For part 1 of this series, see The Stafford Offense: Quick Post/Angle, 1 of 2
Countering the Counters to F Post
Last time, we saw how fast developing post routes over the middle by our guys can give Matthew Stafford easy throws for decent yards. As long as Riddick, Abdullah, or whoever catches the ball can make one man miss, a short play rapidly turns into a first down and more. We saw this on display in the Thanksgiving Day blowout of Philadelphia early: cram9030 noticed that after a terrible opening drive, the Lions came back and ran this concept twice to work the ball to Riddick and got the offense rolling.
2015 Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day, 1Q (2:14). 2nd and Goal from the Philadelphia 8.
Here's Troy Aikman talking about Theo Riddick's touchdown from Thanksgiving in the first quarter during the replay (emphasis added):
Theo Riddick just runs an excellent route out of the backfield, he puts a move - he takes the middle of the field, runs the post route. You see it's Mychal Kendricks who - the linebacker - that they had... in coverage. He (Theo) gets him (Kendricks) all turned around.
You almost got to treat Theo Riddick like a receiver when he gets back there, but those are some of the matchup problems that he can create when he puts - when they put him in the backfield to run the route.
Aikman's a pretty good authority on this stuff:
@TDESPN just referenced "Scat 525 F-Post" and had to smile. My favorite play in the Norv Turner/Ernie Zampese offensive system.— Troy Aikman (@TroyAikman) October 26, 2015
Adjustment 1: Stay Inside
One thing the defense can do is commit to taking away the inside, shade their coverage positioning toward the middle, and refuse to bite on the post runner's move. The problem with this solution is that it just re-routes the play to a new vacant area outside.
2015 at Minnesota, 3Q (1:49). 3rd and 10 at the Detroit 27.
Facing 3rd and 10, Detroit comes out with Calvin, Tate, Ebron, Abdullah, and Riddick. Initially, Riddick is lined up as an H back behind Ebron flexed left with Abdullah on Stafford's left in the gun. Stafford notices 54 LB Eric Kendricks (Mychal's brother) just staring down Riddick and the Vikings overloading the left side (for good reason). Matt Stafford decides to clear it out and take Riddick one on one with Kendricks by repositioning Abdullah presnap to the backside to chip and release. The play unfolds as a regular H Post play... except Kendricks stays inside to take away the post.
No matter. Stafford lets Theo do his thing and run away from the coverage, firing the ball to the outside for a first down once he sees the break. So yes, a defender can take away the post runnner's ability to cross his face - but that doesn't mean our guy is unable to get open. This is original Tiger Ellison lonesome polecat run and shoot theory at work:
Ellison gave his receivers these simple instructions: He left, I right. He right, I left. He come, I go. He go, I stay.
Translation: Find the guy assigned to cover you, and go wherever he's not.
Bush, Riddick, and Abdullah are really good at that.
Adjustment 2: Cover 1 Lurk
Calling the post concept too often may also draw schematic adjustments by a good defense to shut it down. For example, consider what the Denver Broncos - who currently have the best defense in the league - did when they saw the Lions ripping out big chunks underneath in the middle of the field on quick post plays.
2015 Denver, 2Q (2:00). 2nd and 11 at the Denver 18.
Coming out of the 2 minute warning in the red zone, Detroit went to Riddick out of an empty gun set. What's interesting here is we came out in double TE 21 personnel: Wide left is Tim Wright (I think - Pettigrew was out for the game) with Tate and Calvin in the left slot positions, and Wide right is Ebron with Riddick in the right slot. Denver rushes five, playing straight man free - man coverage across the board with a single high safety.
As a refresher, below is the diagram from part 1 that shows the play the Lions ran a couple of minutes into the third quarter. If you flip the 2Q play left to right and put Ameer Abdullah in the backfield instead of Theo Riddick on the line in the slot, you get...
2015 Denver, 3Q (10:51). 1st and Goal at Denver 16.
Look how open the middle of the field is for these throws. Riddick took the second quarter play down to the 2 yard line. Following a defensive penalty, Joique Bell punched it in for the touchdown. That means one touchdown was set up by a Theo post and one touchdown was scored by an Abdullah post. Clearly, this was something the Denver defensive staff needed to address.
2015 Denver, 4Q (7:50). 1st and 10 at the Detroit 20.
After smashing success on the play twice, Detroit comes back and runs the play again in the fourth quarter down 17-12. Denver has changed things up, though, and is neither blitzing like the second quarter or playing two high like the third quarter. With the pass rush getting good four man pressure and the Lions having little success throwing deep (no time to set it up), Denver puts a rat in the hole and plays Cover 1 Robber with 54 MLB Brandon Marshall (boxed in yellow) sitting in the short middle zone.
Not only was Marshall in position to make the throw a lot riskier, he was definitely looking for the route to be run. Immediately after the snap, Marshall's head goes right to glance at Theo before Stafford even looks that way (might not be obvious on 6 frames per second, but I replayed it a bunch of times on the full video so I think that's right). The pass is still completed for 7 yards, but you can imagine running the play again could end up with much worse results - a crushing hit on Theo or even Marshall jumping the route for an interception.
If the quarterback and post runner have a good feel for reading what the other player is going to do, and both players are comfortable running the play to the point that execution is automatic, the read by the post player and options can simply be built into the play to happen at all times. The only requirements are that we put the "post" next to a frontside clearout (like the 5 comeback on the regular 545/525) and a vacated center so the F can break either way at all times and the quarterback is on notice that he has to always be able to throw both directions based on the break like above.
Let's return to one of the links from the first post, the one from Dan Gonzalez Football Consulting. As a way to "spruce up" the 525, he offers exactly this adjustment to ensure the quarterback always has somewhere to go with the ball:
From the QB's point of view, one can see the clear advantage of being able to hitch up, allowing the receiver to pivot out, as his access inside is denied, resulting in an easy completion
2014 at Chicago, 3Q (12:48). 3rd and 8 at the Detroit 47.
Reggie Bush leads 21 SS Ryan Mundy inside and then pivots out to open space on the outside behind the two clearouts.
2015 Minnesota, 1Q (11:30). 1st and Goal from the Minnesota 6
Again behind a clearout by Ebron who takes his man up and in, Riddick fakes inside then pivots out to green space. This brought the ball down to the 1 yard line to set up a back shoulder fade touchdown to Calvin.
Instead of running a true "F Post" play, what it looks like Detroit ought to do is simply bundle it all in and run an F Option play with a HB option route like this one from Dan Gonzalez Football Consulting:
I mean, look at this:
The end result is the ability to feature a gifted option route runner anytime the defense leaves him isolated; should the defense commit two players to bracket, the offense is left with easy completions provided by the stick combination.
Next Time: The Power Game
The Quick Post/Angle game provides a great way for Detroit to punish any defense that wants to show Stafford a double high look and always put someone over Calvin Johnson. If the defense takes away the outside, cut Abdullah or Riddick inside against slower defenders and take easy rhythm completions for first downs. These plays are the sort that can turn our receiving backs into offensive MVPs.
In the next installment, we'll take a slight pause from the passing game to think about the run complement. Although this is the Matthew Stafford Offense, we need a rushing element to go play action from as the fourth component. For a good idea of what to expect, I suggest re-reading Christopher Tomke's recent Things of That Nature: Changes to the run game pay dividends.