Showing the details: How play execution and design lead to success

Kevin Casey - Getty Images

I think one of the most valuable things we've seen come out of the last few years is access to the basics of football, weather through shows like Playbook on NFL network to videos on how to be a passer, runner, receiver, the access is unprecedented. A recent and fun development for fans here locally has been Chalk Talk with Brock. I started thinking on it though, and really, highlighting one play a week where Brock takes the concepts apart and labels them and shows you why they work or don't work isn't always in-depth enough to help people understand why offense works the way it does. The words we often hear when a play fails are often "Attention to detail" or "Execution." In the next few diagrams (graciously designed by Danny on my dictation) I hope to explain how these two words define what makes a top offense work.

Diagram #1:

This is a simple play design. This is actually a common play in the Mike Holmgren era, and this was a play used many times -- a few changes here and there -- but with a high level of execution and attention to detail, it allowed Holmgren's team to execute this play at will. I actually refer to this, personally, as the "Jackson Special," after Darrell Jackson.

The design is simple, as I said. The Z flanker will run a go-route. The slot receiver will run a square-in behind the linebackers usually this route's depth is about 15-yards. The X flanker will run a 10-yard curl. The halfback will leak right and the fullback will stay in to block weak side. The defense is in nickle and so for the purposes of brevity we will say it's base 4-3 and man coverage.

Pre-snap look, as it'd be drawn up on the chalkboard.

Mockup1

Diagram #2:

Every play is designed to create a mismatch, or to force the defense to declare intentions early. So let me walk you through how this play is designed to work and how the details ensure success. The go route and the in-route are key to this play. The biggest thing this play wants to do is get the strong safety (SS) to either cover the go route over the top by the flanker, or race down to cover the in-route the middle by the slot receiver.

If the safety isn't deep, instead eyeing the slot receiver, then the go route becomes primary.

Diagram_1

If the OLB stays home underneath, instead of covering the leak route, the running back becomes your read. Rarely are you going to throw the curl.

Diagram_2

Now let's cover some scenarios where execution or detail gets lost.

1) Let's say the Z gets Jammed on his go route and the corner gets over the top? Now the safety can pinch your In-route, the linebacker covers your back and essentially, the play is dead.

2) The slot receiver gets a clean release and can run his route, but instead of cutting clean, he rounds the edge of the route taking 2-3 extra steps instead of a smooth easy well timed cut. Now the QB who is expecting the slot to get to a space at a certain time is thrown off. The other OLB starts to drift into the throwing lane as the QB looks to the slot who should already be there. His option is either to risk a throw to the curl or try and dump it to the runner. All because the timing changed and the defense was able to adapt.

3) Lets say the running back forgets his assignment or mishears a protection change. Now he doesn't leak out. This does not clear the OLB and everything about this play is dead unless you have Michael Boulware at safety and he gets happy feet.

4) Plays that are well executed over and over and over should, even if they don't create the optimum results, allow for completions or positive plays. Mistakes, no matter how small, have a big impact on the entire play and in fact can effectively ensure that nothing about the play works. This concept was run so many times in training camp with Holmgren's team and so many times in the season (Matt Hasselbeck drew this exact play up for NFL network in 2005 and said they ran this style of concept about 5 times a game.) I'm sure they could run this play blindfolded, naked, covered in honey and chased by offensive coordinator Gil Haskell with a bag of Africanized bees.

The reason injuries hurt so often (no pun)? It isn't just about the talent level, it's the fact that most of the time, the replacement guys don't execute at the same level, or their attention to detail is just a bit off. You see timing issues or QBs and WRs having trouble connecting because back-ups have trouble understanding when a QB wants to throw to them.

By this same token, if the QB doesn't process the play in a timely manner, his slow reaction or indecisiveness can cause what should be a successful play to be well defended, because he does not get rid of the ball in the time it takes to make space in the defense. For example, if the QB sees the safety drop and the Z flanker has cleared his man, but he's still trying to decide whether or not to make the throw to the slot because he doesn't trust his eyes, there is a good chance he will allow the defense to then read his eyes and play the ball much more successfully. Indecisiveness will kill a QB as much as one with happy feet.

So the challenge for Darrell Bevell is really not just calling plays, but getting guys to buy in and follow the details and execute plays the way they should. Substitute all the players into the diagrams above, and tell me definitively: (I love this word now), who is doing their jobs? Are 11 offensive players still having trouble with the training wheels? I don't think anyone has the answer here for sure and I just want people to understand that an offense that starts slow and grows together through repetitions and failures is going to come out better for it in the end. Sidney Rice must force safeties to double him and become the threat this team needs. Doug Baldwin must come back and become our slot man and Golden Tate must continue to show growth. This is a season long journey guys, so buckle the f%$k up.

I also would like to say here that I don't know that these are the actual issues facing Seattle right now. I have no inside knowledge of what the coaches see, and I haven't seen their playbook.

I simply wanted to allow fans to understand the issues any offense faces to help with the ability to make more informed judgement about what they could be seeing right now. Hopefully we can have more a slightly more nuanced discussion here apart from the "Fire Bevell now" argument.

Maybe, hire Jay Gruden yesterday? Just kidding.

Thoughts and questions are encouraged.

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