The Arizona Cardinals made last year’s playoffs on the strength of their defense, but their success in 2015 has been largely attributable to Bruce Arians’s offense. Mark Schofield looks at how the Cards get Larry Fitzgerald open.
Future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is enjoying a revival six weeks into the 2015 season. He has snared 43 passes for 583 yards and six touchdowns thus far, and has at least five receptions in each game this year.
Exploring how Arizona is getting the receiver open this year on film has been fun. They often use two passing concepts, Yankee and Sail, for big plays. Both of these schemes can be used to attack teams that use a lot of single-high safety coverage (Cover 1 and Cover 3) ‒ something the Baltimore Ravens use a lot in their secondary.
Yankee concept is a two-man deep passing play, using a deep post route combined with a crossing route underneath. This play stresses a single-high safety, forcing him to either remain deep on the post route or commit forward to the over route: stay back or come forward?
Against the San Francisco 49ers, the Cardinals have Carson Palmer under center with 12 offensive personnel on the field. Arizona has three receivers on the right, featuring Fitzgerald in a tight split and two tight ends in a dual wing alignment. The defense has their base 3-4 personnel in the game, using Cover 3 in the secondary:
The Cardinals run the yankee concept: Fitzgerald executes the deep over, while the receiver at the bottom of the screen runs the deep post:
Pay attention to the free safety Eric Reid (#35) as the play develops. Because of the post route he backpedals, opening up a huge throwing window below him for Fitzgerald’s over route:
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Should Reid collapse on the over route from Fitzgerald, the defense is exposed for a big play down the field. This play is a great example of how the yankee concept can stress the single-high safety.
Another way that Arians has attacked defenses this year, and opened up room for his veteran WR, is by using the sail concept. This is a three-level flood and stretch design, which uses a vertical route and two out routes to attack one side of a defense. Here, the Cardinals use this scheme against the New Orleans Saints. Palmer is under center with 12 offensive personnel in the game, slot formation left and dual wing tight ends right. The Saints have their base 3-4 defense in the game and show Cover 3:
Fitzgerald is in the left slot, with John Brown (#12) to the outside. The Cardinals run a play action fake here, with the sail concept to the slot side of the field. Brown runs the go route while Fitzgerald runs a deep out. After the run fake to Andre Ellington (#38), the back runs a short out into the left flat:
The intention is to stretch the outside coverage. The vertical route from pins the free safety and the playside cornerback deep. That allows Fitzgerald and Ellington to high-low the coverage in the flat.
This still gives you a good look at the concept in action:
With Brown occupying the two deep defenders, Palmer has his choice between Fitzgerald and Ellington. He selects the deeper option:
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Fitzgerald collects the ball in stride, and the Cardinals have an easy 30-yard gain thanks to the marriage of design and execution.
These two concepts are great for attacking single-high safety coverage, both Cover 1 and Cover 3. Given that the Ravens run a lot of this coverage, look for both these concepts, and Larry Fitzgerald, to play a big role on Monday night.
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 NFL Game Pass.