Big Blue Breakdown: The Blair White Bonus Edition

Two Big Blue Breakdowns in one week?  Madness!  If you'll pardon the analysis-spamming, though, I thought we might take a look at Blair White's four receptions from last Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans.

I want to look at these play and route designs for one simple reason: White will be an important factor in this Saturday's wildcard matchup against the New York Jets.  We can assume Darrelle Revis will shut down Reggie Wayne and hold him to a handful of receptions for a handful of yards at best.  It's probably also a safe bet that the Jets will seek to take away Pierre Garcon by locking him down with Antonio Cromartie and occasionally anchoring a deep safety on that side.  Given the way the season has gone, Garcon might also aid the Jets' defense by dropping a few passes.

Austin Collie and Dallas Clark shredded this defense last year (though on paper the 2010 Jets pass defense is better than the 2009 version; Nate Dunlevy of 18to88 says evidence doesn't support this claim, however), but obviously Collie and Clark will be unavailable for the 2010 postseason.  Given that their respective replacements are White and Jacob Tamme, the Jets will most likely concede coverage to those guys in order to focus on shutting down Wayne and Garcon.  As a result, both will need to exert Herculean efforts to do anywhere near the damage their predecessors did in last year's AFC Championship game. 

Tamme is at least somewhat established in this offense, though not quite the same caliber player as Clark (few are.)  White, however, is an undrafted rookie.  At times, his timing (or lack thereof) with Manning has either cost the Colts points (a deflection away from Wayne on a wrong route at Tennessee on Dec. 10, 2010) or directly led to turnovers for the opposition, sometimes resulting in six points the other way.  He's had his moments of brilliance as well: a diving touchdown reception at New England, a skyscraper leap for a high pass at Tennessee.  But at the end of the day, he's a wildcard.  An undrafted rookie playing more snaps than he was ever intended to play, producing both positive and negative results.

Because White likely will play such a big role in Saturday's game, I thought we might take a look at his four grabs from last Sunday's contest and see both how he was defensed and what kind of plays were drawn up to either get him open or leave him as an open option. 

We'll take a look at those plays after the jump:

1.  1st-and-10 from IND 43 with 11:18 remaining in Q1.

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You'll notice my outstanding MS Paint skills on display for this post.  I know that I typically use screencaps from game footage, but as I don't have expressed written consent (or implied oral consent) from CBS or the NFL to post these, it's somewhat frowned upon in the larger sportswriting/blogging community.  Also, with these basic layouts, it's sometimes easier to show what's going on over the entirety of the play, as camera angles don't restrict demarcation.

I will apologize ahead of time for a few things.  First, the sense of scale.  It's not always great.  I tried my best to replicate what I saw on each play, but sometimes space constraints made a wideout appear closer to the offensive line than he really was, or a linebacker closer to the first down marker.  Hopefully you still understand the basic principles behind each play.  Second, my distinction of dropbacks and specifically zone dropbacks.  Due to limited play and replay angles, the depth of dropbacks was sometimes difficult to determine.  Again, I did my best to replicate the basic ideas behind each play, but I certainly did not recreate each play as it appears in the playbook.  I can't really do that without, you know, the playbook.  I just have my best educated guesses as to zone responsibility, dropbacks, etc.

I suppose the focus should be on the routes, anyway, and I've adapted those faithfully.  Any defensive information is simply context, my way of relaying how the Colts attacked certain looks and how they were able to open up certain options at certain points.  I'm sure you get the idea.

So I'll start out every play at pre-snap, as I have in picture above this block of text.  And then we'll move on to route designs.

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This particularly play is just a quick pass from Peyton Manning, on a two-step drop, to White, who steers toward the line-of-scrimmage in the flat.  White is the only receiver really running a route here.  Everyone else is just instructed to block.  Specifically, this play is designed to follow a lead block by Garcon, who is one of the most underrated downfield blockers in the National Football League, with Ryan Diem kicking out from the right tackle position, most likely to pick up Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner (#20) after dealing with the left end.

The play is largely foiled, though, due to a well-timed Tennessee blitz.

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Michael Griffin (#33) is going to come up from the safety position to overwhelm the Colts' blocking design on their offensive right side.  When White receives the pass from Manning, it just becomes a numbers game.  One that doesn't favor the Colts.

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When White makes the reception, this play more or less has Garcon out in front taking on Jason McCourty (#30) and Diem attempting to take on the left end and then hustle downfield to move Verner out of the play.  But with Griffin blitzing and Stephen Tulloch (#55) and Will Witherspoon (#92) also crashing down, there aren't enough blockers to occupy Tennessee defenders and White is left with nowhere to go.

The overlap looks something like this:

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Since Griffin came on a designed blitz, not a reactionary rush, I almost think there had to be some sort of tell on this play.  Defenses rarely come at the Colts with safety blitzes, and for the Titans to do it on a first-down play, I would think they had to have read something or seen something on film.  It was a perfect call and another regrettable example of a quick pass/screen play by the Colts, who have seen too many of these quickfire passes from Manning go for naught this year.

End result: three yard gain.

2.  1st-and-10 from TEN 25 with 2:14 remaining in Q2.

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Here's a shotgun look for the Colts with White (obviously) in the slot.  Manning is going to fake a draw handoff to Joseph Addai on the play, a common sight that day.

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This play has (from bottom to top) Garcon running a standard go route along the right sideline, Tamme staying in to block, Addai selling the fake handoff and then leaking out between center and left guard to drift toward the sideline as a checkdown option, White running a standard seam route to the marker and then sharply cutting out toward the sideline about four yards past and Wayne running a standard seam route that turns into a skinny post past the marker.

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A quick thought before I get into White's activity on the play: Titans safety Chris hope (#24) actually comes up on the play and hovers in what I assume to be zone coverage.  I thought at first that he just got sucked up on the fake, but the fact that he stays in this area instead of backpedaling when he sees Manning with the ball forces me to believe that he was actually designed to come up in coverage here.  This means that Garcon had McCourty on the outside in man coverage and actually may have been open for a deep pass, provided Griffin (playing centerfield a bit) didn't drift over in time.  As Griffin would be occupied by Wayne's skinny post later in the play anyway, I'm actually a bit surprised that this didn't end up going over top to Garcon.  Manning didn't even appear to look his way, really.

Back to the Titans' defense, though, Finnegan locks up Wayne on the outside with deep safety help over top in Griffin.  The two Titan linebackers, Tulloch and Witherspoon, are going to patrol the middle of the field on the play and the remaining corner, Verner, is going to run with White down the seam.

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The play actually looks odd because you have twin routes down the seam to the marker and two cornerbacks backpedaling with them, so there is a lot of traffic at the top of the screen.  But once they near that marker, Wayne breaks off his route into a skinny post which draws Finnegan away from the sideline and captures the attention of Griffin over top, which allows White to take advantage of Verner's inside position and beat the defender to the sideline on an out route.

Addai is actually effective on this play, too, because he influences Tulloch's defensive drop.  Tulloch knows that Addai is dangerous as a receiver and has to shadow him in zone closer to the line-of-scrimmage, so he lets White get behind him instead of slowing White's trip down the seam.

It's a great play design that moves defensive backs exactly where Manning wants them to deliver a remarkably precise ball to the sideline for an easy first down.  The precision in breaking off seam routes into opposing routes is what makes this play work, so credit some great timing and yardage/stick recognition by Wayne and White.

End result: 18-yard gain.

3.  3rd-and-7 from TEN 40 with 9:54 remaining in Q3.

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Another shotgun look for the Colts, with White in the slot next to Garcon this time instead of Wayne.

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From top to bottom, again, Garcon is going to take sharp inside position and then run the "Garcon go" (I think this is what I'll start calling all of his clearout routes; I've never seen a guy run so many clearout routes.)  White is going to take his route about four or five yards upfield before cutting in on a square-in route.  Addai completes his end of the fake draw handoff and leaks out between right guard and right tackle to declare himself open as a release option.  Tamme leaks out toward the sideline from the tight end position and finally Wayne runs up the sideline at the top of the screen.

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From bottom to top, McCourty is going to run with Garcon on the Garcon Go, Verner drops back into zone coverage to defend the first-down line, Tulloch takes a relatively deep linebacker drop to defend the middle o the field, Witherspoon looks primed to drop-and-defend but is clearly shadowing Tamme on the play (indicated by the pink dashed line) and Finnegan stays deep with Wayne down the sideline.

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The two most important parts of this play are that White drives Verner back far enough and forcefully enough so that the cornerback has a difficult time reacting to White's cut, and the Tamme completely occupies Witherspoon's attention.  My thinking is that Witherspoon should be in a good position to tackle White short of a first down on this play, but he is so preoccupied with Tamme's position on the field that he drifts too far toward the sideline and allows White to collect a pass and barrel forward for an eventual first down and some bonus yardage.

Credit White for driving the route hard, getting open and immediately angling upfield to get the first down and some additional yards, but Tamme's presence makes this play work.

End result: 10 yard gain.

4.  2nd-and-10 from IND 38 with 1:20 remaining in Q4.

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Yet another shotgun look.  White again in the slot with Garcon.  If this looks familiar, it's because I already analyzed this play in yesterday's article, but it was so much fun the first time around, why not do it again?  You might even recognize some of the same verbiage.  CTRL + C is alright with me.

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Garcon fights a jam and turns a hard in on this play.  White takes his route down the seam, angling slightly toward the sideline as he approaches the sticks and eventually cutting back for a back-shoulder reception.  Addai looks to block, finds no one to stonewall and decides to leak between right tackle and right guard to either cut back for an immediate release option or drift toward the sideline...the route is incomplete by the time Manning throws it, so it's difficult to tell.  Tamme runs straight up the seam and cuts out toward the sideline at the marker and Wayne just takes Finnegan straight down the sideline.

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On the Titans' end of the play, McCourty locks onto Garcon at the bottom of the screen, jamming him off the snap.  Verner drives back to remain over top of White's seam route.  Tulloch drifts in zone coverage toward White's route, prepared for White to perhaps cut in (as he did on his previous reception) or break the route off into a slant.  Griffin is actually so deep on this play that he has no bearing on the result.  Finally, Witherspoon shadows Addai on the play, clearly ready for the runningback to emerge in the flat for a checkdown option and Finnegan stays with Wayne up the sideline.

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In the end, this route is made possible by Garcon taking McCourty inside on the in-route and taking the outside corner out of the picture, leaving coverage to the nickel back (Verner.)  Once White is alone with Verner, he angles toward the sideline, driving Verner outside, and then cuts back once the ball is in the air and headed toward him.  With Verner now outside, White is able to make a quick cut and disengage himself from coverage, turning around to make the back shoulder catch.  Verner is slow to respond because White times it perfectly and can do nothing but drag down the rookie wideout after the fact.

I like this play a lot because everyone executes perfectly and it's a demonstration of trust between Manning and a greenhorn wideout.  This is a pass Manning typically only throws to experienced receivers, so it's great to see it working for an undrafted rookie like White.  If the Colts are to make any sort of run in the postseason, they'll need a run game first and foremost.  But they'll also need this kind of execution from the snap to the catch.

So there you have it, all four of White's receptions last Sunday.  One quickfire pass, one out route past the sticks, one in route turned upfield for extra yardage and one beautiful back shoulder throw.  Of note: three of these four passes were for first downs.  White beat McCourty on at least two of these throws, probably three but it depends on where zone assignment was passed off on the third reception.

White is going to need to put together a monster game to help Manning out on Saturday.  This isn't exactly a foreign sentiment amongst Colts fans.  I'm sure the undrafted rookie never asked for the spotlight, but it will be shining brightly come Saturday night. 

Hopefully he's ready for his closeup.  Otherwise, we might be seeing a lot of this closeup.

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