Carolina’s Run/Pass Option: QB Sweep for the Win

Photo courtesy of Mike Mccarn, associated press

The Carolina Panthers advanced to Super Bowl 50 with a dominating victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. Ted Nguyen looks at one of their unique, and devastating, run/pass option plays: the QB sweep.

The Panthers’ spread-run offense has attracted a lot of attention because of the team’s incredible success. No NFL rushing attack in the modern era has involved the quarterback quite like Carolina has the past few seasons. This run game creates a numerical advantage because the defense has to account for the quarterback. In the NFC championship game, another wrinkle was added to the Carolina run game that will have Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips scrambling for answers:Panthers-RPO-QB-Sweep-Still1

In the red zone late in the third quarter, the Panthers line up in a trey open formation ‒ a shotgun formation with 11 personnel and  trips to the left (field side) while a tight end, Greg Olsen, is in a two-point stance to the right (boundary side). Fullback Mike Tolbert is lined up to the right of Cam Newton in the backfield. This alignment alerts the defense to watch for the inside zone cutback, which the Panthers used successfully early in the game, or for a speed option to the right:

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Tolbert motions to the left of Newton (some teams call this tear motion) and turns outside to run a bubble screen. The motion catches the attention of the inside linebackers, as they both flow to stop the potential screen.

The play is a run/pass option (RPO). Tolbert’s motion gives the Panthers a four-man bubble screen to the field side combined with a pin and pull QB sweep to the boundary side. Newton has the option to either throw the screen or keep the ball on the QB sweep. Newton’s RPO read is the safety, Deone Bucannon (20), who is playing in the box like a linebacker to the trips side:

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From the end zone view, it is clear that Newton locks on to his read before the snap. If Bucannon stays in the box, Newton will throw the bubble screen and the Panthers will have three blockers matched up with three defenders. However, Newton sees that Bucannon (20) is playing the screen and keeps the ball as the Panthers’ offensive line does the rest, easily clearing the way for the QB to dive over a defender at the goal line for the touchdown.

The Broncos should expect to see this concept in the red zone at the Super Bowl. A possible wrinkle that could be added is a double pass concept with Newton throwing the screen to Tolbert and the running back then throwing a pass to the end zone. This shows one possibility among the wide array of spread-run concepts that Phillips and the Broncos are going to have to game plan for.

Follow Ted on Twitter @RaidersAnalysis

Ted Nguyen is a former player and coach who has written about the Raiders run/pass packages, the Patriots use of formations to get favorable matchups, and the spread passing game.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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