Scheming off coverage for Brandon Lloyd

Happy Wednesday, friends.  It’s another nice day in Cleveland, and I hope that’s the case wherever you live too.  I have to quickly address something, dating back to my last piece, and some of the nonsense that ensued in the comments section.  I’ve said now for years that I’m in the saying what I think business, and not the arguing business.  I let myself get dragged into some silly arguing on Monday, and I’ve reminded myself that that’s not what I want to be doing.  There’s no value in it for me, or for anybody else.  If you want to troll it up in my comments, you will not be engaged by me.

And now, back to regular football programming.  It’s interesting to me how much Brandon Lloyd has been in the news lately, because I’ve been planning to write a piece about him for the better part of the week.

I don’t really get into the human side of players that much, as we have the outstanding Doc Bear keeping that covered as well as anybody on the internet, but with Lloyd, you almost have to consider his personality to get at how his career has gone, and why.

Lloyd, by all accounts, is a bright and complicated guy.  On the one hand, he’s not the kind of person who just does what he’s told without asking questions or injecting his own thoughts.  I can relate, because I’m the same way - but that’s the kind of thing that turns off many paternalistic, old-school football coaches.  That’s how a talented guy like Lloyd can get himself in the doghouse of a Joe Gibbs or a Ron Turner, because to them, he’s wrong before he ever takes a step onto the field.  Football players should shut up and do what they’re told, and that’s the end of the story, say these coaches.

On the other hand, Lloyd tries hard all the time, and isn’t one of these prima donna receivers that you always hear about, who are obsessed with their statistics and want to go on TV talking about how they want the ball more.  I liked his comments the other day where he said the Broncos needed to run the ball more effectively.  How many receivers say that?

So, what you have here is a guy who freely shares his commentary with the coaches, but if you can get past that, he’s a good team guy who is willing to fit into a coherent program.  That’s why Josh McDaniels was able to resurrect Lloyd’s career and get more out of him than anybody ever had.  McDaniels, as a young and open-minded coach, was willing to live with some commentary in order to put a really good football player on the field and get the most out of him.  (That’s a thing that people who incorrectly say that McDaniels is a bad coach conveniently forget about.)

I decided to write about Lloyd in response to some tweets from Greg Cosell of NFL Films.  Cosell is a producer and behind-the-scenes guy, and he really knows his football.  He began tweeting this year, and it’s very value-adding stuff, for those who are looking for a good follow.  Here are the tweets that he posted about Lloyd:

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ZOMG!  More complimentary comments about Josh McDaniels’ coaching ability!  Cosell is, of course, absolutely right that McDaniels was outstanding at scheming and calling a passing game.  I’ve been saying that for a long time, and you’d really have to be willing to announce loudly that you don’t know what you’re talking about to disagree.

I thought it was interesting, and apparently so did Cosell, how well the Broncos did in play-action passing despite being a terrible running team in the first eight games of the 2010 season.  (They were actually eighth in the NFL over the last eight games once the offensive line got settled, so we can’t say that the struggles were season-long.)

I want to show you a formation here and begin to set the scene for how you scheme the kind of coverage that you want to see as an offense.  This is 11 personnel on offense - influencing the defense to bring an extra CB onto the field to replace a LB.  The formation is pretty standard, with the strength to the right.  Let’s say that Lloyd is X, Richard Quinn is the Y, Eddie Royal is the Slot, and Jabar Gaffney is the Z.

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This is a formation that the Broncos like to run from, and since there’s a third CB on the field, there’s naturally only six players in the box.   What that does is almost automatically force the SS to play close to the line of scrimmage, and for the FS to play single-high in centerfield.  The CBs play off, because they know they can’t count on safety help over the top.

Cosell makes the point that Lloyd is best against off coverage, and I agree, so you see where I am going with this.  When a CB is off, he has the opportunity to read the play without moving much while the WR approaches him.  The problem is that the CB can get flat-footed and end up getting blown by.  That’s especially problematic on play-action fakes, where the CB might advance in run support and go the wrong way.  If you ask me, Champ Bailey is the best ever at playing off coverage, because he never gets flat-footed, and his run reads are so good.

Lloyd is a long-strider who, while he has a quick first step off the line, isn’t a particularly shifty guy.  He’s different from Eddie Royal, who is a quick-footed short-strider who handles bump coverage really well.  It’s sort of like the difference between Dwyane Wade, who is tremendously explosive off a short step and changes directions exceptionally well, and LeBron James, who is very fast but a long-strider who builds up to his maximum speed.  Tim Tebow (short-strider) vs. Cameron Newton (long-strider) is another example you can see pretty clearly.

Lloyd gets off the line really well against off coverage and gets on a CB faster than the defender is used to seeing because of the long strides.  Because Lloyd is able to build up speed while advancing on the CB, he’s very dangerous in the sense of going by the guy, because he’s at top speed at 10 yards, while the CB probably misstepped and is building up his own speed as Lloyd is creating vertical separation.

If you look at this play, you’ll see how the Broncos first scheme to get off coverage, and then work to exploit it.

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The X and the Z are going to their respective corners of the end zone off the play-action fake, and the TE is running vertical down the seam to keep the FS looking to his left (the offense’s right) however briefly.  The Slot is running a drag route across the formation, and this becomes a very simple high-low read for the QB.

Lloyd is the first read, and we’re pretty sure he’s going to beat the CB playing off of him.  If not, you have Royal crossing the field, and failing that, if this is Tim Tebow at QB, you have the run option off the left-side bootleg.  Really though, this is about scheming Lloyd into a favorable coverage situation where you’re pretty sure he’s going to beat the CB in front of him.

Lloyd also does well on the sidelines against Cover-2, especially if the CB doesn’t get a great jam on him.  His recent point about the Chiefs playing a lot of bracket coverage on him in the second game was a good one.  In that game, the CBs were jamming the outside WRs, and the safeties were dedicated to over-the-top coverage on them.  What that amounted to was the CB slowing Lloyd down and then playing trail technique, with help over the top.  The thing to do would have been to attack the middle of the field with Royal, Daniel Graham, Eric Decker, and Knowshon Moreno in the passing game. 

Some people complained that Josh McDaniels lost his final game as Broncos Head Coach by going away from an effective running game late, but that wasn’t the real issue.  The issue was that he failed to adjust the passing game to take advantage of Kansas City’s coverage concepts, so the passing game was highly ineffective in that game - which Lloyd astutely pointed out in the previously linked PFF article.

Brandon Lloyd is an elite NFL receiver, and he’s always had the ability to be one.  He doesn’t have the world-class size and speed of an Andre Johnson or Calvin Johnson, but he has exceptional body control, an excellent first step off the line of scrimmage, and he makes the tough catches in traffic.  I’m glad for him, and for the Broncos, that he finally got positioned for success and is making the most of his opportunity.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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