Taking a look at two key plays from last week’s football game
Football is a confusing sport. You’ve got 22 guys running around on every play, seemingly aimlessly, and then they all crash into each other and the play ends.
In this new series, “All-22,” I hope to break down a key play or two from the most recent Columbia football game. The goal is twofold: (1) to identify some of the successes or failures in the most recent game, and (2) to simplify the game for people who may be new to football or want to understand more of what’s going on in a game.
This week, I’m going to take a look at the first two plays of the second quarter from the Lions’ 37-14 loss to Monmouth last week. I think these two plays illustrate both the team’s promise on offense — quick, simple pass plays—and the biggest issue, poor pass-blocking.
Some quick background: In football, every offensive play is pre-scripted. Every player on the offense has something that they’re supposed to be doing on a given play. (This is also true for the defense, but their assignments are usually much more general than the offense.) In the two pass plays we’re looking at, the motions of the players are designed to give the quarterback, sophomore Trevor McDonagh, open guys to throw the ball to and pick up yards.
There are 10 other guys on offense. For Columbia, this usually breaks down as five offensive linemen (protecting the quarterback or blocking for a run), three wide receivers (guys who want to catch the ball), one running back (a guy who usually runs the ball), and a tight end (a guy who sometimes acts like a lineman and sometimes like a wide receiver).
Columbia has the ball, trailing 10-7, and it’s second and five from their own 30. A fairly standard situation in any football game. Let’s start with the video of the first play.
Looks like a whole lot of mess. But if you watch it a few times and chart what all the players are doing, it looks a lot simpler.
The play is designed to get the RB, Marcorous Garrett, out in open space against only one defender. The wide receiver closest to the sideline (WR3) is running a “fly” pattern, which should take his cornerback (not pictured above) with him, while the “slot” wide receiver (WR2) is supposed to execute a block on a defender in the area (either his CB or an LB). On the opposite side of the play, WR1 runs a deep post while the tight end releases into the flat.
The goal is to throw it to Garrett, but the reason this is a well-designed play is that it can be replicated with different results. For example, later in the game Columbia could run the exact same play, only faking the throw to Garrett. If the cornerback covering WR3 bites on the fake, the wide receiver could blow past him and be open for a big gain. Or McDonagh could throw to the tight end, Hamilton Garner, running in the opposite direction of the main play. The play gives the quarterback a number of options and allows him to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
Now, you might (very astutely) notice that I’m calling this play well designed even though we lost two yards. It’s important not to confuse design with results. If you watch the video, I think the play breaks down because WR2 blocks the wrong guy—his cornerback—allowing the linebacker to make a beeline to Garrett and tackle him. Taking the LB out of the play would have given Garrett more of a chance to build up speed and get around the edge for a gain of yards.
Let’s look at the next play, which was even less successful.
On this play, the Lions need to pick up seven yards for the first down. The obvious targets are the tight end and WR2. Their movement is intended to create a space in the defense—a defensive player will miss an assignment and let one or both of the receivers roam free for the completion. Monmouth, however, played tight defense and the six blockers (the offensive line plus Garrett) were overrun for a sack. In tomorrow’s game against Princeton, the receivers will need to get better separation and the offensive line will need to protect McDonagh for longer in order to get the offense rolling.
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