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Anatomy of an NFL Play
Peter King
September 05, 2005
Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel doesn't waste any time, installing one of his favorites, PFB Double Square Out, on Day One
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September 05, 2005

Anatomy Of An Nfl Play

Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel doesn't waste any time, installing one of his favorites, PFB Double Square Out, on Day One

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It's the opening day of Baltimore Ravens training camp, 7:43 p.m. The first offensive team meeting is scheduled to start at 7:45, but coordinator Jim Fassel sees that everyone is already in the conference room at the Best Western in Westminster, Md. "Shut the door," he says. "Let's get started." Then, from his right, comes the muffled ringing of a cellphone. "Turn that s--- off, men! Concentration, men. Concentration and focus. It's time to go to work." And so for the 39 players in the room, the painstaking process of learning the Ravens' offensive playbook kicks off with the first of five nights of intense instruction. On the day following each of the meetings, there will be an on-field demonstration and practice of what was explained the night before. The players were exposed to various parts of the playbook at a minicamp in early June and during 10 days of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) in May, but this is much more serious. Baltimore will carry about 25 offensive players on its 53-man roster, and mental mistakes made in training camp are one factor in determining who stays and who gets cut. Thirteen pass plays and six running plays will be installed on the first night, including one of Fassel's favorites: PFB Double Square Out. (That is the name Fassel used for the pass play when he coached the New York Giants. The Ravens have another name for it, but Fassel did not divulge it because his quarterback might audible in a game using the current terminology.)

Thirteen pass plays might not sound like many, but in Baltimore's encyclopedic playbook each one can be run in up to five formations and with a variety of personnel on the field (two wideouts, two backs, a tight end on one call, for example; three wideouts, a back, a tight end, for another). With all the derivations, Fassel will actually be installing 45 pass plays and about 30 running plays at this meeting. Each player will be expected to know his assignment for each play at the two practices the next day.

After Fassel sets the tone for camp with a 23-minute introductory speech, he divides the players into five groups--quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, wideouts, linemen--and sends them to separate meeting rooms with their position coaches. Fassel works with the quarterbacks, so he gathers veterans Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright, rookies Derek Anderson and Darian Durant, new quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel and two other assistants, Jedd Fisch and John Fassel (Jim's son), around a long conference table. There is some levity in the room during the 90-minute session, but overall the mood is purposeful. "Look forward to the next day's installation, men," Jim Fassel tells the quarterbacks. "Get in the playbook every night. Do your homework."

Using a projector and a laptop with PowerPoint, Fassel flashes onto a big screen a diagram of each play and the accompanying duties of each skill player; then he shows videotape of the play as it was run in a game or at a minicamp. Some plays are familiar enough that only 45 seconds are needed to review them. Others require five or six minutes of explanation. The presentation of PFB Double Square Out lasts 74 seconds. PFB. Pass Fullback. Double Square Out. Two wide receivers run square-out patterns. Left unspoken when the play is called in the huddle, but spelled out in the playbook: The tight end runs a route down the middle of the field that, depending on the coverage, could turn into a deep post pattern or a cut back. The two backs stay in and protect the passer, then flare out--fullback left, running back right--as secondary receivers.

Sounds easy enough. But without proper execution by every player, the play won't work. For instance, Boller and tight end Todd Heap must read the defense the same way or the quarterback will look foolish throwing to a spot that Heap didn't go to. "This should be a good staple play for us," Fassel says to the four quarterbacks, who are staring at the play on the screen. "It gives you everything. You like it, Kyle?"

"Oh, yeah," Boller says. "We can do a lot of damage with this."

The Ravens primarily run PFB Double Square Out with two receivers split wide, one to each side; a tight end, lined up outside the right tackle; and two backs in the I formation, a fullback and a running back directly behind the quarterback (diagram, left). Sometimes they will use a tight end in the fullback spot, and sometimes a second back. The routes that are run and the quarterback's progression reads depend on the scheme that the defense is using.

Say a defense lines up with a deep safety and the corners playing soft, off the line. The two wideouts run 12-yard square outs, the tight end a 12-yard incut, the fullback a two-yard cross to the left and the running back a flat pass to the right. If the quarterback notices the second safety shading the right side, he's going to look left at the snap, to the wideout on the left. If that receiver is covered, he looks to the fullback.

Say the corners play bump coverage, with one safety in the middle. Then the wideouts run 15-yard comebacks, and the other receivers run the same routes as before.

Say the corners play bump coverage and the safeties play Cover 2 (the ubiquitous coverage in which the safeties divide the deep secondary in half, each taking a side). The wideouts run fades to clear the middle of the field, leaving the tight end--in Baltimore's case, the athletic Heap--licking his chops. If one of the safeties moves toward a wideout, which often occurs, the tight end should be left one-on-one against a linebacker. Even if one of the safeties shades toward Heap, the tight end is quick enough to find an opening away from the direct line of the safety, and Boller reads Heap's destination. "I'm winning that every time," says Heap. "It's one of my favorite plays."

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