NFL offences more and more are going into hurry-up mode – especially to prevent a defence from substituting out of a disadvantageous personnel mismatch.
In this week's chalkboard session, we provide a classic example.
Here’s the situation.
With 1:37 left in last Sunday’s game in Foxboro, the visiting New York Jets have just taken a 26-23 lead on the New England Patriots.
The Patriots come out after the kickoff in an ‘11’ formation at their own 21-yard line – with one running back (speedy smurf Danny Woodhead), one tight end (Rob Gronkowski) and three wideouts – Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and Deion Branch.
The Jets counter with a hybrid nickel sub-package. That is, with cornerbacks on each of the three wideouts and two deep safeties, but with a sixth defensive back (strong safety Antonio Allen) lined up as a linebacker along with two actual linebackers, behind a three-man line.
The thinking of Jets head coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, presumably, is that Allen matches up better than any linebacker would against either the tight end, Gronkowski, or the running back, Woodhead.
But it’s still a mismatch, and a bad mismatch at that. And we suspect the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady knew it.
On first down, Brady throws complete to Gronkowski on a slant for 15 yards; Allen is tardy on the coverage. Clock still runs, Patriots hurry up.
On second down, Allen is responsible for covering Gronk again, but is slow to diagnose the simple out route, even slower to catch up to Gronk and yet worse at trying to tackle him. Gronk drags tacklers for a 12-yard gain in all, up to the Patriots’ 48.
With the clock still ticking, and 45 seconds left at the snap, this is the diagrammed play – the one that puts the Patriots in field-goal range.
The Pats quickly come to the line, and realign – with Woodhead in the backfield staggered left, Lloyd flanked left, Welker in the slot left, Gronkowski slotted to the right and Branch flanked right.
The Jets cannot substitute, unless they choose to take a timeout, which they don’t. But Allen swaps sides in the linebacker trio-of-sorts, to Brady’s left.
It is probably not a coincidence that Brady intends to pick on Allen again, and thus will look for Woodhead this time, not Gronk.
Brady drops back, looks right, toward Gronk, but then comes back left and hits Woodhead on a route – a fake-right, dig-left. The fake to the right fools Allen, briefly freezes him, and Woodhead has two steps on him once he catches Brady’s pass.
Woodhead is faster than Allen and zips upfield for a 20-yard gain before the deep safety on that side, LaRon Landry, can haul him down.
The Jets had rushed only the three linemen (two outside backers and a tackle), which the Pats O-linemen easily handled.
In three hurry-up plays, in which the playclock never stopped, the Patriots are at the Jets’ 32-yard line with 22 seconds to go. The Pats get off two more plays – an incomplete and a seven-yard completion to Woodhead – before Stephen Gostkowski nails a 43-yard field goal as time expires in regulation, tying the game 26-26.
In overtime, the Patriots would again drive methodically in the no-huddle, hurry-up shotgun – 54 yards in 12 plays – to get another Gostkowski field goal.
Mark Sanchez’s subsequent lost fumble seals the Patriots’ victory.
Lesson: If you aren’t going to blitz Brady in the two-minute drill, as the Baltimore Ravens successfully did in Week 3 to get the ball back and win it late, you’d better have safeties and linebackers fast and able enough to cover Gronk, Woodhead and Welker.
Otherwise, forget it.
THE NEW BIG PLAYER
Spotlighting a breakout performer
Running back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Not many NFL running backs can say they outrushed Adrian Peterson in a game in which AP racked up 123 yards.
But rookie Doug Martin did just that on Thursday night in Minneapolis.
Martin opened a lot more eyes with his increasingly impressive debut season. And he did it in workhorse fashion, lugging 29 times for 135 yards and a touchdown. He also caught three passes for 79 yards, including a 64-yard score.
That gives Martin 467 yards from scrimmage – rushing or receiving – in the past three games.
“He comes spitting out of there, and that’s what we believe he can do,” Bucs head coach Greg Schiano said after his Bucs improved to 3-4 with a 36-17 thumping of the Vikes.
“I think he’s just getting better and better. I think the game’s starting to slow down for him a bit.”
Martin agreed on the latter point.
“Definitely,” Martin said. “As a rookie running back, it is hard to come from college to the NFL. The speed of the game has definitely increased.
“It’s a feel thing. You have got to have that rhythm as a running back, and get comfortable in the offence and have that game-time experience. I believe I’m definitely there, right where I need to be.”
Tampa Bay selected the 5-foot-9, 215-pound native of Oakland, Calif., with the 31st overall pick in the first round of April’s draft. Martin was a teammate of fellow first-rounder Shea McClellin (OLB, 19th overall, Chicago) at Boise State University.
“He’s the kind of kid who you could just drop on a field, run a toss play and he’ll naturally know what to do,” said veteran Buccaneers defensive back Ronde Barber. “He can make you miss just standing still, because you’re thinking about all the things he can do.”