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Let's Talk About: Attacking A Defense With Formations and Motion

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Good evening to all.  Hope everyone's had a productive week.  Been busy, it's been a while since I had the time to post one of these, but I felt a little inspired by last Sunday's game vs. the Cowboys.  I wanted to take a look at a few plays from that game that highlighted the continued evolution of the offense.

The Cowboys run a relatively simple defens (so does our next opponent, too, btw).  You kind of know exactly where they are going to be down in and down out, even though Marineli runs a slightly more aggressive and multiple version of the Tampa 2.  Now the advantage to running a simple defense is this -- yeah, the opposing offense is going to generally know where you're going to be down in and down out, but guess, what... we know too.  We know where we're weak at.  We know what route combinations beat us, so we're know where you're going to be, too.  As long as we are communicating, and on the same page, we can keep you in front of us.

That brings us to the theme of this thread: motion.  There are a lot of reason offenses motion -- yes, it can key the coverage, but it can also shift the strength of your offense, and a defense can't operate unless they designate the strength of the offese.  It's kind of their version when the offensive line sets the blocking scheme by designating the Mike.  Motions can screw all that up with the simple movement of one player.  Suddenly, you see a corner and linebacker and a safety looking at each other and pointing and boom the ball is snapped before they can get eveything checked.  This was one of the hallmarks of Kyle Shanahan's offense and part of the reason why you saw so many red jerseys running free through secondary's last year.


PLAY #1 - is from the second quarter right before the 2 minute warning.  Down by 4 2e are in a key 3rd down that we gotta have.  Just not interested in kicking another field goal.  First, Dallas's defense.  They are in a zone pressure from a 3 man line with two linebackers mugging the A-gap.  I can't see the other safety, but they're bringing 5, with Jaylon Smith running a game, and the secondary in a 3-deep match zone.

As you can see the Falcons are in a sort of doubles formation with two receivers to either side.  Hooper is flexed out wide.  Both Sanu and Julio are in the slot positions.  With Coleman in the backfield to Matt's left, and the tight end on that side, that is where the strength is designated by the defense.    




And then this happens.  Sanu motions.  #31 doesn't follow which signals to Matt that it's a zone.  Matt can play it cool because he knows he's got 6 blockers for 5 rushers and it's not going to be a kamakazee type cover-0 blitz so he doesn't have to throw hot.



Sanu settles and now the Falcons are in a bunch formation with the strength now to the defense's left.  They are in trouble and they know it.  They should check out of this blitz and have one of the backers drop, but they don't.  

The route design here is very well done.  You've got Hooper getting vertical.  To the bunch side you've got Julio attacking the middle of the field with drag route.  If a defender drops to the low hole, he keeps running.  If no one shows up, he's going to sit it down right there in the middle at the sticks.

Gabriel runs a corner route.  His and Hooper's route aren't really active here.  Gabriel's job is to occupy the corner to his side so that he can't break on Sanu running that dig route.  He's got to run that corner at a 100 mph even though he isn't getting the ball.  That's part of the careful choreopgrapy here.  Everyone has a job.  Sanu's is to show vertical then break on that dig.



And this is what happens at the snap, the defensive back playing the low hole pops out and picks up Julio on the drag.  Gabriel runs right at Scandrick.  Because if this, Scandrick has to wait for Gabriel to clear to pick up Sanu.  He's doing his job; exactly what he's supposed to do, but...



Scandrick doesn't have a chance.  As soon as Gabriel clears, Sanu has Scandrick in perfect position on his outside hip.  All he has to do is make that inside move.  Matt gets good protection here.  6 on 5 there's no pressure.



Matt double clutches for some reason, but it's a clean play.  1st down.  The design beat the defense.  Drive ends in the touchdown.



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PLAY #2 - 3rd quarter.  Another 3rd and 6.  This time the Cowboys are in straight man coverage.  Falcons come out in a bunch this time.  



Hooper motions and we go from a bunch, to a snug formation with two receivers to each side stacked close together.  #31 follows Hooper.  Matt knows it's man all the way.  Now being in man coverage, it doesn't cause as much havoc as zone.



Here are the routes.  Julio runs a kind of zig route.  Sanu releases behind him and runs an out.  Hooper runs what looks like a hook at the sticks.  Gabriel runs and dig in behind him.  Coleman has a check-release.  He looks for a blitzer then releases into the pattern.



Looks like Matt looked at Julio first, but the DB is all over him.  The safety #31 on Hooper was playing way off, looks like that was Matt's next look.  But 31 is just sitting there waiting at the sticks to break on that ball.  By this time Lawrence is whipping Schraeder on the right.



Matt just pushed up in the pocket...



...And keeps on pushing up in the pocket.  By this time, he sees Gabriel breaking open on that dig.  Now let me digress for a moment.  Going back to that first picture, I'm not even sure Gabriel was part of the read.  Being man, Matt took his pre-snap read and decided he wanted to attack the side of the field with Jones and Sanu -- wise choice, but the Cowboys had that defended well.

Gabriel's man had inside position.  I'll post the gif in a sec, but he shouldn't have been open.  He shouldn't even have gotten a look, but Matt steps up to buy time -- something I was told by some folks around here that he doesn't do -- and he  gets to Gabriel, who I'm sure was his 4th read on the play.  



Great ball placement by Matt.  He saw the back of the defender's helmet and put it right on Gabriel, nice and high, and 18 came down with it.


Defender has good position.  Not perfect, but you want that corner inside to defend and inside-breaking route.  Gabriel just beats him.  And this is just a gorgeous route.  First the move to get off the line, and then the shake at the top... woo...



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Play #3 - now this is the downside of so much motions and shifts.  Sure you can put the defense in a bind, but you can also put yourself in one, too, because if the time it takes to do them, you often don't really have time to change a play when a defense disguises their defense and shows something different late in the playclock.

This play was from a little earlier in the game.  Falcons come out in a good old fashioned I-formation.  When I think football, the I is where my mind goes.  Just a very versatile look.  At any rate, this is one of those old Kyle specials.  The Falcons move multiple men here, completely changing the alignment.  First Toilolo step off the LOS and motions from the bottom of the screen to the top.



Then #17 steps off the LOS and motions all the way across the formation into a twin stacked alignment.



The Cowboys don't sit static, though.  They bring the safety down.  Now I'm not sure this was a check.  I think it was the call all along and they just held the disguise.  But the safety comes down late and shows blitz.  Now because of all the motion and this formation, I venture to guess there isn't a lot that Matt can get too.  Yes, believe it or not, audibles are limited by formation and plays.  Some plays and some of the motions that go with them, you just gotta let them roll.

At any rate, they've got enough bodies to pick up the extra man.  The problem here may have been that they didn't re-Mike the protection.

Gabriel runs the deep over.  #17 runs the comeback.  Derrick Colemen releases on the checkdown and Tevin has the block off the play-action.  



At the snap, everything is looking good.  The defensive end on Schraeder peels and drops into a zone while the safety to the other side comes.



This is where it starts to fall apart and something I saw a little too much of Sunday, even though there was only one sack.  Schweitzer just gets manhandled.  I mean it's not even close.  And Tevin, who looks like he was scanning from the other side doesn't even looks like he sees the safety who comes free.


This is unacceptable...



Matt gets crushed...



And can't make the throw to the wide open receiver, but you see it was there.  Another well designed play killed by poor execution.  Gabriel's deep over cleared out the coverage over the top and the play-action sucked up the second level defenders, leaving all this open grass to the sideline...



But even if he had made the throw, there was a flag for illegal formation so... :lol:... that's what you get sometimes with all those moving pieces...



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I'm the optimist here so this is not a question with any sort of agenda behind it but a legitimate one. 

@PeytonMannings Forehead do you think Matt hesitated on that throw to Sanu because there is a lack of trust somewhere? This could be new plays with Sark, tipped passes, or a misread. 

Which one in your opinion is more likely?

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Vote Yes @PeytonMannings Forehead

For OC or Offensive Assistant to Sark! :ninja:


Nice work. When we get our ground game going with the motions and formation packages throughout the game no wonder it's hard to defend us when OC plays his hand right. Gotta get the OL on last year's level and hope the deep ball comes back.

Edited by slimjim
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1 hour ago, ATLFalcons11 said:

I'm the optimist here so this is not a question with any sort of agenda behind it but a legitimate one. 

@PeytonMannings Forehead do you think Matt hesitated on that throw to Sanu because there is a lack of trust somewhere? This could be new plays with Sark, tipped passes, or a misread. 

Which one in your opinion is more likely?

If he were throwing to anyone else other than Julio, like say Roberts, or Hardy, then maybe.  But he and Sanu have been pretty seamless since he got here.

I'm not really sure why he pulled it back.  Maybe he saw something flash in front of him?  Maybe he thought Scandrick was in position to undercut the throw so he gave Sanu a beat to get a little more up field.  Not really sure right there, but I don't think it was a lack of trust. 

And he seemed to look right at Sanu when Julio got eaten up.  The progression looked pretty clear, at least from my POV.  I mean it could be a new route combo -- that could explain it.  Honestly, idk.

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11 hours ago, ATLFalcons11 said:

I'm the optimist here so this is not a question with any sort of agenda behind it but a legitimate one. 

@PeytonMannings Forehead do you think Matt hesitated on that throw to Sanu because there is a lack of trust somewhere? This could be new plays with Sark, tipped passes, or a misread. 

Which one in your opinion is more likely?

I just watched the game again and you can see from all-22 and defensive rear it appears that 54 is streaking through Ryans throwing lane to Sanu right behind the defensive line. 54s arm isn’t up, but looks like Ryan was expecting it to be, hence the pump. 

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14 hours ago, ATLFalcons11 said:

I'm the optimist here so this is not a question with any sort of agenda behind it but a legitimate one. 

@PeytonMannings Forehead do you think Matt hesitated on that throw to Sanu because there is a lack of trust somewhere? This could be new plays with Sark, tipped passes, or a misread. 

Which one in your opinion is more likely?

When you watch the play, it looks like #32 is under-cutting the route so Matt clutched which put #32 in a trailing position. I could be completely wrong though...lol

Edited by Falconsin2012
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10 hours ago, Smiler11 said:

Thanks PMF, very insightful. One of the criticisms being levelled at Sark at the monent is his lack of pre-snap motion, at least in comparison to Kyle Shanahan. How do you see it and is that criticism fair?

Not really.  He's not Kyle.  Kyle's stuff is wholly unique.  Now I do agree there was more movement the last game, especially those severe shifts where mutliple men go in motion, but the offense was never as static as some of the criticism would have you believe. 

I have seen motion consistently all season.  The problem was some of it was elementary, and some of it didn't really accomplish anything.  Things like motioning your fullback out wide then running it right up the middle don't make a whole of sense.

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2 hours ago, Falcon Ben said:

Isn't the idea to take a linebacker out of the box? Or does a safety usually walk out on the FB in these cases? 

It really depends on the coverage and the DC's scheme, who walks out when a backfield player flexes out.  

And, yeah, generally that is the idea to try to lighten the box, but when you're in short yardage, that's just getting too cute and not really necessary.  Your fullback can actually create and extra gap that the defense is trying to steal away by loading up the box.  

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