Breaking Down the Biggest Plays of NFL Week 6
Week 6 was the week of the home team, especially in the early slate of games. Home teams won early and often, and they often weren't close. Road teams only won four of the 13 games on Thursday and Sunday, and two of those were blowouts in the other direction.
However, there were still plenty of amazing plays. Some sealed the game at the death, some turned the tide early on. Some inspired nationwide facepalms, and some inspired football fans to fall to their knees in awe.
The most interesting, the most crucial, the most explosive—these are the biggest plays of NFL Week 6.
Jairus Byrd's Overtime Interception
The Buffalo Bills, in a bid to be just the second road team on Sunday to eke out a win, had taken their hosts, the Arizona Cardinals, to overtime. After a failed opening possession by the Bills offense, John Skelton and the Cardinals took over.
Bills safety Jairus Byrd had already picked off Cardinals starter Kevin Kolb in regulation. With the game on the line, Byrd repeated the feat.
Here's how they lined up at the snap:
The Cardinals are in the shotgun, with one tailback, trips to the right and a split end to the left. In the slot of the trips is tight end Rob Housler, the eventual target of the throw. The Bills are in a standard 4-2-5 nickel, though both outside cornerbacks are showing very tight press-man coverage. Slot corner Justin Rogers is giving his man, Larry Fitzgerald, a wide berth.
The route concept is interesting. The Cardinals receivers start with four verticals: All four fire off at the snap and sprint straight forward. Then, they break into their individual routes, forcing the defense to first rock back on their heels, then react to the developing routes.
The idea seems to be to attack strong safety George Wilson, towards the bottom of the screen:
Skelton makes the correct pre-snap read: The Bills are in a Cover 2 shell over tight man. With Wilson playing over the trips bunch, Byrd floating over the split end and aggressive man-to-man coverage by the corners, Skelton thinks Housler's double move will split the safeties and lead to a big gain.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Skelton telegraphs this move by staring down Housler the entire time:
Byrd sees Skelton locked onto Housler and begins breaking on the route. Housler's double move does spin the defender covering him, linebacker Bryan Scott, around. However, Skelton let fly just after Housler made his final cut, giving Byrd enough time to break off his responsibilities and pick off the intended pass.
Brandon Weeden's Bomb to Josh Gordon
In a critical—well, critical for the Browns—AFC North matchup, the Browns again turned to their rookie quarterback and asked for their first win of the season. Not long into the game, Weeden delivered a beautiful touchdown strike that showed this week, he'd be able to deliver:
At the start of the second quarter, the Browns were down 7-0 and backed into a 3rd-and-8 on their own 29. The Bengals were lined up in a 4-2-5 nickel—though left defensive end Wallace Gilberry doesn't have a hand down, so it looks like a 3-3-5.
The Browns are in the shotgun, with three receivers, a tight end who'll be kept in to block and one tailback. Just before the snap, receiver Greg Little goes in short motion inside, drawing the corner with him. It looks like soft man or matchup zone; Weeden reads this.
The man to watch is the slot receiver, Josh Gordon, who makes a triple move: from the numbers to the hash mark, up the seam, then from the seam towards the corner, splitting the safeties.
At the snap, the left guard, John Greco, pulls. This is an essential part of play-action. Greco, in fact, pulls all the way right of the tight end and blocks Gilberry on the backside, keeping Weeden clean. Weeden executes a quick, halfhearted play fake, and Trent Richardson releases through the hole Greco just vacated.
This play-action look is enough to freeze Bengals safety Reggie Nelson for just an instant, stopping his backpedal long enough to make sure it isn't a draw to Richardson. When Gordon makes his third move, from the seam to the corner route, Nelson realizes he's too shallow, too late:
The Browns give Weeden phenomenal protection: Every Browns blocker dominates their one-on-one, while an extra blocker stands around just in case. Weeden doesn't let rip until this point, when Gordon's just about to blow by Nelson.
When he does, the throw is perfect.
Robert Griffin III's Huge Touchdown Run
Biggest or not, there's no doubt which play was the most head-turning of Week 6: Robert Griffin III's game-sealing 76-yard touchdown run.
Up 31-26 with three minutes left in the game, Washington was driving to put the game out of reach. The Redskins were lined up in the shotgun, with tailback Ryan Grant in to pass protect. Initially lined up in a doubles look, tight end Fred Davis motions over to the right to create a tight trips bunch.
The Vikings are not hiding their intent to blitz:
In a very tight 4-2-5 nickel, the Vikings linebackers abandon all pretense of coverage and put their hands down. Safety Harrison Smith motions with Davis, removing any doubt: It's strict man-to-man coverage, with one safety high, six men on the line and nobody in the middle of the field.
After the snap, the Redskins put a hat on a hat and rely on Grant to pick up the free blitzer. He does.
This, along with the way the Vikings rushed upfield and the Redskins blocked it, creates a running lane for Griffin. He doesn't hesitate long before he takes off.
Griffin sprints for the sideline, and he gets there almost unchallenged. As the replay showed, split end Josh Morgan made a heads-up play. After sitting down in his curl route, he recognized Griffin's scramble and sealed off cornerback Chris Cook:
The rest of the way, it's just a foot race. RGIII tends to win those.
Russell Wilson's Game-Winning Bomb to Sidney Rice
For underdog rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and his upstart Seattle Seahawks, they don't get any bigger than this. Down by six to the mighty New England Patriots, the Seahawks had a minute-and-a-half left to treat their rowdy fans to a comeback victory:
This play is testament to the respect Wilson already garners around the league. Let's look at the formation but speed up to just after the snap:
We see the Seahawks in a traditional "I" formation, with a fullback and tight end (who motioned from left to right with no change in the defense). We see the Patriots in a shifted 3-4 front and beastly nose tackle Vince Wilfork firing off the ball.
The Seahawks line blocks down to the left, double-teaming Wilfork and his tackle partner, Kyle Love. The Patriots defensive line gets great penetration, except that's what Seattle wants them to do. Russell sells a play-action fake to tailback Marshawn Lynch, and most of the Patriots D bites hard on it:
The Seahawks line seals off the Pats that got penetration, which is most of them. The exception is No. 96, Jermaine Cunningham, who was lined up on the line at the snap and stays home, occupying a blocker and guarding the play's backside. Behind him, Jerod Mayo does the same, a little deeper.
They're expecting the bootleg, which is exactly what they get:
As Wilson rolls, Cunningham pushes upfield to seal off Wilson's escape route to the sideline—no scramble allowed. He does his job, but it doesn't matter. Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice makes it irrelevant.
You hear analysts talk about great route running; this is what they mean. Rice sells a cut to the inside corner hard with his eyes and upper body, and safety Tavon Wilson bites, turning his hips and drifting outside to cover it. Rice then cuts back upfield, hard, and all but breaks Wilson's ankles:
The Patriots were expecting this play. They had it covered. Their defensive line almost collapsed the pocket to the play side, and it had reinforcements staying home on the backside. But they're beaten by pure execution.
The Seahawks had enough manpower to seal off the defensive line, Rice gets himself open on pure route-running skill, and Wilson delivers a perfect strike that goes 60 yards in the air with zip.
There's no defense for that.
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