second level:

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Pass Protection

While Smith performed solidly in the run game, the LT might have been more impressive in pass protection. He often matched up against defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, and on many plays the former first-round draft choice barely made it across the line of scrimmage. Take this first down play from early in the game. The Cowboys face 3rd and 10 on their own 20-yard line and Romo is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field. Detroit counters with nickel personnel and shows Cover 2 in the secondary:

Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh (#90) is across from Smith, to the left tackle’s outside shoulder, playing 5-technique. Ansah aligns well outside the LT, in a wide-9 alignment. This protection scheme calls for Smith to handle Ansah, so the LT needs to quickly work laterally off the snap:

At the snap Smith fires his left leg into the backfield at a 45-degree angle and as he executes his kick-slide steps, he makes himself wide. This allows him to swallow up the DE and gives him a solid base for what happens next:

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Smith uses pure upper body strength, standing Ansah up just inside the line of scrimmage. Romo has time and completes a pass to Cole Beasley for a first down.

On the game-winning touchdown throw Smith proved crucial again. As in the play above, Ansah lines up outside of the left tackle in a wide-9 alignment:

Off the snap Smith again makes himself wide and establishes a solid base. When he and Ansah collide the LT is in excellent position and handles the defensive end. However, coverage in the secondary is good and Romo looks to buy time:

Seeing this, Ansah pulls the LT inside and then rips himself to the outside of Smith, along the exterior of the pocket. But the LT stays with DE, thanks to a combination of strength and footwork:

Moving his feet in concert with Ansah’s rush, Smith sticks with him as the defensive end angles towards the QB. Importantly, because Smith maintains contact with Ansah for the duration of this sequence, it negates the potential holding call:

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This is a long time for an offensive lineman to hold a block, especially on a DE as talented as Ansah. 5.31 seconds elapses from snap to release, which is an eternity in the NFL. But Smith keeps his block throughout the play, giving Romo time to execute the game-winning throw. Smith battled injuries during a mid-season slump, but performed at a high level at the end of the season en route to a Second-Team All-Pro selection. The left tackle appears at the top of his game, just in time for a trip to the Frozen Tundra.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

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.

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