Thursday, December 17, 2009

Drive Of The Week, Part II

On the previous post, I forgot to mention that the final pass detailed did not end the drive. Cincinnati screwed around with some runs from shotgun at the one-yard line using the more mobile Zach Collaros at quarterback before punching it in on the third try. It seemed like one of those things I'd rather gloss over than spend 20 minutes on three failed running plays from the one.

This play is just another example of playing off the four verticals. From the camera angles, you can't really see the receivers' routes downfield, you only see that the receiver who eventually caught the ball was running a comeback. The route plays off of the corner who is worried about defending deep and not falling for any double moves, so he doesn't change direction quickly enough. That creates the separation needed for the easy completion. Pittsburgh has an excellent defensive line. They lead the country in sacks despite showing a strong preference to only rush with their front four. It's very impressive stuff, and I was surprised they did not have more of an impact on these plays. It's not like Cincinnati was going with too many short, quick passes. The one thing Cincinnati have going for it both on this play and on this drive was Pike's movement in the pocket. The Panthers' line gets one rusher totally free and others giving their man all they can handle, but Pike moves up and finds room to throw.

This seems like some kind of zone coverage, I think. When the outside receiver to the left comes in, he draws the attention of the linebacker playing that zone, and he is able to draw him out of his designated area when he cuts back outside. Meanwhile, the corner on the outside doesn't really react to the outside receiver and instead gets deep, trying to keep that slot receiver in front of him. He achieves that but is playing too loose to contest the pass to the slot receiver. The corner makes the tackle but only after the receiver has made the catch and picked up 10 yards.

Marty Gilyard, the outside receiver on the left running deep, is probably supposed to just run deep on this play. Pitt rushes only three but because their defensive linemen are so awesome (on this play it is defensive end Jabaal Sheard who beats his man), Pike is forced to scramble pretty early. When Gilyard looks back to see if the ball is coming his way, he sees Pike in trouble and abandons his route to come back to his quarterback. This not only brings him closer to Pike, making for a manageable throw under duress, it also shakes the men defending him. That's key, because with the pressure on Pike, he is not able to get a high degree of accuracy on the throw. Gilyard is so open it doesn't matter, and they gain 15 yards on a busted play.
This play was probably the most meaningful to me. Pike missed a number of games this year and had a similar amount of playing time last year, yet he and Gilyard still were able to work in concert in a high-pressure game situation like this. As someone who is desperately searching for indications that this is a well-coached team, that's a nice sign. I have to think for them to react so successfully, they must have been prepared well for all situations.

Cincinnati again goes with four receivers to one side and one receiver to the other. Pittsburgh counters with similar coverage and gets a similar result. The single deep safety is playing too in to the middle to help out on the outside, and the receiver beats the corner one-on-one for a long gain and a touchdown. The corner is playing very close up on the receiver from the snap, and when the receiver just runs straight downfield. The corner is losing the race more and more as the play goes on, and he finally just falls down right before the pass gets there. When he falls down, he's not in good position anyways. He probably fell down from trying to make some effort to get back into the play. The receiver is then open, and he catches the touchdown.
It's notable that Cincinnati's two big plays both came from this receiver in this formation. I think this has both to do with the formation and with decisions made by the defense. Pike is probably looking to the one receiver side for his read. If that receiver is one-on-one with just that one deep safety, he throws it to him. If he is drawing more than one defender, then he finds the uncovered receiver on the other side. That's the part dictated by the defense. But then again, the offensive formation more or less dictates to the defense. Most teams will respond to that formation with a single deep safety. So the quarterback is not determined to go to the single receiver, but the formation dictates that it's going to be the smart place to go a lot of the time.
I found it interesting that they never once ran an actual four verticals play. I wonder if they did at all in this game. I guess you wouldn't have to and could still be effective: the defense might know one or more receiver is going to break their route off somehow, but they don't know which one(s). I do wonder how often they run the base play. Did they run it in every game this year? On just a surface level, it seems weird.
On these two possessions, Tony Pike went 9-for-9 for 129 yards. It's also notable that this came after Cincinnati struggled as they did in the first half. It shows Kelly and his staff can make adjustments in the game, something a lot of Notre Dame fans felt Charlie Weis did not do quickly enough.
I don't think anything on this film will be the definitive world on whether or not Kelly is successful at Notre Dame, but there certainly weren't any bad signs. A lot of the yards gained here can be attributed to good scheme. They really didn't ask too much of any of the players for the most part; the play design put them in a position to succeed. Which isn't anything to take away from the players themselves: Gilyard especially did plenty to show this success comes from superior play as well.
Anyways, for someone looking to watch this and convince himself that national championships are mere months away, there's something in this film if you want it to be there.

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