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Anatomy of a 21 Yard Weak Side Off-Tackle TD

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Background: Nov 7, 2021; Santa Clara, California, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin (26) runs for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in the third quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson

  • 2nd and 5
  • Cardinals line up in a spread formation, with 3 receivers to the right, 1 receiver to the left, 1 RB to the right of the QB
  • Defense appears to be in a Cover 2 zone, with press coverage on the single WR to the left.
  • Defense is shading to the 3 receiver side, which gives the Cardinals a numbers advantage for running to the left (weak) side.
  • Note: typically the strong side is determined as to where the TE lines up or to which side the offense had the most receivers. In this case, it’s both because the TE is flexed wide right as the inside player of the “trips”.
  • Key Block #1: LT D.J. Humphries does a great job of inviting the DE to the outside pass rush and then kicking him out to open the hole (Note: because the Cardinals are in a typical passing formation, they are counting on the weak side DE to rush that edge and thus help to open the off-tackle hole, plus by lining Eno Benjamin up to the right of the QB the weak side DE is apt to drool thinking that there is no blocking help to his side).
  • Key Block #2: LG Sean Harlow gets perfect outside leverage on the DT and muscles him inside, thus creating a huge hole for the off-tackle run.
  • Key Block #3: WR Antoine Wesley, angles inside to make a good, seal block on the safety.
  • This leaves Eno Benjamin one on one with Antoine Wesley’s CB, Dre Kirkpatrick, whom Benjamin absolutely “trucks” (per Calvisi and Wolfley) with a classic lowering of the shoulder (this is what we talk about when we talk about pad level, because Eno gets his pad level lower than the CB’s, thereby bouncing off the contact and keeping his feet chugging all the way into the end zone).
  • Notice too, how Eno protects the football on contact. This is textbook technique, as RBs are taught to “pinch the corners” of the ball on contact between the palm of the hand and the crook of the elbow.

Why The Play Was Successful:

  • By going into the spread with trips to one side and a single WR to the other, the defense is apt to think the play will be a pass of some sort.
  • When Colt McCoy saw that the defense was shading its Cover 2 to the trips side, while pressing the single WR to the left, he knows the Cardinals have a numbers advantage to the weak side, which if the three key blocks are made, should leave Eno Benjamin one on one with the CB, who in this case is a CB they know is not a good or eager tackler.
  • The 3 Key blocks from Humphries, Harlow and Wesley are textbook.
  • Eno Benjamin’s lowering of the shoulder with ball protection to keep his feet chugging is textbook.

Kudos to Kingsbury and Cardinals’ Coaches:

When I had the privilege of working with John Madden, he told me that this weak side off-tackle play was his favorite and the #1 play he would install each year in training camp —- the only differences were that, back in his day, he didn’t run it out of a spread or a shotgun formation —- he ran it typically out of an “I” formation with a direct under center snap to the QB and with the FB making the “kick out” block on the weak side DE, with the weak side T blocking down to open the hole.

Of course, it helped Madden to foster a romance for the weak side off-tackle play when he had Art Shell at LT, Gene Upshaw at LG and his two RBs in the Raiders’ 32-14 Super Bowl XI win were Clarence Davis (16 carries for 137 yards) and Mark van Eeghen (18 carries for 73 yards) with FB Pete Banaszak lead blocking and scoring 2 TDs in the red zone.

Basically, the Cardinals assigned the kick out role on this play to D.J. Humphries, and assigned the down blocks on the DT and FS to Sean Harlow and Antoine Wesley.

This play is a testament to Kliff Kingsbury, Sean Kugler, James Saxon and the Cardinals’ offensive coaches’ teaching ability. Think about it —- not only was the play call and the design outstanding —- the offense executed the play to near perfection, with 3 “next man up” players (Harlow, Wesley and Benjamin) who have spent most of the time with the second team offense.

This 21 yard weak side off-tackle TD makes the likes of John Madden beam with pride.