In this third installment of approximately a 12 play analysis, we're going to look at moving the pocket, the resulting read progressions of the moving pocket, and the purpose of having routes in the direction of the movement. In case you missed the previous installments, here is Part I, and Part II.
Below is the pre-snap formation. The situation is a 1st and 10 with Cal in its own territory. Cal has base personnel on the field (2 backs, 2 WRs, 1 TE). They are in a strong-I formation with both WRs to the side of the TE who is on the left side of the offensive line. Because the rules require 7 men on the LOS, one of the WRs (the slot WR) is on the LOS and thus covering up the TE, and thus the TE is an ineligible receiver. Air Force is defending in their base 3-4 defense with man coverage. Notice how both AF CBs are on both on the same side of the field covering the twin WRs (as opposed to traditional zone coverage schemes which place one CB on each side of the defense). Cal puts the RB (Forsett) into motion out at flanker to the right.
Air Force adjusts to this by moving their free safety (FS) over to play man coverage on Forsett.
Below is the pre-snap formation just prior to the snap of the ball. Notice AF has 7 defenders in the box, playing man coverage on the 3 receivers, and is showing a cover 1 (one deep safety - I have put a red dot on the edge of the screen since he is barely visible).
Here is the post-snap picture. The play is a pass play - which was extremely likely since there was no RB in the backfield. The play calls for a QB half roll left. Notice how the QB (Longshore) has his upper body turned left and has slightly rolled out left on his seven step drop. Also notice how the offensive line on the weak side (offense's right) has dropped back and given up space to the defenders while the strong side of the offensive line has maintained a blocking wall parallel to the LOS. I have illustrated this with the thin blue line. How can you tell which way the QB is probably going to roll to if the play calls for a half roll? Strength of the offense. Tedford's plays always half roll out to the strength of the offense (in this play, to the left because the TE and fullback were on that side).
The first reads of this play are to the strong side (offense's left). This is because the QB is rolling out in that direction. It would be extremely hard and inefficient for the QB to try and read the field opposite of direction he is rolling out to first.
Longshore expertly executes his reads and looks left at the 2 WRs to that side of the field (represented by the green vision cone). They are both covered with man coverage. Notice how the two AF MLBs (middle linebackers) have dropped into zone coverage and respond to Longshore's eyes looking left (represented by the red arrows). At this point Longshore already knows where he's going with the ball. Despite knowing already where he was going to throw the ball, he still had to go through his first two progressions. Why? To move the linebackers.
By continuing to go through his progressions, Longshore has moved the AF MLBs away from the receiver Longshore knows is going to be open. How did Longshore know Forsett would be open? Well, Longshore knew Forsett would be running a post. Longshore saw how deep the AF FS was playing Forsett (see the 3rd image above). Longshore knew the AF MLBs would not only react to the half roll by following Longshore's location, but also they would react to his eyes reading the 2 WRs. In the picture below, you can see that Longshore has turned his body to the offense's right and has a clear unimpeded lane to throw to Forsett (represented by the green vision cone). Forsett is wide open (represented by the blue box).
Brief side note - one thing to note is that all the receiving routes are in the direction of the QB half-roll. The Cal flanker (WR at the bottom of the screen above) ran a short hitch, the Cal split end (WR in the slot) is running a flag route left (like a post route but to the outside), and the RB (Forsett) is running a post left. This is important because the QB is reading from his left to right, and thus, since the receiving routes (of the slot WR, and RB) are going left, the QB is reading the defenders in front of the receivers. Thus, when the QB throws the ball and leads the receiver, he knows he's not throwing blind to a defender he hasn't seen yet. On the other hand, if the QB started his progressions from the left to right, and was throwing the ball to a receiver running left to right, the QB is throwing a lead pass blind and possibly at a defender that the QB hasn't seen/read yet.
Longshore throws a strike (I've highlighted the ball with a yellow dot).
Forsett catches the ball, and only has one defender to beat for a big gain and possibly a touchdown. Unfortunately, Forsett doesn't break the tackle, but he does make the catch. This play had a very good opportunity to go for big yardage considering how far off the AF safety played Forsett, and how far away the other AF defenders were located (represented below the red dots on the AF players and the green box representing how much space Forsett had from the other defenders.
Regarding this play, I think Tedford had scouted out Air Force's defensive tendencies and (1) knew that they would play a safety on a RB split out as a WR, and/or (2) wanted to try and exploit the safety by making him essentially play CB (cornerback). Tedford got what he wanted, and the play was only one broken tackle away from being a big gain and maybe even a touchdown.
So what did we learn here? Air Force appears to play man coverage when facing twinned WRs so the twin WRs cannot overload a zone defense. Air Force will put a safety on a RB split out instead of putting a linebacker on the RB (which would just be asking to get scored on). Half roll protections can be identified by watching the offensive line to see if one side gives up space, and by whether the QB is rolling towards the strength of the offense. The QB's progressions start out in the direction he's moving, and it's important when designing plays to have routes going in the direction that the QB begins his reads.
This play was executed very well be the offense. The offensive line provided excellent protection, and Longshore expertly went through his reads, moved the safeties and threw a strike.
Check back in a few days for Part IV.