Marcus Mariota and the Vertical “Switch” Concept

Marcus Mariota has a lot of doubters due to the offensive system he ran at Oregon. Many claim this to be a gimmick offense and instantly write off any sign of pro readiness. Although Mariota did run a lot of non-pro concepts especially in the Rose Bowl game versus Florida State I wanted to take a further look and see if he ran any other concepts besides the “Smash” Concept we saw in that video. As I was in the process of writing Marcus Mariota’s scouting report I found this simple eight second play, that we will take a closer look at to see if he has any aptitude towards running a pro style offense in the NFL after he gets drafted tomorrow.

Opponent: Arizona
Situation: 3rd and 4
Description: Q3 – (11:22) Marcus Mariota pass complete to Byron Marshall for 23 yds to the Ariz 28 for a 1ST down
Oregon’s Play Call: Rip 79 Switch

Interactive Exercise

1. I want you to take this screen shot that I have attached above and draw out the routes that the wide receivers run. This is a good exercise to actively visualize what the offense is actually doing on the play instead of being passive. Also, write out the names of the routes too!

2. I want you look at the defense and guess what Mariota’s pre-snap reads are based on the offensive play diagram you drew in Step 1. Draw them out! For me I go in this order safeties, cornerbacks, linebackers, and then defensive line.

3. After you take a stab at your pre-snap reads, take a guess on which progressions you would start with if you were the quarterback. Would you start reading the right side of the field, or the left side of the field? You obviously have watched the play in full by now so you know what Mariota did on this particular play, but would you handle it the same way?

4. Draw out the entire play on both sides and think about how you would attack the coverage if you KNEW what the defense was doing before the snap. Remember: Hindsight is 20/20, but this is just a good overall “thinking” exercise to get you to start planning at attack methods if you were the offensive coordinator and you saw something on film that you wanted to exploit.

5. Other Discussion questions:
a. What offensive formation is this called?
b. What defensive formation is this called?
c. What offensive personnel are used? Remember: The order is RB-TE-WR for personnel.
d. Do you have any idea what this play is called?

Here are my solutions. Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments!

1. Offensive Play Diagram

We will cover the full concept of this play in (5) below, but you need to notice something first. How men on both sides of the field do you see? I count ten Oregon Ducks and nine Arizona Wildcats. This is why analyzing college film is especially difficult. There is very LIMITED access to ALL-22 unless the broadcast view gives us a nice overview shot that happens 1-2x a game typically, but we’ll have to make due with what we have.

2. Pre-Snap Read

Pre-snap reads are very difficult especially considering that (1) we can’t see exactly what the QB sees as we noted above with the limited view, but (2) there are so many audibles and adjustments the defense makes by how the offense runs.

First I’m going to guess that the safety above is in deep left coverage, probably Cover 2, covering the deep left half of the field. He could be in Cover 1, but we don’t know based on the other safety and cornerback off of our screen. I think the cornerbacks are realistically in man-to-man coverage across the board, but the positioning of the slot defender makes me consider that he’s playing the inside wide receiver as opposed to covering a definite man.

As far as linebackers, I would guess that the inside linebacker is playing zone coverage over the middle or is blitzing. We’ll monitor this post-snap to make sure. The left outside linebacker (right on your screen next to the referee) is either playing zone, covering the seam/go route, or is blitzing. We don’t know for certain. For defensive line we have three men on the line and presumably all three will rush the quarterback from their perspective positions. We just don’t know if they are running stunts or if Arizona brings in another linebacker like they have in previous plays to blitz Mariota.

3-4. Progressions and Full Play Diagram

For progressions, I think attacking the right side of the field makes sense first. This will be an easy pass if the cornerback blitzes on an exchange with the left outside linebacker as said above. My next read will be the large gap between the safety in deep coverage and the linebackers between the 35 and 40 yard lines. My last two reads are the wheel route to the slot receiver and the runningback swing pass.

After all is said and done here is the full play diagram:

5. Other Discussion Questions
a. Offensive Formation: Shotgun Slot Left Near
b. Defensive Formation: Cover 2 (probably – again open to interpration), Off-man coverage on the right outside, with the two CBs swapping defenders if the WRs cross both in off-man. Three pass rushers and two linebacker zones to cover the robber role and the slant pass over the middle.
c. Offensive Personnel: 10 – 1 runningback, 0 tight ends on the line of scrimmage, 4 wide receivers.
d. “Rip 79 Switch”, but many offenses use different designations. “Rip” refers to the general formation “Shotgun” and the alignment of the wide recievers on the line of scrimmage. 79 refers to the play call series and the concept that is run. 70-series feature free releases by the inside slot receiver and the left back releasing as well. 9-concepts are “vertical” stretch concepts.

Mariota’s Perspective

Let’s take a look at what actually happened.

First Mariota understands the play call “Rip 79 Switch” and then goes through his pre-snap reads. Mariota snaps the ball from shotgun and reads the right side of the field.

The seam route is covered by the cornerback in man-to-man coverage and the left outside linebacker (right-side from Mariota’s perspective) drops closer to the line of scrimmage to cover a slant-route that Arizona thinks Oregon will be running here.

Mariota moves on to his second read since his first is covered. Great! Already he has gone past the first read and he hasn’t scrambled which is a good sign for pro-style offenses as many criticize him for this. As a side note, I think he generally does do this, but Oregon’s offensive line was absolutely abysmal this past year.

Mariota sees that the inside linebacker drops into robber covering the dig route over the middle while the slot defender has the inside wide receiver covered fully. Mariota moves on to his next read. Great again! Also, note that CB29 attempts to knock the wheel route receiver off of his route, but doesn’t fully shove him down. Remember: This is legal within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.

By the third read, Mariota has stepped up into the pocket and the dig route has fallen to the ground. Also, Oregon’s offensive line takes care of the three pass rushers and CB29 is caught in no man land where he has to decide between the RB on the swing pass or the wheel route. He chooses the wheel route but it’s too late and Mariota bullets a pass into his hands. Say the safety or CB29 did a better job of covering the wheel route on this play, then Mariota would have moved on to his fourth and final read, his runningback on the swing pass.

Switch Concept

So what is the switch concept? The switch concept is a vertical stretch pass that attacks the exchange between the corners by either forcing them to swap defenders or have them collide into each other. It requires the outside wide receiver to be better at feeling zone coverage to find soft spots which is evidenced by the dig route going between the linebacker and safety zones. Arizona does a great job of covering this part. Also, it allows your inside receiver to isolate a single defender as he makes his way outside if the defender follows in bump-and-run coverage therefore discouraging that coverage scheme.

To say that Mariota doesn’t understand pro-style concepts is false. He definitely does understand them. The problem is that he just didn’t run them nearly as much as other quarterbacks in this draft like Jameis Winston. The vertical “switch” concept helps illustrate that.

Samuel Gold

Sam founded NFL Breakdowns after working his way through the journalist farm system and is enjoying life in the big league. Growing up outside of Washington, D.C., Sam didn’t choose the Redskins, the Redskins chose him. Out of a love for the game and an insatiable curiosity to determine why his beloved team was underperforming, Sam turned to studying film in NFL Breakdowns.