Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Inside the Play: Double-Slant Route

One of our biggest critiques of Bruce Arians is that his offense is too "schoolyard" and he doesn't have plays that are designed to get guys open. However, we're going to take a few minutes here and look at one of the plays he has that does work. It's specifically designed to get a guy open, making it an ideal play in the red zone.

The play we're going to look at is the Double-Slant Route that the Steelers utilized to score their first touchdown against New England.

Here's the initial lineup at the snap. At the top of the screen, Mike Wallace is on the line of scrimmage and Mewelde Moore is stacked directly behind him. The play is designed for both Wallace and Moore to run slant routes, with Wallace's slant drawing the defenders and clearing out space for Moore. With an empty backfield, the rush is going to get there fast, so Ben has to get the ball out quick.

As it happens, on the left side of the line, both Starks and Kemoeatu are double-teaming the down-lineman, which leaves the outside linebacker free to rush at Ben. When he rushes, this clears out space underneath for Moore to run his slant route. The two defensive backs at the top of the screen are essentially taken out of the play by Wallace running his slant route. The only other player that could pose a problem is the middle linebacker, but he is neutralized by Heath Miller running to the middle of the field out of the inside of the bunch at the bottom of the screen.

As we watch the play develop, Starks blocks down on the defensive end, leaving the outside linebacker free to blitz Ben. Due to Wallace's speed, the two defensive backs are playing on their heels, reacting to Wallace running underneath them. Moore is wide open. Heath is running to the middle of the field, freezing the middle linebacker (standing next to the referee).

When Ben releases the ball, we see both Moore and Miller are open. Ben's pass to Moore utilizes Wallace as a lead-blocker on the defensive back at the goal line, which gives Moore a lane to the end zone. As a side note, you'll notice the ref in the middle of the field starts running forward and he barely gets out of Heath's way.

Here Moore has secured the catch, Wallace is blocking the defensive back, and Moore has a clear path to the goal line. All he has to do is dive across for the touchdown.

Here's the play in real-time (at the beginning of the video):

Now, this week on his radio show, Stan Savran said he'd never seen the play before. We beg to differ. We think it looks awfully familiar. Let's turn back the clocks to 2009 when the Green Bay Packers were in town.

With the game tied at 14, the Steelers have the ball, second and goal from the 9 with time running out in the first half. Here we once again see the Steelers in a 5-wide formation with a receiver and running back stacked at the bottom of the screen. In this case, it's Santonio Holmes as the receiver and Mewelde Moore again as the running back. There are 3 receivers at the top of the screen, but the split end is out wide instead of in a bunch in this case.

Holmes and Moore run the same double-slant route, with Holmes clearing out space for Moore. The Packers middle linebacker, who is up at the line feigning blitz, will drop into coverage but Ben gets the ball out before he is deep enough to make a difference. On the left end of the line, Clay Matthews gets taken care of.

Here at the snap we see Moore beginning to cut underneath Holmes. The middle of the field is wide open as the middle linebacker doesn't backpedal out of his blitz position fast enough. Clay Matthews is blitzing, opening up space for Ben to hit Moore.

Matthews got a solid bull rush, pushing the tackle back, but the ball is already away and Moore has space in front of him, with Holmes as a lead blocker. The middle linebacker is caught flat-footed with his shoulder pads to the sideline.

As Moore makes the catch, Holmes throws a block on the defensive back on the outside, giving Moore a one-on-one matchup with the safety. With the ball already in his hands, Moore clearly has the middle linebacker beat, who is still in the middle of the field.

In this case, Moore gets the benefit of the safety tripping over his own two feet. Moore skirts inside Holmes' block and into the end zone for the score.

If you want to watch the play in real-time, it's at 1:35 of this video.

But haven't we also seen this same double-slant route play more recently? Maybe Week 13 in Baltimore in 2010?

With the game on the line, right after Ben Roethlisberger shrugged off Terrelle Suggs, we had a 3rd and goal from the 9. Down by 4, it was definitely 4-down territory. Here we see the Steelers lined up in a similar formation with a wide receiver and running back stacked at the bottom of the screen (in this case Mike Wallace and Isaac Redman). And trips receivers at the top of the screen. Like the 2009 play, the receivers are spread out at the top and not bunched.

Once again, we see the double-slant route run by the receiver and running back at the bottom of the screen. The Ravens have 6 defenders lined up on the line of scrimmage and they all come on the blitz. This leaves single coverage on the receivers. With the defenders playing off to try to prevent the touchdown, this leaves room for the double-slant route. David Johnson, in the game for Heath Miller who almost got decapitated on a shot to the head that wasn't flagged, runs a slant route to the middle drawing the attention of the safety in the middle of the field that is dropping into coverage.

Here at the snap, we see Terrelle Suggs (55) blitzing from a wide angle at the bottom of the screen, creating the space in the flat that Redman needs to get open underneath Wallace.

Here where Redman makes the catch, we see where the Steelers have the advantage. They have Wallace at the 5-yard line plus David Johnson and Hines Ward running down the far hash marks that can serve as blockers for Redman. As we know, Redman is able to spin away from a few tacklers, keep his legs moving, and get into the end zone, giving the Steelers the victory.

Here's the full video:

Hopefully this brief piece of film study gives you some more appreciation for how the Double-Slant route works and how the Steelers have used it successfully. Now, this isn't a play that we should rely on, because it is easily disrupted if the outside linebacker drops into coverage rather than rushing the passer. Due to the very specific conditions in which it is useful, I think this is why we've only seen it a handful of times over the last three seasons. Nevertheless, it's a play that works because it is designed to get a guy open. With the 5-wide look, it's designed to get a guy open fast so that Ben can get rid of the ball quickly and not have to stand back there and get killed by the pass rush.

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