Every year, storylines come and go during the course of an NFL season. Whether it is strong offensive line play, a breakout receiver, or a rookie stealing the spotlight, you can count on the NFL to entertain. Brandon Thorn breaks down the Week 6 storylines below in his scouting notebook.
Entering this season my Twitter account served as the primary means to present my weekly scouting notes from across the NFL through video analysis.
Beginning last week, the video content typically displayed on Twitter will migrate into this article series, along with more in-depth breakdowns accompanying each highlight. Look at this as your one-stop shop for weekly video analysis, trait-based scouting, and – of course – a heavy dose of offensive line play.
As the season moves along, this series will help identify trends of standout players and reveal breakout performers to keep an eye on. Each observation will have video backing it up, along with plenty of contextualizing what you see in order to add much-needed value to the material.
Week 6 Observations
– Lions’ opening drive vs. the Rams
– Patriots offense using pulling OL to clear the middle of the field
– Bengals wide receiver AJ Green masterful use of nuance in route stem to deceive coverage
– Bills offensive line – Fold Block
Lions Opening Drive
The Lions improved their record on the season to 3-3 after defeating the Rams at home 31-28, and after studying the offensive scheme from this matchup, their performance really stood out.
Beginning up front on the offensive line, there was a new starting five that had offensive guard Laken Tomlinson (usually the starting left guard) getting his first start at RG since college, where he started 52 games at Duke University. His level of comfort from the first snap was evident, and he performed admirably against an elite defensive front.
The area of their offensive scheme that I primarily will focus on stems from their first offensive drive that consisted of eight total plays (three designed runs, four pass plays, a 4th down conversion, and a QB scramble) and 75 yards en route to a touchdown. The blocking scheme up front utilized a variety of techniques to misdirect the Rams’ aggressive defensive front, including trap, pulling OL on pass, the hard count, and other forms of misdirection and deception.
This is the first play of the game, a 15-yard gain by RB Zach Zenner:
Next, we go to the third play of the game, and this time the Lions trap DT Michael Brockers – who is aligned as a shaded nose tackle – rather than the 3 technique (defensive tackle Aaron Donald) two plays earlier. They utilize a fullback on a wham block to trap Brockers.
The result of the play is only a 2-yard gain, but more importantly, the use of deception has caused the defensive front to think twice about penetrating upfield for fear of being run out of the play. Causing defensive lineman to hesitate for just a moment is all an offensive lineman needs to win a block, so this is a smart strategy being shown by Detroit early in the game that carries over to the rest of the game.
Here the Lions face a 3rd down and 8. They implement a hard count that further negates the Rams defensive line’s propensity to get upfield as fast as possible, only this time in the passing game.
Lastly, the Lions run a “G-lead,” out of 22 personnel on 4th down and 1. This design has the frontside OG (Laken Tomlinson) pull and kick out the EMLOS (end man on the line of scrimmage), with the RT blocking down to pin the frontside 3 technique (Aaron Donald).
Creativity is necessary if the goal is to block arguably the best defensive tackle in the NFL (Donald), and one that Detroit masterfully implements on this drive in a multitude of ways.
Jermey Parnell – Gallop Technique
My offensive line buffs will appreciate this small nuance.
Before the season started I featured Cowboys RT Doug Free in my Under the Microscope series, and highlighted his use of the gallop technique, which is a hop-step to cover ground laterally in the run game, usually on a double team. It is a staple of offensive line coach Bill Callahan’s scheme, and one that was shown this week from Parnell.
Parnell played for Callahan in Dallas from 2012-2014, and brought with him to Jacksonville an influence from his time as a Cowboy. This is a great example of a guy adding a technique to his toolbox from one coach, and carrying it with him through his career.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski’s chemistry
The scramble drill for a receiver is a good demonstration of their mental processing to recognize that the QB is on the move, find an opening in the defense that sets up the QB for an easy throw, and to highlight the chemistry (or lack thereof) between himself and the QB.
Here Brady is forced out of the pocket because of the coverage initially blanketing the receivers. After Gronkowski runs his route to the sideline, Brady quickly diagnoses open space behind Gronkowski, and signals him to break in that direction.
This is an example of keen awareness from Brady, plus the ability to connect with his tight end for a 32-yard gain on 3rd down and 9 after a split-second decision.
Patriots pulling OL in the pass game to vacate the middle of the field
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is notorious for pulling offensive lineman on passing plays in order to get linebackers to vacate the middle of the field. This puts the linebacker in a bad situation because he is simply reading his key and responding accordingly, but McDaniels exploits the defender who is doing his job by bringing a receiver on an over-route to fill the vacated space.
The Patriots are facing a 3rd down and 1 here, which helps sell the run, and they use Gronkowski on a quick in-cut for an easy first down. Just another example of New England using deception and smarts to outwit their opponent.
AJ Green is a superb route runner
Receiver is one of my top 3 favorite positions to evaluate, and it’s because of the nuance on display by superior route runners throughout their route stem. Manipulating the defender in coverage is an artform that can be perfected in an endless number of ways, and the premier receivers utilize many forms.
Green is one of the elite receivers in the NFL, largely due to his ability to deceive cornerbacks through subtle fakes, jabs, hesitations, and a keen sense of controlling his speeds throughout the route.
This is a beautiful display of exactly that, and the result is a big gain on 3rd down.
John Miller – Backside Cut-off
One of the most enjoyable aspects of studying offensive line play is the legion of ways a lineman can accomplish the job on any given play. The backside cut-off is one of the more entertaining facets to witness, particularly because defenders aren’t expecting it. In order to execute the backside cut-off the lineman must be smooth and quick in his technique, especially when wrapping around for the block.
Miller is only in his second season, but is an integral part of one of the best offensive lines in football, and this is a savvy, veteran move to win his block.
The fold block is a staple of the Bills running game
Buffalo ran the ball 44 times for 312 yards (7.1 YPC) against the 49ers defense this past Sunday. The offense primarily uses the power/gap run scheme up front with a slew of variations and wrinkles added in order to mask simple concepts.
Here we have a staple of the scheme (the fold block) carried out by two players who are playing at an All-Pro level so far this season in LT Cordy Glenn and LG Richie Incognito. Glenn’s athleticism really stands out here on his path to the second level, along with the angle he took to work inside-out against the linebacker.
Along with these two blocks, center Eric Wood drives his man out of the running back’s path, and the result is a synchronized display of blocking from the left side of the offensive line.
Week 6 of the NFL season saw some very impressive offensive line play from the likes of Miller, Glenn, Parnell, and Tomlinson while veteran players like Brady, Gronkowski, and Green impressed with their refined technique and ability. The Patriots kept rolling and the Lions found a way to win behind their offensive line, thanks in large part to their use of misdirection and deception.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @VeteranScout. Read more of his work here, including his look at the wonder that is Joe Thomas, an explanation of why Doug Free is underrated, and his piece on Kansas City Chief center Mitch Morse.
All film courtesy of NFL Game Pass