Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Inside the Play: The Thomas Touchdown

Regardless of who you want to place "blame" on for the Steelers loss in Denver, it's universally agreed that the Demaryius Thomas touchdown was the biggest play of the game. Usually when I take the time to do a video breakdown, it's of a Steelers play. But this was the biggest play of the game, so I thought it warranted a closer look to see what actually happened.

Here is the alignment pre-snap. Steelers OLB Chris Carter has come off the slot receiver (in this case, TE Jacob Tamme) and shown that he is going to blitz. He came off late enough that Manning did not have time to audible, but this is the perfectly designed play for a rush from that side anyways. 

With Carter coming off the edge, this leaves the two corners (Keenan Lewis on the bottom of the screen and Ike Taylor at the top of the screen) along with Troy Polamalu in the slot in man-to-man coverage. Ryan Mundy is the high safety and is out of the picture.

At the snap, Manning drops the ball to his hip and fakes a handoff to the running back. This forces Chris Carter to make a decision: go after the running back or go after Peyton. At the top of the screen, the receivers have started their routes, which look for the moment to be straight routes. The play action fake enables Peyton to look out in the flat to see Carter coming and see Thomas make his break. The key to the play is securing two blocks - Jacob Tamme getting to the outside to block Ike Taylor and the tackle, Ryan Clady, getting into the slot to block Troy.

Off the play action fake, both Carter and Brett Keisel, who was released by the guard, bite down on the running back. Additionally, Troy and Lawrence Timmons (both circled) take steps to their left, following the running back. In this moment, Thoma has halted his route and is turning back towards Peyton, who is staring right at him.  Tamme and Clady are now free to get out and get their blocks.

In fact, the blocks are already set up by the time the ball is in the air. Tamme has a clear path to get Ike. The play rests on Clady getting out and blocking Troy in the slot. At this point, Troy has recovered from biting on the fake and is running back to his right. Zane Beadles (#68) is also free so the Broncos have a favorable situation with 3 blockers on 2 defenders. Thomas makes a really nice play here by coming back to get the ball. Rather than waiting for the ball to come to him, Thomas runs towards the ball and catches it sooner, forcing a quicker decision from the Steelers.

Now Troy has to make a choice. He sees Ryan Clady coming and can either go "over" the block and try to get around Clady to the high side or go "under" the block and try to dart around behind Clady and get to Thomas that way. As we well know, Troy opted to try to go under the block.

Let's call a spade a spade. Ryan Clady did not make a very good block on Troy. He basically just dove towards the ground, hoping to make his body as wide as possible and get a piece of Troy to slow him up. He succeeded in doing that.

Tamme locks up Ike at the top of the screen and Clady gets just enough of Troy to break his momentum. Thomas now has a wide open hole to run through.

Troy makes a dive fot Thomas' feet but it's too little too late. Clady has taken himself out of the play by making that dive at Troy. But Beadles is now out in front and has his eyes on Ryan Mundy, who is closing in. Thomas is mostly in the clear.

As Mundy enters the screen, Beadles squares him up. Right now, Mundy is the only one between Thomas and the end zone and Thomas has the benefit of having a blocker out in front of him.

Two things happen next. Despite having excellent position on Mundy, Beadles just reaches out and grabs Mundy's shoulder. Mundy's jersey clearly gets tugged, and this could have been a holding call. If you want to blame this on the replacement refs you can, but there's no guarantee a regular officiating crew would actually make that call, so I won't go there. The second thing that happens is that Thomas alters his route. Beadles tugs Mundy out wide and Thomas cut inside of that block, giving himself a free path to the end zone. Keenan Lewis has come into the picture, but he's being blocked by Matt Willis.

At this point, it's over. Thomas is even with Mundy and Lewis. Beadles still has his hand on Mundy's shoulder, slowing him down, and Willis is doing enough to keep Keenan from getting across to Thomas.


Well, that wraps it up. All in all, it was a pretty simple play that was basically a wide receiver screen that got a tight end and two offensive linemen out blocking defensive backs. Hopefully this gave you a little better understanding of the intricacies of the play that most agree was the turning point in our opening weekend defeat. If you'd like to see the full thing for yourself, NFL.com has the video.

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