Monday, April 9, 2018

Inside the Playbook: Indiana Cross-Wheel

Indiana Wheel Route
Everyone knows about the Post-Wheel route concept. According to 2016 Twitter and beyond, it has been and continues to be undefeated. The legitimacy of this claim can be argued, as much as anything can legitimately be argued on Twitter. Admittedly, it’s a great concept that can be run effectively with a variety of personnel and from various formations. What I want to show today is a slight variation of it, that has tons of eye-candy on top of it to really maximize the effectiveness. This comes from Indiana OC Mike DeBord (as much as Michigan fans don’t want to believe it). It is the Cross-Wheel combo.

The Concept
Of course, at its heart, the effectiveness of the play comes from the Cross-Wheel combination. This works in the same way that the Post-Wheel works. The cross from the #1 WR pulls the CB and sees the CB follow in coverage. By the “wheel” receiver initially looking to be threatening the flat (or even the run) the secondary tends to lose him in coverage and the safety will often also commit to doubling on the post or cross. The flat defender is then focused on cutting off the angle to the flat throw until he realizes that the “wheel” receiver has turned up field to work vertically.
So effectively, the Cross-Wheel Combo works because: 1) the secondary is pulled inside by the cross; 2) the flat defender is pulled forward by the initial route stem; 3) the space vertically down the sideline is vacated against either man or zone coverage. We have a bingo.

The Play

This play really has it all. Sure, throw in a flea-flicker or something, but then you're just getting crazy. The play is more than just the concept, it’s the concept combined with a bevy of eye-candy and threat.

Let’s count the ways.

1. Motion/Sweep
The motion of the receiver into the backfield initially threatens the jet sweep. With the RB aligned away from the receiver’s initial position, he can also function as a lead blocker. Much about this formation and motion screams sweep to the field. This will either effectively pull a LB to try to set the edge or cause the secondary to rotate with the motion.

2. IZ RPO with Bubble
The timing of the snap and the WR’s motion does not equate to sweep, but it does equate to what many teams are running in terms of an RPO. In this case, it is effectively a zone read with a bubble behind it, with the WR’s motion allowing him to serve as a bubble receiver. Part 1 causes the pre-snap motion, part 2 further draws the initial post-snap response of the defense.

3. Weak Play Action
This is a fairly weak PA, and that’s partly by design. Weak PA really doesn’t attempt to sell the run, that’s because this play is as much about selling the rollout as it is the run. But the weak PA does effectively freeze the LB level, which hurts them in leverage for defending the wheel and also in leverage for defending the rollout.

Aside: People often think that all play action is created equal, but that is not the case. In fact, many West Coast and Air Coryell offensive would argue there are essentially three types of play fakes: weak, normal, hard.

Weak is more or less intended to freeze the coverage just enough to allow the ball to get out quickly into spaces vacated by the defensive alignment or for receivers to gain leverage on the coverage immediately post snap.

Normal play action will cause defensive movement in the way of false steps; they pull the coverage out of their initial alignment to open up new or bigger vacated gaps or potentially allow the receiver even greater leverage.

Hard play action is intended to get the defense to commit to run responsibilities; the QB pulls off the run fake with everything he has, including his eyes, because behind the play fake the coverage has committed to their run gaps and the receivers have gotten so open that the read can be made easily.

4. Release through the OL
RB releases into his wheel route through the LOS. Not off the edge or in space, but actual gets vertical by working between the LT and LG. This cause the LB to initially step toward the run fake and then effectively forget the RB exists. He thinks, by the RB carrying out the run fake, that he is done with the play. The rest is a rollout, and he, as a LB, needs to get into his coverage.

Aside: I'm going to get more into this action later this week after this aside started becoming too long. 

5. Pulling OG
Pulling the guard to the roll-side. This is a half-roll, he isn’t trying to get outside the defense as much as he’s trying to move the aiming point. But by pulling the guard to the edge, away from the RB, it further solidifies that this is play action and that this is a rollout pass to the field.

6. Realistic Route Concept to the Rollout
Here, it's a flood concept to the half-roll. Yes, the spacing is a little odd between the flat and the hitch receivers, but this is a play that Indiana runs, and they run a lot, and they run effectively. With the Y-cross coming from the opposite side of the field, you effectively have a triangle read that is typical with a rollout, and is something you can come back to if the wheel isn’t open.

7. Backside High-Low Option to Combo the Wheel
You also have a delayed release by the TE, effectively acting as a TE throwback! This delayed route gives the QB a true high-low option to the backside with the wheel and the cross. This means if the LB manages to stick with the wheel receiver, you actually have an outlet with the delayed release of the TE (who initially is blocking for the rollout).

In summary, this is an awesome play design.

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