As the athletes in the NFL get bigger, faster and stronger, we see more and more “tricks” being utilized by offenses to take every small advantage they can get. This was most noticeable as the Eagles used the run-pass option to take the league by storm in the playoffs, but pre-snap reads are making the most impact for an average team. Let’s say you come out of the huddle with a pass play, and you have routes that you know wil beat man coverage, and routes you know will beat zone coverage. At that point, as soon as the QB can figure out what the defense is running, you’re in business.
This is made even easier when you can utilize motions and hard counts to read the defense before you even snap the ball. If you come out with a three wide receiver set, it’s as easy as sending the slot wide receiver in motion, and seeing if the nickel corner follows him. If the nickel follows, we’ve got man (most likely). If he doesn’t follow, we’ve got zone coverage. This exact scenario played out in the Jets-Lions game Monday night.
Lions QB Matthew Stanford was able to use motion to identify that the defense was in a Cover 2 Zone. The yellow circles identify each defender’s responsibilities on the play. He has a Bench route concept on his left side and knows that he should have a pocket to hit the receiver running the Go route. The problem with that is that Jets CB Mo Claiborne (at the top of the screen) knows that Stafford knows. Claiborne is able to recognize that Stafford has figured out the coverage, and makes a decision to slightly change his coverage to compensate.
Right about at this part of the play, Claiborne is expected to sit down in his coverage, and let the safety over the top cover the outside receiver. However because Claiborne knows that is what Stafford is expecting, he’s going to continue his drop a little further.
He follows the play back a few more steps, and makes an amazing jumping grab for the interception. You can see that this wasn’t a bad throw by Stafford in any way, and it even seems like the safety is beaten over the top as well. There’s a good chance that if Claiborne doesn’t make that adjustment, this play goes for 6 and the dynamic of the entire game would be changed.
When you have a guy like Mo Claiborne that is playing with the confidence to make these sort of adjustments on the fly, it throws a lot of the pre snap read out of the window, and makes the QBs job infinitely tougher.
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