Quarterbacks must make the right decision at a moment’s notice in order to be successful. Defenses know this, and will often use schemes to make the decision process more difficult for the opposing quarterback. Daniel Syed shows how an Alex Smith adjustment turned nothing into something.
Football is a game of constant subtle adjustments on the fly. A great example of a schematic chess match between offense and defense can be seen on a simple 5-yard first-quarter run by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (#11) vs. the Houston Texans in their AFC Wild Card game. The base play is zone read.
The play is designed to be a basic zone read, where Smith reads the last man on the line of scrimmage, which on this play is linebacker Whitney Mercilus (#59). If Mercilus crashes down, Smith will keep the ball and run around him. If Mercilus sits, Smith will give the ball to the running back to attack the inside crease. Left tackle Eric Fisher’s (#72) original assignment is to leave Mercilus and go up to the second level to block linebacker Benardrick McKinney (#55). However, post-snap, Mercilus and McKinney “scrape exchange”, meaning Mercilus crashes down while Benardrick loops around outside. Scrape exchange is a technique used to bait a quarterback into keeping the ball, only to have a waiting linebacker make a tackle for loss.
Rather than falling into the Texans’ trap, the Chiefs adjust on the fly. Fisher turns outside and seals Mercilus instead of going up to block a second level defender. This creates a large bubble in the defense’s coverage because both Mercilus and McKinney are outside the tackle in the C gap. To make up for this, linebacker Brian Cushing (#56) jumps to the B gap.
Smith sees the back and forth front-seven adjustment at the mesh point with running back Spencer Ware (#32). When he observes the scrape exchange, he knows the outside keep has been taken away. Handing off to Ware would be an option, but Cushing is jumping to the gap left by the scrape exchange. With multiple defenders in the C gap and Cushing flying into the B gap, Smith quickly decides the best way to gain positive yardage is inside, in the A Gap. Note that it’s possible Ware had a crease for a big A gap run, but Smith likely kept it to avoid risking a fumble as Ware was already past him.
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High school and college coaches have used this adjustment as a designed read or play call against defenses that try to prevent QB runs at all costs. Here, Smith saw the front-seven schematic chess match and made an adjustment on the fly into a positive gain.
H/T to @andygreen88 for highlighting this play on Twitter
Follow Dan on Twitter @syedschemes
Daniel Syed is a contributor to the ITP Glossary, as well as the operator of syedschemes.com. He has written about how to execute the Hail Mary and numerous passing concepts.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.