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Grading a Superb Pass Play in Cardinals’ OTAs

NFLPA Rookie Premiere Portrait Session Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Background: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 20: Michael Wilson #13 of the Arizona Cardinals poses for a portrait during the NFLPA Rookie Premiere on May 20, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images.

By now you might have seen this trendy video of a well-executed cross corner pass completed by Cardinals’ 3rd round rookie WR Michael Wilson of Stanford.

I believe that there are a number of strong takeaways and valuable learning opportunities from studying this play, not only from an offensive perspective, but for a defensive one as well.

Let’s start by identifying the cast of characters on this play, by their numbers:

  • #14 WR Michael Wilson
  • #13 CB Kei’Trel Clarke
  • #51 LB Josh Woods
  • #24 FS Rashad Fenton
  • #82 WR Andre Baccellia
  • #27 CB Nate Hairston
  • #66 RT Jackson Barton
  • #78 RG Marquis Hayes
  • #59 C Jon Gaines II
  • #64 DT Ben Stille
  • #92 DE Kevin Strong Jr.

Defensive Look: With CB Kei’Trel Clarke playing off to the side of WR Michael Wilson, it appears, at first glance, that the defense is setting up in zone coverage.

Wilson’ Route: A

  • First off, notice the strength and power in Wilson’s legs as he gains quick inside leverage, then fakes a go route up the seam to hold the FS, then plants his foot and takes off across the field for the opposite sideline.

Coverage: B

  • Notice the way LB Josh Woods turns and runs with Wilson to mirror his route. This is what LBs in zone are taught to do —- there are taught to pick up the first receiver to enter his zone and cover him man to man until you can pass Wilson off to a perimeter zone defender. if there is no defender to make the switch with, the LB is taught to stay with his man —- and this is exactly what Josh Woods does.
  • Woods’ effort, understanding of the zone rules and coverage techniques on this play are impressive. The only slight critique would be for Woods to take a little deeper angle toward the sideline so as to narrow the space between himself and Wilson. Regardless, thanks to Woods’ effective mirror technique, it is going to take a near perfect pass for Wilson and the offense to win the route.
  • The fact that Wilson’s help on the perimeter came too late is a concern. Not sure why CB Nate Hairston got caught playing such a shallow flat in the zone. By the time Hairston tries to recover and jump up for the ball, he’s a little too late.
  • FS Rashad Fenton picks up Andre Baccellia on the deep seem route and blankets him.
  • CB Kei’Trel Clarke trails the flow and makes an excellent effort to get close enough to push Wilson out of bounds after the catch
  • All in all. this is a good effort by the defense, save for Hairston getting stuck too low in coverage.
  • Note: what’s very encouraging about the coverage here is that in Vance Joseph’s zones we rarely if ever saw a LB pick up and mirror a receiver running over the middle for as well and for as long as Josh Woods did.

The Throw: B+

  • Not sure which of the Cardinals’ QBs threw this pass, but it had the perfect amount of air, touch and accuracy to drop it over the second level of the coverage.
  • I gave the throw a B+- because this is a throw that if tossed a second earlier could have allowed Wilson a catch in stride and RAC (run after catch) opportunity. The throw could (imo, should) have been made just when Wilson was crossing the left seam, because there was no immediate help for Josh Woods on the play and only one defender to beat deep.

The Catch: A

  • Wilson tracks the pass perfectly, makes a superb fade backward away from Woods and leaves his feet on time to high-point the football.
  • He sees the ball right into his hands (triangle) and tucks it in quickly while getting his feet down. Not sure where the sideline was, but in a real game, Wilson may have had to try to get his other foot down in bounds. But further good news is, his control of the football, as the refs say “survives the ground.”

Play Concept: A+

  • Wilson’s fake seam cross corner route is excellent versus both man and zone. Typically, Crossing patterns typare the most difficult passes to defend, particularly when the defense gives up inside leverage.
  • The offense got exactly what they wanted on this play —- which was the slot WR being covered by a LB who was given no immediately help when entering the intermediate third of the field past the left seam. Against a zone this is called “exploiting the gray area between the 2nd and 3rd levels.”
  • The RB, likely on a swing pass to the left (not pictured) did a very good job of keeping CB Nate Hairston in shallow sideline coverage. This is called “opening the door” for the cross corner route.
  • Had Hariston peeled back to help Woods earlier, then the QB could easily check the play down to the RB on a swing pass. This is called “taking what the defense gives you.”
  • This play could have been a TD if (a) the pass had been thrown a second sooner and if (b) Andre Baccellia could deliver a good block on FS Rashad Fenton, who was the only defender capable of making a tackle on Wilson up the left sideline.

#14 “Charged Up” indeed.

Thank you, JT.