The San Francisco 49ers should improve over last year’s debacle of a season, in which they finished 5-11. New coach Chip Kelly is probably facing his last chance to try his no-huddle offense in the NFL. While this style is much-criticized for not managing the clock properly, it does provide some unique and interesting plays. One formation that is a staple of Kelly’s offensive scheme is the Gun Far Pro Twins formation, which will certainly be used in San Francisco. In a three-part series, Matthew Brown breaks down the formation. In Part 1, he looked at the various running plays, in Part 2 the passing plays and, in Part 3, he looks at the play-action and RPO plays run from Gun Far Pro Twins.
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The most common play-action call from Gun Far Pro Twins is a play-action bootleg play. In the play, the quarterback fakes the outside zone handoff one way, then rolls out to the other side – unless there is a defender containing him or in his face. The offensive line blocks the play just like it were an outside zone play. The solitary wide receiver runs a deep comeback route, with the flanker on a very deep post / crossing route. The man in the slot runs a curved crossing route over the middle. Meanwhile, the tight end chips the defensive end / outside linebacker and releases as a check-down option, and the running back remains in the flats – checking for a free rusher and then releasing.
In this sample of the play-action bootleg, the Eagles’ offense is facing 4th and 1 on the Falcons’ 34-yard line. The Eagles are losing 10-0 with 8:31 left in the second quarter. It is natural for the defense to expect a run to convert the short-yardage situation, particularly when they lack play calling tendencies data in the first game of the season, making the play-action call a good one.
Pre-snap, the Falcons indicate a blitz of at least five defenders. In reality, they initially seem to blitz six, in an attempt to stop the run. The Cover 1 blitz has the Falcons in man coverage, which they execute well: Every wide receiver and the running back – who is being covered by middle linebacker Paul Worrilow (#55) – is blanketed.
The Falcons’ strong safety, William Moore (#25), has played the run hard. He hurriedly tries to gain depth to undercut the shallow crossing route of slot receiver Jordan Matthews (#81). However, Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (#86), after chipping a Falcons defender, releases and nestles down underneath the coverage. He is wide open as the check-down option for quarterback Sam Bradford (#7) who, rolling away from most of the pressure, finds him for an 18-yard gain.
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Here, Philadelphia is facing a 2nd and 7 on New Orleans’ 21-yard line. The game is tied at 10. Despite attempting a massive 38 passes by the midpoint of the 3rd quarter, the Eagles had run the football effectively – rushing eighteen times for 112 yards, an average of 6.2 yards per carry. This ensured that the run fake was threatening enough to make the play-action an effective call.
In the defensive backfield, the Saints appear to show a Cover 4 pre-snap look. Their linebackers come toward the run fake, before dropping back into their zones, as the Saints play Cover 3 after some safety rotation. Facing only four pass rushers and rolling away into more space, Bradford has plenty of time to wait for the Z receiver, Jordan Huff (#13), to complete his route. Huff leaves Saints cornerback Brandon Browner (#39) flailing, with the wide receiver breaking back to face his quarterback while Browner thinks he is going deep. The pass is completed for 19 yards.
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WIth 3:50 left in the 2nd quarter, the Eagles had difficulty running the football against the Giants’ defense, rushing seven times for 24 yards at 3.4 YPC. In spite of this, they were up 14-7 and had 1st and 10 on their own 32 at the time of this third example.
The Giants show a Cover 3 look before the snap, dropping back into a form of Cover 3 after the play fake. Split end Miles Austin (#19) is covered fairly well by cornerback Jayron Hosley (#28). Slot receiver Matthews (#81) is slightly open for a very tough throw, but it looks like this opening comes after Bradford has progressed from him in his reads. Huff (#13) is covered well by cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (#41).
The player unaccounted for is Bradford. This is not that surprising, considering he is not that mobile. However, he has such a large amount of space to run into when rolling out that he picks up 5 yards on the play, with the tight end Ertz helping to partially block defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa (#58) away from Bradford. Part of the the reason Bradford had so much space to run was safety Landon Collins (#21), who was in the best position to stop the quarterback run, dropping into his zone to cover Matthews’ crossing route.
Other reasons for the play’s success here may lie with a combination of previous play-calling factors. First, the Eagles were coming off a 12-yard gain from a play-action play from a different shotgun formation. The Giants might have been slightly surprised at back-to-back play-action plays. Secondly, and more feasibly, the last time Gun Far Pro Twins was seen in the game was on the previous offensive drive for the Eagles, where they ran inside zone out of it for 6 yards.
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Play-Action Bootleg Variation
This play-action play only differs slightly from the previously mentioned play, with the ‘twins’ in the formation running the same routes. Here, the offensive line does not block this play as though it were an outside zone play. Rather, they sink into more regular looking pass protection, without blocking to one side. The single wide receiver to the closed side of the formation runs a streak rather than a deep comeback. The tight end runs a quick route into the flats rather than checking the defensive end. Finally, the quarterback does not roll out to the opposite side of the run fake.
The Eagles have their backup quarterback, Mark Sanchez, in the game after Bradford was injured in the third quarter. They were dominating the game under Bradford in the first quarter, but they are now losing 20-19, and have a crucial 1st and 10 on the Dolphins’ 38 with 5:23 left in the game. The Eagles had failed to run the ball effectively all game, looking very labored. The rushed 35 times for just 83 yards, a pitiful average of 2.4 YPC, rendering play-action passes far less likely to fool defenders.
The Dolphins appear to be in a fairly standard Cover 3 defense before Sanchez (#3) takes the snap. Once the ball is snapped, the Dolphins do drop into Cover 3. Rushing only their four defensive linemen, their linebackers do not bite hard on the play fake. The only Eagles player who looked close to gaining separation was slot receiver Nelson Agholor (#17). However, nickel cornerback Bobby McCain (#28) has fairly tight coverage on Agholor, making it a tough throw for Sanchez. By the time Sanchez had reached Agholor in his read progression, the throw is nearly impossible as middle linebacker Mike Hull (#45) reads Sanchez’ eyes, he has good enough depth and positioning to intercept any attempted pass to Agholor.
At this point in the play, Sanchez is facing a situation where none of his receivers are open, and the pass rush of the Dolphins is starting to be felt, particularly on his right side, where right tackle Dennis Kelly (#67) has let defensive end Derrick Shelby (#79) through on the inside. Sanchez, though, senses the pressure and makes Shelby miss, scrambling out to his right. He has his eyes on his running back, DeMarco Murray (#29), who adjusts his route in the flat into a wheel route. Murray beats linebacker Koa Misi (#55) deep with his speed. His separation is enhanced by Misi coming downhill toward Murray with a few steps when Sanchez started his scramble, in an attempt to intercept the ball or tackle Sanchez. This results in the defender losing the valuable cushion he had. Sanchez delivers a perfectly lofted ball to Murray for a 20-yard gain.
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This play can beat a variety of coverages. The play is blocked as though it is an inside zone run, as the handoff is faked and the running back leaks through the offensive line looking for rushers to block before becoming a check-down option. The seam route from the flanker, motioning inside pre-snap, is a route that will stretch a Cover 3 vertically. Meanwhile, the switch concept at the bottom of the screen and the wheel route run by the tight end tend to lead to separation as rubs occur and defenders try to avoid obstructing each other. This is especially the case in man coverage.
Against the Cowboys with the game tied at 21 with 9:17 remaining and the ball on Philadelphia’s 41, the Eagles run their play-action switch play for the first time. Previously in the game, they had used flanker motion to run inside zone plays. Flanker Josh Huff (#13) motions inside, and he is followed by cornerback Brandon Carr (#39). This indicates that the Cowboys are likely to be playing some form of man coverage, but this is by no means certain.
After the snap, the Cowboys play a type of Cover 1 pass defense, which is recognized by Bradford, he looks toward the switch concept at the bottom of the screen first. Here, Austin the split end is covered in man coverage by cornerback Morris Claiborne (#24). Simultaneously, Byron Jones (#31) is manned-up with Matthews. The Cowboys’ defenders manage to avoid a collision, and there is not enough separation for a pass.
Bradford moves on to the wheel route run by Ertz, who gains just enough separation from the man coverage of strong safety Jeff Heath (#38). The separation comes from the speed of the route – rather than the potential rub from Huff who is facing the man coverage of Carr – and Ertz brilliantly goes up and grabs the pass from Bradford for a 27-yard gain.
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The only other play action concept that Chip Kelly called last year from Gun Far Pro Twins happened on the road in Week 4 at Washington, with Sam Bradford being sacked for a 9-yard loss after all of his receivers were sent on streaks and his running back stayed in to block. It was effectively a desperation play, with 1:17 left in the second quarter and the Eagles losing 13-0. With 2nd and 15 and the ball on Washington’s 16-yard line, the second consecutive play-action call did not really fool Washington. By the time any receiver appears to be somewhat open, Bradford is going down.
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Run Pass Option Plays
Kelly only ran Run Pass Option (RPO) plays from Gun Far Pro Twins on three occasions, all in the Week 13 matchup with the Buffalo Bills. This was perhaps an attempt to negate the struggles the Eagles’ offensive line was having with the blitz-happy Bills’ defense.
The first play was a run, used to set up the two passes which followed it. The handoff appears clumsy, but the run seems to be a counter-type play. It went for just a yard. Notice how the flanker runs a curl route.
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With 14 seconds left in the third quarter and the game tied at 20, the Eagles are facing a 1st and 10 on their own 25. Here, the offensive line blocks the play as though it were an inside zone play. The Bills blitz five defenders, and Bradford reads safety Corey Graham (#20), who is crashing down to play the run. This means that Huff, lined up in the flanker position and facing ‘off’ coverage from cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman (#21), will be wide-open on the curl route. The pass is complete to Huff for 18 yards.
The second part of the video shows the second occasion the ball was passed from an RPO. This occurred in the fourth quarter at 9:13, on 2nd and 10 at the Bills’ 46, with the game still tied at 20. Matthews, the flanker, is facing single ‘off’ coverage, with no other defenders on his side. The Bills blitz six, making the handoff certainly the wrong decision. Bradford executes the play correctly, taking the ball away from Murray and throwing the curl to Matthews for a 5-yard gain
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Note, this may not be a true RPO. It may just be two plays which are made to look very similar in order to confuse a defense.
Team Fit for the Play-Action and RPO Scheme
Blaine Gabbert is a more mobile quarterback, and better athlete, than either Bradford or Sanchez. This will especially help with the successfulness of the first play-action bootleg in this article. With the option to keep the ball, Gabbert will be able to to pick up a few yards on the rollout with his speed if none of his passing options are open. As Ron Jaworski said during the Eagles’ offensive struggles in 2015: “Teams are paying no respect to Sam Bradford as a runner. Absolutely zero.” The ability to run the football effectively from the quarterback position for the 49ers will also aid the outside zone play from this formation, covered in Part 1 of this series, as teams will not be able to leave the quarterback uncontained most of the time.
Furthermore, the potency of play-action and RPO plays in Kelly’s offense should be increased from his last year in Philadelphia, due to the fact that the 49ers should be able to run the football better. Check out Part 1 for more on this.