26 Jul Quarterback Whisperers
Execution trumps all in the NFL. The endless hours logged by the personnel department, and coaches alike, are rendered useless if the star wide-out drops the football on Sunday. Even worse, circumstances are brushed under the rug in this bottom-line-business. The process is ignored if the result isn’t satisfactory.
Less than satisfactory results have a much harsher impact on coaches than players. Coaching in the National Football League is the ultimate behind the scenes operation when it comes to sport. Anything short of capturing an elusive Lombardi Trophy puts the coaching staffs of 31 organizations under evaluation every February.
Those evaluations rarely incorporate a coach maximizing his team’s talent. The very skill that qualifies someone to become a professional coach is the one that is most-often over-looked. Every coach knows the value of dialing up simple, execution-based plays predicated on letting play-makers make plays.
Those mere extensions of the running game take no expertise to call. They do involve a very elementary level of understanding a look the defense will give you when breaking the huddle, but nothing complex by NFL standards.
It’s the elite coaches that can move a team down the field without relying on any extraordinary efforts of his players. Coaches like Josh McDaniels, Kyle Shanahan and Adam Gase. These three coaches entered 2016 with vastly different expectations as well as personnel. The common ground, however, starts and ends with creating advantageous situations for their players.
Here is a staple of the Patriots offense under McDaniels. Gather advantageous personnel, motion the back out wide on a linebacker and run a basic five-yard-hitch. Tom Brady doesn’t miss these and it makes the Patriots extremely difficult to defend on second and third down.
It’s easy to point to any Julio Jones route and credit coaching, but this play was a focal point for the Falcons. Isolate Jones on the boundary, press the defensive back and cut across his face. This play was an automatic five yards for the Falcons with the opportunity for a broken tackle and a big gainer.
Falling behind the chains forces coaches to call “get-back” plays designed to get the lost yardage back. The design works perfectly, but Landry slips a tackle and turns it into a 20 yard gain.
Landry again, this basic in-cut route is designed to attack off-coverage. The Patriots defense is playing the ‘nothing-over-your-head’ defense and the Dolphins take the easy yardage.
While those plays are built to create shorter down and distance and expand the playbook, these next group of plays are a little more complex. These plays give the quarterback a hot-read option. Ryan Tannehill, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady will identify coverage either by alignment or using motion to force the defense to tip its hand.
In doing so, the quarterback can check out of his original play with a simple hand-motion or cadence and take advantage of the favorable match-up. These plays are perfected throughout the week during the game-plan install. Shanahan, McDaniels and Gase will identify tendencies throughout the weekly film study and insert these easy-yardage-plays into the plan.
On this play, Tannehill recognizes man coverage with a weak side blitz. Rather than keeping the back in as a blocker, Arian Foster has to beat the play-side safety, Earl Thomas, to the perimeter. It’s an easy throw and catch and after a broken tackle, it’s off to the races.
An easy cover-3 beater, the flanker fans out the deep third while Edelman is matched-up with a linebacker underneath. No linebacker, in the history of the game, will beat a slot receiver to that spot – and Brady is right on target.
Finally, the expert level of calling plays in the NFL. Manipulating coverage by using decoy routes isn’t a novice skill. Of course, a level of chemistry and rapport with the quarterback and receivers is a necessity to execute these plays. These are the plays where a receiver is left all alone for an easy pickup of chunk yardage. Defensive backs get paid for a reason in the NFL – they’re good. However, there is no defense for a perfect play-call and these three are masters in this area.
Taking advantage of match-ups is an area all the great play callers excel in. Running backs have become the new mis-match piece – flexing out wide and embarrassing a slower, much less athletic linebacker. The Dolphins, Falcons and Patriots all have terrific pass options from the backfield and Gase, Shanahan and McDaniels all get wide-eyed when they see opportunities like the ones below.
This is a basic 2×2 set. On play side, the perimeter receiver runs a fade route that turns his man’s back to the play. From there, the slot man, Leonte Carroo, just has to win an out-route against off-coverage. He does, out runs the defender to the edge for an easy, manufactured touchdown.
Here, pre-snap recognition and an accurate throw make for an easy touchdown. Identify the smaller corner on the big-bodied tight end and attack accordingly. Playing trail technique, isolate this defender by getting the tight end on top and throw the football over the coverage.
Josh McDaniels had his share of pre-snap wins in the Super Bowl too. Utilizing the backs all game, Brady is able to easily identify the back out-flanking the linebacker. On this occasion, James White didn’t slip Deon Jones’ tackle, but it’s still an easy five yard gain.
Just two years ago, these three were offensive coordinators. Two have earned promotions to head coach while the third remains the hottest coordinator name in the business. There’s a reason Matt Ryan can go from a mediocre season to an MVP campaign – a reason Ryan Tannehill blossomed under the first competent coach in his career.
Quarterbacks and skill players get all the credit – but coaching is the most important aspect of the National Football League.