The stakes are high in special teams play. A routine sequence can go very well ‒ or very poorly. As Chuck Zodda shows us, even the little things can make all the difference between a fake being executed perfectly or ending in disaster.
To say the Jacksonville Jaguars have had a forgettable season would be to describe most of their 20-year existence. With only two winning seasons and one playoff win in the last 15 years, the Jaguars have been consistently below-average. That lack of success carried over to 2014 where the team has compiled a 3-12 record en route to another top-5 pick in the NFL Draft. But despite the missed expectations and inability to generate offense ‒ or stop an opponent’s ‒ the Jaguars have seen several bright spots. Denard Robinson has emerged at running back as a dangerous option for the future. Marqise Lee’s rookie performance has exhibited the athletic ability to compete at the NFL level moving forward. And against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15, the Jaguars special teams pulled out all the stops in what was an entertaining, if unfortunate, loss.
Trailing the Ravens 17-12 with 7:21 remaining in the third quarter, Jacksonville faced 4th and 3 from its own 27-yard line. Like most NFL teams, the Jaguars sent out their punt unit. But the Jaguars are not like most NFL teams:
The still above shows the pre-snap look from the Jaguars. They set up in punt spread formation, with seven linemen and a personal protector in front of punter Bryan Anger (#19). Anger has his heels 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and there is nothing to suggest anything is amiss.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens show eight men near the line of scrimmage initially. This would be an aggressive stance, indicating they plan to bring pressure, but Will Hill (#33, red arrow) departs to double-team the right gunner. With seven men now near the Jaguars line, the Ravens are in a flexible setup that could allow them to bring pressure or sit back to set up a return:
Indicated in yellow are the potential blocks for the Jaguars. There are enough linemen to pick up every Raven and the design of the play requires that their personal protector, Will Ta’ufo’ou (#45), be free of any blocking responsibilities. His job will be to receive the pass from Anger and look for a hole to run through. Note that because of how the Ravens are aligned, the blocking scheme utilized by the Jaguars is no different from an actual punt.
Shortly after the snap, the Jaguars best-laid plans get laid to waste:
Circled in yellow, long snapper Carson Tinker (#46) is bowled over by his man. You can’t block anyone if you are lying on the ground, so Tinker is effectively out of the play within the first 0.3 seconds. But all is not lost. Circled in red, Anthony Levine (#41) is backing away from the line. This allows J.T. Thomas (#52) and Jeremiah George (#54) to double-team the Raven lined up across from them, creating a strong wall on this side of the line. However, on the right side, there are now four Baltimore rushers and only three Jaguars left standing to block.
LaRoy Reynolds (#56) saves the day for the Jaguars:
Circled in yellow, Reynolds manages to occupy two Raven rushers and drive them back from the line slightly. There is still one Raven coming around the left edge (red arrow), but he is too far upfield to have any impact on Ta’ufo’ou. Anger shovel passes the ball to Ta’ufo’ou, who has a clear lane to the left side where the double-team has cleared out a considerable amount of space:
Bursting through the line, the fullback sees acres of open space in front of him. Levine, who had dropped away from the line, is nearly 15 yards away from him at this point, meaning that not only can Ta’ufo’ou pick up the first down, but he has room to run as well. The big fella kicks it into the highest gear he has and makes for the sideline:
Ta’ufo’ou’s highest gear is unfortunately not true breakaway speed, and the end of this play is reminiscent of what happens in NFL Blitz when the turbo runs out. Ta’ufo’ou (circled in yellow) is surrounded by three Ravens (circled in red) intent on bringing him down. However, as Ta’ufo’ou is slammed to the turf, he can at least be comforted in knowing that his seventh career catch on the Jacksonville fake punt was one of the most exciting plays of the year for a Jaguars team still searching for an identity.
All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.
Follow Chuck on Twitter @ITP_ChuckZ.