Breakdown: Sal Capra, Jordan Webb key in successful tunnel screen
Welcome back to "Breakdown," where we'll look at a KU play each week and try to go a little more in-depth into why it did or didn't work.
This is the first time in the history of this segment that we'll be breaking down a positive play for KU, as the Jayhawks defeated No. 15 Georgia Tech, 28-25, on Saturday. For this blog, I have consulted a Div. II offensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach."
Here is the replay of KU quarterback Jordan Webb's screen pass to Daymond Patterson on a late third down. You can click back to this video as you read later in the blog if you need to.
On third and four late in the game, KU offensive coordinator Chuck Long was probably expecting some sort of pressure from the Georgia Tech defense.
When Georgia Tech does blitz on this play, KU has the perfect call to attack it.
Before we get too far, let's diagnose Georgia Tech's coverage.
What we have here, Coach says, is Man-Free coverage.
What does that mean? Well, if you follow the arrows, Georgia Tech's defenders are all matched up man-to-man against KU's eligible receivers (Man).
The "Free" part is easier to see on the second replay.
Georgia Tech's No. 37 will serve as the free safety on this play, helping out in case any of his cover guys get beat deep.
There's also something interesting about the cornerbacks in our first slide.
Notice how they play close to the receivers (press coverage) and are playing on the inside of the receivers (inside coverage)?
"Obviously, they don’t want the receivers to get the inside of the field," Coach says. "When you play Man-Free, you’re trying not to give up the slant route, the easier routes. You’d rather have them try and throw it deep, where you’ll have a better chance of making a play on the ball."
In other words, Tech's coaches want to make the rookie Webb earn his first down by completing a more difficult throw.
We'll get back to the Man-Free coverage in a minute.
Though you probably didn't see it the first time, the play called was actually a double screen, meaning Webb had the option of going two different places with the football.
On the left side of the screen, KU's offensive linemen break out to block for a potential flare screen to James Sims, who is highlighted.
Meanwhile, on the right side of the screen, KU's offensive linemen break out to a block for a potential screen to Daymond Patterson.
Because it is a screen pass, KU's offensive linemen provide little resistance for Georgia Tech's defensive linemen, trying to get them up the field so they run themselves out of the play.
"Defensive linemen are taught it’s never going to be this easy to get through to get to the quarterback," Coach says. "A lot of times those defensive linemen are taught if you feel like you’re being let go — a free release — try and stick your toe in the ground and re-direct to the side that you’re nearest to or the side they have the most wide receivers."
Two of Tech's defenders appear to realize that a screen is coming.
As you can see, the two highlighted start to break down and re-direct.
Though we can't be certain what Webb is seeing, the Georgia Tech defensive lineman on the top of the screen appears to be somewhat close to Sims, making this a tougher throw.
This might be the reason Webb looks off Sims and instead opts to throw to Patterson.
"(Webb) does a nice job with his feet," Coach says. "It’s probably one-two with his feet and throw it to the running back, or one-two with his feet and then three-four with his feet and come back and throw it to the wide receiver."
As you can see in the replay, Webb also waits until the last instant before throwing the pass to Patterson.
This helps bring the defensive linemen further up the field so they can't make a play.
"He’s probably going to take a shot," Coach says, "but sometimes you have to take one for the team and sit in there and do your job."
That extra half-second makes all the difference for KU, as it allows left guard Sal Capra to get to the outside.
Notice he starts the play here ...
before sprinting down to make the key block of the play here ...
"That was an excellent job by (Capra)," Coach says. "He covered a lot of ground."
Remember our bottom defender who tried to re-direct when he saw screen pass?
Here he is later in the play.
If he'd have read the play a half-second faster, he might have been in position to bring down Patterson. Instead, he goes for an ankle tackle and can't quite get him.
Speaking of Patterson, let's take a look at him on this play.
By taking two steps forward before cutting back, Patterson freezes the cornerback, who has to respect that he might run a route down the field. If Patterson had simply gone straight toward Webb for the tunnel screen*, his defender could have triggered immediately to make the tackle.
* — Coach says this is a tunnel screen because the outside receiver comes inside to catch a screen. A bubble screen is when an inside receiver goes outside to catch a screen.
These two steps forward also allow Patterson's teammate, Johnathan Wilson, the time to go up and block the cornerback.
Coach says this play is especially effective against Man-Free coverage.
The advantage of playing zone defense is that defenders can see the ball thrown in front of them, whereas the advantage of playing man defense is oftentimes having tighter coverage on receivers.
Had Georgia Tech been playing zone, the cornerback in front of Patterson would have been playing the ball and not Patterson. Therefore, he would have immediately broken toward Patterson, giving him a better chance to make the play.
As it was, the cornerback had to respect that Patterson could go anywhere with his route, and because he wasn't watching the quarterback, he wasn't able to diagnose the play in time.
And, of course, the top cornerback had no idea he was about to be blindsided by a 295-pound offensive lineman.
Add it all up and you have a well-timed screen executed to near-perfection.
"A really good play call," Coach says. "As an offensive coordinator, you know you’re probably going to get some form of pressure from the defense on third and short.
"You just try to call your best play that’s going to give your offense the opportunity to get the ball to a playmaker and get a first down."