Using route combinations effectively can create mismatches in the secondary and lead to racking up big yardage. Ryan Dukarm explains how the Buffalo Bills smash concept was used successfully two different ways on the same drive against the San Francisco 49ers.
The Buffalo Bills offense has relied heavily on the ground game, led by running back LeSean McCoy, to start the 2016 season 4-2. However, the passing game with Tyrod Taylor has been efficient, safe, and productive enough to force defenses to account for the offense both through the air and on the ground. In their Week 6 game against San Francisco, the Bills employed two variations of the smash concept on the same touchdown drive to take a 10-point lead and effectively put away the 49ers.
The traditional design of a smash concept, drawn out below, is a corner route run over the top of a hook/hitch route.
With 3:13 remaining in the third quarter, the Bills run exactly this look, using 12 personnel in a Gun Right, Stack Left, Pro Right formation.
Tight end Nick O’Leary (#84) will run the corner route here, and TE Charles Clay (#85) will run the hook route, as he is split out as a wide receiver. The 49ers show a single-high safety pre-snap, which could mean either Cover 1 or Cover 3. The coverage breaks down from the start, so it’s somewhat unclear what they were supposed to be running. If they were in Cover 1, linebacker Aaron Lynch (#59) should have followed O’Leary down the field, rather than sitting in an underneath zone.
If they were in Cover 3, then it is cornerback Keith Reaser who is at fault, as he should have dropped into a deep third zone, but instead covered Clay on the underneath route.
Taylor (#5) works his reads from left to right, before eventually scrambling to his right and finding O’Leary on the corner route, which was left open because of one of the coverage breakdowns mentioned above. O’Leary gains 23 yards on the play, before eventually being pushed out of bounds by safety Antoine Bethea (#41).
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After O’Leary’s reception pushed the ball to the 49ers 30-yard line the Bills run a variation of the smash concept, using trips to the left side of the field. They run hooks with Marquise Goodwin (#88) and Robert Woods (#10) on the outside of the trips formation, and Justin Hunter (#17) runs the corner route as the innermost receiver. The 49ers show Cover 1 before the snap, and drop into that coverage for this play
At the snap, all three trips receivers run vertically before Goodwin and Woods cut their routes off at depths of 10 and 8 yards, respectively. Because the 49ers are in Cover 1, Taylor (#5) must hold the safety in the middle of the field to prevent him from defending the corner route. Both defensive backs stay underneath in man coverage and cannot achieve the depth needed to defend the corner route. Taylor pump fakes to Woods on the hitch route, which forces Bethea to stop his momentum in his backpedal and take one step forward.
This slight hesitation provides Hunter space over the top to outrun safety Eric Reid (#35) to the end zone. Taylor then drops a perfect pass in over the top, putting the Bills up by 9 after Hunter secures the ball.
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The Bills used two different variations of the smash concept on back to back plays against the 49ers, and Taylor was able to deliver accurate passes for big gains on both plays. With this new wrinkle in their deep passing game, the Bills passing attack looks primed to continue their success as a complement to LeSean McCoy and the running game.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm. Check out the rest of his work, including covering the UCLA Bruins’ use of Spot Concept, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ end around rush, and Buffalo’sdouble track block scheme and deep passing game.
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All film courtesy of the NFL Game Pass.