Rookie to the Rescue? Film Analysis of Eagles RB Miles Sanders

The Eagles have been in must-win games for the last month, their season is hanging in the balance, and a rookie running back has come to save them. Miles Sanders has racked up 246 rushing yards, 151 receiving yards, three touchdowns, and has touched the ball 69 times for the Eagles in the last three games. None more important than their 17-9 win over the Dallas Cowboys. Over that span he has accounted for 31.4% of the Eagles yards, 50% of their total touchdowns, and 23.3% of their total points. He’s by no means a polished back at this point but let’s check out Miles Sanders and where he’s effective, struggles, and why he has a chance to give a spark to an Eagles offense that is looking to upset someone in the playoffs.

While Sanders is still a rookie and is making some rookie mistakes, there’s a lot to love about him and his ability to make people miss in small spaces. His 3-cone drill at the combine was #1 for running backs at 6.89 seconds and while his 40 was middle of the pack at 4.49, he certainly has the speed to gash defenses when he gets a crease. His athletic abilities are most impactful when gets the ball in space on swings out of the backfield, screen passes, or on outside zone plays where he can read outside-in. He also does an exceptional job with draw plays and anything that gets him on the edge. That being said, he has a really difficult time reading inside zone, double-team blocks, and setting up his blocks to create space. The Eagles don’t ask him to pass protect much and he can lacks aggressiveness and toughness in meeting a LB at the line of scrimmage which results in him being pushed into the QBs lap but he gets the job done more often than not. The Eagles run game isn’t very diverse which limits Sanders in some ways. There is almost no power or pin and pull concepts and they rely almost exclusively on zone running game.

We’ll start off with his problems and inconsistency reading inside zone, being patient, and reading flowing linebackers. Inside zone is a run play that emphasizes double teams with two offensive linemen double-teaming a defensive lineman before one moves off and climbs to get to a linebacker. This theoretically creates push at the line of scrimmage while also allowing linemen to get onto the second-level defenders. The running back has the option of staying playside on the dive (solid arrow), reading off the flowing linebackers for the cutback underneath the backside double team (dotted arrow), or bouncing (white arrow). By pressing the dive, in this case, off the left guard’s (#77) left hip, the linebacker #47 is forced to read the direction of Sanders. This gives time for the double team to work up to him and for the center #62 to get onto him for a block. Sanders reads that the playside dive is unavailable with the strong safety #20 coming in to fill and takes the cutback line for a positive gain.

Solid blue = original dive track, Dotted blue = cutback, Dotted white = bounce, Yellow = initial blocks, Orange = climbing off double team blocks

This is exactly how you’re supposed to run inside zone. It forces the linebackers to flow and think, your linemen get push up to the linebackers on the double teams, and the running back patiently takes what’s available to them. Unfortunately, Sanders does this with wild infrequency. For every time he makes the right read, he will look to bounce outside and get tackled for a loss or no gain. 

Here’s an example of Sanders working the same concept, but trying to bounce it outside when both of his double teams are winning and have created 3 yards of push downfield. His first read, the dive, is there but he lacks the discipline and patience to take the positive yardage in front of him.

Here is another case of Sanders going for the cutback instead of working playside and getting tackled for a loss. Kelce #62 and the left guard #73 have hooked and climbed to the linebackers on the playside to the left. Instead of pushing that hole, Sanders immediately looks to cutback instead of going for the dive.

Blue = correct read of double team, Red = actual track taken by Sanders

Here is another example of Sanders trying to bounce and lacking patience with the double teams on inside zone.

While watching Miles Sanders work the inside zone can be frustrating, when he hits it, he has exceptional burst in the open field. Where he really excels is on outside zone and stretch plays. Instead of reading inside out like on inside zone, outside zone emphasizes pushing to the outside as much as possible until each sequential gap is sealed by the defense. It can force the defense to over-pursue to the outside and opens up lanes underneath. The difference is night and day for Sanders who becomes way more decisive, explosive, and dangerous with his lateral quickness and ability to plant and get north and south.

You can see in the gif below how when #53 seals the outside on defense, Sanders cuts up underneath. He then progresses to the next block, where #47 again has outside leverage. Sanders once again cuts up underneath and falls forward for a seven yard gain. The outside zone stresses the defense and forces them to pursue to seal the outside which can open up lanes on the cutbacks underneath. Sanders continually excels at these plant and go concepts that utilize his lateral quickness and allow him to see the field while in space on the fringes of the field.

Giving Sanders space and creating an “open field” environment is what he thrives on. On inside runs when things are condensed and he can’t see the field, he tends to make poor decisions and has a tendency to try and bounce outside where he’d then be able to work the open field. You can see even on this outside zone play when he takes the track of running outside and it’s quickly sealed off, he’s much more powerful and decisive cutting up and towards the teeth of the defense than he is on inside zone plays.

Again , despite a poor initial aiming point, he is much more decisive and explosive off the outside zone blocking scheme with the offensive line stretching to the right while double teaming up to the linebackers — helping Sanders get outside and to the edge of the defense.

To utilize him in space, the Eagles love to run screens with him. They usually run a guard and center two man screen that gets Sanders out near the sideline with blockers in front of him where he can see the field and gash defenses.

Kelce #62 is an absolute monster in the open field. There’s not many centers that are even close to being as athletic as he is and that are able to get on small and shifty defensive backs. He’s exceptional on reach blocks for outside zone as well and he perfectly suits the skill sets of Miles Sanders. Sanders is great at reading blocks in space that are more lateral in nature. That’s why he excels both at outside zone and in screens, swing passes, and quick pitches. He can struggle taking the right initial track but as he gets more experienced, that should buff out.

On their screen versus Dallas, they ran a play-action before leaking Sanders into the flat. Instead of having Sanders pass pro, the Eagles will play-action him into the flats a lot to use him as a hot read for blitz pickup instead of having him meet a linebacker at the line of scrimmage in a scan protection on normal drop-backs. This way, you avoid putting a rookie running back who is still developing in blitz pickup in harm’s way and also get one of your best players in space out into the flats. Against Dallas, they use this and leak out both guards and their center to screen for Sanders off the play-action. Sanders does a great job reading in the open field and picks up 26 yards.

While Sanders definitely has some aspects to his game that need to be polished and worked on, he is an exceptional weapon in the open field and on outside runs. Used the right way, he can be a huge weapon for the Eagles as they attempt to write another Cinderella story and make a playoff run. With his ability to read pin and pull blocks, outside zone, and be effective in the screen game, he can damage a defense in multiple ways. The true test is whether he can become more decisive in the inside run game and gain the tough yards that the Eagles will need to be true contenders.

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Trick Play Frenzy in the NFL

Philly Special, Flea Flicker, Reverse, Reverse Pass, the options are endless. Teams are dialing up the trick plays in this 2019 season and gaining big chunks of yardage. Sometimes they’ll even run two in the same game like the Patriots did against the Chiefs on December 8th. They can kick-start an offense, get the defense thinking, and lead to points in critical (or non-critical) drives. The time to pull out a special isn’t at the end of a game or when you’re down big. The most effective time to break them out is in tight games or in atypical situations. Turning a two touchdown lead into a knockout 3 score game with a little razzle dazzle can be exactly what your team needs. When you think of the risk vs reward, you might start to wonder why more offensive coordinators aren’t dialing it up and inventing new gimmicks and gadgets every week. A loss of 10 yards, an incompletion, or a turnover can happen on any play. Why not go for the trick play and potential explosive touchdown while you’re at it? Let’s dive into a few trick plays from this year, when they were used, and why they were so effective.

We’ll start with the Bills’ reverse pass against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving because guess what? The 49ers ran the exact same play down to the pass pro two weeks later against the Saints and both scored a touchdown. Both teams ran the reverse pass on first and 10, inside their opponent’s 40 yard line, late in the second quarter. Both teams started out in a tight trips bunch formation before shifting one receiver out to the left.

This can help bring the defenses eyes towards that side of the field especially with the ensuing jet sweep action off the snap. What helps sell the sweep even more is the pulling right guard. Linebackers keying the guards for runs, will flow that direction because they usually indicate what direction the play is heading. So now you’re showing a pre-snap shift, run action, and a pulling guard to the left. It’d be hard for any linebackers to resist all the indicators in front of them and not come down on the outside run to the left. In both cases, linebackers come up on the initial sweep to the left. On the 49ers’ play, the guard actually misses the linebacker who he is supposed to pick up in pass pro which makes the throw much harder for Emmanuel Sanders.

The remaining receiver on the right that is on the line of scrimmage runs a deep dig route in front of the corner and safety. With no remaining receivers on that side, the corners carry the dig inside towards the safety and leave their 1/3 of the field wide open. The running backs don’t even sell run. They just go straight down the sideline and nobody is left to pick them up. The reverse man bubbles behind, gets the pitch and throws to the wide open running back downfield.

Take a look at both the Bills and the 49ers reverse passes below. The only difference is who they initially shift over before the play starts. Take a look at the offensive line and the miss by the 49ers in the pickup of the linebacker. Then take a look at the endzone view for the Bills and imagine you’re a linebacker or a safety trying to figure out what’s going on. Almost impossible.

Saints lead 27 – 14 with 6:36 in 2nd quarter. 1st and 10 49ers with ball on +35
Game tied 7-7 with 2:00 left in the 2nd quarter. Bills 1st and 10 from the +28

It truly is a copycat league but it wasn’t Emmanuel Sanders’ first touchdown throw. He threw a very similar one just last year against the Cardinals in 2018.

Next we’ll move on to an oldie by a goodie. The Flea Flicker. The Patriots just ran one against the Chiefs for a touchdown and the true hero of the play was Julian Edelman and the way he sold run. They also did some cool stuff on the pass protection – something the Giants were unable to do against the Eagles — which we’ll get into a little bit. The Patriots ran this one in the first quarter on the first drive of the game. Love to see the aggressiveness of using a trick play early (even if it’s only to help a stagnant Patriots offense).

The Patriots line up with a single back deep behind Brady who is under center and run what looks to be outside zone. The lineman all take outside zone steps but the center then peels off to help protect Brady’s backside once he helps the guard secure the block. Something I haven’t seen before on a trick play like this. It helps create a ton of flow from the defense, creates a moving pocket for the quarterback and worked really well as far as keeping Brady clean.

What really sells the play though is the way Edelman #11 uses his eyes. In the endzone view you can see he slow plays like he’s blocking and first looks at the safety which pulls in the corner on his run read, then looks at the corner which tells the safety he is looking to block the most dangerous man (now the corner since the corner is closer) and as a result starts to come down for his run read. As soon as they both commit, he takes off. A really cool little nuance and just another indicator of why the Patriots have been so successful. Great attention to detail. Take a look and watch Edelman’s (#11) helmet as he looks at the linebacker and safety.

The pocket is clean for Brady with the help of the center who peels off and he delivers the ball to a wide open Edelman for a touchdown. Brady could have scooted a little more to his right to make it an easier throw. Obviously you don’t want to underthrow this one when defenders are trying to catch up, but, the ball gets there and Edelman is able to get in for the touchdown.

(1Q 12:43) T.Brady pass deep right to J.Edelman for 37 yards, TOUCHDOWN. flea flicker

Compare this quickly to the Giants attempt at a flea flicker against the Eagles. The Eagles DBs have been torched all year, many are in and out of the lineup, and they frequently bite on double moves and get beaten over the top for big plays. This time is no different than any other pass play against them. It’s 3rd and 14, the Giants are up by 7 and they’re going for the kill shot. I don’t love the down and distance call for this, but I do like going for the jugular and putting the game out of reach for a stagnant Eagles offense at the time. As soon as the secondary sees run, they come up and leave Golden Tate wide open down the middle of the field. Unfortunately for the Giants they can’t protect against a 3-man rush, Nate Solder gets beat, and there is a defender in Eli Manning’s lap once he gets the flip back from Saquon Barkley. The Giants triple team the nose tackle and leave their two offensive tackles on an island. They couldn’t hold up and it killed the play.

We’ll finish up with the Patriots again early in the 3rd quarter down 9-10 against the Eagles on 3rd and 12 with the ball on the +15 when they did a double pass to Edelman who is faking a bubble and then throws to Dorsett dragging across the field. An awesome wrinkle that the Patriots ran was setting up a failsafe for Edelman #11 – a throwback screen to James White #28. While the play is developing, the offensive line drifts to the left as does James White. If Edelman doesn’t like the throw to Dorsett #13, he can come back and hit James White #28 who now has 4 offensive lineman in front of him on the numbers. Again, taking advantage of an over-aggressive Philly secondary, the deep crosser by Dorsett #13 is open because the playside safety flies up to the bubble and it makes an easy throw for Edelman.

In the endzone view you can really see how the lineman start to shift to the right of the screen after making their initial blocks. Since the ball is thrown out wide to Edelman they are clear to leave the original pocket where they now have nothing to protect and migrate to the other side of the field

Watch the linemen drift to the right to set up the screen to White #28

I’m loving the appearance of more and more frequent trick plays in the NFL. It forces the defense to cover every single receiver at all times and if they don’t, you can hit a big play on them. It forces players to think and makes them less aggressive and you can then exploit this on your more routine plays. Ideally your trick plays score because you usually won’t use them twice unless you have a counter to it or a wrinkle off of your original one. Plus territory or from the 40 and in is perfect. The defense is fighting to keep you out of field goal range and they can become more aggressive and open themselves up to big plays. Specials can provide an excellent spark to a stalling offense, a knockout blow to an opponent, and a way to slow down a defense. They’re perfect for early game drives to help separate or climb back in and I like them a lot more when they aren’t desperation plays. If you see a chance for it, take the shot. I can’t wait to see what’s in the bag of tricks on the home stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.

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Taysom Hill – The Swiss Army Knife

While the Saints may have lost in heartbreaking fashion on Sunday to the 49ers, Sean Payton continues to get the most out of the Swiss army knife that is Taysom Hill. Similar to Lamar Jackson, we haven’t seen a player filling this kind of role in the NFL before. Taysom has 21 rushes for 140 yards, 14 receptions for 126 yards, 5 total touchdowns, and is 2/4 for 35 passing yards through week 14. That’s an average of 3 touches and 2.3 points a game. He averages 7.7 yards per touch and continually makes impactful plays. He adds a dynamic that teams have to spend time preparing for and while his package may be relatively small, he is usually excellent at executing it and making the right decision. You can call it a gadget or a gimmick, but if it works, why stop doing it? Let’s take a look at some of the things that the Saints ask of Taysom Hill and how he can be so effective with the touches he gets.

In looking at the last five games of Taysom Hill, some trends popped up. The Saints used him on the goal line or on 3rd and short eight separate times out of his 23 total touches. That’s 34.7% of the time. On those short yardage or goal line situations, Taysom ran the ball 83.3% of the time, was at QB 50% of the time, and when he was at QB in these situations, they ran QB sweep with motion or run action from Kamara 100% of the time. So if you see the Saints in 3rd and short, Taysom Hill is at QB, and Kamara motions – it’s going to be QB sweep. The Ravens do a very similar play with Lamar Jackson and it’s surprisingly effective for both teams despite its simplicity. Taysom is 3/4 on conversions when running the QB sweep in short yardage. The Saints window dress the sweep with motions but it’s always the same basic concept. There’s almost always a WR or TE tight to the line and they use them to pin the end while wrapping the playside tackle around this down-block to get up to the next level. This helps seal the outside on what would be a pretty challenging block for the tackle and gets one of your big guys up to a LB or DB.

You can see below it’s a basic outside zone scheme with a pin and pull from the WR and right tackle. This creates enough of a lane for Hill to get up and through to gain 3 yards on 3rd and 2.

The Saints basic QB sweep blocking scheme with Taysom Hill

To make the play more effective and look different, they’ll motion towards playside, away, and change up formations, but it’s all the same concept. Check out a couple of the times they ran it against Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and San Francisco. All the same pin and pull action and basic concept and all effective. When Taysom also has the ability to throw it – although he does so rarely — it makes the secondary less aggressive towards the ball.

The Saints also like to run the jet sweep with Taysom in short yardage situations. There are a couple reasons to like this. Usually – especially on the goal line – linebackers are going to be tighter to the line of scrimmage and less able to scrape over the top to prevent an outside run. If you can sustain your blocks on the outside, it can be a really effective short yardage play. You also increase the likelihood that you will see man coverage in goal line situations and you can sometimes get a man advantage with the motion and force the defense to communicate on a quick hitting play. If the defense doesn’t bump with motion, they’re then out of position to make a play on the ball.

You can see the differences in the gifs below in how the Falcons and 49ers defend the same play. Generally I prefer the jet push pass because it’s faster hitting and eliminates slowing down during the mesh for the handoff. The Saints have been using Kamara as a decoy a lot since he started to get banged up earlier in the year and continued that trend on their two point attempt early in the game against the 49ers. The jet sweep from under center allows for a harder run sell to Kamara, hopefully keeping the LBs and safety home until Hill has an angle to the endzone. Versus the Falcons they use their same pin and pull technique with the WR and tackle to help create a hole. Versus the 49ers, however, there’s no pin and pull, #71 Ramczyk whiffs and blocks nobody, and with a bump from the LBs on motion, the Saints are now the ones outnumbered on the play 3 to 2 on the playside.

First watch the sweep against the Falcons and notice the pin and pull from the WR and #71 Ramcyzk and the lack of flow from the defense on motion.

Compare this now to the 49ers who flow with motion while keeping their other two LBs home for Kamara and how #71, the right tackle, this time is rendered useless with a missed block and the TE #89 Hill is left to block two defenders.

The third most common play run with Taysom Hill is a crunch flat play action. Coincidentally, the 49ers run this a lot with their fullbacks and tight ends. You can check out the 49ers play-action game and use of full backs and tight ends in one of our first posts here. The Saints ran this same play against the Falcons and 49ers in back-to-back weeks and both went for 9+ yard gains. Taysom Hill lines up outside the offensive tackle away from the play and comes across the formation on the snap of the ball. Drew Brees fakes the handoff to Alvin Kamara and boots out to hit Taysom in the flat with absolutely nobody around him both times. It’s really effective and the Niners probably know that more than anybody. As good as the Niners were at knowing what was coming on the 2 point conversion attempt, they were totally lost on this play-action crunch flat to start the game. In fact, the Saints ran a lot of the same plays with Taysom Hill against the 49ers that they ran against the Falcons just the week prior. It’s surprising there weren’t any wrinkles, tendency breakers, or counters to these plays they’ve been running with Hill and setting up all year. I’m sure they’re in the playbook somewhere – maybe to be pulled out in a playoff game down the road.

Take a look at the effectiveness and similarities in both these crunch flat plays versus the Falcons and 49ers.

It’s clear the Saints don’t have a huge amount of faith in Taysom Hill as a passer. They limit his attempts and generally give him very simple reads and if the throw isn’t there, tell him to take off. Just in the last five games he’s had trouble identifying blitzes, making decisive reads, and making teams pay through the air. While Sean Payton talks very highly of Taysom Hill it’s clear that if they believed in him that much, he would’ve been taking the quarterback reps when Drew Brees was down instead of Teddy Bridgewater. Taysom’s run game ability is impressive – especially for a quarterback, but while he has a big arm, he’s not ready to make NFL reads and hasn’t evolved to be an every-down NFL ready passer.

Perhaps the package will grow but there are definitely bread and butter plays that the Saints run with Taysom Hill. While not terribly inventive, they are continually effective especially in short yardage. They’ve thrown in a couple zone reads, a reverse pass, as well as throwing him a number of quick flash screens on the outside. He’s being used on special teams and has lined up at QB, slot, H, running back, and out wide. Definitely a dynamic player and one you have to identify wherever he is on the field. He forces teams to do extra preparation and with the motions, run action, and threat of the pass, can make it hard for defenses to stay honest and defend against the threats he poses. The use of Kamara with him is particularly effective because of the eyes that both those players draw from the defense. It can create confusion and communication errors and open up big plays that Taysom Hill is athletic enough to exploit. The Swiss Army Knife might only have shown a couple of the tools available but you never know when a new gadget might pop out at just the right time in a big game.

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The Scramble Drill and How it Helps the Bills Win Games

The Bills are 9-3 and have all but clinched a playoff berth so it’s time to check out how they killed the Cowboys on Thanksgiving with the scramble drill and how it is allowing Josh Allen to maximize his talents. Josh Allen is an exceptional athlete and has surprising accuracy and a big arm while on the run. His ability to extend plays puts a stretch on the defense especially with his ability to run the ball. The Bills gashed the cowboys multiple times for 107 total yards and two touchdowns on scramble drills during their game on Thanksgiving, accounting for 30% of their total yards and 2/3 of their touchdowns.

Josh Allen in the Bills (9-3) 2019 Thanksgiving game vs. the Cowboys (6-6)

Every team has their own set of rules for the scramble drill but generally they are all pretty similar. In the case of the quarterback escaping the pocket, the deepest receiver to the side of the QB will sprint to the back corner of the end zone. Generally everyone else will stay at their depth or find pockets in the defense if they are in zone while turning to mirror the quarterback. The shallowest receiver should run to the sideline and settle beyond the first down, the deepest receiver away from the scramble will aim for the back goalpost, any mid-level players will cross the field at their depth and get in front of the quarterback. All receivers must be prepared to block if the quarterback scrambles.

This an actual drill that teams practice during the week. Especially when you have a quarterback like Josh Allen who extends plays, it’s important for all the receivers to be on the same page as far as what to do when he gets out of the pocket. We’ll look today at some of the route adjustments, how it killed the Cowboys, and the power of a mobile quarterback.

Josh Allen loves to climb up and out of the pocket and has really good awareness of where the outside rush is coming from. His tackles do a good job of washing pass rushers up and away from him, allowing him to climb and keep his eyes downfield. This puts the linebackers in extreme conflict. Especially in zone they now are faced with either coming up to tackle Allen who is a threat to run the ball and thus vacate their zone, or stay back and allow for Allen to scramble. Allen does a great job of stringing linebackers out and making them decide. As soon as they creep forward or get lost in coverage, he’ll hit a receiver behind them for a big gain on a scramble drill. When Allen does have trouble though, like most quarterbacks, is when he’s faced with interior pressure. Since he likes to climb up into the pocket, a wide outside rush can push him right into defensive tackles when he moves forwards. The Cowboys got him a couple times with this by blitzing off the edge and forcing Allen to climb into more pressure. Despite the Cowboys registering four sacks, a lot of the breakdowns in protection game from the tight ends or running backs. The Bills offensive line did a great job of allowing time for Allen all day and without blitzes, the Cowboys really struggled to contain him in the pocket or rush his throws.

On his first sack of the day, the offensive line does a great job of going big on big and protecting against the front 4. The issue in protection came from Montgomery, the running back who was late in his scan to get over to get a piece of #23, the nickel corner who came on a blitz. You can see staggered feet by #23 which usually is an indicator that a defender may be blitzing. Montgomery checks the guy over him for any blitz threat and then scans to his left but is just too slow and Allen, a little late to diagnose the blitz, has to eat the ball with a free rusher on him by the top of his drop. None of the receivers help him out by looking hot either. Especially #88 the H-back who runs right by the slot blitz. You’d like to see him at least chip on his way out or be ready for the ball more quickly and make himself available. As it is, nobody uncovers by the time pressure is on Josh Allen and he eats the sack. This is the best way to stop Allen from scrambling. Force him up in the pocket with nowhere to escape to or confuse him with his protection and hot route calls.

Josh Allen takes a sack on the Bills’ first drive of the game

On his first scramble drill throw, Allen climbs up and out of the pocket to his right.  The Cowboys attempt to contain Allen but do a poor job of being disciplined in their rush lanes. This opens up a huge pocket for Allen who calmly climbs up and keeps his eyes downfield. Beasley continues his route flat across the field like discussed in the rules above and snags a dart for a 29 yard gain. As you can see below, the ends get way up-field and the inside rush is non-existent. Ideally you want your pass rush to close in and be gap-sound with players in each of the red circles below so that Allen has no space to move up and out of the pocket. Instead, the tackles run into each other, and the ends get washed up-field allowing Allen to climb up into the pocket.

The pocket for Josh Allen on his first scramble drill throw of the day

You can see illustrated below the paths of the initial routes in yellow and then the adjustments the receivers make on the scramble drill in orange as Allen climbs up and out to his right. The Cowboys are in cover 1 which means they are in man coverage underneath with one deep safety. Jaylon Smith #54 is spying Allen in case he tries to scramble as man coverage is a perfect opportunity for quarterback runs since all the defensive backs are running with their receivers and don’t have eyes on the quarterback. #19 of the Bills at the top of the screen actually wins his route immediately and Allen is looking at that side of the field. He has an opportunity to hit him on the run for a big gain but didn’t pull the trigger. As it is, the Bills continued to work to get uncovered while getting into view of Allen and separating in man coverage.

Route adjustments by the Bills WRs on the scramble drill
J.Allen pass deep right to C.Beasley pushed ob at BUF 31 for 29 yards (J.Jones).

On his second pass to Cole Beasley, Dallas is running a man / zone combo coverage, something that they love to do. To the bottom of the image and short side of the field they are running man coverage and to the wide side of the field they are running cover 3. Regular cover 3 is run to the top of the screen with the OLB going to the flats and corner carrying deep third. You can see below the coverage responsibilities of all the defensive players and the routes and adjustments of the Buffalo players. Dallas has good initial coverage until Allen begins to climb out of the pocket. Jaylon Smith is stuck looking right at him and loses the feel of where Beasley is. Beasley #10 shifts over towards the middle of the field to find the soft spot in the zone and settles down to give Allen a target (versus in man where you continue to run hard instead of settling down). The safety takes a bad angle and 25 yards later, the Bills have a touchdown.

Coverage assignments for Dallas and the route adjustments from the Bills on the scramble drill
J.Allen pass short middle to C.Beasley for 25 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

On Allen’s scramble for a touchdown he once again climbs up and out to his right (notice a trend here?), sees that the corner is running with #26 Montgomery in man and takes off. Dallas is once again in one of their man / zone combo coverages on defense and this time Allen scrambles to the man side. As we talked about earlier, when a defense is in man, it’s really difficult for them to prevent quarterback scrambles because their backs are all turned and they don’t have eyes on the QB. Allen initially looks to his left which pulls both the linebackers and the safety to that side and out of position. The corners to the man side (the short side of the field and bottom of the picture) are running with their receivers and are out of position to make a play on a quarterback scramble. John Brown #15 does an awesome job with a scoring block on #25 to allow Allen to get into the end-zone. His scramble drill is perfect. He breaks off his route in man coverage and works hard back to the quarterback to give him a window. When he realizes that Allen is going to run, he turns and finds a block. The only one able to make a tackle is Sean Lee #50 and with Allen’s speed and power, he beats him to the end zone and Lee can’t make the tackle. Josh Allen climbing up and out of the pocket is all over tape and despite the Cowboys strategy of rushing 5 to try and keep him contained, that doesn’t work if the pass rush lanes are undisciplined and your two tackles are getting mauled upfront with no pressure.

You can see from the endzone view below the impact that Allen’s eyes have on Sean Lee #50 and how the defensive backs to the right side are running with their man in coverage. Also keep an eye on #15 John Brown working to uncover and getting on a block.

J.Allen scrambles right end for 15 yards, TOUCHDOWN

On the last scramble drill of the day, the Cowboys run an end-tackle stunt and where #90 loops around to the inside but ends up getting washed way inside, the guard doesn’t spike out, and it opens an easy escape route for Allen out of the pocket. #16 Foster does a great job of breaking off his route to mirror the quarterback while staying flat and giving Allen an outlet. Allen threads the needle and moves the chains on 3rd and 4 with a 20 yard gain.

J.Allen pass short right to R.Foster ran ob at DAL 34 for 20 yards

Mobile quarterbacks like Josh Allen are incredibly difficult to defend against for defenses and when the pass rush is undisciplined, Allen is talented enough to make them pay for it with his escapability. This year he’s taken a real jump in keeping his eyes downfield and making really accurate passes on the run that allow for huge chunk yardage and explosive plays. It’s a huge part of the Bills offensive success and has the Bills sitting at 9-3, prepping for playoff football, and a real shot at taking the AFC East division title from the Patriots if they can win out.

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