How to Best Use LenDale White and Chris Johnson
The 2008 season was dominated by "Smash and Dash": LenDale White and Chris Johnson.
The Titans’ running backs used this nickname long before Carolina’s running backs did, and it fits them better, too. White and Johnson are more of a dynamic contrast to each other.
White’s size and power made him unstoppable in goal-line situations, and Johnson’s breakaway speed put fear in defenders’ hearts every time he touched the ball.
One thing I noticed was that the two of them were rarely on the field together.
This slide show offers things you could do with a formation that featured both Johnson and White. White is on the strong side of this formation, so he can benefit from the blocking of the tight end. Johnson is on the left side of the quarterback.
I had been referring to this as a split backs formation, until I found out that was the wrong name for it. Since then, I’ve just been calling it the Smash and Dash formation.
In a split backs formation, the running backs are placed farther behind the quarterback, and there is more distance between the two running backs. Because of that, split backs actually favors the pass.
This formation, which is technically not split backs, favors the run, because the running backs are closer to the line of scrimmage.
With both backs on the field, defenses are less sure of what type of play to defend against, meaning that they have to design plays to effectively contain White and Johnson at the same time. This strains the defense and opens up room for the passing game as well.
In that sense, Smash and Dash are both highly relevant threats when on the field together.
Pitch to Johnson on the outside, or a dive by White up the middle
Yes, I’m starting with the obvious.
These two plays highlight the principal advantage of keeping Johnson and White in the backfield together: When you call a defensive play against this formation, you have to guard against both of these plays at the same time.
I’d also like to apologize for the quality of the play diagrams in this slide show. They are not meant to be exact play diagrams for Mike Heimerdinger to hand out to his players, just something to convey my ideas.
I’m not the best at drawing up blocking for plays, and I also have yet to completely master the play diagramming-software that I’ve been using.
Take these plays as references to my text, not as the literal play I’m saying the Titans should run.
Use White as a decoy, and send Johnson up the middle while nobody’s looking
Most football fans are familiar with a play-action pass, where the quarterback fakes handing the ball off to a running back, so the defenses focus on the back and ignore the receivers.
This play is kind of similar to that, in the sense that the quarterback fakes the handoff to White so defenses focus on him as he runs between the center and the right guard. Meanwhile, defenders ignore Johnson, who runs between the right guard and right tackle for a decent gain.
This also takes advantage of the fact that Johnson’s skill set is best for running to the outside, so defenses won’t expect him to go between the tackles.
Send Johnson in motion to the left
This adds another wrinkle to the offense. With two running backs, a tight end, and two receivers, the original version of this formation favors the run. For this reason, defenses are going to come out in their base 4-3 or 3-4 formations.
When the fastest player in the league motions out into the slot, this formation suddenly poses a major passing threat to the defense, which would only have four defensive backs on the field.
Do you double-cover Johnson, leaving the tight end covered by only a linebacker? Do you shut down everyone else, and just take your chances with Johnson? Do you play your safeties deep, giving White more running room, to avoid getting burned by the deep ball?
This motion creates a huge personnel advantage against the defense.
The next few plays are going to look at what you can do if Johnson motions into the left slot.
Stretch the defense, and see if it can really cover Johnson
In this play, Johnson would just head straight up the field on a streak.
If he is covered one-on-one or just simply outruns all defenders assigned to him, the quarterback would simply throw it his way. If Johnson is heavily covered, the left wide receiver can take advantage of the room underneath by running a slant.
If the defense rolls the coverage to Johnson’s side of the field, and neither Johnson nor the left wide receiver is open, the receiver on the right will be in single coverage on his streak route, making him an attractive option for the quarterback to throw to.
If he can’t escape the one-on-one coverage, the quarterback can then look to the tight end.
As mentioned in the previous slide, there are only going to be four defensive backs on the field. Assuming one covers the right receiver, another covers the left receiver, and the other two cover Johnson, then the tight end will be covered by a linebacker. This is a matchup that the tight end will win almost every time.
For good measure, I’ve sent White on a short block-and-release route to the right sideline as a checkdown if everyone else is covered.
Set Up a Screen to Johnson
If the defense plays a few yards behind the line of scrimmage to prevent Johnson from beating them deep, then the Titans could run a screen to Johnson in order to take advantage of the loose coverage and his ability to make people miss.
Remind Everyone That LenDale White is Still on the Field
When an illusionist does a magic trick, they usually first draw your attention to an object that is actually irrelevant to the trick.
This play works like that, too. Everybody focuses on Johnson as he motions into the slot, which draws attention to him.
As a consequence, it ignores LenDale White and is even more susceptible to a bread-and-butter play like a dive by White.
Johnson blocks the corner, while the receiver on Johnson’s side heads upfield to block a safety.
Send Johnson in Motion to the Right
This then becomes a pass-heavy, trips-style formation, which a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive set is simply not equipped to handle.
All kinds of passing plays could be designed around this, along with the aforementioned handoff to White as all the defenders focus on Johnson.