Background: Aug 8, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, U.S.; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rondale Moore (4) catches a pass during training camp at State Farm Stadium. NFL Cardinals Practice (Michael Chow/The Republic/USA Today NETWORK)
For Kliff Kingsbury and virtually all Air Raid savants, the MESH play is their version of the NBA’s pick and roll. Why? Because it is fairly easy to run and it is so difficult to defend.
What the term MESH refers to is criss crossing slot receivers, who are taught to run 5-6 yard crossing routes at full speed, one going underneath the other.
Versus man coverage these crossing patterns are very difficult to chase versus fast receivers —- one example from the pre-season was Andy Isabella’s crossing pattern where he made the sweet sliding catch near the right sideline for a first down.
Note: versus zone coverage the slot receivers have the autonomy to cut their routes short and “sit down” in wide open areas of the zone.
The Classic MESH Triangle
Creating a triangle of passing options to one side of the field is tailor made for the Cardinals’ QBs, especially for QB Kyler Murray.
Imagine Rondale Moore and Greg Dortch criss crossing from the slots. Imagine Hollywood Brown and Andy Isabella running go or deep corner routes on the outside. Then, imagine James Conner running a wheel route.
Kyler’s progression TRIANGLE (shaded in RED):
- (1) the deep pass up the sideline;
- (2) the crossing pattern to that side;
- (3) the wheel route to the RB to that same side.
This MESH play is excellent versus man coverage, and it is just as excellent versus zone coverage because you are “overloading the zone at all 3 levels (short, intermediate and deep).
Take this a step further, personnel-wise, and imagine flip-flopping the WRs by having Brown and Isabella run the MESH crossers and having Moore and Dortch run the go/deep corner routes.
Note: if you line up the slots a little wider and put them on the line of scrimmage, then you can run “short motion” rubs to the inside for the wide receivers who then can easily get off of press coverage and enter swiftly into their crossing routes.
MESH Wrinkle #1:
Notice what’s changed?
Nothing has changed with the MESH criss crossers. But, the wide receivers now threaten and overload the middle FS, with the WR on the right running an intermediate “dig/comeback” route to “sit down” in the middle of the field, while the other WR runs a deep “dig” route.
This creates a deeper triangle for Kyler who can key on the FS: (1) hit the “sit” route; (2) hit the wheel route to the vacated side; (3) hit the deep dig. This wrinkle is excellent to run versus zones. Versus man coverage if the RB is fast, that wheel route could be a TD or at least a huge chunk yardage play (featured in MESH Wrinkle #3).
Note: this is the wheel route play that Sean McVay called versus the Cardinals’ man defense with consistent success by isolating his RB (Cam Akers in last 2 meetings, both big wins for the Rams) versus the ILB (Jordan Hicks in last 2 meetings).
MESH Wrinkle #2:
Do you see what’s changed here?
The wide receiver to the left side becomes one of the mushers, while the slot “rubs to the outside off of the WR’s inside route) and runs a wheel route. When you have slot WRs with blazing speed and/or quickness, as the Cardinals do with Brown, Moore, Isabella and Dortch, this wrinkle wheel route can be a home run ball, especially versus man coverage.
Note: if the wide receiver to the left sees, that while he is running his crossing route, the defense is playing zone, he “sits down” in the middle, which should be wide open..
MESH Wrinkle #3 With 2 TEs
This is one of Chip Kelly’s favorite wrinkles of the MESH play, as written up by outstanding film analyst Sheil Kapadia:
Notice that Kelly has TEs Zack Ertz lined up in the slot next to TE Brent Celek who is lined up next to the RT on the line of scrimmage.
If you are the Eagles’ QB, on the pre-snap, what coverage do you think the Redskins are in?
If you said, “man to man”, you are correct, unless it is a disguised zone where the defenders break into zone areas off of the snap —- but the formation here makes it more difficult for the Redskins to create a 2nd deep safety.
Therefore, this is man coverage with a single high FS who is shading the 2 WR side because of the speedy DeSean Jackson.
On pre-snap, the Eagles’ QB believes that RB Shady McCoy (#1 in RED) will be isolated on his wheel route and could beat his man over the top for a home run.
TE Celek (#3) and WR Jackson (#2) are the meshers, and after they cross, TE Ertz (#4) will be “sitting down” in the middle after running a dig/comeback route (see the crooked arrow). On the back side, WR Cooper (#5) is running a deep dig route.
Notice that, as predicted, the Redskins have no deep help to the right side of the field.
Now —- to test your understanding of the MESH concepts on this play, the questions are:
- Why is McCoy the #1 option?
- Why is Jackson the #2 option?
- Why is Celek the #3 option?
Kudos to the ROTB members who can answer all three questions correctly. I will let you know.
Because of this wheel route isolation MESH wrinkle, do not be surprised to see Kliff Kingsbury line up Rondale Moore (oHollywood Brown, Andy Isabella or Greg Dortch) sometimes at RB.
Kyler Murray has called his WR unit the deepest and most talented group he’s ever had. Think of what the possibilities for big plays are, in this case, as they apply to these classic MESH plays and wrinkles.
One of the Cardinals’ messages to NFL defenses this year: “We gonna MESH with your heads!”