The Thursday Three - Week 5

by Shawn Syed|October 11, 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 as related to the NFL; the three points may connect to a game plan, specific concepts, or something else interesting across the league.

To this point, I have written about Miami’s motion adjustment, the Crunch run concept, the differences between Cover 6 and Cover 8, the coverage concepts Zeus and Ring, the run concepts Counter Solid and Duo Kick, Cover 2 Invert, Lookie Jaguar, the Wipe tag to Outside Zone, the shot play Hiccup, the play action shot play Heat, Counter Bash, and Truck toss.

This week I am covering Choice Stucko, Counter Bluff Reverse, and a constraint play off Outside Zone. 

Choice Stucko

Choice Stucko is a popular pass concept that lets a receiver work in space while giving the quarterback a comfortable answer should the defense take that receiver away. There are two key routes in Choice Stucko: the Choice route, and the Stick Return (Stick China above) route.

The Choice route is often run from a stack or close alignment. The point player on the line of scrimmage will release and protect the Choice route from a defender’s press coverage.

Where we once saw receivers take a skip step off the line, the more modern coaching point of “slightly miss the count” allows for the receiver to see the expression of defensive leverage after the snap without giving an immediate tell that a Choice route is coming.

The receiver has three options to ensure the defense is always wrong:

  1. If the defender stays outside of the receiver, the receiver should break inside.
  2. If the defender stays inside of the receiver, the receiver should break outside.
  3. If two defenders end up having both the inside and outside breaks covered, the receiver can settle into an open space.

Artistry is present in how the Choice route gets open. Agile route runners can set up the defender and manipulate their leverage with a shake at the top of the route. Should the Choice route break away from the initial defender’s leverage and into another defender, the quarterback can work to the Stick Return route.

The Stick Return route asks the receiver to run a Stick route before breaking back inside and into the quarterback’s vision. Though it is not a double move in the big play hitch and go sense, it takes advantage of a defender’s desire to play aggressive to the receiver’s first break.

The Corner route and Scout route are both alerts that are rarely thrown. These routes would move up on a quarterbacks’ progression in hyperspecific circumstances.

In the below clip, the Lions are running Choice Stucko with the Choice route up top. Take a look at how Amon-Ra St. Brown gets off the line just a tick after everyone else (slightly miss the count) and breaks away from the defender’s leverage:

In the below clip, the Choice route is being run to the bottom of the screen. Note how the route breaks to the outside away from the defender’s inside leverage:

Here is an example where the Choice route beats the defender, but another defender helps out on the route. The quarterback then finds the Stick Return in open space:

The quarterback’s eyes will generally be focused on the Choice route at the snap. It is a timing and trust play that requires the quarterback and receiver to be on the same page.

In Week 5, Matthew Stafford used eye manipulation to open up the Choice route by looking to the Stick Return side first, which drew a linebacker away from Cooper Kupp:

Counter Bluff Reverse

In Week 2 and Week 4, I wrote about different variations of Counter. As I wrote previously, Counter is a run play that uses two pullers from the back side of the formation with standard assignments. The first puller is kicking out the end player on the line of scrimmage. This is generally a defensive end or an on the ball outside linebacker. The second puller tires to work inside of the first puller’s block and wraps up to the play side linebacker.

In the above picture, the first puller is the right guard, and the second puller is the F. Counter Bluff Reverse maintains much of the structure of Counter, but the second puller will take a few steps into what looks like their regular block before pivoting out to block in the opposite direction of the running back’s path. This becomes the lead blocker on the reverse.

In this example, note the left guard pulls as if it were counter. The second puller bluffs a typical path before pivoting out into space for the reverse:

Week 5 gave us two interesting examples of Counter Bluff Reverse. The Miami Dolphins ran it after motioning receiver Jaylen Waddle into the backfield:

The Bears ran Counter Bluff Reverse in a unique way as there was no true reverse, but instead Justin Fields kept the ball around the outside after faking the run. Note again the second puller starting towards the Counter before pivoting back out into space:

A Constraint Play off Outside Zone

Constraint plays are changeups that take advantage of how a defense is playing against base concepts. They function to keep defenders off balance and provide them with an extra thing to think about after the snap.

When running Outside Zone, there are generally two defenders that are unblocked with no double teams working to them. From the 11 players on the offense, the ball carrier is not blocking anyone, and the quarterback is not blocking anyone. The unblocked players are generally a safety and an edge defender.

In the below picture, note how the FS at the top and W to the left would not be blocked.

Theoretically, the quarterback carrying out their fake should at least slightly influence the defensive end. However, the edge player often chases down the back side of the run:

As a way to take advantage of the defensive end’s pursuit, offenses will often turn to keeper play action plays. In Week 5, the Falcons used a different wrinkle to have a similar effect.

On what looks like a usual Outside Zone run, they used an inside pitch to a receiver sprinting to the other side. Note how the defensive end to the top of the screen is looking to chase down the run before the ball heads back the other way:

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