I have bemoaned the lack of creativity in NFL play calling, although all these coaches work 80 hours a week and sleep in their offices like Don Draper on a bender. I know the reason for the seldom use of some of these plays concerns not having enough time on the field because today’s players are so fast. However, when these plays are used, they often work.
On Thursday, the Steelers carved up the Ravens defense with repeated reverses to Antonio Brown. They were getting 12, 15, 20 yards at a time. The Seahawks have also employed reverse effectively with Percy Harvin, most notably in the Super Bowl. Most teams have one 4.3-40 type wide receiver who they can run reverses with.
The down side: When reverses don’t work, they go for big negative yards, like a sack. You’re also exposing your fast and usually smaller receiver to potentially getting flattened by a 310-pound nose tackle.
The trap play is a key element of the San Francisco 49rs running game and it is generally realized by a guard and center criss crossing in the middle of the line. I find that these plays can create confusion on the defensive line and create space on tough inside runs. However, you almost never see a trap in the red zone.
The downside: While it can result in a big play, the result is often a gain of between two and six yards.
The hallmark of the Chip Kelly offense, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, is giving the quarterback multiple run and passing reads on the same play. The easiest way to do that is with a bootleg and use the quarterback as a runner. This also simplifies the field for your QB with all the receivers heading in the same direction and can stunt a pass rush. If Peyton Manning can have success running a bootleg, then your average quarterback, with legs of flesh and bone instead of concrete, could be devastating.
The downside: Although most bootlegs simply move the pocket, you are potentially opening up your QB to take a big hit (although they can get hit hard in the regular old pocket too). Also, you are taking away one half of the field. A QB who throws across his body to the far side of the field is begging to be intercepted.
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Labeau is famous for his zone blitzes (and for never aging). Yet, I feel like NFL teams have gotten away from employing them even as defensive linemen continue to become more athletic. There is no better way to confuse a quarterback then to let him think he has a guy wide open in the middle of the field only to see a big defensive lineman stick his mits up in the way.
The Downside: You’re potentially taking one of your better coverage players, out of coverage and one of your better pass rushers away from the line.
Like the trap on offense, stunts are when defensive linemen criss cross, which can create confusion and better match ups. Anyone with athletic defensive tackles, like the Rams or Lions, should use these in passing situations.
The downside: If your opponent runs into it, there’s probably going to be a big hole to work with.
Running Back Screens
Wide receiver screens seem to be en vogue around the league. I think it’s because it’s a low risk play and a way to get a top play maker the ball. However, how often do those end up being big plays? The problem is that you’re asking wide receivers to block (although teams should think about using tight ends in these situations — like the Chargers using Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green in a trips set to block for Keenan Allen). Running back screens break for big plays all the time. Think about it: you’re giving your 300-pound behemoth interior offensive lineman a head of steam to go attack the second level of the defense. Your running back probably only has to make one guy miss to be off to the races. Running back screens are absolutely the best way to take the steam out of a pass rush by letting those guys fly up the field and dumping pass in their vapor trails.
The downside: If a screen ever gets intercepted, it’s going to the house. You’re also exposing your quarterback and running backs to potentially big hits.