The Thursday Three - Week 1

by Shawn Syed|September 14, 2023

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For the first half of the season, I will be bringing you The Thursday Three. This article will cover three schematic points related to the NFL; the three points may connect to a game plan, specific concepts, or something else interesting across the league.

This week I am covering Miami’s motion adjustment, the Crunch run concept, and the differences between Cover 6 and Cover 8.

Miami’s Motion Adjustment

Last year, the Miami Dolphins put defenses on their heels with speed, creativity, and execution. They used a long developing motion where a receiver would run from one side of the formation across to the other side of the formation to get a running start on their route. This usually forced defenses to back off and opened up space in the intermediate areas of the field.

In 2022, Brandon Staley and the Chargers were one of the few teams to stifle the Dolphins attack. The secondary saw the motion, adjusted their coverage, and made life more difficult for the offense through disrupting timing and devoting resources to the middle of the field.

As a response in their rematch in Week 1, Mike McDaniel made a small adjustment to the motion that had a big impact. Instead of running the motion across the entire field, the Dolphins ran the motion going out to the sideline from the same side of the formation. This fast out motion prevented the defense from adjusting their entire coverage, allowed the Dolphins to get back to the same concepts from different formations, and once again put the defense in a bind.

These 4 plays show the difference between how the motion was used last year and how the motion was used in Week 1.

The success of the longer developing motion spread across the league in Week 1, and more teams may pick it up. Defensive coordinators will continue to see it, though no team can replicate the speed Miami has.


In Week 2, Mike McDaniel finds himself in a matchup with Bill Belichick’s Patriots. I am looking forward to seeing what Belichick has in store for the Dolphins as well as if McDaniel will use the same out motion as a disguise in the run game.

Crunch

Crunch is a run play that uses the defense’s aggressiveness against it. It also provides eye candy for linebackers trying to sort through the blocking to diagnose the play.

A common way to set a defensive line is an over front that puts a 3 technique to the side of the tight end. A 3 technique is a player aligned in the area between the guard and the tackle. Crunch sends a player (usually a tight end from a wing alignment) to block the 3 technique from the outside going in. This is an uncommon block and surprises a 3 technique that sprints up the field. If this was the only block of note, the concept would be called Wham.

What makes Crunch different is the play is the same combination repeated three times. In the above picture, the two player combinations are the F and right tackle, the right guard and center, and the left guard and left tackle. The player of the pair that is further away from the direction of the play will release immediately to a second level defender or the defensive end based on how the offensive formation matches the defensive alignment. The player of the pair that is closer to the direction of the play will block underneath their partner and contact an unsuspecting defender. This effect can confuse a linebacker as pulling guards usually bring you straight to the ball.

Crunch is now a common run play that has spread across the league. It is run from different formations, motions, and was shown heavily in Week 1 against over fronts:

Cover 6 vs. Cover 8

Cover 6 and Cover 8 both combine Cover 4 to one side of the field and Cover 2 to the other side of the field. They are differentiated based on what is played to the passing strength.

The passing strength is the side of the offensive formation that has more or better (where receiver > tight end > running back) eligible players. The easiest way to identify where a defense has declared the passing strength is by finding the nickel defensive back, who almost always lines up to the passing strength. Cover 6 plays Cover 4 to the passing strength with Cover 2 away from it and Cover 8 plays Cover 2 to the passing strength with Cover 4 away from it. Below is a diagram of Cover 6 and then Cover 8.

The differences are bigger when the offense is in a 3×1 formation (three receivers to one side, one receiver to the other side, generally with a running back in the backfield to the side of the one receiver). In Cover 6 against a 3×1 formation, the defense prevents the offense from exploiting a back side one on one by having a corner back in the flat and a safety over the top of the isolated receiver. To the 3 receiver side, the defense is playing Cover 4. This usually comes with an adjustment to avoid ending up with the offense’s best receiver on a linebacker. I detailed that adjustment here:

Here is an example of Cover 6:

Cover 8 against 3×1 also has a common adjustment. To the back side, the cornerback and linebacker will be locked in man coverage on the running back and isolated receiver. This gives the defense 5 defenders to play against the offense’s 3 receivers to the front side. The back side safety can work to the front side and take care of a problematic vertical route from the inner most receiver. Cover 8 also lets the front side cornerback play more aggressively as the safety to their side will be playing with a Cover 2 technique over the top.

Last year, the Jaguars ran a play that took the rules of Cover 8 and broke them on the way to a touchdown. It will be interesting to track what rule breakers offense trot out this year.

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