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Retro Film Breakdown: Wild Card Game 2017 (Chiefs) – Positive Passing Plays

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Welcome to another article with the retro film breakdown of the positive passing plays from the wild card game between the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs.  Marcus Mariota played a very good game, so this is a positive article.  I wrote the article a couple of days after the game, but the site was not up then.

Positive Passing Plays:



This isn’t a pass play, but good plays made by Mariota shows up here, so here we are.  The start of this play on a 3rd and 3 lifts off with a disaster because there is no spacing for the receivers, which allow the defenders to plug passing lanes.  The initial read is to the left side of the formation, but it’s well covered because there isn’t much space for the defenders to cover.  This pass design is abysmal because there is one player running into linebackers in the middle, Decker who is covered on the outside, with a safety over the top, and a tight end running a wheel route from the backfield.  Mariota makes the right read on this play by holding onto the ball and looking at other options.   It’s also important to notice that the Chiefs are only rushing three players, so Mariota makes the right decision to run on this play.  He makes a great run, and shows off the speed to get to the sideline and the first down.  It’s just a great decision by Mariota, but not many QBs can make this run before being chased down.  The other negative thing to notice on this play is Derrick Henry, who gets caught in a moment of indecision.  It makes no sense for him to hang out by the sideline on this play.  If he runs down the field, the defender will be forced to run with him back there, opening space for Mariota.  Otherwise, Henry needs to start blocking down the field, so he takes care of one defender.  In this case, where he does neither, he allows the defender to have a shot at Mariota going down the field.  It takes a great move by Mariota to avoid the tackle and fall forward, but Henry needs to have better awareness.



Darrelle Revis was one of the best cornerbacks in the game early in this decade.  He had a run with the Jets that were truly Hall of Fame worthy, shutting down No. 1 receivers on a weekly basis.  That version of Revis just does not exist.  He struggles mightily in zone coverage because he doesn’t do well with reading the QB while reacting to the receiver.  It was one of the biggest reasons why he struggled with Tampa Bay because he went from the press man cover system of Rex Ryan to the zone cover scheme of Tampa.  Therefore, it boggles my mind why the offense didn’t try to target Revis more often in this game.  This is just a great route by Matthews, who sees that Revis is still backpedaling, and turns around for the pass.  Mariota makes a great read as well and makes the simple throw to Matthews, although this is just bad coverage from Revis.  The cornerback has safety help over the top, yet he still yields too many yards, and the offense finally takes advantage.



This is a bad play design, which ended up being lucky, and converted for positive yards.  The first thing to notice on this play is Decker moving late, which is designed to create confusion for the defense.  However, the Chiefs do a great job of changing their coverage on this play.  The corner-back at first reacts by following Decker a bit to the inside, but then audibles for the safety to come up to the line of scrimmage, which negates the whole offensive game plan to that side.  In an ideal situation, Decker would be open for a quick pass or Davis will win a one on one match up without safety help.  In this case, neither of it happens.  On the other side of the field, Walker runs a crossing route, but gets lucky because the middle linebacker is looking at the running back, and runs into another defender.  The Chiefs, by mistake, run a pick play on themselves, which frees up Walker for the pass across the middle.  Also notice the running back out of the backfield being wide open for a pass in the flat.  It’s a play where the design was horrible, but because of a defensive pick play, it opened up an opportunity for the offense.



This is not a major play in the game, but I put it here to highlight the issue with Revis, and how infuriating it was for the offense to avoid attacking the veteran cornerback.  As he does numerous times in this game, Revis turns his hips in one direction, making him vulnerable for a cutback from the receiver.  If you notice on this play, Revis is trying to get outside leverage on this play, but Davis does a good job of attacking him directly, which causes him to turn his hips to the outside.   Once Revis has his hips turned, this is an easy play for the Titans because he won’t be able to recover until Davis becomes open, and therefore Mariota makes the safe pass.   As Mariota progresses in his career, he will release this ball a bit earlier, allowing Davis more time to run after the catch.  However, this is a great development in this game to attack Revis, which leads to much more success.



A substantial pass to Derrick Henry, and the cause of the play is miscommunication amongst the Chiefs, as well as Mariota’s pocket presence.  The Chiefs are in single high safety look, with 7 players in the box (8, if you count the slot defender), because they are protecting against the run.  The play blows up for the Chiefs because the linebacker tasked with covering the running back assumes zone cover instead of man cover, and allows Henry to run right across him.  Since the rest of the defense is in man cover, Henry is wide open for the quick pass and Mariota hits him with space to operate, and the young running back does the rest.  The only other thing to notice on this play is Mariota stepping up in the pocket, to move away from pressure.  There is a defender coming from the right side of the formation, so Mariota moves up in the pocket and to the right.  This move has two major effects that are positive for the offense.  The first effect is the change in angles, and this is a major development for any QB.  When Mariota is stationary in the pocket, the defender has a straight line towards his target because the tackle is beside him, instead of blocking him.  When Mariota moves up, the angle of attack has to change for the defender, which allows the tackle to push the defender further out of the way.  When Mariota steps to the right, he completely reversed the situation, because now the defender has to turn 180 degrees, at which point the tackle is now properly in the way again.  By moving forward and to the right, Mariota made a play in which the tackle got beat to the outside, and turned it into a positive.  Pocket awareness is paramount in the NFL, and Mariota shows good recognition here.  The second aspect of this move is opening up his options for a possible scramble, as well as a better angle to the pass.  When Mariota gets to the outside, he has an open lane to pass to Henry, which he executes well.  However, let’s now assume the linebacker doesn’t believe it’s zone cover and stays with Henry, taking away the passing option.  At that point, Mariota to the outside of the pocket means he has the option to run or pass which elevates the possibility of success.  This play is a great example of how moving around the QB can really open up options, but also a testament of how the offense is held back by the lack of movement.  Often, I see Mariota being stuck in the pocket by design and it lowers the success rate of the offense.  I’m not advocating the use of Mariota as Michael Vick 2.0, but they have to move him around more often to create issues for the defense.



Mariota to Mariota touchdown, and the clear moment when most fans watching this game thought there might be something special brewing.  The play call here isn’t bad, they spread out the defense, while the Chiefs dropped linebackers into coverage, and actually covered this play well.  Put a non-mobile QB in on this play, and this play will go for an incomplete pass most of the time.  However, Mariota keeps this play alive with his mobility, and then makes a great play.  To notice the mobility, notice the defenders in the end zone once Mariota is running towards them.  The defenders disengage quickly because they know the QB can be a threat to run.  When the defenders disengage, it opens up a passing option for a cutting Corey Davis, which is exactly what Mariota is aiming for when he makes the throw.  However, Revis makes a play on the ball and swats the ball away.  To the fortune of the Titans, the ball bounces right to Mariota, who catches it and runs it in for the touchdown.  Once the ball is batted by Revis, this is just simply a luck play because the ball bounces right to Mariota with an open path to the end zone.  However, the play is set up by Mariota and his mobility creating an option to run.   The success of this play is luck, but mobility helps increase the odds of success just a bit.



Remember how I complained about how the offense didn’t attack Revis?  This play is the reason why.  Revis is no longer the Revis of old, and he just can’t cover one on one like he could do in his heyday.  The Titans consistently avoided him earlier in the game, but decide to take advantage in the second half.  The read on this play is pretty simple, because Mariota is just reading Davis on this play with a quick pass.  This is very similar route to Play 4 in this series of articles, but Mariota throws the ball faster because he has more confidence in Davis besting Revis to the spot.  Notice how the ball is out quicker on this play than Play 4, which allows a bit more time for Davis to run after the catch (albeit, it doesn’t turn into much here).  Once Revis has his hips to the wrong side, Mariota makes the throw because he knows Davis will beat the defender to the inside.  It’s a simple and safe throw, because the offense is growing more confident on its ability to take advantage of Revis.



While it’s a simple pass, this is a good example of how routes set up the defense.  On the outset, this is just Walker finding a soft spot in the zone for critical first down.  However, why was he so open?  The first thing to notice on this play is Davis-Revis match up once again, because the young receiver doesn’t try to turn the defender’s hips to the outside.  That’s because he’s not the primary read on this play, and it’s paramount that he plays to the inside of Revis.  Notice how Revis is lined up similarly to the situations where Davis attacked him to the outside first, which caused him to change directions, yet in this case, he doesn’t do so.  Maintaining inside position is critical, because Davis has to hold the safety in the middle of the field.  As long as Davis has inside leverage, the safety has to stay in the middle because he doesn’t know if Davis is running an in route.  The read on this play for Mariota is towards the other side of the field.  The Titans run two receivers to the right of the formation, with a running back coming out of the backfield.  The first thing to notice here is the slot defender, because he can go three ways on this play.  If that particular defender goes towards Delanie Walker or towards Henry out of the backfield, then the passing lane to Eric Decker is open on this play.  In this case, the slot defender goes towards Decker to block off that passing lane.  At that point, the second read is the middle linebacker, because that defender has two options as well.  If that defender moves towards Walker, then Mariota has to dump the pass to Henry in the flat.  If the defender moves towards Henry out of the backfield, then the passing lane to Walker is open, which is the case here.  Davis is the last critical piece of this play, because his route has to hold the interest of the safety long enough to allow Walker to settle down in the zone.  While it’s a simple play on the outset, this is a great read from Mariota, and wonderfully set up with the routes.



A great run by Mariota here, as he doesn’t see many options down the field.  The first thing to notice here is actually the atrocious spacing to the left side of the formation.  The offense has two receivers to the left side of the formation, with the Davis-Revis matchup on the outside, with Walker on a slot defender (I believe it’s Peters, who gets called for a holding penalty).  Notice how Davis separates from Revis, and is open on the play for a pass, but Mariota can’t pull the trigger.  The reason Mariota is pass averse is because Walker’s route is leading Peters right into the passing lane towards Davis.  This is just bad spacing between the receivers in terms of timing and routes, which reflects badly on the coaching staff.   Once Mariota decides to move on from those options, he moves to the right side of the field.  The silent hero of this play is actually Eric Decker because he’s tasked with blocking here, but he’s over-matched by the linebacker, and pushed to the ground.  However, notice how Decker gets up and realizes that Mariota is running to the outside, and essentially chop blocks the offensive linemen by falling down in front of him.  It could be construed as tripping, so there is a possibility of a penalty, but Decker knew that Mariota didn’t have a chance of success without that block.  The defensive lineman is going to cause Mariota to go too far to the outside, and hinder his chance to turn up field.  There is a chance Mariota can beat the lineman to the outside, but it has major implications for the second level of the defense with the linebacker.  Without the offensive lineman, the linebacker has to worry about a cutback from Mariota, therefore you can see him trail Mariota to be sure he doesn’t cut back.  The lack of aggression from the linebacker allows for Mariota to get to the edge, and run past the linebacker, then turn up the field and gain significant yards.  It’s a bad play design, saved by Mariota and Decker.



Hip Hip Hooray! Hip rotation, hip rotation, and hip rotation.  This is a great pre-snap read by Mariota because Decker is matched up with a slot defender, in a single high safety look.  Mariota can confidently conclude that Decker is sitting on a one on one match up, and have faith in his receiver.  I think Decker is a great route runner, although he’s not the receiver that he used to be at his peak.  I think his route running rates very highly among receivers.  In this play, the defender is playing well off the line, but lined up squarely.  Notice how Decker runs straight at first, thus giving the defensive back less time to react.  However, once he’s close to the defender, he slants to the outside and the defender bites by turning his hips, which allow Decker to cut inside and be open for the pass.  The defender doesn’t have safety help over the top or to the outside, so any late movement will cause them to react, therefore it’s a great route mechanics by Decker near the end.   Mariota does his part by reading the play extremely well, as you can see he has started his throwing motion even before Decker has made his break to the inside.  The result of this pin point ballet is a great touchdown that puts the team in the lead.


The offensive spacing is horrible for this team, and this is the positive article.  I was reading this, and I had to check twice to see if this was still the positive plays article.  The spacing from the offensive scheme is absolutely horrible, and you will see the major difference this year.

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