Anatomy of a play: Lance Kendricks finds the seam

Situation: 2nd and 20 from the Miami 37 yard line, with 0:37 left in the 2nd Quarter, trailing by 4
Personnel: 11 
Play: Double Right Off, Gun Left 999 F Seam Liz (4 Vert)
Defense: Cover-2 Man, Mike Fire


The Rams come out in 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end). They are in the hurry-up as the 1st half is coming to a close. Bradford and company have already gone 42 yards on 7 plays, but time is running out to get into scoring position. 

Offensive Play Call

The double right sends X receiver, Austin Pettis (18), and Y receiver, Steve Smith (12), to the left of the formation and tight end, Lance Kendricks (88), and Z receiver, Chris Givens (13) to the right of the formation. The “off” part of the call tells us that Kendricks is off the line of scrimmage. Gun left tells us that Bradford is in the gun with the back, Daryl Richardson (26), aligned to his left. 

Presnap - offense

999 F Seam is a 4-vertical concept and is sometimes just referred to as “4-vert”. Teams that have moved away from a more traditional play calling have eliminated the “999 F Seam” part of the call and just called the play “4 vert” or “vert”. The latter will require a set of rules for each receiver depending on whether a team comes out in a 3×1 formation (3 receivers to a side of the formation) or 2×2 formation (2 receivers to each side of the formation). The Rams are in a 2×2 formation. (If you want to see this play out of a different formation, watch Jimmy Graham’s 66-yard touchdown against the 49ers in the divisional round of the playoffs last year.) On this play, all the receivers in route are running 9 / Go / vertical routes. The outside receivers will have a mandatory outside release and will work outside the numbers. The inside receivers rules will vary depending on the coverage, but generally both receivers are working 3 to 5 yards inside the numbers.

Defensive Alignment

The Dolphins come out in their nickel package, leaving linebackers Kevin Burnett (56) and Karlos Dansby (58) in the game. Prior to the snap, the Dolphins are showing cover 1 with Burnett, Dansby and safety Reshad Jones (20) all at the line of scrimmage and showing blitz.

presnap - defense

At the snap Dansby, the Dolphins Mike Linebacker, comes on a blitz through the backside A-gap. Jones will fly out to cover Chris Givens. The corner over Givens, Sean Smith (24), will roll to cover 2, essentially changing roles with Jones. Burnett peels off into man-to-man coverage on Lance Kendricks. Burnett employs a trail technique. A trail technique is often used by defenders who are in man coverage with safety help over the top. The technique calls for the defender to chase the receiver from behind. As the defender is running behind the receiver, he will watch the hips of the receiver and will break on anything underneath. Additionally, this allows the defender to bracket the receiver with the safety help of over the top.

The Play 

4 verticals out of a 2 by 2 formation attacks cover 2 defenses by stressing the safeties. Running two verticals routes at a safety, who has one-deep half of the field, prevents the safety from jumping either route. The safety is in a bind. He has to stay square and sit on his landmark (typically just outside the hash marks). His only friend is his depth. His depth will allow him to come up and make a play on the ball but it has to be fast. As we see here, it wasn’t fast enough.

What Happens After the Snap

Offensive Line – Upfront, the Rams are in a half slide protection. Half slide protection features zone (or gap) protection on the backside of the call and man protection on the front side of the call. The zone will typically start with the center. Here the backside of the call is the right side. So, center Robert Turner, right guard Harvey Dahl (62) and right tackle Barry Richardson (79) are working in conjunction with one another. Usually their rules are as followed: Right tackle has the first man off the end of the line of scrimmage, right guard has the second man off the end of the line scrimmage and the center has the third man off the end of the line of scrimmage. Thus if there was a blitz off the edge (outside of the defensive end) the blitzer becomes the first man off the end of the line of scrimmage, thus now is the tackle’s responsibility. The defensive end thus becomes the second man off the end of the line of scrimmage and now is the guard’s responsibility and the center now has the defensive tackle to that side. 

The running back will always be a part of a half-slide protection. As the left side of the line is in a man pass protection, the running back will now be responsible for any blitzer to the man side. As we’ve discussed in previous articles, the back will have what is sometimes referred to as a hotel check because he will “check in” for threats and then he will “check out” for threats. If no one shows, the back then becomes a part of the play by running a check down route. Here, Richardson has the Mike linebacker coming on a blitz. Thus, he is responsible for that pick up. Left guard, Quinn Ojinnaka (69), and left tackle, Wayne Hunter (72), are manned up on the guys across from them. The Rams are able to pick this up and give Sam Bradford time to throw. 

Post-snap - protection

Chris Givens  You may wonder why I’m talking about Givens on this play. It’s because the 4-vertical concept starts with him. 

If Givens doesn’t win at the line of scrimmage and he doesn’t do it with an outside release, then the safety is not in a bind. If Givens doesn’t win or doesn’t release outside, the safety would be able to jump the ball to Kendricks much easier. Also, I think it is important to point out that this is a unique way the Dolphins are disguising their cover 2. By Sean Smith’s alignment after the snap of the ball, one could conclude that the Dolphins were actually doubling Givens on the play. In a true cover 2 look, the safety should be about 3 yards inside the numbers. Here, Sean Smith stays outside the numbers until after the ball is thrown to Kendricks, making it nearly impossible to get there in time.

Lance Kendricks  Kendricks is off the line of scrimmage prior to the snap. This is simply done to give him a clean release at the snap of the ball. It prevents a defensive end from re-routing or slowing him down. Kendricks has one important thing to remember on this play and that is to stay wide after the snap of the ball. 

After the snap, the wider Kendricks remains, the longer Kevin Burnett’s run will be and obviously the larger the window will be for Bradford to throw into. As we see, prior to the snap Kendricks’s inside left leg is on the college hash marks. (Look closely they are there.) As soon as the ball is snapped, Kendricks is going to release outside, widening himself out before he begins to run his seam route. Notice by the time Kendricks is getting vertical he is a good three yards away from the college hash marks. 

Kendricks finishes off this good route with an even better catch. He displays great focus on the ball with a defender in his face and great strength to be able to hold on to the ball with Burnett all over him. 

Sam Bradford  Out of the gun, Bradford will take three steps and hitches up. Given the Dolphins alignment prior to the snap and the Rams play call, there is no doubt in my mind Sam knew he was going to Kendricks with this ball. But, how do you beat a defense that has great coverage? You beat it with a perfect throw. 

You may recall from past articles that the quarterback has the opportunity to put air on the ball against a single-high safety look. Against a two-high look like the Dolphins are in, the ball has to be on a rope. This difference in the balls has to do with how long the safety’s run will be. Obviously, a safety who is splitting the field with another safety has far less of a run than a safety who is patrolling the deep part of the field by himself. Hence, the need for a tighter throw.

Here, Sam’s throw is on a rope. And the placement of this ball is outstanding. He drops it over the inside shoulder of Burnett and drops it over the outside shoulder of Kendricks. The velocity on the throw prevents Burnett from getting his head around and also prevents safety Sean Smith from making a play on the ball. It’s a flawless throw from Sam Bradford.

Result of the Play

Bradford's throw and Kendricks' catch set the Rams up with first and 10 on the Miami 14 yard line, with 30 seconds left on the clock. The Rams should have scored on this drive. There was plenty of time to punch it in or at least get a field goal before the end of the half. Instead, we get a 10-yard penalty committed by Quinn Ojinnaka, which eventually led to a missed field goal.

The good news is this is the kind of throw in college that made Sam Bradford the number 1 overall pick. It is also the kind of throw that should give Rams fans hope. Because make no mistake about it, that was not a lucky throw and not one that every quarterback in this league can make.