In NFL Week 7, we saw more than the usual share of defensive battles—or, to be honest, offensive struggles. Big games were decided with big plays, big passes and big runs that seemed to take forever in coming.
But the big plays came—and division races and playoff fortunes turned on a dime as winners and losers became winning teams and losing teams, clear favorites and clear cellar-dwellars.
We take our handy telestrator and scribble all over the best performances in the most crucial moments, the most interesting schemes that result in the most significant scores—the biggest plays of NFL Week 7.
Aaron Rodgers' Game-Winning Touchdown Pass to Randall Cobb
The Packers, fresh off a breakout game against the Texans, unexpectedly found themselves struggling to put away the Rams. Up by just one touchdown in the fourth quarter, Rodgers and the Packers took over at their own 20.
They slowly drove 51 yards, chewing up over five minutes of clock. But the Packers seemed to stall just outside of field-goal range, facing 3rd-and-9 at the Rams 39-yard line. That's when Rodgers ripped off a magnificent game-winning throw, connecting with receiver Randall Cobb for the decisive score.
The Packers lined up in an empty-backfield shotgun set, with three receivers to the right and two to the left. Cobb is the slot receiver on the left. The Rams are in a 4-1-6 dime, playing man coverage on the five receivers with a single high safety:
Rookie cornerback Trumaine Johnson is covering Cobb. Cobb is to run a seam route, but he does a great job of selling a break to the outside. He gets Johnson turned around with his move back inside, opening Johnson up to the seam. Meanwhile, Rams defensive end Robert Quinn is beating offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse:
This forces Rodgers to flush and roll to his left, eyes downfield. He sees Cobb get open and makes one of the most difficult throws a quarterback can make: deep downfield, against his body, against his direction of travel.
Rodgers is standing just behind the 40-yard line when he lets it go, and it hits Cobb's hands on the goal line. The route was great and the catch was great, but the throw on the run was incredible.
It also sealed a win for the Pack.
Chris Johnson's 83-Yard Touchdown Run
Johnson has been in one of the most puzzling slumps of recent memory. Blessed with incredible talent, he's spent all of 2011 and 2012 looking entirely, uh, credible. But against the Bills on Sunday, we finally saw Johnson take off like the CJ2K of old.
It happened late in the first quarter, with the Bills and Titans tied at seven. Tennessee faced 1st-and-10 backed up on its own 17-yard line. The Titans were in a classic "I" form, with a fullback, tight end and two receivers. The Bills were in their base 4-3 defense:
At the snap, the Titans line blocks down to the right. Tight end Craig Stevens handles Bills defensive end Mario Williams, the right tackle and guard double-team tackle Kyle Williams, the center and left guard double-team tackle Marcell Dareus, and left tackle Michael Roos blocks defensive end Chris Kelsay.
The Bills defensive line can't beat any of these matchups at the point of attack:
Finally, fullback Quinn Johnson comes flying through the hole, ready to take on linebacker Nick Barnett:
Johnson stands up Barnett, creating a huge hole. Chris Johnson sees it, cuts and goes. Downfield, receiver Kenny Britt gets a great block on cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and Chris Johnson is off to the races:
Johnson goes the rest of the way, having only one man (safety Jairus Byrd) to truly "beat." His offensive line, tight end, fullback and even wide receiver all got to and held their blocks, allowing Johnson to do the thing he does best: run very fast.
RGIII's Huge Touchdown to Santana Moss
Robert Griffin III is taking the NFL by storm. The Heisman Trophy winner was expected to need a little ramp-up time and suffer a little learning curve while he adapted his remarkable talents to the professional game.
Down 20-16 to the New York Giants with just 1:38 left to play, Griffin had marched his Redskins to the Giants 30-yard line. On 2nd-and-6, Griffin beat the Giants deep to score what looked like the game-winning touchdown.
The Redskins lined up in a shotgun "doubles" look, with a single back in to pass protect. The Giants countered with an interesting 4-2-5 nickel, with four defensive backs lined up as cornerbacks playing press man and a single high safety:
The Giants blitz both linebackers, betting the press coverage will keep all four receivers covered long enough for the rush to get to Griffin—and the safety will prevent any bombs over the top. Neither bet pays off:
The Redskins line not only blocks six rushers with six blockers, but three Giants don't even get to their blockers before RGIII makes his read and gets rid of it. The Giants defensive backs do a great job of jamming three of the four Redskins receivers, but Santana Moss beats cornerback Jayron Hosley clean.
One of the weirder things I've seen in a while is the play of safety Bruce Johnson here. He is a step slow to react to help Hosley with Moss:
Then, he gives up and stands there:
Griffin's reads were very quick, his release especially so, and his pass could not have been any better. Defenses can't stop Griffin when he's playing at this level. Moss sails clean to the end zone, and the Redskins take a dramatic lead on the road.
Eli Manning's Game-Winning Touchdown Pass to Victor Cruz
...for a few seconds, anyway. Eli Manning's been playing a long time, and he's led more than his fair share of fourth-quarter comebacks. The Giants faced 2nd-and-10 from their own 22-yard line with 1:23 still left on the clock, and Manning decided he didn't need that long.
They lined up in a shotgun, with trips to the right, a split end out left and a tailback in to block. The Redskins are in an interesting 2-4-5 nickel, with two defensive tackles up front, four linebackers and five defensive backs:
The two outside linebackers blitz, leaving the two inside 'backers in zone coverage. Tight end Martellus Bennett is the inside slot receiver in the trips group, and he (sort of) chips the blitzer before running a five-yard out. The other two receivers in the trips are the ones who matter:
Victor Cruz is running a fly route, and the other receiver runs a deep curl. This puts pressure on safety Madieu Williams, who has the deep zone coverage.
The protection sets up nicely for Manning—the blitzers are picked up. Cruz beats his man Dejon Gomes cleanly, and Williams sees it. He sees it...and...does...nothing:
Williams takes forever to flip his hips and go. Cruz flies past him at full throttle before he can even turn. Manning makes the read and delivers the ball, with Cruz two steps clear of both Williams and Gomes:
The rest is salsa. Cruz scores the game-winning touchdown, and Manning—after a rough game—puts another notch in his belt.