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Armed Forces Bowl Review: Part VI: Looking Off Defenders

[Ed Note:  HydroTech is busy preparing another concession speech, imploring his loyal voters to throw their support fully behind Kevin Riley, as he will also do.  The media felt the first speech was self-serving due to his "deranged narcissism."]

In this sixth installment of approximately a 12 play analysis, we're going to look at a pass to Robert Jordan and how the resulting completion was due to Riley going through his reads and moving defenders with his eyes.  In case you missed the previous installments, here is Part I, Part II, Part III , Part IV , and Part V .

Let's begin.

Here's the situation.  Late second quarter, 1st and 10 just inside Air Force territory.  Cal is using 12 personnel (2 WRs, 2 TEs, 1 back).  Cal puts the second TE (Morrah) into motion over to the same side as first TE (Stevens).  Thus, the strength of the formation is left.  Air Force is defending with their 3-4 defense.


Below is the pre-snap look.  Note how Air Force's SS (strong safety) has dropped down into the box (the defender on the 35 yardline to the offense's left). Also note that AF's LCB (left cornerback) is playing what looks to be a zone since he's not lined up directly over Cal's split end (the WR to the offense's right that is on the LOS).  The LCB is the defender in the white box to the bottom right of the screen.  Since the AF SS has dropped down into the box, that leaves only one deep AF safety (barely visible on the very right of the screen by the hash).  


Below is the post-snap look.  AF blitzes their SLB as well as their SS along with their three linemen.  AF's two middle LBs are playing man coverage on Cal's second TE (Morrah) and Cal's flanker WR (depicted by the yellow lines).  AF's RCB (right cornerback) plays an underneath outside zone while AF's WLB (weakside linebacker) plays the opposite underneath zone on the defense's left.  The AF FS (free safety) and the AF LCB (left cornerback) split the deep halves of the field into a cover 2.  Cal calls a playaction play (depicted by the blue line).  Note that the Cal QB (Riley) is turned to the offense's left to fake the handoff to the RB (Forsett) towards the strength of the formation (the offense's left).  


Below is another post-snap picture so you can see the action.


In the picture below, there's a lot going on.  I've drawn out the receiver routes as blue lines.  Cal's flanker WR (the WR that was to the offense's left and off the LOS) is running a skinny post.  The second TE (Morrah) is running a flat route.  Cal's split end (Jordan) is running a flatter post.  I've shown the two AF MLBs playing man coverage with the yellow lines.  

Riley first reads TE Morrah which I've depicted with the green vision cone.  The AF RCB sees this and drops down on Morrah which I've depicted with the red arrow.  Morrah is essentially covered since he's not only in the RCB's zone (the red box) but also man covered by a linebacker.  But because the RCB jumped down to cover Morrah, that leaves the deeper area behind him open (the green box).  Jordan's route will take him to the open area.  Now, AF's FS is playing the deep half of the field by the green box (see two pictures back).  But the AF FS is being driven off by Cal's flanker WR (Hawkins - I think) who is running the skinny post.


Riley then sees Jordan breaking into the seam of the zones and throws a strike down the middle.  I've highlighted the ball yellow.   The AF RCB attempts to double back to break up the play, but is too late since he dedicated himself to covering Morrah.  


Jordan catches the ball for a big time Cal first down!  


What caused this play to work was:

(1) the Cal OL giving Riley fabulous protection.  See the 5th picture.  Cal's seven blockers (5 OL, 1 TE, 1 RB) held up beautifully against the Air Force blitz (3 DL, 1 LB, 1 S). 

(2) Excellent play design.  Note that the TE and split end routes go left, to the side of the field that the offense ran the playaction towards.  This is to take advantage of any defenders to that side of the field who may bite on the playaction.  Additionally, the flanker runs off the safety to that side of the field with a deep route.  This keeps the safety deep so the split end can sneak underneath.  

(3) Riley going through his reads and looking off those defenders.  Going through the reads sort of goes hand in hand with looking off the defenders.  Although the QB may know where he wants to go with the ball way before he needs to throw, he often still has to go through the reads to get the defenders to respond to his eyes.  In this play, Riley goes through his reads from left to right and is able to get the AF RCB to drop down to cover Morrah which allows Jordan to get open in the seam behind the RCB. 

In previous plays we've looked at, it seemed as if Air Force was winning the battle in the trenches.  On this play, the Cal OL clearly won the battle.  Additionally, veteran WR Robert Jordan expertly found his way into the seams of the zones and Riley got the Air Force CB to respond to his eyes. 

Maybe Riley's presence in the game and the touchdown pass to Jackson gave the entire offense a psychological boost because the team really started to look a little more alive, happy, and as if they were having fun again.