In preparation for the 2021 season kicking off, I looked back on some of my favorite wrinkles and plays from the 2020 season. Whether it’s adding motion, combining concepts, or getting to plays in slightly different ways, here are a few snaps that stood out to me.
The Green Bay Packers isolate their TE with post-snap movement
First up, we have a goal line play from the Packers. They had three or four play from this game alone that were candidates for my favorite play of the year. This one really embodies the window dressing and backfield action that is a staple of the LaFleur, Shanahan, and McVay offenses. A lot of the Packer offense is predicated on the wide zone. The first counter off of that is the boot the other direction.
That boot is what the Packers are selling here. First, they bring Marquez Valdes-Scantling over on a shift. That gives Green Bay three players to that side of the field. On the snap, both Robert Tonyan and Marquez Valdes-Scantling vacate to the other side of the field. Tonyan is coming across to sell split zone and kick out the end and Valdes-Scantling is orbiting around behind the quarterback.
As soon as the defense identifies that the ball isn’t handed off, they flow hard to what they expect to be a boot the other way. That leaves a defensive back on Marcedes Lewis, one of the best run-blocking tight ends in football. The defensive back has to commit hard because he’s responsible for forcing the ball back inside if it’s a run. As soon as he engages, Lewis sheds him and leaks out to the back corner of the endzone. With everyone else running with the post-snap movement from Tonyan and Valdes-Scantling, there’s nobody left to cover him and it’s an easy touchdown.
The Dallas Cowboys use speed option with a wrinkle
Next, we have a speed option wrinkle on the goal line from the Cowboys. Dallas first shifts CeeDee Lamb into the backfield which in itself is a unique look. All the Cowboys are doing is blocking outside zone while leaving the play-side end unblocked as the read man. If he flies up-field, Zeke can keep the ball himself with an additional blocker to seal flowing linebackers. If the end crashes, Zeke pitches the ball outside to Lamb.
The defenders over the two receivers to that side are in man coverage. That prevents them from looking into the backfield to peak at what’s going on. In turn, that makes the blocks outside easier for the receivers. The end collapses on Zeke and CeeDee easily gets the edge for the touchdown. The speed option itself isn’t that unique, but the Cowboys found a unique way to get to it.
Liberty combines concepts to give multiple answers
Lastly, we have a play from Liberty. This is a great call against any coverage and the play itself combines two separate concepts to give as many answers as possible to the quarterback. Liberty is combining both the Smash and Drive concept into one play to the bottom of the field.
I love the short motion inside from the outside receiver – especially with man coverage indicators from the corners playing head up and press. That motion immediately gets the corner to turn his hips inside to come follow the receiver. That motioning receiver is eventually going to break back outside to a corner route. However, usually, teams will use short motions like that to get leverage and speed going across the field. As soon as that corner follows inside, the quarterback, Malik Willis probably knows he’s throwing the corner route.
On the snap, the motioned receiver continues to stem inside to get the corner to follow and turn their hips. That creates a ton of space outside with the defender turned the wrong way. That piece itself is awesome, but Liberty also releases their running back into the flats and that creates the Smash concept which would be great against Cover 2. Since it’s man coverage, that back releasing to the flats pulls the middle linebacker in coverage.
That’s where the Drive concept comes in with some stacked releases from the other two receivers. The Drive concept has a shallow drag from the #2 receiver and a dig from the #3. The shallow drag immediately removes the defender at the line of scrimmage and the #3 running the dig stems his route right behind the motioning corner route. An outside release like that indicates that he will be breaking outside and that gets his defender’s hips to turn that way to protect outside. As soon as he does, the receiver evens out their stem vertically and breaks back inside to the dig.
Malik Willis could have thrown almost any route here and they would have been wide open. With the vacated linebacker on the running back, the dig is open, the quick out from the running back has leverage on the chasing linebacker, and the corner route has completely turned around the defender after the motion. It’s a great play design and gives a lot of answers to any coverage they could have seen here. Drive attacks the linebackers in a high low, the corner route and shallow drag can attack man coverage, and the Corner/Flat attacks two-high shells.
These three plays were some of my favorites from 2020 and while the concepts themselves might not have been completely new, the way each team got to them was unique. They used formations, motions, and backfield action to force the defense into making choices they didn’t want to make. I’m looking forward to the season and here’s to more exciting wrinkles and plays in 2021.