When the instant analyst rattles off his inside explanation of what happened during a particular play, it all sounds sensible...if, that is, you have just read the playbooks of all 28 NFL teams. "Ah, well, Giffer, they lined up strong side left, the fullback in the full house picked off the nose guard after a stunt, the quarterback faked a draw and a screen before running a bootleg to the right, and then beat the rotating double-zone coverage with a pass to the tight end who did a deep-post hitch and got open in a seam under the nickel." But what does all that really mean? The diagrams on the following pages explain many of the things you'll be hearing all season, and the lexicon on page 55 tells all you'll need to know to sound like an expert.
Deception is the key factor in the play-action pass, which is designed to produce a big passing gain in a situation that appears to call for a run. Hoping to make the defense commit itself to stopping the run, the blockers, running backs and quarterback all make initial movements that suggest a line plunge, but the quarterback keeps the ball and, if all goes according to plan, has ample time to set up to pass.
This exciting tactic is used mainly in the closing moments of a game, when the kicking team desperately needs to score. It positions five of its fastest players on the side of the field to which the place-kicker will be squibbing the ball. They try to outrun the kickoff and pounce on the ball once it covers the required 10 yards. Meanwhile, three of the five so-called "safeties" on the other side loop around and back them up, while the rest move ahead and react to what develops.
One way to attack an opponent's zone defense is to stretch it "horizontally" by deploying all five eligible pass receivers so that they spread the coverage from one sideline to the other. The pass routes displayed in this diagram include inside slants by both wide receivers, a flat by the halfback, a straight or post by the tight end and a curling delay by the fullback.
flooding a zone
Another way to attack a zone defense is to stretch it "vertically" by flooding one side of the field with three receivers, each running a different pass pattern. Here the wide receiver goes deep and does a hitch, the tight end runs a medium out and the running back does a flare.
how the officials line up
The seven game officials—the referee, umpire, head linesman and line, side, field and back judges—are deployed as strategically as the 22 players. Each official keys on a designated area of the offense and/or the defense before the snap and then attends to an assigned set of responsibilities throughout the play.
the safety blitz
A go-for-broke defensive gambit when the situation calls for a pass, the safety blitz is a two-pronged weapon that requires 1) effective stunts by the defensive linemen to confuse the blockers, and 2) keen execution by the safety (J), who must time his charge to hit the line of scrimmage just as the ball is snapped.
Defensive linemen use tactics called stunts to confuse the offensive linemen. Rather than charging head on at the blockers opposite them, the defenders, working in tandem, will "loop" before they pursue the passer or double-team a single blocker in hopes of springing one man free into the offensive backfield.
the nickel defense
So named because of the presence of a fifth defensive back who is free to rove into the area where he's most needed, the Nickel provides maximum pass coverage in obvious passing situations. In this diagram, the shaded areas are the seams in a strong-side zone that the nickel defender is supposed to close up.