It's the highlight play of the Raiders' victory over the Chargers and it's the one that gets everyone hyped about Amari Cooper. At first glance, there doesn't seem to be much to say except "Screen to Amari and he just runs around everyone for 52 yards".
And yet the play is more interesting than it first appears.
Play 46 : Q2, 1-10-OAK 48 (1:12) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass short left to A.Cooper for 52 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
|TV Replay 1
|TV Replay 2
|Coop Cut 1
|Coop Cut 2
* * *
Before the Bye
Here are some previous screens to Amari from the Bunch Formation :
|(Shotgun) D.Carr pass incomplete short left to A.Cooper.
|(Shotgun) D.Carr pass short right to A.Cooper pushed ob at OAK 49 for 6 yards (W.Hill).
|(Shotgun) D.Carr pass short left to A.Cooper to CHI 46 for 5 yards (S.Acho).
|(Shotgun) D.Carr pass short right to A.Cooper to CHI 44 for 2 yards (J.Jenkins).
* * *
The first thing that jumps out is that this looks like an Illegal Formation :
On the left side, Amari Cooper is off the line of scrimmage, but the two slot receivers (Seth Roberts, Mychal Rivera) are both on the line, meaning that Roberts is "covering up" Rivera. This makes Rivera an Ineligible Receiver; since Rivera is wearing an eligible number, he must have reported himself as an 'Ineligible' to the referee prior to the play.
IF Rivera had declared himself ineligible, the formation is legal, though a bit odd since it has 8 men on the line of scrimmage and thus only 4 eligible receivers. However, if Rivera had NOT declared himself ineligible and this was a formation mistake, then it was a miss by Jerome Boger's crew.
Side note: On the play, Rivera does not go downfield beyond 1 yard past the line of scrimmage (and makes contact with a defender) and so his play is within the constraints of an Ineligible Receiver.
Also, having both WR's on the LOS does appear to give a slight advantage to the Raiders; the blocking angles are slightly improved for both the receivers and may have been one of the keys to why those blockers were so good.
In reviewing the game, the formation was used earlier in the game. From this pre-snap image, it seems like Rivera should have been off the line :
For reference, the NFL Rulebook : NFL.com
RULE 5, SECTION 3 CHANGES IN POSITION
ARTICLE 1. REPORTING CHANGE OF POSITION. An offensive player wearing the number of an ineligible pass receiver (50–79 and 90–99) is permitted to line up in the position of an eligible pass receiver (1–49 and 80–89), and an offensive player wearing the number of an eligible pass receiver is permitted to line up in the position of an ineligible pass receiver, provided that he immediately reports the change in his eligibility status to the Referee, who will inform the defensive team.
There are a few interesting differences in the formation from pre-Bye and the Week 7 game.
Here are stills that show the formations of the four previous Bunch Screens :
The Bunch formation has the same structure :
- One receiver is on the LOS
- Inside receiver is one yard off the LOS
- Outside receiver (Cooper) is two yards off the LOS
Meanwhile this ...
... is not quite a Bunch.
It's not quite NOT a Bunch either; it's more like a "Loose Bunch" and offers some of the same formational difficulties that a Tight Bunch offers and perhaps creates even more problems because of the space that it encompasses. The space-- particularly the distance between Roberts and CB Jason Verrett-- is important as it sets up the blocks and it allows for Cooper's "route."
The other major difference that sticks out is the position of the RB.
In the previous plays, the RB is opposite the Bunch; on this play, the RB is the close side. This is important for a few reasons, the most obvious one is that it is potentially a "tell". If the play formation is always the same, then the Defense has an indicator as to whether a WR screen is coming or not.
The more important reasons are how it shears the defense and helps to create Cooper's running lane. More details in the "Run Action"-section.
There are two / three major formation changes to this play from pre-Bye to Week 7 that seem to have improved the play. These changes are not huge (some casual fans may not even notice), but they are not minor either. Flipping the RB does not look like much, but it affects the defense in a major way; the spacing between the WRs doesn't look like much when you are watching from 50 yards away, but it improves the structure and dynamics of the 3 receivers and their coverage counterparts.
It's these "little things" that make the play work and that make studying the play so exciting and interesting.
* * *
The Run Action
The Run Action may look the same as before, but it is totally different. That difference starts with the RB's position, but doesn't end there.
Here's the action used in Week 7 :
It's an inside-handoff that looks like a Zone-Read play, but that has the design of a designed handoff.
On the right side, it looks like Power; RG J'Marcus Webb and RT Austin Howard downblock while LG Gabe Jackson pulls. This is a Bread and Butter play that the Raider have run often, so it is "on tape." The Chargers' defenders have definitely studied it and are well-aware of how effective it can be (Gabe Jackson can be scary on the Pull).
The defense has 5 men on the LOS and bring a blitz.
On the snap, when the Raiders give strong run action, the Chargers react hard.
It draws in two key defenders : OLB #53 Kavell Conner (unblocked) and #56 ILB Donald Butler. Conner is playing backside while Butler likely is keying Jackson.
The fake sucks in 6 Defenders away from the play, leaving only 4 to defend Cooper (1 defender is covering Crabtree on the opposite side) including the single deep safety 15+ yards away from the play.
Meanwhile, LT Donald Penn and C Rodney Hudson both block, disengage, and then release to lead the play.
The Raiders have the numbers. Two blocking receivers + two blocking OL v 4 Chargers' defenders and lots of empty field.
There is one defender who can potentially disrupt this : LB #51 Emanuel. When he reads that it is a pass play, he disengages and chases Cooper. He takes a slightly flat angle and does not have quite the speed to make the play. He just misses ankle-tackling Cooper :
By having the RB lined up on the Screen Side, it means the run action will be away from the screen. So if the run game has been effective and if the defense bites, then it means that there are defenders running AWAY from the play. Conversely , if the RB is lined up on the opposite side, it means, the run action draws defenders TOWARDS the play.
There's a common phrase in the Run Game "split the defense in half." This refers to getting 2nd level blocks out and break off the defensive pursuit. But on this screen play, we also see a "split the defense in half"-type concept. The Run action takes half the defense away while the offense releases blockers to account for the remaining half.
It is an excellent adjustment.
There's another aspect also. When the RB is lined up on the Screen side, Derek Carr's Zone-Read-style, two-handed handoff has him facing the screen play. His feet and body are already (mostly) lined up to make the throw and he is able to "stare down" his receiver the whole time while not giving it away (a zone-read play has him reading the EMLOS anyway).
With the RB opposite, Carr's handoff would have him turn his back to the screen and then have him flip his body / hips to make the throw. The result is that when the RB is lined away, Carr's run fake is truncated.
On this play, Carr gives a much better Run Fake; it's still not great, but it's certainly good enough to draw the defense.
These are all crucial elements that were key to making the play happen but can be missed because they all came before Cooper's fantastic (highlight-making) running . It comes down to just a few things :
- Flip the RB
- Pull the LG
- Release LT and C
These little items made a large difference.
* * *
The Screen Action
There's an interesting improvement in the dynamics on the outside where the screen happens. It starts with the slight formation change. The bunch goes from a Tight Bunch to a Looser Bunch; there's a lot of space between Seth Roberts and Amari Cooper; Roberts is lined up just inside the numbers and Cooper is about 2 yards outside the numbers.
It seems like more space is an advantage to the defense; it should make it harder for the blockers to set up and gives the defenders more room to get thru. But OC Musgrave has made an adjustment to account for that.
The play as it has been run before (Week 2 v BAL) :
Cooper's "route" is to take a step, pivot to face the QB, and then wait for the ball, hoping that the blocking holds up. Notice how Cooper is "blind" to the defense as he awaits the ball. It can lead to a drop if Cooper is a bit anxious about turning upfield or if he sense a defender closing in.
Here are stills with some diagrams that show the screen action from previous weeks :
It also puts Cooper in a very static position when he receives the ball. His feet are planted and he's a stationary target, so once he catches it, he has to turn his feet / hips upfield and start running from a stop, while chasing defenders (including the LBs) have a running start.
Cooper takes a normal 2 step release as if he may go downfield which puts CB Jason Verrett into a reaction. Then, instead of driving inside or outside, Cooper breaks back and to the inside, driving back towards his QB. As he does so, his two outside blockers are angling opposite him and forming a nice wall.
The two blockers flow outside and create a wash while Cooper is able to break against that with Verrett trapped on the opposite side. It's a Pick Play on the WR Screen. Cooper can run as close to Roberts as he needs to in order to free himself and Roberts can do what he wants to block Verrett since this is action is all within 1 yard of the Line of scrimmage.
Notice #24 Brandon Flowers.
With Verrett being picked and S #27 Jimmy Wilson being blocked by TE Mychal Rivera, it leaves only Flowers to make a play on Cooper. But Flowers is flowing the wrong way because he has man coverage on Roberts and Flowers is playing him for the downfield route.
This helps to create that lane that Cooper will run thru.
The two OL release and finish off the blocking. Here's the diagram of the screen action with OL :
and with the Defensive reactions :
Depth and Width
Re-watch the initial part of the play and take note of "Depth and Width" of Cooper's route :
Depth is obvious. Cooper shows a downfield attack about 3 yards and gets Verrett to give ground.
Width is just as important, perhaps moreso, and comes right after that. When Cooper breaks, he breaks backwards and then also inside towards Carr. He starts well outside the numbers and then ends up catching the ball right on the numbers.
This allows Cooper to make eye contact with Carr at the top of his route; when Carr makes the throw, Cooper drives towards the ball, letting him track the ball as well as cutting down the time the ball is in the air. Running away from the defense should give him a little more sense of space since he's again "blind" with respect to the defenders.
It also allows the blocking to set up.
Roberts and Rivera want to create an inside alley (or "Tunnel") so they want to block "Inside out". The initial WR action causes the defenders to flow to the outside. This gives the blockers inside position (leverage) and helps set up that alley.
When Cooper drives to the inside, he's now catching the ball where the alley is set up instead of outside the blocking.
If Cooper had merely pivoted and waited for the ball, he would have had to cut inside after receiving the pass. Now, he can just turn upfield and run to clear field.
That's the play design.
* * *
"You want to get beaten, but don't LOOK like you want to get beaten"
The OL had to sell the run action for this to be as successful as it was. They needed to give an honest run look and draw that defense in.
Meanwhile, the two big men tasked with leading the play had to get out in time and make sure they were able to get in front of Cooper. There's nothing worse than being a lead blocker and getting trapped behind the play. Since the big men get to release before the pass is thrown, it seems like it should be easy for them to get downfield well ahead of Cooper.
But there's a rule that prevents them from running too far down too early : "Ineligible Receiver Downfield"-penalty. So, these two OL have to run laterally down the line of scrimmage, no farther than 1 yard downfield, before the pass is in the air. Once the ball leaves Carr's hand, they are free to turn downfield.
LT Donald Penn and C Rodney Hudson were showing backside blocking and had to get beaten, allowing their defenders to get penetration. When that happened, they were free to release.
The LOS is the OAK 48.
Penn makes first contact at the SD 42, 10 yards downfield.
Rodney Hudson is even farther, making first contact at the SD 38, 14 yards downfield.
It's no understatement to say that those are fantastic blocks and that the play would not have had a chance at the TD without them.
* * *
There used to be a saying when Michael Jordan was playing, "Don't get posterized." That is, when MJ made a play so amazing it was going to be a poster, don't be the defender that is being beaten.
On this play, Amari Cooper posterized SD's S #27 Jimmy Wilson.
And for Raiders' fans, it's a beautiful thing.
But this was actually Amari's 3rd major cut in his after-catch running. It was the most obvious and exciting, but it was his other cut that was arguably more impressive.
Runners are often told to "Run behind your blockers." That's good advice especially when you have blockers like Donald Penn and Rodney Hudson (and also Gabe Jackson even though he was not involved in this play). It's surprising that many times runners will not do this and so it was an especially interesting moment when Cooper made a cut that placed him right behind one of his blockers, a cut that many runners don't make.
Here is a closer look at Rodney Hudson's block :
After Cooper avoids #51 Emanuel's tackle, he turns upfield.
He has the outside wall with Penn and Rivera and he has Hudson setting up inside. There's already a lane set up for Cooper.
Right here, many runners would see the hole between his blockers and then explode right thru the middle of them and into the clear. That's not bad, as the saying goes "Run to Air." Instead, Cooper is going to show another aspect of his advanced Game Sense.
Rodney Hudson gets a Rocking Block on the safety #37 Addae here. It's what the Big Guys dream of. It's hard for the Big Guys to mash on the Little Guys because they are so quick and shifty that they are often able to beat the Big Guys in space, but today Hudson gets Addae running right at him and Hudson turns him into a speed bump.
A good part of this is because Rodney Hudson is surprisingly nimble for a 310+ lb man. But another part (often unmentioned) is that Cooper cuts right behind Hudson and forces Addae to take on the big block. If Cooper accelerates and splits his blockers, it gives Addae an angle to avoid Hudson and possibly tackle Cooper. At the very least, it gives Hudson a difficult side-angle to try to get the safety.
When Cooper cuts right behind Hudson, it puts the three of them (Cooper, Hudson, Addae) in a line and Addae either (a) avoid the block and gives up the run or (b) takes on an angry blocker who 80+ lbs heavier and has a full head of steam. Neither seems very appealing.
Cooper had the patience to not outrun his blockers and then the visiion / sense to place himself to set up his blockers. Amari Cooper is a WR, but this is a very RB-ish talent he shows. Marshawn Lynch and DeMarco Murray are two notable RBs who have a wonderful talent for setting up their blockers.
It's great to see a player excelling, but there's something special about a player whose abilities make other players better. In this case, Cooper helped Hudson make a great block.
There's not really much to say about Cooper's final cut. His cutting ability, sense of angles and leverages, and amazing acceleration and deceleration are just mind-boggling. Jimmy Wilson did what he could but didn't stand a chance; he had to pursue at full speed to catch Cooper; if he had played for the cutback, Cooper would have outrun him thru the middle.
When people say that Amari is a great "Broken Field Runner", these abilities are generally what they are referencing.
And for those that haven't been paying attention, Amari has been putting guys on the ground with his cuts since week 1. Here are a couple of nice examples :
* * *
Try it Again
Later in the game, Bill Musgrave called the play again with Michael Crabtree. It was the same play, but without the Bunch. The rest of the dynamics remained the same.
And this happened :
The success of this play is going to force defenses to spend time figuring out / practicing how to defend it. Interestingly enough, earlier in the game, Musgrave gave the same look and action of the play but without the guard pull.
This is what happened :
There are a number of variants that are available and one of the keys will be to find the appropriate players to run these plays. Already, Musgrave knows he can rely on the Cooper and Crabtree tandem to run the screen (C&C TD Factory?); how about Taiwan or Helu or maybe even Reece?
Both Roberts and Rivera did a great job blocking and Holmes came thru for Crabtree. The OL duo of Hudson and Penn seem perfectly suited for this.
Who are viable targets to run the fake screen and make the play downfield? Rivera, Roberts, Holmes, Walford, Reece, and Olawale are all in play.
It was a great play all around. Execution by everyone on this play was perfect and the Chargers' defense was perfectly primed for the play (Man coverage + blitz + susceptible to the run) and once Cooper got out into the open field, it was a highlight film set on "play".
Cooper justifiably gets the accolades. Others will mention the fantastic play by the OL getting out. Some may notice that Roberts and Rivera do a great job of blocking (note that Seth Roberts releases his man just in time to avoid what would be his *3rd holding penalty* on the day).
But the real hero on this play is OC Bill Musgrave. During the Bye Week, he took the previous WR Screen play that was only marginally effective and tuned it into a weapon. It certainly worked well against the Chargers as a variation / changeup compared to what they've seen before. Going forward, the challenge will be to make this a consistently dangerous play against defenses that are going to prepare and scheme specifically to stop it.
For the rest of the season, Raiders' fans should probably get a little more excited whenever they see this type of Bunch with either Cooper or Crabtree.