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Donald Penn catch and a missed opportunity

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A closer, detailed look at Donald Penn's reception and how the play behind it was unfolding.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Donald Penn's Reception

For most fans, this play was probably just a minor curiosity or a footnote : "Did you know an Ineligible Receiver can catch the ball if it is tipped?" Adding to it was that the broadcast was more taken with seeing 300+ lber Donald Penn catch and rumble for 3 yards rather than take note of the play at hand (unsurprising, but disappointing nonetheless).

Here's a quick look back at that play and an observation of a beautiful play design that went unrealized.

Play 69 : Q4, 1-10-OAK 25 (9:44) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass short left to D.Penn to OAK 28 for 3 yards (M.Jackson).

Type Link
TV Replay 1 GFY
Break Gallery Imgur

Raiders' Offense is in 12 Personnel, 1 RB (Olawale) + 2 TEs (Rivera, Lee Smith) and 2 WRs (Crabtree, Cooper).

Pre-snap, Olawale goes into wide screen motion to the right. With only a minor response from the defense, the pre-snap indication is zone. This is not surprising because the Broncos have been playing quite a bit of Sinking Deep Zone (often Cover 3) to take away Crabtree and Cooper.

The Raiders will run a Pick Play in the middle of the field with Amari on a shallow crosser. Typically, we are used to seeing pick plays in the middle with 2 opposing crossers (as in the Derek Carr Pick 6 play), but this one is slightly different.

Here's a quick look at the routes and coverage :

Lee Smith has Von Miller covering him; on his release, Smith gets bumped and ridden downfield by Miller. That's typical for a TE and often affects his route, but in this case, it's exactly what OC Bill Musgrave wants. The two big mobile men basically run in tandem into the middle of the field and form a single 520-pound moving human wall.

Key on these four players (Cooper + Lee Smith v Brandon Marshall + Von Miller) :

Denver's #54 is ILB Brandon Marshall. He's 6'1", 250 lbs, and runs a 4.81s 40 yard. He's a mobile LB and has good instincts for covering a RB or even a Tight End in the underneath areas. Marshall is not, however, a match for Amari Cooper in space.

On this play, the Denver defense initially gives a Zone look, but ends up with lots of man coverage. This is likely some kind of combination coverage, perhaps one where they zone along verticals and man across in horizontals (Deep it looks like Cover 3, underneath it looks like Man).

Typically in Man Coverage situations, you'd expect the CB to cover Cooper. In zones, a LB may end up picking up a WR, but he always (generally) has help from adjacent zones, so he's never tasked to single-handedly cover a WR in space for long.

Interestingly, this offensive play design against this defensive call manages to isolate Amari Cooper on the LB Brandon Marshall. It's a mismatch dream come true. For the Raiders' offense, it's one of the beautiful situations that they just have to take advantage of.

The play design does one better. It's not just that Marshall gets iso'd on Cooper, but the play puts stress on Marshall to chase Cooper on the pick play across the middle of the field. This would be a tough assignment for Chris Harris, nearly impossible for Brandon Marshall.

Marshall's only real chance would be to jam Cooper and throw him off his route or slow him down. In this case, since Marshall isn't lined up on Cooper, he's dependent on fellow LB #59 Daniel Trevathan to bump Coop off his route. But Trevathan's coverage (Rivera) takes an outside release and prevents any contact on Cooper.

Cooper gets a clean release off the line of scrimmage and then breaks laterally at the 32 yard line, aiming just underneath the moving 1/4-ton Man Mountain combination of Von-Smith. Cooper has a solid several steps on Marshall and is accelerating. All Derek Carr has to do is get the ball to him...

A couple of things to note about Amari's release :

  • The timing is pretty good, but if it's just a touch better, Marshall might get physically picked and Cooper totally free. This is the timing/coordination and the working of steps between the receivers that will improve over time.
  • Michael Crabtree gets a nice release and runs a beautiful vertical route and gets on top of the CB (Who said Crabtree can't run deep?). His route demands the attention of both the CB and the Safety. CB #25 Chris Harris is in full "Turn and Burn"-mode to keep up with Crabtree. This totally vacates the entire left half of the field, which--coincidentally enough--is where Amari is running towards.

It appears that Carr is reading Deep to Shallow and so he wants to go to Crabtree initially. That double coverage takes him away and so he comes down to Cooper, but perhaps just a touch late.

Cooper hits the middle of the field and turns to look for the ball. The defender is trailing and since this is Man, there's no off-side defender.

and an End zone view

Perhaps Carr is reading zone defense and wants to Cooper to clear or if he's read man defense, maybe he wants to make sure Von Miller doesn't peel off.  In either case, Carr waits for Cooper to get out of the middle of the field.

Cooper takes a few steps and when Carr makes his throw, it's just outside the created throwing lane.

Here's a look :

A look from the end zone :

LT Donald Penn has done a nice job of walling off DE Malik Jackson, but on the throw, Jackson is able to jump up and bat down the ball.

It's an extremely good and important play because the field is clear for Amari :

Marshall is in a 3 yard trail (and losing ground), Chris Harris has his back turned and is running away from the play, and the safety #43 TJ Ward is coming down to support from about 15 yards away.

If Carr throws the ball in front of Cooper so that he can take it in stride (to date, this has been a major weakness of Carr's, so it's not a given), Cooper has a chance to turn the corner and make this a big play; if things go just right, Cooper has a chance to take it all the way.

It was a great opportunity, a perfect play set up, and the Raiders fail to take advantage (or the Broncos make a great play to break it up, depending on your viewpoint).

It's terribly disappointing, but on the plus side, the clearout by Crabtree, the group of receivers to the backside, and the Pick Play Crosser is very nice play design for someone like Cooper who can pick up a bunch of yards in a heartbeat. Nearly everything on this play went to plan.

The play itself is a keeper and next time the players have to manage to get the ball to Cooper instead of Donald Penn.