This Vikings play action pass is a sign of good coaching. When I watch other offenses, one thing I always look for is the quality of a solid play action pass concept. Play action passes are much more than a run fake. They should take full advantage of defensive keys in order to get the best coached defenses to fall for the fake. Otherwise, play action passes will work well against poor defenses, but not necessarily against great ones.
Goal of the Play Action Pass
The goal of this play action pass by the Vikings isn’t so much on the patterns run or the fake. While those elements are important, the most crucial aspect of this play action pass is the use of the defense’s own keys/reads against them. The Vikings start in 22 personnel, aka two tight ends and a split end. Both tight ends lined up next to each other, with a fullback in the backfield. This look forces a change in the back seven of the defense, because the offense, when the fullback and extra tight end is considered, can present two extra gaps to one side. The defense must overload that side.
Play Action Pass: Use Over Aggressive Play Against The Defense
However, because of this overload, the defense knows they are weaker to weakside runs, especially given the alignment of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Looking at the 2i alignment (inside shoulder of the weakside guard) of the defensive tackle shows they understand this weakness. However, they are respecting the deep pass from the split end, because they are playing Free Safety Chris Conte deep and near the middle of the offensive formation.
So the Bears are selling out to a run to the strongside, or a deep play action pass. This leaves them weak specifically to the weakside runs. It’s clear to everyone that the Bears are weak here, including the defense themselves. So they will likely overly aggressively play run fakes to that side.
Breaking Down the Vikings’ Play Action Pass
The Vikings take advantage of this with their play action pass. They run a full flow lead play action pass towards the weakside. As expected, the Bears play over the top. However, to better protect Ponder on his bootleg fake, and to get the weakside of the defense to buy the fake, both tight ends start to execute what looks like scoop blocks to the defense. The Bears heavily use run keys. One of those is the angle of the EMOLOS, in this case, the outside of the two tight ends. As the tight ends scoop through, the defense pursues the run. However, as the outside tight end continues to block, the inside tight end, Kyle Rudolph, uses the defender’s body to push off and work away from the play. By technically blocking down on the defensive end, Rudolph provides Ponder protection, and thanks to his teammate outside of him, he comes free into the flat as Ponder works his head around. Rudolph works up the field and into the voided secondary.
Patience with the Play Action Pass
The Vikings set this play action pass up earlier in the game, but were smart in waiting to execute the big play, and then also running it twice in a row on the same drive. This prevented adjustments by the defense and they actually used it on the next play, leading to a score for Rudolph. We see the genius of coaching here. First, we see that the Vikings understood that the Bears were not stupid, they knew the weakness of their look and would aggressively defend it. Secondly, we see the Vikings using standard defensive keys to open up the interior receiver, in this case Rudolph. Third, and more importantly, utilizing the scheme to it’s fullest capacity before Bears coaches could figure out what happened and adjust. This is the sign of good coaching. Sometimes the NFL has boring stuff. However, sometimes they take the boring things, and if you know what to look for, add some important and exciting stuff to them.
This style of play action pass shows the difference between an average offensive coordinator and a good offensive coordinator. The ability to manufacture big plays and points by using the defense against itself, while putting your players in a position to be successful. Play action passes can generate big plays easily, but playing against good defenses they may fall apart because of a simple element (say the outside tight ends run fake looked terrible for instance). Coordinators need to show patience with play action passes, coach them up, but also need to know when to utilize them to their fullest extent to maximize their return before the defense can adjust. For other thoughts on scheme, check out Chiefpigskin.com.