Tate played running back in high school, but was mostly used as a WR while at Notre Dame. During the 2009 season, Tate saw his carries increase a considerable amount compared to previous years. While with Seattle, utilizing his ability making plays in space, he was effectively used catching passes behind the line of scrimmage through screens, as shown below:
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Then the Seahawks tried something new with Tate, giving him the ball in motion on sweeps out of the backfield. Like this play here:
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Setting Tate in motion behind the offensive line became a staple for Seattle, as the defense couldn’t simply focus on Marshawn Lynch in the backfield:
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When Tate signed with the Lions, they went a step further and decided to put him in the backfield as a running back:
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Given his prowess with the football in his hands, it should be no surprise that Tate gained 635 yards after catch in 2016, (ranked fourth last year behind the likes of Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, and Travis Kelce). In 2014, he made his first Pro Bowl in his first year with the Lions.
Here, we are going to take a look at how Detroit uses him in the backfield and the attention he attracts from the defense. The game chosen is a 2016 Week 5 matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions.
Context: With 13:09 left in the first quarter, the Lions face a 2nd and 6th with the ball on the Eagles’ 48-yard line:
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On this play , we see Tate (#15) in the backfield behind Matthew Stafford (#9) who’s in the shotgun. The Eagles have nine in the box anticipating a run with middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (#58) blitzing the B gap. Theo Riddick (#25), who will be one of Tate’s lead blockers on this outside pitch play is lined to Stafford’s right . Prior to the snap, tight end Orson Charles (#84) will motion behind receiver Andre Roberts (#12) and will execute a crackback block on defensive end Brandon Graham (#55). At the snap, offensive tackle Riley Reiff (#71) pulls outside to accompany Reddick lead blocking. Stafford pitches the ball to Tate who has some open space in front of him thanks to the efforts of his lead blockers. The crackback block by Charles clutters Hicks’ attempt at coming through the B gap cleanly, disrupting a tackle on the receiver. Tate heads outside reading his lead blockers then redirects himself inside seeing center Travis Swanson (#64) on the way to seal (nice job by him) Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham (#53) in the second level. He is now up against corner Ron Brooks (#33) one-on-one as he attempts to evade Brooks’s tackle with a leap. Brooks gets a piece of Tate’s foot last second causing Tate to fall forward for an 11 yard gain. First Down. Here, we have an endzone view of the play.
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Context: With 11:54 left in the first quarter, the Lions have a new set of downs with the ball on Philadelphia’s 29.
This is three plays later on the same drive as above, the Lions run a similar play to the left side, only the center, Swanson, will pull to add as a third lead blocker and right guard Larry Warford (#75) will issue a cut block on Fletcher Cox (#91). A slight difference in personnel as the slot position is manned by Anquan Boldin (#80) instead of Andre Roberts. The Eagles defense shows seven in the box and are ready for what Detroit calls when Charles once again motions inside behind Boldin. Upon the snap, end Connor Barwin (#98) anticipates the crackback block from Charles and uses a spin a move to counter it and gets free. Meanwhile, Jordan Hicks reads the play and quickly gets past the pulling center able to contain Tate’s run along with Barwin. Tate is able to make Hicks miss and cuts back inside and is able to make a couple more defenders miss before being tackled for a one-yard loss. Would it have been easier for the playside guard to pass over the 3 technique to the center and instead target the linebacker?
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Here’s another look at how Detroit can use Tate in the backfield, this time to draw the attention of the defense away from the primary target.
Context: With 53 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Detroit has a 1st and 6 on the Lions second possession, they enter the red zone with the same players as the play above. Stafford is in the shotgun with Tate behind him and Theo Reddick on the quarterback’s left side. Orson Charles doesn’t motion this time staying outside with Anquan Boldin to the left in an inverted slot formation.
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At the snap, the offensive line take a pass set with Reddick coming forward looking to block. Tate releases to the left side on a swing route. Stafford pump fakes to Tate and swirls around to look for Reddick, who is sneaking his way to the right side of the field. It’s a setup. Both Nigel Bradham and Ron Brooks react and flow to Tate’s release out of the backfield, while Jordan Hicks keeps an eye on Stafford, unaware of Reddick’s movement to the opposite side of the field. The center and both guards, Warford and Graham Glasgow (#60) sell their pass blocking before setting course to the boundary side of the field acting as lead blockers for their running back. Reddick catches the ball with Swanson leading the way with green in front of them after a cut block by Warford on the pursuing Hicks. For extra measure, Swanson dives in front of safety Rodney McLeod (#23) to lead Reddick to the end zone. Touchdown Detroit.
Golden Tate’s change of direction and vision have been an asset for the Lions, adding another wrinkle to their offense coming out of the backfield when Ameer Abdullah has been absent (specifically this game against Philadelphia). Hopefully with Abdhullah healthy this year, the Lions offense will have more firepower in the backfield.