Earlier this week I took a look at Cam Newton’s use of the “Pin” concept versus the Cardinals’ secondary. That play resulted in an 86 yard touchdown strike to Corey Brown. In this breakdown, we will take a look at how Newton used a screen/power-sweep packaged play to thwart the Cardinals’ defense for a 12 yard touchdown in the 3rd quarter.
If you remember my Kirk Cousins vs the Green Bay Packers’ breakdown, a packaged play is a group of plays inside of one play where the quarterback has the option, based on the defensive match-up, to choose between a passing play or a running play. The players have defined roles and based on these roles he can scan the field looking for the weakness in the opposing defense.
Alright, let’s dive into the play!
Situation: 1st and 10 at ARI 12
Description: (2:08 3rd) Cam Newton 12 Yard Rush G.Gano extra point is GOOD
Score Before Play: Panthers 27 – Cardinals 7
Pre-snap, Newton motions RB#35 Mike Tolbert from his right to the left. After the motion completes, the center snaps the ball and Newton grabs it faking left before sprinting outside and to the right. DE#91 Ed Stinson barrels his way into the backfield and almost gets his hands on Newton. Newton is able to avoid the tackle as TE#88 Greg Olsen barely pins him out of the play.
Newton escapes outside and looks up the field at his lineman blocking ahead. He sees RG#70 Trai Turner drive block CB#28 Justin Bethel to the ground, RT#74 Mike Remmers reach block DT#71 Red Bryant perfectly, and his center, #67 Ryan Kalil, lead block for him downfield into the endzone for the score.
Didn’t you say this was a packaged play? Looks like a keeper to me…
I did! Before these beautiful downfield blocks occurred, Newton had two options on this play. The first choice was to throw the bubble screen to Mike Tolbert using his three wide receivers in trips left formation to block for him. While the second choice, was the quarterback power-sweep to the right.
Why did Newton choose to keep the football? Newton simply counted the men (in red on the play diagram above) to determine the decision. If there were three men or less, Newton would throw the bubble screen putting the defense at a disadvantage (4:3) favoring the Panthers. If there were more than three men on the left side, Newton keeps the ball on the QB power-sweep.
If it’s so easy, why don’t more teams run this play concept? Some teams run it on goal line situations like Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins, but most opt not to. Why? Durability is the main reason. The quarterback is the single most important player on the field. An injury is season-defining. The second reason is because most teams don’t have a dual-threat quarterback.
What is the benefit of a dual-threat quarterback? This type of play illustrates it perfectly. It forces opposing defenses to account for him as a potential ball carrier making the match-up mathematically equal (11:11 vs 10:11) on most running plays. This is how the Panthers’ profit, since Newton has developed as a pocket passer as well.
Where could have this play gone wrong?
Well, not discussing the obvious mistake (fumble, bad snap, etc…) there were two ways the Cardinals could have prevented this score. I highlighted both of them in green as seen in this image below:
Both inside linebackers, #20 Deone Buccannon and #51 Kevin Minter, read the bubble screen and sprint opposite. I only highlighted #51 Kevin Minter, because based on his position in the Cover 3 zone of this defense, I think he should be more hesitant. Bucannon is already in that vicinity, so I don’t blame him nearly as much.
The other player I highlighted is #91 Ed Stinson, who we discussed above briefly. Immediately after the snap, he gets excellent penetration inside of TE#88 Greg Olsen. Olsen almost doesn’t complete his block due to Stinson’s excellent snap recognition and acceleration off of the line of scrimmage. If Newton hesitated or faked the bubble screen any bit longer, this could have been a tackle for loss instead of a touchdown.
Follow Samuel Gold on Twitter: @SamuelRGold.