NFL Film Breakdown: How Andy Reid Uses Tyreek Hill to Open up the Entire Chiefs Offense

Tyreek Hill, one of the fastest if not the fastest players in the NFL has the ability to open everything up in the Kansas City offense. When Hill broke his collar bone early in the season, the Chiefs averaged five points less per game and somewhat surprisingly, their rushing average dropped from 103 yards a game to just 83 yards per game. With Hill’s speed and big play capabilities, he forces defenses to stay out of the box in the run game and often demands double teams. The Chiefs use him in RPOs to hold safeties and linebackers, run him deep to clear out route space underneath for Kelce and other receivers, and use his speed in the running game to attack the edge and force defenses to flow and over-pursue.

Despite missing four games with the collar bone injury and the majority of a fifth game with a hamstring pull, Hill still accounted for 58 receptions, 860 yards, and 7 receiving touchdowns. Let’s take a look at how Andy Reid uses Tyreek Hill to help create explosive plays, open up the run game, and allow the rest of the offense to operate with more space.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We’ll start by looking at how Reid uses Tyreek to open up the run game. The schemes aren’t wild or innovative, but are extremely effective. His ability to break open a game is respected by every defense he plays and as a result, he often demands double teams or extra attention. Here you can see a simple bubble concept off of a short motion while running outside zone the other way. You can see five separate defenders all take steps towards his direction and some even crash and commit to stopping the bubble. That’s five defenders on three offensive players running the bubble. This gives the man-advantage back to the offense on the run with linebackers and safeties now out of position to offer help.

Here again is a bubble with Tyreek Hill out of a stacked trips formation tight to the ball. This bubble action takes four defenders out of the play and allows for more space in the run game. This is a big reason why the run game was hurt when Hill went out. Without that threat of speed, the defense dedicates less people to stopping the pass option of the RPO.

These RPOs are a staple of the Chiefs run game and consistently take away safeties and apex defenders who would normally help in the run game. As soon as these players start to crash on the run instead of guarding the pass, Mahomes would pull the ball and throw these bubbles or slants instead of handing it off. Theoretically, the defense can’t be right and the offense gains a man advantage either way.

The Chiefs also love to use Tyreek Hill on jet motions or orbit motions to pull defenders out of position in the run game. With his speed, defenses have to honor the threat of the outside run because if they don’t, he can turn the corner and get huge gains.

This action forces defenders to wait and diagnose, move out of position, or fill incorrectly. It also sets them up for play-action screens, or the eventual give to Hill once they stop flowing with the outside run action.

Here Hill is actually getting the jet sweep and winning the edge for decent yardage. If you hesitate for even a second, Hill is too fast to catch up to. Reid loves to run these sweeps and run plays from tight condensed formations which forces the defenses to stack the box and allows more space on the edges.

Reid isn’t afraid to take a page out of other coach’s books either. The below play is the same one that the 49ers ran with Deebo for a touchdown against Seattle late in the regular season.

Now that we’ve established how Hill impacts the run game of the Chiefs and opens up lanes, let’s take a look at his impact on the passing game – even when he isn’t the one catching the ball. While incomplete, you can see in the play below how much attention Hill demands. The Bears are bracketing him inside and out in double coverage which opens up windows down the sideline and in the middle of the field. If Mahomes is able to drive this ball on a line to the fade down the sideline or check it down to Kelce in the middle of the field, there is a ton of space to work with because Hill has pulled three defenders with him in coverage.

You can see here again how the speed of the Chiefs receiving corps allows space underneath to open up. By running them deep, there’s a huge hole left underneath for Kelce to exploit.

Since Hill is relatively small, he can have trouble with jams or physical corners. The problem is that if you miss, it can be very difficult to recover. As a result, the chiefs will often use him in stacked formations or motion him into plays to allow him to get a clean release. As soon as you don’t respect his speed or allow him to run free, you’re in trouble as a defender – especially without a safety to help.

Kansas City also creates some rub routes for Hill to force defenders to either flow with him or transfer him off in zones which can be difficult with someone of his speed. If he gets matched up on a linebacker, there’s no way they can cover him in the open field.

The Chiefs run Hill on these rubs or horizontal shallow drags a lot that allow him to use his speed across the field instead of vertically. This also pulls defenders up and can allow space behind it to open up. A common coverage to combat these shallow drags is to have a jump call and rotate safeties on diagnosis with the playside safety coming down to attack the shallow and the backside safety rotating back to deep middle. It looks like that’s what’s happening here with the #3 slot defender over Hill trying to rotate back but not getting enough depth. The corner that would normally carry the #2 slot receiver at the top of the screen falls down, the middle field safety flies down to the shallow drag by Hill, the rotating safety stays too flat, and the middle of the field is wide open for a touchdown.

While Hill may not be touching the ball on every play, he is making an impact regardless. He’s pulling defenders out of the run game, clearing out space for routes underneath, forcing defenses to adjust and defend his motions, and if they take one false step, Mahomes is good enough to find Hill on a deep shot to change the game.

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NFL Film Breakdown: How Raheem Mostert Fits Perfectly in Shanahan’s Scheme

After being cut by six different teams over the course of two seasons and not even having a rushing attempt until he landed with his seventh team, Raheem Mostert has exploded onto the scene with the San Francisco 49ers. With 772 yards, 5.65 yards per attempt, and a solid 2.2 yards after contact, Mostert has made himself an essential part of the 49ers offense. In their biggest game of the season yet against the Packers in the NFC Championship game, Mostert reeled off 220 yards on 29 carries for 7.59 yards per attempt and four touchdowns.

Mostert’s one-cut style of running and elite 4.34 40 yard dash speed makes him a perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan’s zone-based offense. Mostert does an exceptional job of getting North and South and has the speed to stress defenses laterally. With Shanahan’s pre-snap motions, blocking schemes, and play-action passing game, Mostert has been absolutely lethal. While he does benefit from an exceptional offensive line and gains an average of 3.5 yards before he’s even contacted, Mostert also helps create some of that space himself.

SANTA CLARA, CA – JANUARY 19: San Francisco 49ers’ Raheem Mostert (31) breaks a tackle by Green Bay Packers’ Adrian Amos (31) in the second quarter of their NFC Championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020 (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

            We’ll take a look here at how Mostert fits in Shanahan’s scheme, what his strengths are, and how, after six different teams, he has appeared to have found his home in San Francisco.

Let’s start off by highlighting some of the basic schemes that Shanahan runs in his offense. If you want to check out a little more you can look at his play-action stuff here or how he uses Deebo Samuel here. Everything in Kyle Shanahan’s offense is based off of outside zone. Outside zone asks running backs to read outside in as the offensive linemen all take a step more lateral than vertical towards the playside. The goal of every outside zone is to get to the outside and down the sideline – forcing defenders to take good angles, scrape over blocks, and make tackles in the open field. Linemen stretch and double team if possible before working up to the second level and blocking a linebacker or forcing them to flow over the top of the double team. Kittle is a huge blocking weapon for the offense and routinely takes defensive ends or outside linebackers who are typically left for linemen and washes them completely out of the play. Below you can see the basic concept of outside zone with Mostert pushing outside before planting and immediately getting up-field as soon as #56 Dante Fowler gets outside leverage. He then follows his linemen who are climbing up to the second level linebackers and gets into the endzone.

When outside zone is run really well, linemen can end up five or six yards downfield like here against the Vikings. This then walls off the linebackers from scraping over to make the tackle at the sideline because there is too much traffic in the middle of the field.

From there, Shanahan continues to add wrinkles to the outside zone base blocking scheme. The simplest and one of the most common is to simply put a fullback in as a lead blocker on outside zone. This can help neutralize the playside man-advantage of the defense especially if the fullback is lined up directly behind center. It can help create additional flow of the defense because they now have to track two backs in the backfield. The fullback will try to follow the blocking scheme as if he were a running back and block the first defender to appear but that doesn’t mean the running back will always follow through that same hole – especially if a lineman loses his block before he can get there. So now additional defenders may flow to the fullback like in the clips below and allow for other creases to open up because they are worried about him eating up the first defender to fill. In the second clip, the Packers lose outside contain because two separate players choose to fill the inside gap where Jusczyk is leading through and Mostert is able to bounce outside and into the open field.

They’ll also occasionally do a quick pitch to help Mostert get to the edge a little faster with blockers in front or to force the defense pursue hard and open up gaps underneath. You can see the number of defenders that are out of position to make the tackle in the second gif below.

One of the most common wrinkles to the fullback lead outside zone is to run split zone. Where outside zone typically leaves the backside defender unblocked, split zone will crunch a fullback or H back across the formation to now pin and kick that unblocked player out. This can help create huge cutback lanes as the original blocking scheme and track of the running back forces the defense to respect the playside of the outside zone but now if the defense over-pursues that way, the offense can create a huge lane underneath them. Here Juscyzk takes his original track like he is running the full back lead before countering back across the formation and kicking out the unblocked defensive end or outside linebacker. You can even see the right inside linebacker track with the fullback as he crunches across which pulls the linebacker away from the playside and stops him from being involved in the tackle.

Here is another very small wrinkle to the split zone where the 49ers are leaving the defensive tackle, Aaron Donald, unblocked instead of the end. You can see the lane created by the kick-out from the fullback.

The flow of the defense and ability to cutback is all made more possible by speed, of which Mostert has plenty of. If he can’t threaten the outside, the defense doesn’t have to pursue as hard, and can remain more solid in their gap integrity towards the inside of the field.

Now add in a multitude of pre-snap motions and shifts which forces defenses to adjust and communicate and process. Additionally, Shanahan has begun to throw in more and more power schemes with pulling guards and some pin and pull action on the outside. Mostert who is extremely disciplined to the scheme is an excellent fit and does a great job staying tight to holes, following his blocks and linemen, and exploding for chunk yardage.

This is one of the best examples of Mostert’s discipline and how tight he stays to the blocking scheme, pulling linemen, and his fullback who is acting as the lead blocker.

Mostert’s cuts are extremely fluid, decisive, and efficient. You can see below how few wasted steps there are on this run especially as he is getting to the line of scrimmage and getting vertical on another power concept with pre-snap motion from the Niners.

Mostert’s jump cuts are extremely impressive and fit the power scheme perfectly and allow him to make people miss in the hole. Combine this with his slashing style of running which meshes with the outside zone concepts, and he can be an extremely versatile and dynamic back. Here are a couple of his jump cuts that help him get lateral and then explode upfield.

Mostert also has displayed the power to break tackles and enough elusiveness in the open-field to gain considerable yards after contact.

While the 49ers offensive line, George Kittle, and Kyle Jusczyk deserve a ton of credit for the success of their run game, Mostert’s mix of power, explosion, and one cut style of running fits perfectly with the system. He’s incredibly disciplined and rarely if ever misses a hole, tries to bounce outside unnecessarily, or takes bad initial tracks. He runs the plays exactly as they are meant to be run and has all the physical tools to be successful. As we’ve seen with other players like Ryan Tannehill, sometimes it’s all about the scheme and system that players are in and finding ways to maximize their abilities. That’s exactly what Shanahan and the 49ers have done with Mostert and now that he’s finally gotten his chance, he looks every bit the part of a future star in the NFL.

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NFL Film Breakdown: The Chiefs’ Offensive Onslaught vs. the Texans

14 minutes and 18 seconds, 213 yards, and 34 points later, the Chiefs had erased a 24-0 deficit to the Houston Texans and never looked back. After everything that could go wrong for the Chiefs, did, Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce started to click and the Texans couldn’t recover. On a day where Mahomes led the team with 53 yards rushing and where the Texans outgained the Chiefs 442 yards to 434, it was Kelce’s 3 TD, 10 reception, 134 yard performance that ended up taking over and knocking the Texans out of the playoffs. But what changed? Why did the flood gates open? Why did the Texans offense disappear? Let’s look at the Texans defensive calls, the Chiefs offensive adjustments, and how Kansas City was able to battle back and get the Texans on their heels.

The Texans and Chiefs took two very different approaches on defense. The Chiefs ran a ton of safety rotations where they would move their safeties late in the snap count to give the Texans different pre- and post-snap looks. Kansas City ended up in predominantly a two deep look with a lot of cover 2 or 4 and daring the Texans to run the ball. Kansas City wanted to force Deshaun Watson to process post-snap while also keeping the lid on the defense preventing any game-changing deep balls to a healthy Will Fuller and Deandre Hopkins. The Chiefs also threw in some inverted coverages, pure man, and single high safety looks. They morphed and changed from snap to snap and really dominated the Texans throughout the game despite the yardage numbers given up by the end.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Texans came in with the plan to run against two high safety looks and pass against one high – nothing too revolutionary. The problem with that is that the Chiefs made it extremely difficult for the Texans to know pre-snap what coverage they were going to get. Despite this, the Chiefs consistently gave the Texans a light box. Sometimes even leaving 6 against 9 and pleading for the Texans to run the ball. More often than not, the Texans wouldn’t. Houston averaged a respectable 4.5 yards per carry for 94 yards on 21 rushes but quickly got impatient and turned away from the run game. To put things in context, the Texans scores resulted from a busted coverage, a blocked punt, and a muffed punt within the 10. While seeing a score of 24-0 might look like a team is dominating offensively, the Texans were struggling to maintain drives throughout the first half and Deshaun Watson ended up completing only 59.6% of his passes and taking 5 sacks. Let’s quickly take a look at what the Chiefs did on defense and the Texans plan on offense before flipping the script and checking out how the Chiefs were able to start scoring on the Texans.

We’ll start with the Chiefs light run box against the Texans. Here the Texans are running an inside zone look with seven potential blockers against the Chiefs six defenders. On top of that, the Texans are leaving the end unblocked and reading him, making it 7 on 5 for the Texans. This should be a run every single time until the Chiefs have to bring more people down to protect against the run. The Texans execute perfectly bringing a running back across to block for the QB keep and they gain an easy 10 yards.

Once again the Chiefs are in a two high safety look here and the Texans are in 11 personnel with one running back and one tight end. Seven blockers on seven defenders. The Texans run a power concept with a pulling guard to take away the man-advantage of the defense and gain an extra blocker and they get an easy 6 yard gain.

Here’s a great example of the Texans game plan. You can see as #32 towards the bottom of the screen (highlighted) walks back to give a two safety look, Deshaun immediately checks the play to a run.

Below are a couple examples you can check out where the Chiefs are rotating a safety down towards the line of scrimmage or having them bail on the snap to take a deep half of the field in coverage. A couple of these rotations caused Watson to hold the ball and ended up forcing a sack as you can see in the last gif

The Chiefs consistently changed coverage and forced the Texans to adjust post-snap. They gave light boxes and dared the Texans to run and the Texans weren’t up for the task. Given the lead that the Texans created for themselves, it would’ve been the perfect opportunity to force the Chiefs into a single high safety look with their run game. Instead, the Texans took a gamble in their own territory on a fake punt and turned the game into a track meet – something you’d prefer not to do with a team as talented as the Chiefs.

Now, what did the Chiefs figure out that made them so successful from the 2nd quarter on? Well, as much as Kansas City rotated their coverages around and forced Watson to diagnose coverage post-snap, the Texans did the opposite. Houston chose to run almost exclusively a single high look with man coverage underneath. The Chiefs recognized this with 8:49 to go in the 1st quarter when they called their first RPO man-beater concept for a 15 yard gain to Kelce. While the Chiefs’ recognition of the Texans coverage didn’t manifest into any points because of some dropped balls and a couple missed reads by Mahomes, the writing was on the wall for the Texans defense.

Let’s start off with the previously mentioned play at 8:49 in the 1st quarter. The Chiefs run a super basic RPO rub concept with Kelce releasing to the flats and the outside receiver stemming his route into the DB before breaking on an out at 5 yards. This forces the defender #32, rookie Lonnie Johnson Jr., who is in man against Kelce to navigate through traffic to be able to get to the route run by Kelce. He’s caught up by the traffic that the rub creates and can’t get there in time to make an impact on the play.

And from there, the man-beaters kept coming. The Texans chose to put 2nd round pick and rookie #32 Lonnie Johnson Jr. on Kelce for most of the day – a guy who’s given up a 111.6 passer rating when targeted on the year. While Justin Reid got a few cracks at covering Kelce, he didn’t do much better and the majority of Kelce’s 134 yards came on Johnson Jr. (including two separate pass interference calls). The Texans understandably chose to give safety help over Tyreek but the thought behind manning up against a top two tight end in the league with a rookie and expecting to have any kind of consistent success is an interesting decision. Throw in a lack of coverage disguise against one of the best quarterbacks playing right now and an offensive mastermind in Reid and you’re in for 51 points of trouble. The Texans never really got out of their Cover 1 man look and while they occasionally rotated into zone or doubled Kelce inside out, they didn’t do enough to make the Chiefs work for it or adjust post-snap.

While it took the Chiefs a drive or two to get to their man-beater concepts, Mahomes was also not very sharp at the beginning of the game. With 8 minutes in the 1st quarter, the Chiefs ran and RPO with Kelce crunching across the formation into the flat – forcing the defender, #32 to track across traffic to be able to make a play. It goes for a 5 yard gain, but if Mahomes reads the rub at the top of the screen, he would see that his TE on the playside, #81 is open right off the snap on a rub wheel for a huge gain. At this point the storm is brewing. The Texans just did not match up well with Kansas City’s skill players and seemed unprepared for any switch calls which would have avoided the pick plays that Kansas City was beginning to run.

Mahomes definitely missed some wide open receivers early in the game otherwise the Texans 24-0 lead probably never happens. Here’s another example of Mahomes missing outside WR #14 streaking down the field with a couple yard separation in man.

Here’s another man-beater that’s called early in the game that ends up being dropped. The Chiefs use pre-snap push motion to move the RB out to the sideline for two reasons. 1. It helps to diagnose that it is man coverage and 2. This clears the linebacker in the middle of the field that is manned up on him. Really good understanding of the coverage and use of motion and formation by Andy Reid on this call. The Chiefs then run a rub concept to the 3 receiver side where #11 Demarcus Robinson clears across the field leaving his defender to navigate the traffic created by the bunch trips formation.

Here is a rub route finally manifesting in a TD. Kelce drags across the middle and creates traffic for the man defender on the running back and creates just enough space for Mahomes to fit in a throw for a touchdown.

The Chiefs would also isolate Kelce on the single receiver side, tighten his split, and let him work one-on-one against whoever was covering him. In this case, Lonnie Johnson Jr. got hurt the play before on the kickoff and the Chiefs immediately went after Reid who was covering Kelce while Johnson was hurt. Kelce’s combination of size, strength, and speed, make him an incredibly difficult matchup and he feasted on the Texans secondary.

Here Lonnie Johnson Jr. gets beat so bad off the line that he has to get a pass interference call to prevent the touchdown. The Texans simply had no answer for Kelce or the Chiefs passing game once Andy Reid figured out what they were doing.

Lastly, Mahomes killed the Texans with his feet. A huge weakness of man is that if you’re facing a mobile quarterback, you’re susceptible to big chunks of yards being gained on scrambles. Since all the defenders are in man and have their backs turned to the quarterback, there’s nobody that has eyes to stop him if he gets out of the pocket. Mahomes did just that to extend drives and create explosive plays on the ground.

While the Texans invited the Chiefs to throw, the Chiefs invited the Texans to run. Against a team as stacked as the Chiefs are at skill positions, it was only a matter of time before the dams broke and the Chiefs started to pile up points. Mahomes struggled to see the field early but the combination of Kelce and Hill is extremely taxing on defenses and at some point, you’ll have to pick your poison. The Texans lack of patience in the run game and lack of answers to combat rotating safeties by attacking vacated zones ultimately doomed them. The Chiefs may have been happy to let the Texans run, but I can promise you one thing: if the Chiefs invite the Titans to run this Sunday in the AFC Championship, the Titans will take that bait every single time.

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NFL Film Breakdown: Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill, and how the Titan Offense is Getting it Done

The Titans offense flows through the run and the power of Derrick Henry. Tennessee ranked 3rd in the league with 2,223 yards on the ground with five yards an attempt. Throw in Ryan Tannehill’s resurgence and you’ve got a recipe for success. Tannehill has been exceptional on play-action with a 78.4% completion percentage, 1,095 yards, eight touchdowns, and a 143.5 quarterback rating. Combine the power of the run and the play of Tannehill and the Titans have the ability to beat anyone when they’re rolling.

The Derrick Henry and the Titans run game lives from under-center. Despite Henry’s size, he’s not a traditional power between-the-tackles type of runner. He has surprising quickness and has a knack for getting small and squeezing through tight running lanes in the defense. He combines quickness and power like no other running back in the league and if you give him a hole he won’t just take it, but he’ll run over the first person that tries to tackle him too. That’s the biggest difference and area concern if Henry is hurt or can’t get going. What is a 3-4 yard gain for Henry is run the exact same way through the exact same opening and is only 1-2 yards for their backup Dion Lewis.

Kathryn Riley / Getty Images

The good news for the Titans? There’s no evidence that you need to run the ball well or even often to be able to set up play-action. “We have an ever-growing body of evidence that teams don’t need to run often — or run well — to set up play-action. Play-action works for teams that run frequently, infrequently, well, or poorly. For the vast majority of teams, it just works. From 2011 to 2017, 196 of 224 team-seasons had higher yards per play on play-action dropbacks than on non-play-action dropbacks. This includes teams like the 2017 Lions (9.4 yards per play-action play, No. 30 in rushing DVOA) and 2015 Jaguars (1.7 more yards per play on play-action dropbacks despite being No. 28 in rushing DVOA and only running 31 percent of the time)” (Baldwin, 2020). So let’s jump right in and figure out what the Titans do well, their base plays, counters, and for you fantasy gurus – whether Tannehill is worth picking up in dynasty or if he’s put himself in the conversation to be one of the top quarterbacks taken off the board.

Since the stem of the Titans success comes from Derrick Henry, let’s start with their run game. The Titans run predominantly from under center. In fact, 81% of Derrick Henry’s runs came when Tannehill was under center as opposed to in shotgun. This helps with two things: one, it helps Henry get downhill faster to use his size and explosion, and two, it is way more effective for play-action. The Titans love to run stretch and outside zone schemes with Henry. While Henry is large, he has a ton of speed once he turns it on and runs with exceptional power. As soon as he puts his foot in the ground to get up-field, linebackers are in trouble. Here’s a few examples of the Titans outside zone. A lot of times they’ll run it out of 12 or 21 personnel and give Henry a lead block on top of everything. It makes it super hard to square Henry up and get a direct blow on him and he does a great job of sliding off contact.

Here’s another outside zone by Henry where he reads his blocks perfectly and is physical throughout the run, getting vertical as soon as possible and rolling off contact.

The Titans love getting Henry going downhill. As a change of pace they’ll do a quick pitch with the same outside zone scheme and get him even more depth and ability to work up to speed. He does a great job pushing hard to the play and setting up his blockers with advantageous angles to block and seal off linebackers in the gif below. You can notice here how both the linebackers flow hard to the right before Henry quickly takes the cutback to the middle of the field.

Here’s another example of Henry on the outside zone, this time with a fullback lead. Henry does a great job of setting up his block and forcing the linebacker into his fullback by stemming inside and creating a better angle before cutting off of him and getting vertical. These outside zone and fullback leads are a staple of the Titans offense and make it impossible for linebackers not to sell out on the run.

You can even see how Henry impacts the play here when he doesn’t get the ball. The jet sweep is handed off going to the left but the run action from Henry pulls #21 and #59 completely out of the play.

Now that we’ve established the base plays for the Titans run game, we’ll dive into how they work play-action off of it. Of Tannehill’s 286 passing attempts, 29.3% were play-action. Those 29.3% of his passes are accounting for 49.2% of his yards and 34% of his touchdowns. To me, that says run play-action even more. With the stats mentioned at the top, you don’t have to run the ball well or frequently to have effective play-action passes. That being said, it certainly helps when you have to bring in bigger linebackers and stay out of nickel or dime personnel because you’re worried about Henry running down your throat. Here’s a play-action pass where they now leak that lead fullback up the sideline for a big play.

In the Titans offense, the threat of the run is always there and it puts defensive coordinators in a bind as far as personnel and it makes linebackers hesitate. Play-action even works when Dion Lewis is the starting running back. While a serviceable running back in the passing game and on third downs, Lewis is not an every down back. Yet linebackers from the Saints still crash down on the run and open up huge holes in the secondary. If you’re playing zone against the Titans play-action game, good luck because Tannehill is great at hitting those intermediate digs in the middle of the field.

They’ll hit these vacated gaps over and over again in the middle of the field to take advantage of flowing linebackers that are attacking the run.

You might notice on the last gif though, that that’s a two man route. Only two receivers are releasing on that play and some of the route design on these two-man play-actions gives me some concern. I’m all for taking a shot and pushing the ball downfield, but more than a few times the Titans have dialed up two deep routes from their receivers which really doesn’t take advantage of play-action on the linebackers. Instead you’re hoping that a DB is caught flat footed or a safety comes down on the run. This can happen, but disciplined defenses don’t do it and it’s ended up as a wasted play or a sack a number of times. Here’s one in their first matchup against the Texans. All they do is scissor the two receivers down the left side of the field and nobody is over the middle to make the linebackers pay for coming up on the run.

Here against the Patriots, they run two receivers deep again while chipping their tight ends before leaking them into the flats. The Patriots show a cover 4 look. So pre-snap all four defensive backs are deep indicating that they are covering the four deep quadrants of the field. Instead of dropping to cover 4, they rotate to cover 3 robber post-snap and the safety to the bottom of the field rotates down and “robs” the middle of the field for any crossing routes – which they know the Titans love to run. This robber look is one of the better ways to combat play-action with active linebackers. The linebackers may get out of position because of the run, but because the safety is coming down, it can close the window for the digs across the middle and bait Tannehill into a poor decision. The Patriots carry the two deep routes and Tannehill has to check it down to the flats.

So what does this mean for Tannehill’s long-term prospects in the offense and can he carry the load if Henry goes down or the running game isn’t killing it? Tannehill, while having played exceptionally well with an 80.9% on target throw rating according to PFF (for comparison, Brees had a 84.1% accurate throw rate and Mahomes had a 77.2% this year), is prone to hold onto the ball and take unnecessary sacks at times. As a potential or current fantasy owner, though, this isn’t a huge issue. He’s been relatively safe with the ball and hasn’t made any huge interceptions – save maybe the one in the playoffs against the Patriots where he had pressure in his face. Let’s take a look at a couple of the reads and throws Tannehill has made over the last few games.

We’ll start off with an absolute laser by Tannehill. One of my favorite throws of the year. He puts the ball on a line 35 yards downfield right over the shoulder of a trailing man defender. Tannehill absolutely has the arm to be a top tier guy. He can routinely make deep out throws to the boundary look effortless and can make any throw you want him to. A lot of the play-action and drop-back passing game has been simplified for him and it seems to have helped a lot. It helps him think faster and has enabled him to make some really impressive throws.

While he does have the arm to make every throw, he also can often end up taking a harder throw over an easier one, likely off of deciding on a matchup he loves pre-snap. Here you can see the dig route coming open with no linebackers to cap and prevent the throw in the middle of the field. The safety is lurking, but that’s an easy throw and catch with a lot of separation created by the receiver. You’d like to see him put it right on him to slow him down from the hit or wait for him to cross and lead him away from the safety. He ends up throwing the deep out, which breaks open late, but is a much more contested throw and ends up being incomplete.

Below is a great example of Tannehill’s tendency to lock into a receiver and hold onto the ball. He’s not necessarily being fooled by the coverage or what he’s seeing, he sometimes just falls in love with the deep ball or the kill shot and ends up taking sacks because of it. You can see from the end zone view that he’s locked in on the deep routes to the left of the field and doesn’t come off it to see the out by his slot receiver #86. He tries to buy time and is eventually sacked.

Here are a couple throws from the Patriots game where Tannehill is hitting his receivers right in the face. While the deep out might look routine, that’s not an easy throw from the far hash. Tannehill shows amazing accuracy pretty consistently and when your running back is going for 182 yards in a game, sometimes you only need to hit a few critical throws to win and that’s exactly what Tannehill did.

So can Tannehill do it alone? As long as the Titans set him up to. So far, I’m 75% in as far as trusting their offense and the concepts behind it. They really struggle to get the running back involved in the pass game and with Dion Lewis on your team you’d really hope to see more of that. All of the crossing routes on play-action fit Tannehill perfect and the occasional long bomb is right up his alley. If you ask him to progress through reads, though, he can end up taking some critical sacks. I’d qualify him as a middle to upper tier guy going forward with a huge ceiling as AJ Brown continues to develop and with another weapon or two on offense. He gives really good YACable balls which will only help his stats. With the balance they currently have between him, AJ Brown, and Derrick Henry, they will be incredibly difficult to shut down in the playoffs and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them upset the Ravens at home during the divisional round.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe here and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts and blog. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

References

Baldwin, B. (2020, January 6). Further Research on Play-Action Passing. Retrieved from Football Outsiders: https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2018/further-research-play-action-passing

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NFL Film Breakdown: An Analysis of Deebo Samuel and how the 49ers won the West

In the 49ers last four games, Deebo Samuel has 23 touches, was targeted 29 times, gained 340 (102 rushing vs. 238 receiving) all-purpose yards, and has scored two touchdowns. His skill set culminated in the 49ers huge game against Seattle where he went for 5 receptions, 102 yards receiving, 33 yards rushing, and a score. Every week, Shanahan is making a conscious effort to get Samuel involved in the game plan. While Deebo is clearly the 3rd guy behind Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders, he has slowly carved out a significant role in the offense. Every week the 49ers scheme a goal-line play for Samuel to get the ball. He still has to compete against Kittle for targets in this area for the field but it’s clear the 49ers want to get him involved. We’ll take a look here at how the 49ers are using Samuel, what his skill sets are, his struggles, and what it means for his future in San Francisco.

While Deebo certainly has the skill set to make it in the NFL and has really started to string together some exceptional games, he still has quite a few things to work on as he enters the playoffs and his second year in the league. The biggest thing that jumps out on tape is his struggles with physical corners and jams at the line of scrimmage. He routinely doesn’t use his hands to prevent jams or contact, is slow out of his stance, and isn’t very physical at the point of attack when competing for balls. He also had a number of concentration drops. His routes can also be lazy at times as he drifts into his cuts or struggles to burst and create separation. However, when he puts it all together, he can look like a top tier receiver. He’s not the fastest with a 4.48 40 time and he’s not the tallest at 6’0”, but he does have elite level change of direction. As his confidence and knowledge of the offense has grown in the last couple weeks, he’s been able to snap off his routes and drive away from defenders more consistently and is great in the open field. He just has trouble running dependably good routes from a snap to snap basis. All to be expected from a rookie.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers love to use his small area quickness and open field ability whenever they can. He take snaps in the backfield at running back a couple times a game, will get some jet sweeps, is a frequent target for quick screens, and Shanahan has schemed rub routes for him to get room to maneuver. The 49ers also love to run him on digs and sail routes which make up about 30% of his routes run followed by curls and slants at 10% and 12% respectively. These routes maximize his ability to snap and accelerate and don’t ask him to beat anyone on pure speed or physicality.

We’ll get the bad out of the way and start off with his difficulty releasing from press coverage or when he’s collisioned on routes. You can see Deebo highlighted at the top of the screen versus the Saints as #25 Eli Apple walks down to press him. The thing of most concern here is that it looks like Deebo doesn’t even have a plan to beat the press. He gives some foot fire, doesn’t use his hands to prevent the defender from jamming and re-routing him, and even initiates contact on a bench release where he’s literally trying to bench press the defender off of him. Samuel doesn’t have the size or the strength for that. Eli Apple #25 maintains his leverage and prevents Samuel from his inside release. It’s a quick hitting play so the release has to be quick but there is zero threat from Samuel for any other route other than a slant in this situation. There is no shoulder dip, quick outside stem to sell fade, or anything to force Apple to turn his hips and give Deebo room to work.

This is a recurring theme. Deebo is again at the top of the screen with a defender walked up in press. Deebo again is slow with his hands, doesn’t use a chicken wing or lean technique to create separation once he plants for the route, and if the DB has better feet, he may not get off the line of scrimmage at all. The most basic release techniques involve preventing the defender from getting in on your chest. To do this, receivers often pull and dip their off shoulder so that there is less area to contact, use their hands to prevent the defender from contacting them, or use a variety of stem and footwork releases that threaten the defender and force them to react and get out of position. The issue here is that Deebo does none of them.

Here again Deebo is at the bottom of the screen and lets the defender get in on him. It’s not always bad to initiate contact with the DB first but you have to have a plan of attack and here, Deebo doesn’t. He wants to eventually release to a deep out but releases inside and because the defender #31 gets his hands on him, he can’t then break underneath him, threaten him deep, or get him out of position to be able to create separation. Deandre Hopkins is a master at releasing inside on deep outs. You can take a look at Deebo running it here and also check out the clip of Deandre Hopkins running it against the Jaguars a couple years back. Hopkins gets a hard inside release to prevent a jam by Ramsey #20, threatens deep, and once Ramsey turns his hips to run, Hopkins is physical and swims underneath Ramsey to beat him on the deep out. There’s a clear plan of attack for Hopkins with exceptional execution. The opposite is true for Samuel.

Hopkins inside release out route

That being said, when Deebo gets a clean release and is able to get into his route, he consistently does a good job of eating up cushion and stepping on the DBs toes. He’s particularly good at this on inside dig routes and curls. While he sometimes drifts into his cuts on digs, when he does it right, he instantly creates significant separation. You can see below where he eats up ground and gets up on #25 Eli Apple’s toes before bursting flat across the field and creating 2-3 yards of separation.

Here he is again getting up on the DBs toes to threaten deep and make them turn their hips. This is the most consistent part of his route running. Once he is into his route, he does a good job attacking defenders with his speed and quickness.

Here is another example on a curl at the bottom of the screen where Deebo does a great job of selling his vertical route and making #25 bail before snapping off for the curl. It’s super important to threaten deep on every route to force the defense to react and protect. This creates space underneath to work and gives windows for the QB.

Let’s dive into a little bit of the scheme the 49ers use to help open up Deebo – especially when they are within the 10 yard line. Fantasy owners should be very happy about this going forward. It seems like Shanahan really trusts Deebo and wants to get him the ball in scoring opportunities. He typically schemes up at least one play every game to try and guarantee Deebo a score. The most common play they run for Deebo in these situations are quick pop screens that let him filter through the defense for the score. Unfortunately for both him and the 49ers, they’ve done a pretty poor job blocking them and Deebo has dropped two of them – but what’s important here is that the 49ers are making a concerted effort to get him the ball in scoring position. The scheme is fine, but each time one crucial block is missed or Deebo takes his eyes off the ball before securing it. Here is a quick screen against the Rams where Kittle #85 misses the block. If he even gets a piece of the man on Deebo, it’s a walk-in touchdown.

Here’s another quick screen variation that the 49ers use to target Samuel within five yards of the endzone. The Saints read it well and the 49ers miss blocks again, but it’s another indicator that they believe Samuel is important to get the ball to in these condensed areas of the field.

Here again is another goal line target on a quick rub route to get Deebo open on the quick slant. The Saints again play it well and blow up the block. The throw is a little high but if Deebo can haul it in there’s a good chance he can stretch for the endzone.

Some of the coolest stuff Shanahan does with Deebo though is in the run game and really indicates that he wants Samuel to get touches. You can check out the play below where Deebo gets the ball on an end-around. San Francisco ran exactly the same play against the Seahawks that they ran against the Saints a few weeks prior which went for 30 yards. This one against Seattle also goes for 30 yards but Samuel is able to score on the play versus the Seahawks. The Niners pull their left guard as if they are running power to give the linebackers a false run-read. Typically, linebackers read guards and pulling linemen because they indicate where the play will be run. The right tackle, #69 hinges and seals off any backside pursuit so that the end can’t blow up the mesh point or track Samuel down. The center #63 down blocks and then climbs to go get a secondary player which gets an extra blocker downfield. Garoppolo fakes the power action to the running back before pitching it to Deebo on the end around. The 49ers do a ton of this power crunch action with Kyle Jusczyk where he comes across the formation as an additional blocker. So Shanahan gives the same initial look before wheeling Jusczyk #44 around and lead blocking out in front of Deebo to the left. It’s the perfect counter to an over aggressive defense when a team is taking their base power run away. Also big shout-out to Jusczyk with the 2-for-1 block at the end to allow Deebo to score.

They run the exact same concept here against the Saints. Both are super effective and shows Shanahan’s desire to get Deebo involved and the masterful planning of counter moves to put his team in a position to succeed and make a defense pay.

We’ll finish up with one more play that works off of the 49ers run game and has gotten the 49ers a ton of yards over the season. Again, the Niners love to run crunch action from their fullbacks, tight ends, and even wide receivers that are aligned in tight splits close to the linemen. It’s simple and effective for slowing down backside pursuit because it makes the end and the outside linebacker stop and think. Sometimes they will kick out the end with this crunch action, sometimes they’ll slide underneath and block upfield for a cutback, and sometimes they’ll run play-action off of it. You can see a bunch of the 49ers play-action game in the blog post here from earlier in the season. In this case, they’re running play-action off outside zone and the crunch with Deebo in a tight split. It’s a simple flood concept with one deep receiver, one middle receiver, and Deebo in the flat. The linebackers flow to the run action, the man on Deebo has to filter over the defense to get over to the flat, and Deebo catches the ball with a ton of space to run.

All-in-all, Deebo certainly looks to be an important piece of the 49ers offense going forward. Shanahan is making a concerted effort to get him involved in the passing game, run game, and in the redzone. As long as Kittle and Sanders are on the team, he will have a tough time eating into their targets and touches but he certainly looks to be in the future and will likely ascend to the top role whenever Sanders moves on. While inconsistent with his release and hands, he clearly has the tools to carve out a niche for himself in the offense. If he can polish those in combination with a growing understanding of route running and consistent play, look out for the Niners because nobody can stop all their weapons at once.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe here and let us know what you think. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen. If you feel like donating to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here.

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