Welcome back to Establish the Fun, the pre-Thanksgiving edition! This is just a bit of a primer, an appetizer for the upcoming week of football. Think of this as your deviled eggs, or if you partake in this ritual, sneaking a piece of sweet potato pie (which is a top-three pie, yes I’m looking at you Dan Orlovsky) before the main courses. Not too much to get you full before the turkey gets cut, but enough to hold you over while the rest of the food gets cooking.
In that vein, let’s get cooking with this week’s three-pack of fun, starting with some Dawgs in Athens who have put together the final infinity stone of their offense.
The Dawgs are back, and that’s terrifying
Early in the season, much complaint and concern was made about the Georgia Bulldog offense. Despite being ranked in the top two of the overall rankings for most of the season, it felt like the offense was still a little sluggish.
Well, since the bye I’ll just describe it like this…
Currently, Georgia sits at eighth in offensive EPA per play, but since their bye week on Oct. 21, their offense has hit another level. They’re 18th in Positive Play Rate with the passing game and 30th in that same metric in the run game, but they also added some major pieces back to their offense before a pivotal matchup with then-ninth ranked Ole Miss. tight end/Avenger Brock Bowers and right tackle/Uruk-Hai Amarius Mims returned to the lineup, and yeah let’s just say the offense exploded. Georgia scored 59 points and had their way with the Ole Miss defense, cementing their status as the top
dogs dawgs in the country.
Just look at all this green for Georgia, like the 12th hole at Augusta:
Let’s get into how they did it.
Against the Bulldogs, Ole Miss ran Middle Field Closed coverage (Cover 1 and Cover 3) on 12 of the 26 dropbacks they faced. This is probably because of how effective, and often the Bulldogs are in 12 personnel, especially with Bowers back. The Bulldogs are in 12 personnel 26% of the time, and with two machines like Bowers and Oscar Delp, Georgia can keep teams in heavier or lighter personnel.
Where they felt the Bowers and Mims return the most was up front in the run game. On the 35 snaps Mims played, you could feel his presence. He was able to effectively cut off the backside of most run plays, and open up the cutback lanes for Bulldogs running backs. Just like on this play, where the Bulldogs are in 12 personnel. Georgia motions Bowers out wide to the isolated receiver side and run to Delp’s side. Ole Miss is in a Mint front, which is Tite front spacing (4i-0-4i and an EDGE), but that means a smaller safety is going to have to enter the box to defend the run. Well, with the light box they play, it gives the guards an open bubble, where they help on the double team and then get to both linebackers. Guard Tate Ratledge gets a great block on the backside, and back Daijun Edwards is off for a big play. Like clockwork.
On this next run play, watch two things: the influence of the jet motion by WR Ladd McConkey (we’ll get to him later) and the backside cut off by Mims again to spring this run. If they can get into this bag at will, good luck man.
What’s really come on late in the season is (of course) the Georgia passing game under first-year starter Carson Beck. You can see as he’s gotten more reps that he’s become more confident and that’s unlocked a downfield portion of the Bulldogs offense that hasn’t previously been touched. Through the first four weeks of the season, Beck’s Average Throw Depth was 6.8 yards, per Sports Information Solutions. Then it climbed to 9.2 in weeks five through eight, and since Week 8 it sits at 9.1 yards.
What allows for the Georgia offense to be so explosive now is that they can put defenses in a catch-22. Opposing defenses have to respect Georgia’s run game, but the passing game now is just as lethal with a confident Beck. This is a rep and design I love by Georgia and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. They run Y-Cross, but it’s both out of 12 personnel and drawn up to give multiple options to Beck. Bowers is lined up to his left out wide and McConkey is in the slot. To his right are wideouts RaRa Thomas and Dominic Lovett to his left. Edwards goes in motion to his right, taking the receiver away, and the ball is snapped.
Upon the snap, Bowers and McConkey run slot fade to Beck’s left. This is an easy option vs. Cover 1 if the safety can’t get over the top. Safety is over so Beck moves on. Lovett runs the over portion of Y-Cross, and Thomas follows with a backside route. The over is covered so Beck settles and finds Thomas wide open, who makes a move and turns it into a big play. Easy offense for a team that shouldn’t be allowed to be both dynamic and explosive in both the run and pass.
On the first McConkey touchdown, you get a good mix of schematic concepts and Brock Bowers drawing attention. Again, the Bulldogs are in 12 personnel, and on this play they run a three-man verticals concept to Beck’s right. Ole Miss is in Cover 3, but if you look at the lone safety’s body language, he is only concerned about number 19. Bowers runs an over route, drawing the eyes of the linebacker and safety, Delp runs a wheel route to take away another backer who has to run with him, and McConkey has a one on one with inside leverage. Doesn’t get much better than this throw, either.
With Georgia operating at such a high level like this, it’s really hard to not put all your faith in them winning the title. They take on Tennessee this weekend, and with another week to get Mims and Bowers back into playing shape, this offense could look even better than last week.
Broderick Jones revamps the Steelers’ run game
From one Dawg to a professional Dawg, very Dawg-themed ETF this week. Don’t ask why, because I don’t know!
Pittsburgh Steelers rookie right tackle Broderick Jones took a while to make it into the starting lineup. He didn’t get his first start at right tackle until Week 9 despite being the first round pick of a team that sorely needed help up front. However, you can tell with Jones in the lineup the Steelers’ run game changes dramatically. Before Jones was inserted into the lineup, the Steelers were 27th in the NFL in runs defined as “gap scheme” runs (power, counter, things of that nature). These runs are naturally more downhill and “at” defenses opposed to zone runs which block areas instead of the man. Since Jones was inserted, however, they’ve had 16 gap scheme runs, over essentially two weeks. Of course it could be due to the teams they faced, but Jones’ presence in the lineup has helped change the Steelers run game for the better.
Pre-Jones’ insertion at right tackle full time, the Steelers were 28th in Yards per Carry, had 53% of their runs stopped at the line of scrimmage and 27th in EPA/attempt. Since Jones was inserted, the Steelers are fourth in Yards per Carry, have only had 34.8% of their runs stopped at the line, and are fourth in EPA/attempt.
Seems good, right?
Let’s look specifically at Jones’ side, and the Steelers’ success in running behind him. Since Week 9, the Steelers are ninth in Yards per Carry running off the right tackle or outside to the right (fifth if you want to filter out all teams with <10 attempts in that metric), have only had 17.6% of their runs stopped at the LOS, and are 10th in EPA/attempt.
To steal a phrase, Jones seems like a damn good Dawg, huh?
Where the Steelers have benefitted from Jones’ presence the most is when he’s pulling across the formation. Jones is an explosive dude, testing in the 75th percentile or above in almost every testing metric that matters when judging explosiveness (per Mockdraftable). You can see the explosion when he gets out on his horse on these tackle trap plays the Steelers have begun to implement with Jones in the game. On this one against the Packers, you can tell Jones is excited to get out there because of how quick he is off the ball, and he helps spring this big run, even if he doesn’t get the finish he wants.
They ran this with Jones in his first start against Tennessee on Thursday night, and it also worked there. Look at the hole that’s created when Jones comes running down the track. Opposing defenders better get out the way or get run over. Also: Broderick Jones and Darnell Washington on the same side blocking for an NFL team that won on Thursday, Kirby Smart is using that in his next recruiting video.
Even on plays where the ball isn’t run in Jones’ direction, his presence and his ability as a run blocker is creating cutback lanes. Against Tennessee, running back Jaylen Warren is able to find another crease due to Jones exploding off the ball and getting a piece of the backside linebacker for Warren to squeeze by.
Now, with Jones being a rookie there’s still work to be done technique wise in the passing game. But with his athleticism on the right side of the line, he has singlehandedly flipped the Steelers run game and made them more efficient, even when the passing game is just Matt Canada banging pots and pans together on the sideline.
The Detroit Lions are both detailed and powerful, which is bad for opposing defenses
The Lions opened up a can of whoop-ass on the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday to the tune of 41 points, 533 yards, and 200 yards on the ground. Above all the general domination the Lions did up front on Sunday, I just wanted to highlight how detail-oriented this offense is and how they exploited the Chargers through those same details. Against LA, the Lions used motion on 20 of their 33 dropbacks and 20 of their 31 rushing attempts. The result? 7.2 Adjusted Net Yards per pass and a 55% Positive Play Rate passing, and 4.7 Yards per Carry and 40% Positive Play Rate on the ground. Now, as I’ve said before, motion is not a catch-all or quick fix for an offense (yes, I’m looking at YOU, Matt Canada). However, what it can do is force smaller defenders into the box, adjust angles on both sides of the ball and throw eye candy at second level defenders, simply slowing down the timing. The Lions did this to perfection against the Chargers, and there are a few plays that stand out.
A Shanahan/McVay tree staple in the run game is the concept Zorro, which is an outside zone run, but it’s shown as a toss play and has a second tight end or fullback go in motion. What happens is the second tight end or fullback combines with the first tight end to double team the edge defender while the first tight end goes to the second level. This should bring a small guy into the box, and the cutback lanes should be there.
-FB protects inside of TE’s block
-TE can play aggressive
-If TE’s man spikes inside, TE can leave them to FB and move to next level
-helps get two on wide 9s/avoids TE 1 on 1 with a run stopper
-ZELDA if Will declared
-clips below with and without surge motion pic.twitter.com/ltrJRoLiUX
— Shawn (@SyedSchemes) August 8, 2022
On this rep of Zorro, the motion bumps the linebackers (we’ll come back to that later) and forces them to think to overrun the play. That, combined with the Lions’ offensive line creating a wasteland of the Chargers’ defensive front, creates a crisp eight-yard gain.
Now in the passing game, I LOVED this screen touchdown they ran for wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown. Not because it was some revolutionary design, but because of how they use simple motion to create a better angle for the blocks. Detroit starts out in a 3×1 formation with a tight end going in motion from the inside of the trips spot. Los Angeles was “bumping” their coverage, meaning everyone would slide in with the motion, switching their responsibilities. While it’s fine to run that in zone coverage, it puts defenses in a predicament where a small DB has to take on a big lineman.
Well, guess what happens here? The Lions run a quick screen, and because of the motion, safety Alohi Gilman is at a perfect angle for left tackle Taylor Decker to get out to him to make the crucial block, and ARSB goes in for the touchdown. Just really simple, but well designed and detail-oriented.
The final two plays I want to leave you with are the exact same play, run at two different times in the game and both successful in different ways. Remember how I said the bumping the Chargers would do to their coverage would put players in abnormal predicaments? Yeah that happens here.
The first time Detroit runs this variation of Mesh Rail it’s 3rd and 3 in the third quarter. Look at how the communication gets messed up by the Chargers, and it causes linebacker Kenneth Murray to run with tight end Sam LaPorta, leaving receiver Josh Reynolds open to move the chains. The motion bumps everyone and forces late communication by the corner, who chooses to zone off to his third. The Lions find the hole, and move the chains.
Walk with me to 4th and 2, game on the line. Head Coach Dan Campbell leaves his offense on the field, and what do they run? This exact same play. Only this time, Murray and the corner to that side remember being burnt by going with LaPorta and Reynolds filling in right where he left, so he stays on Reynolds. The only problem here is that nobody runs with LaPorta. The Lions pick up the first, then a few plays later kick the game winning field goal. Ain’t football fun? Look at the slight hesitation by Murray, it gives quarterback Jared Goff enough time to zip this ball in.
The Lions take on the Chicago Bears on Sunday, and while the attention will (rightfully) be on how awesome the Lions’ offensive line is, pay attention to the details behind the offense, because combining that with their aggression makes them one of the best offenses in the NFL.