Despite a new season and new quarterback leading the Cardinal offense, don’t look for familiar schemes to go away. Ryan Dukarm breaks down one of David Shaw’s favorite passing concepts, the mesh concept, and how he varies it to keep defenses guessing.
The Stanford Cardinal are facing uncertainty at the quarterback position for the first time in years, as four-year starter Kevin Hogan left for the NFL Draft and is now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Cardinal offense, however, is primed to continue its production thanks to great coaching and play design. One play that Stanford ran multiple times under head coach David Shaw and Hogan is its variation on the mesh concept, which incorporates elements of the drive concept into the play to stress defenses at multiple levels of the field.
The mesh concept involves two underneath crossing routes, meeting at a “mesh point” over the middle of the field, and can beat both zone and man coverage. Receivers sit in the seams if they read zone coverage, and continue up and across the field if they read man. The passing concept they use also incorporates the drive concept of a deep dig over the top of a shallow crossing route to create a high-low read for the QB.
For example, in Stanford’s 2015 Week 4 game against Oregon State, the Cardinal ran its variation of the mesh concept from a left bunch formation out of shotgun on a 3rd and 4 early in the first quarter. Oregon State shows a single high safety defensive look pre snap, but rolls into Cover 2 once the play begins. The receiver on the line of scrimmage in the bunch, Devon Cajuste (#89), runs a dig route at a depth of 9 yards, and sits in the void in Oregon State’s Cover 2 defense. The receivers to the left of the bunch and the right split end, Francis Owusu (#6) and Michael Rector (#3) respectively, run underneath crossing routes at depths of about 4 yards. Cardinal (omniscient) running back Christian McCaffrey (#5) runs a wheel route from the right side of the bunch formation.
Owusu and Rector’s crossing routes occupy three defenders underneath, which allows Cajuste to slip behind the first level of the defense and sit down in the seam of the zone. Owusu’s route pulls linebacker Caleb Saulo (#35) and cornerback Larry Scott (#15) to their left, while Rector’s crossing route occupies linebacker Rommel Mageo (#8) and forces him to shuffle to his right.
This opens a clear throwing lane for Hogan (#8), who steps up in the pocket and delivers a pass to Cajuste before the two deep safeties can break on his route, picking up 12 yards and a first down.
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The crossing routes work as intended on this play, occupying Oregon State’s underneath layer of Cover 2, which opens a crease in between the linebackers and deep safeties for Cajuste. Cajuste and Owusu succeed by using the drive concept within this route, as they stress the Oregon State defense with a high-low route concept that is designed to stress underneath zone defenders.
Later in the same game, Stanford is faced with a 3rd and 1 situation with 9:09 remaining in the third quarter. They align in a two running back shotgun set, with Rector split out to the left, and Cajuste and Owusu in a tight inverted slot formation to the right. Owusu and Rector once again run a mesh concept with their underneath crossing routes. Cajuste again runs a dig route, this time at a depth of 8 yards. McCaffrey runs a wheel route out of the backfield to the left side of the formation. Oregon State shows a single high safety look pre-snap.
At the snap Oregon State drops into a pattern matching Cover 3. McCaffrey draws Manase Hungalu (#55) down the field on his wheel route. Cajuste’s dig draws attention from both Scott (#15) and Cyril Noland-Lewis (#17), which opens up room for both Owusu and Rector on the crossing routes underneath. Owusu makes a great read on Saulo in the underneath zone, and he breaks off his route and sits down at a depth of 4 yards with inside leverage on the underneath linebacker.
After Hogan scrambles to his left away from pressure he is able to throw back across his body to Owusu, who’s positioning coupled with Hogan’s ball placement shields the ball from Saulo and gives Stanford a first down.
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Stanford used its variation on the mesh concept to scheme open receivers in the middle of the field, showing the ability to complete passes at short and intermediate depths for first downs in 2015. With a new quarterback in 2016, expect more of the Stanford mesh variation to open up the middle of the field.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm. Check out the rest of his work, including covering the Steelers’ end around rush, and Buffalo’s double track block scheme and deep passing game.
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