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Armed Forces Bowl Review: Part VII: High-Low Read

In this seventh installment of approximately a 12 play analysis, we're going to look at a a short pass to Desean Jackson (THA1), in which the the offense defeats a cover 2 defense with a high-low read.  In case you missed the previous installments, here are Part I, Part II, Part III , Part IV , Part V and Part VI.

Let's begin.

Here's the situation.  Cal has the ball in their own territory on a 1st and 10.  Cal is using 12 personnel in this play (2 WRs, 2 TEs, 1 RB).  The formation has a double TE formation to the offense's right.  Both WRs are split out as twins to the same side as the TEs.  Because rules require that 7 offensive players be on the LOS, the slot WR, the split end (SE) is on the LOS (line of scrimmage).  Since the SE is on the LOS, he is covering up the #1 TE on the LOS (Stevens) and thus Stevens is an ineligible receiver.  On this play, there are five eligible receivers: the QB, the RB, the #2 TE (Morrah), and both WRs. 

Air Force is defending in their base 3-4 defense.  Their two deep defenders are their RCB (right cornerback) and their FS (free safety).  I put red dots on the two deep defenders.  AF's SS (strong safety) has dropped down into the box and is playing over Stevens.  Their SOLB (strong outside linebacker) is playing what appears to be man coverage on the Cal SE.  I've shown the man coverage with the yellow lines.


Riley appears to see the mis-match in the slot.  A WR (the split end) against a linebacker in man coverage is a huge mis-match.  Riley appears to call an audible.  Brief side note: I know in a previous post I suggested that Cal QBs don't "audible" (as opposed to choosing between two plays during an "option" play).  Due to what I saw in 2007, I am rethinking that notion.  Many times throughout the year, I believe I saw Longshore audible as opposed to choosing the play in an option play.  In the play we are currently discussing, Riley appears to to audible.  Normally, Cal follows a different procedure when it comes to choosing a play during an option play.  Without going into the details, that procedure was not followed in the play below, which leads me to believe this was an audible. 

Riley appears to audible.  Note that the tailback (Forsett) has moved into the strong position - strong because he's to the side of the #1 TE (Stevens).  I've shown Forsett's movement with the blue lines.  The light blue line is a straight line behind the QB.  Forsett is not on that light blue line but rather over to the side which I've shown with the heavy blue arrow.  Note that the Air Force SOLB has come off the SE and appears to be showing zone.  I've shown that with the yellow line (the SOLB is off the yellow line). 

Now tell me what the play is going to be from the offensive formation below.  Again, I've heard many Cal fans state they can predict what plays Tedford has called.  I tell you again, it's not that hard to begin with.  So if you really are a very astute observer of Tedford's tendencies and his offense, you should be able to tell me what play is most likely to occur from the formation below. 

From the offensive formation below you should be thinking this play is a pass play (duh, I hope you gathered that from the intro paragraph).  If you predicted this was going to be a pass play, congratulations but that doesn't really count for predicting playcalls (come on, merely saying "run" or "pass" doesn't really count.  My unborn child can do that with surprising accuracy).  If you're a really astute observer of Tedford's tendencies and playcalls, you should have said that the play calls for a half roll right with the SE (the slot WR) running a flag and the flanker (THA1) running a hitch (fouth picture), but we'll get to that later.


Here's the post-snap action (below).  Air Force rushes their 3 DL men and their SS.  Air Force appears to be playing a cover 2 defense.  There are two deep defenders each taking half of the deep field, and 5 underneath zones.  Note that the two short zones to the offense's left of come down closer to the LOS to prevent a QB scramble since all the receivers are to the other side of the formation (offense's right).  


The play is a half roll right with lite playaction.  I've shown the half-roll protection by the offensive line with the curved blue line.  We know it's a half roll because the backside offensive line (the left side) is giving up ground to the defense while the front side (the right side) is holding their ground.  Riley (the QB) performs the seven step half roll which I've shown with the curved arrow.  I've shown the receiver routes in blue arrows too.  Morrah runs a curl, the SE WR runs a flag, and THA1 (off the screen at the bottom) runs a hitch.  

This play was successful because it contains a high-low read.  A high-low read are two receiver routes which go over and under a defender.  The defender will have to choose who to defend.  Either defend the high route and give up the low route, or defend the low route and give up the higher route.  In this play, the high-low read is formed by the route of the flanker (THA1) and the split end (Hawkins).  Hawkins is the high with flag route, and THA1 is the low with a hitch.   The defender that is being read is the Air Force LCB.  The LCB is off the screen and you can't see him but the LCB leaves his short zone to go deep and to help cover Hawkins.  Thus, the LCB has chosen to cover the high of the high-low read.  This creates the hole in the defense which I've shown with the green box.  The hole in the defense is the low route which is THA1.


Below is another angle which shows the AF LCB leaving his short zone to cover the high receiver.  


Riley properly reads the defender who is covering the high route, and sees THA1 open short along the sidelines which I've represented with the green vision cone.


Riley passes the ball to THA1.  I've highlighted the ball with a yellow dot.  THA1 catches the ball and gets close to a first down.  


Although this play didn't go for a huge first down, I thought it was an interesting play to breakdown because it appeared as if Riley audibled, there was a perfectly executed high-low read on a defender, and excellent read by Riley.

What did we learn from this play?  Again, we see Air Force in a cover 2 defense.  Could this be a trend?  Have you noticed how thus far, we've pretty much seen Air Force defend with their 3-4 defense?  That includes defending Cal's 3 WR sets with their 3-4 defense.  I believe Air Force's defensive gameplan consisted of playing a lot of zone defenses against us.  They probably felt that they didn't have the defenders (such as a good 3rd CB to play a nickel defense against us) to match up in man coverage against all our receivers.  As this series progresses, I think we'll see more and more of how outmatched Air Force was against our receivers. 

Check back in a few days for Part VIII.