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How Jim Bob Cooter is making bubble screens less predictable

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Until the first preseason game, there is not a lot of film available to break down. But here at Pride Of Detroit, we give the people what they want: more Cooter.

NFL: International Series-Detroit Lions Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Terminology Refresher: Erhardt-Perkins

We’ve talked about the succinct play call language and mix-and-match style of the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system before. Setting aside the economy of words in the play call verbiage and the memorization necessary on the part of the players and coaches, the thing to keep in mind for our upcoming discussion is the idea that a play can be built with modular blocks.

Recommended Reading:

In that first link by Chris Brown, the Patriots’ Ghost/Tosser pass plays are used as an example of how one group of receivers can be assigned a packaged concept like Ghost (turn) and the other side of the formation can be assigned a different packaged concept like Tosser (double slant). That Ghost/Tosser play template is in the 2003 Patriots offensive playbook. Looking in the 2004 Patriots offensive playbook, we find Y-Hook (stick)/Tosser as an example template. Similarly, the 2005 Panthers playbook has plays like Ghost/Utah (levels) and D-Slant (stick/slant-flat)/Tosser:

Jim Bob is letting Stafford be Stafford

As can be seen in those examples, play designs can use packaged components that attack different parts of the field in specific ways. The most obvious way to do this is with one route concept to each side of the field, but there is no reason such play construction must be limited to a short list of named passing route combinations. Indeed, we’ve seen how a run play could be combined with a pass concept as the building blocks of a play. In fact, you could build more than two blocks into a play:

2014 TBY, 1Q (3:48). First-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 19.

Normally, we think of Golden Tate as the bubble screen threat but this play had Eric Ebron on the screen and Tate doing something very heads up down the seam. It turns out offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter ran something last year against the Saints which reminded me of that 2014 play against the Buccaneers.

2015 at NOS, 2Q (8:20). Third-and-7 at the Detroit 47.

9 QB Matthew Stafford motioned 15 WR Golden Tate in from outside the numbers to form a bunch to the right side of the formation. Both 25 HB Theo Riddick and 85 TE Eric Ebron on the left were held to block against an overload blitz by the Saints. The play ended up going for 10 yards on the screen to Tate, but that was not the actual play call here. Watch Stafford pump fake the screen, look down at the release routes by Moore and Calvin, and then go back to Tate:

What’s going on here? We know everyone in the league is deathly afraid of Golden Tate with the ball in space. The pump fake is trying to get the defenders in front of the bunch formation to bite and move up to stop the screen. At the same time, Moore and Calvin float out as if to get into blocking position but then release into vertical routes. If either 39 CB Brandon Browner (in front of Calvin) or 24 DB Kyle Wilson (in front of Moore) leave their coverage to attack the screen, their assignment will be open running downfield.

Both players stick with their assignments, though, so neither vertical is open. Of course, this is fine because it means Golden Tate gets the ball on the edge where there is no defender within ten yards of him. I think the Lions will take that, but it’s interesting to note that Jim Bob was trying something funky with the older plays.

Now go back to Ryan Mathews’ video from the Detroit Lions Family Day mock game:

Ryan’s description read as follows: “Stafford with the pre-snap adjustment, nice pump and throw to Ebron for a completion.” We can see the same fake by Stafford to Golden Tate on the bubble screen action and vertical releases by both Ebron and 80 WR Anquan Boldin. 25 HB Theo Riddick blocks inside, but there’s an interesting twist when considering what the play diagram would look like:

Wide right outside the numbers as a split end is 11 WR Marvin Jones, who runs a quick hitch. This is a great modification to the play by Jim Bob which accomplishes a couple of things. First, the alignment widens the formation and forces the defense to cover the entire width of the field. Second, Marvin’s route becomes an alert look/smoke hitch on the back side that Stafford can check to if he sees off coverage. Like the Tampa Bay play from 2014, this makes for a three option play: look hitch to Marvin, bubble screen to Tate, and the thing they’re actually trying to hit: Ebron on the seam release.

You might be thinking - okay wait, what about Boldin on the outside? The other play against New Orleans had Stafford looking downfield and both Moore and Calvin were possible targets. When you watch Boldin in the play from Saturday, you’ll notice he isn’t releasing at full speed downfield and selling the possibility of blocking the screen more. Combined with the pump fake by Stafford which is also in this version, the better sell on the screen block should help get the defense to bite.

Ryan pointed out to me that the defense brought the house against this play call in the mock game. Seven men rush the passer (Theo stayed in to block, so his guy was free to rush), telling us the defense is zero blitzing. The throw to Marvin was there, but Stafford read the blitz and wanted to go for the bigger gain. 40 CB Ian Wells in man coverage on Tate charges the bubble screen flowing inside-out, leaving nobody in the center of the defense since the linebackers all blitzed.

That put Eric Ebron one-on-one with 35 SS Miles Killebrew. Following an initial move by Ebron to the outside as if he’s positioning to block for the screen, he jumps inside of Killebrew and bends to the vacant middle of the field back against the flow of the defense to the screen. This seam throw off the screen fake is what the Lions were trying to do against the Saints last year on that third down play call. The version run during the mock game is an improved spin on the original concept with an alert third option, better screen fake sells by Boldin and Ebron, and a more spread out alignment to stress the defense.

What did we run against the Raiders?

By the way, the formation screenshot from last year’s game against the Raiders with the mock game play diagrammed onto it really came from a play call that featured a fake bubble screen! Here’s yet another way Jim Bob can use the threat of Golden Tate on the perimeter: HB screen to Theo Riddick.

Had 78 NT Justin Ellis not deflected the pass, Riddick is in great position to break it for a big gain. With just 53 LB Malcolm Smith to beat, the Lions have both 75 RG Larry Warford and 64 C Travis Swanson releasing to lead block and 72 LG Laken Tomlinson available to seal off pursuit from the back. The design had most of the defense fooled, and is another fine example of how the bubble screen can be bolted onto a ton of things to create unpredictable combinations for the defense to deal with: screen with a run, screen with a post release, even a screen with another screen!

I’m not saying we’re definitely going to a full blown Erhardt-Perkins offensive system, but the simplified verbiage and building block approach is in line with what’s being done around the league with packaged plays. This kind of creative thinking by Jim Bob is encouraging to see. In the example shown here, Detroit has a way to take a bubble screen that’s normally a constraint play element and turn it into the fulcrum of a devastating package showcasing Golden Tate, one of the team’s best play-makers.