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Film breakdown: Stafford’s command of the offense set up the first rushing TD of 2016

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Today we take you step-by-step through a masterful pre-snap read and audible.

Detroit Lions v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Veteran savviness on display

Over the last four months, Pride Of Detroit featured a number of articles asserting the best feature that offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter could build into his fully installed version of Cooterball would be options for his quarterback to attack any part of the field. Design to the strengths of Stafford, like his ability to diagnose defenses and give him the freedom to exploit any opportunities he sees. This might mean checking to a quick slant to Eric Ebron or a WR screen to Golden Tate, but it could also mean giving the ground game a chance to make something happen. In Week 1 on the road, the Colts’ defense tipped their hand and Stafford trusted Theo Riddick to make them pay.

Let’s go inside the mind of a Matthew Stafford. Knocking on the door late in the first quarter, Detroit comes to the line and gives Indianapolis a decoy snap to get a reaction: a ton of information becomes available in a very compressed window.

2016 at IND, 1Q (4:51). First-and-10 at the Indianapolis 21.

Did you catch all that? Here’s what the Colts show Stafford in that 3.5 second GIF:

  • 52 LB D’Qwell Jackson tells 32 FS TJ Green to move up

The rookie Green is confused on the call, and the veteran Jackson waves him up to the line because he’s supposed to be blitzing. Such big gestures from a linebacker standing right in front of the quarterback in the middle of the defense is hard to miss.

  • 29 SS Mike Adams signals to 55 OLB Sio Moore to cover 85 TE Eric Ebron

Pro Bowl strong safety Mike Adams watches Green rotate down and lets Moore know he has to drop into coverage. On the outside, 31 CB Antonio Cromartie is also watching Adams to confirm what coverage the Colts are in. Once again this is all happening directly down the middle of the field, putting both Jackson and Adams in Stafford’s field of view.

  • The entire coverage shell rotates clockwise at the decoy snap

Not only have the defensive veterans Jackson and Adams pointed out for the Lions what the Colts intend to do, the coverage players confirm it with the way they start moving when they think the ball is going to be snapped. Now Stafford knows the second level defenders to Detroit’s left will be moving backwards at the snap and the single-high safety is rotating toward Detroit’s right.

Counting hats

All of that provides a very strong pre-snap read that there will be five-man pressure from the down linemen plus Green off the edge near 71 RT Riley Reiff and the coverage is probably man free. With Ebron in the slot, the Lions are spreading the Colts out with a one back 2x2 alignment. While normally thought of as a passing formation, it can set up favorable running conditions.

Consider the view of the defense from above at the decoy snap:

This is taken right as Green reaches the line of scrimmage and Stafford stands up to audible. To our left side of the pink line, there are four Indianapolis defenders but just two Detroit blockers. To our right of the pink line, there are four offensive blockers and just three defenders. When you have numbers like that, good things can happen:

Instead, the center simply counts how many guys are in front of him, and how many guys are to the side and behind him. If the count is even, the offense is in business; if the count is plus-one, they’re set for an explosive play, and if it’s a negative-count it is time for the play to be switched.

To our right side, Detroit is plus-one. This is a great opportunity to run the ball with an extra blocker, especially since the deep safety is rotating away from that side of the field.

Theo cashes in

One of my favorite on-air moments in football analysis came from the 2014 BCS National Championship Game between Auburn and Florida State during the ESPN Film Room Megacast. Florida State left a slot receiver uncovered but Auburn failed to take advantage of the blown coverage. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin shared a great nugget of joy:

Chris Spielman: Well, if you’re not that type of offense all the time, sometimes you miss it.

Kevin Sumlin: There’s an old saying - it’s unsound only if you make it unsound. If you don’t take advantage of it? It’s not unsound.

On the broadcast from the Colts-Lions game, it is obvious how surprised Stafford is to see this tremendous opportunity. After coming up out of the decoy snap stance, his mind is racing and instead of a regular audible call, he barks out: “Hey! Give me, uh... give me Lobster! Lobster! Track 52!” Here is the Lobster he came up with:

It is a power run to Detroit’s left: both Larry Warford and Laken Tomlinson trap their assignments play side while Decker swims over the DT and more or less cracks back on the MLB. (Jackson). The Colts linemen that were supposed to be trapped get kind of muddled up in a mess, but such are the joys of being plus-one to the play side that it doesn’t even matter. Ebron had a good block on Moore for Riddick to cut behind and away from Adams, and Marvin Jones also did fine work blocking downfield near the goal line. (Watch the entire play here on Youtube from the NFL’s official channel)

Presented with a golden opportunity, the Lions’ veteran field general made an executive decision. Stafford’s quick thinking got the team into a good play, resulting in points on the board. Lobster for everyone!

Stafford shirt