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5 Feared Plays
Paul Zimmerman
November 16, 1998
Every opponent knows they're coming, but defensive coordinators still go crazy trying to stop them
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November 16, 1998

5 Feared Plays

Every opponent knows they're coming, but defensive coordinators still go crazy trying to stop them

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Vikings' Stem Route

This shouldn't be in anybody's playbook, but it has been, ever since 1990, when Eagles coach Buddy Ryan decided that all wideout Cris Carter could do was catch touchdown passes. Ryan released Carter, and over the last nine years he has become the Minnesota Vikings' alltime receptions leader, with 709, including 77 for scores.

The stem route has been a big part of it. It's a schoolyard play, a pass near the goal line. Carter runs for a spot, jumps high and comes down with six points. It's not the fade, where the receiver angles to the corner of the end zone and the quarterback throws an alley-oop type of pass. This one is a dart; the passer has to drill the ball.

Seems simple, right? Too simple. Why is this feared? Almost every team has a deep threat, and to say that the bomb is the most feared play in football, well, that's like saying that an airplane crash is the most feared part of travel. It happens, but the percentage isn't high.

The Carter stem route, which is straight, like the stem of a tulip, represents a kind of arrogance. Our guy is better than yours, the Vikings are saying. Put one defender on him, put two, doesn't matter. He'll beat them all.

Flash back to Oct. 25, Vikings-Lions in Detroit. The game was tied 13-13 in the third quarter, and Minnesota had a third-and-goal on the Detroit 10. The Vikings were in a three-wideout set; the Lions countered with a dime defense, six defensive backs. Four of the five eligible receivers were spectators. Halfback David Palmer hung around in the backfield. Randy Moss, wide right, and Jake Reed, wide left, ran half-speed five-yard routes, as if their hearts weren't in it. Ditto for tight end Andrew Glover, who ran a lazy hook pattern six yards downfield. Only Carter, slotted inside Moss, seemed serious. He sprinted to a spot just over the goal line. The Lions were serious about him, too. A pair of defensive backs locked on to him in bracket coverage, inside and out. Quarterback Randall Cunningham delivered the ball to the only receiver who had drawn tight double coverage. Three players go up, Carter comes down with the ball. Six points.

"A play like that sends you a message," says Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. "Moss is the guy who gets deep, but in a critical situation, there's Cunningham drilling it to Carter. You fear that play because it doesn't matter to them what coverage you're in, single, double, he's their go-to guy, and they're daring you to stop it."

"Sometimes you get away from schemes and simply say, My guy is better than yours," A.J. Smith says. "Everyone can jump, but Michael Jordan can jump and hang just a little better, with that great timing. That's Cris Carter."

Seahawks' Action Bunch Pass

Defensive pass interference is called maybe a couple of times a game. Offensive interference? Maybe once every two weeks. Most offensive interference calls result from blatant picks, such as when a receiver runs smack into a defender, thereby preventing him from covering his man. Sometimes that will be called. A grayer area involves two receivers crossing in such a manner that the defenders will bump into each other, an insidious maneuver, and one that's harder to spot and almost never flagged.

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