HomeFootball DirtMastering an Unstoppable Offensive Strategy (Part I)

Mastering an Unstoppable Offensive Strategy (Part I)

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The benefit of a play everyone calls is each piece of the offense knows how to operate within its confines. For the targets set to slice across the field, the first step at the line of scrimmage is a peek into the secondary. Alignments can reveal what comes next, tipping the defense’s hand as to whether it will be in zone or man coverage and if blitzers may be on the way.

“You look at the coverage,” Keyshawn Johnson said about lining up to execute a mesh route over the middle. “The coverage will dictate [whether or not you’ll have an easy catch]. Pre-snap read, I know what they’re going to do before they know what they’re going to do. So you know automatically: ‘He’s getting ready to take the cheese. It’s over.’”

For New York Giants tight end Darren Waller, it’s a speedrun through a checklist he’s spent more than a decade studying.

“Having a plan pre-snap, understanding your route, understanding all the adjustments you’ve gotta make on your route and knowing you’ve got to read the coverage as it unfolds,” Waller explained. “You’ve got to make those decisions quick; it’s all things that are developed through repetition. That’s why you have training camp in the offseason — so you can train those reactions.

“It’s a man [coverage] beat up. You get up there, and you see zone, it’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to play to beat zone. Oh, they’re in man? Well, check to [mesh].’ That’s when you have your best chance to succeed with it.”

Austin Ekeler — the Los Angeles Chargers running back who helped you win your fantasy football league thanks to 323 receptions during the last four seasons — sees it similarly when split into the slot on passing downs.

“It’s not necessarily who [is covering you], it’s how,” Ekeler said. “If you get a linebacker that comes and presses down on the line of scrimmage, it’s really hard to get going. If you get rerouted at the line of scrimmage, that’s not a lot of time to get moving. You need to be five steps, five yards, and I’m out. You can’t be jammed up.

“If [the linebacker or defensive back] plays off? You’re dead. You’re gonna get burned. But if you come down and press, yeah, you’ve got a chance.

“Don’t tell linebackers I said that.”


AP Photo/Matt Durisko

With the defense identified, the next step is disguising the route.

“I start off with alignment. Alignment and assignment … what I’ve got to do with the route,” Diggs said. “Then my biggest thing is consistently being inconsistent. And by that I mean, I’m not going to show you the same thing twice, and it won’t look the same twice. If I show you something else, I want to consistently show you something that makes you believe something enough. That’s my biggest thing.

“I know when I got you when you think you guessed right. When a corner is most confident is when they think they saw something already or they watch something on tape. I’m like a teacher, you know. You have had those trick questions in this ABCD, and a D is all of the all of the above. I’m showing you all of the above.”

For tight ends, shaking coverage gets a little trickier.

“It’s all about keeping a low pad level for a big guy like me,” the 6-foot-6 Waller revealed. “If my pads are high, they have a better chance of reading and breaking on my route. Guys in the slot are usually quick enough to stay with you, so at the top of your route if you get some head and shoulder [shakes and jukes] in there there’s a lot of guys that will panic, a little bit, at the top.”

But while mesh may be most effective against man-to-man coverage, it can create space against just about anything a defense throws at it.

“When you think of mesh concepts, you think of these direct crosser routes,” Ekeler said. “Trying to pick guys, trying to get defenders out of position. Now they have a trail, now they’re running into their own people. It’s effective versus man and zone [coverage].

“If it’s in man, you’re just trying to run away from [your defender] with a pick coming. If it’s in zone, you have the option to sit down in the zone, and you don’t have to keep running across and get your head taken off. It’s super effective against any type of defense. One of the safer calls you could go with.”

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