For Part 1 of this series, click here.
When a team operates with a philosophy of using all 53-1/3 yards between the sidelines, a defense finds itself in a precarious situation, having to decide which parts of the field they’re willing to sacrifice in order to defend the others. It’s not possible to defend everything, every time. As a result, some teams give up the flats in order to defend the alley, some teams give up the seams in order to protect the middle of the field, etc. The challenge for the offense is in finding these natural holes in the defense, and exploiting them.
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In the above clip, the most notable information is, again, the spacing. Having all three receivers in your trips set aligned outside the hash marks does eliminate certain concepts and options that are available to more evenly spaced alignments, but the purpose is to stress the defense. The wide alignment makes it necessary that all 3 receivers be ‘covered’ pre-snap. Coverage and blitz disguises aren’t very reasonable from that far away, so the offense (Baylor) is gathering very valuable intelligence from the defense without sacrificing much of its own. The defense (SMU) has made a decision that when it is spaced out this far, it will respond by outnumbering the offense inside the box, to prevent any chunk plays in the running game, and take its chances against the pass. Baylor’s offense does the math, and runs an All-Hitch pass designed to isolate the slot against the defensive back. The play is easy for the offense, and puts the defense in another bind about just how aggressive it’s willing to be to take away easy throws.
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When defenses decide they want to deny two things at one time, it often leaves gaping holes to attack. In this instance, SMU has decided it doesn’t want to surrender any quick openings in the run game, and it doesn’t want to be hit over the top on play action passes. When you draw hard lines like these against a read-and-react offense, the offense will lean on the oldest adage: “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.”
The flat area is totally vacated so that SMU can load up on the line of scrimmage, and the Go/Flat route combination doesn’t even have to play out as a true High-Low concept – the QB can take the snap and get it out on the perimeter before the defense has the time to close the opening.
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Being subjected to these kinds of binding decisions as a defense can force a coach to break out of normal philosophies in the hopes of finding unconventional answers. SMU is sticking to the plan of stopping the run, and it’s playing Cover 0 to do so, leaving no safeties deep, and playing their corners over the top of routes so as not to be beaten over the top. Baylor responds with the “Short Post”, a route gaining popularity in the college ranks as a method to get DB’s stuck on a WR’s upfield shoulder with little ability to make a play on the throw beyond making a tackle after the catch. Baylor makes the defense pay for the lack of safety help, and keeps SMU on its heels.
Isolation Offense: Money Play
Baylor’s offense worked on a pre-snap numbers count, keying the depth and leverage of safeties and alley players. As a QB, when you see the two high safeties, that is telling you that the seams are closed, but the sidelines are open. With that knowledge, the QB will only be reading the right side of the field. If the corner is playing press, the QB will catch the snap and take a chance on the deep ball. If the CB is playing off, he will key the Nickel Corner/Sam LB (shown in red above). If that player blitzes or plays tight to the box, the QB will throw the “hot” hitch. If the Nickel bails to cover the hitch, the QB has the green light to throw the Go route anyway, throw it away, or tuck and run.
Doing some simple math is how to utilize the extreme spacing Baylor used, to maintain numbers and matchup advantages both in the box and on the perimeter.
Next time, we will examine a new philosophy on how to use the spread to stress defenses.