Breaking Down the Biggest Plays of NFL Week 11

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterNovember 20, 2012

NFL Week 11 was, like the philosopher Thomas Hobbes once said about the lives of men, "nasty, brutish and short."

Week 11 also ended the playoff lives of many would-be contenders. With razor-thin margins, overtime games, shocking mistakes, defensive scores and hilarious blowouts, Week 11 provided football as captivating as it was repulsive.

Like a car accident you just can't look away from, Week 11 was some of the best worst football we've seen in ages. Even still, there were a few amazing plays that stood out. There were a few outstanding, game-changing highlights that secured huge victories. There were a few moments of beautiful play shining through the darkness.

Here they are: The Biggest Plays of NFL Week 11.


Randall Cobb's Game-Winning Grab

With one play left before the two-minute warning, the Green Bay Packers found themselves trailing the host Detroit Lions by six points. Lined up just outside the red zone, Aaron Rodgers found Randall Cobb in the end zone for the seventh time this season:

The Packers lined up in a shotgun, three-receiver set. Tight end Jermichael Finley and a flanker are lined up to the right, with a split end and slot receiver Randall Cobb to the left. Tailback James Starks is kept in to block, leaving four targets for Rodgers:

The Lions are in a 4-2-5 nickel, with apparent press man coverage. Strong-side linebacker DeAndre Levy shows blitz, while middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch appears ready to drop back.

At the snap, the opposite happens: Levy plays press man on Finley, and Tulloch’s delayed blitz is picked up by Starks. Initially, the Lions' coverage looks excellent:

Suddenly, though, Rodgers lets fly—and Cobb has two steps on his man, nickel corner Jacob Lacey, with nobody deep:

What happened? It’s tough to see from that angle. Let’s flip it around, where we see Cobb turning his initial slant upfield:

Safety Don Carey's assignment is unclear. Given the formation and situation, you would expect him to be playing a deep zone behind the two weak-side corners playing press man. Instead, he moves up towards the line of scrimmage, allowing Cobb to fly past him and break for the corner:

Lacey recovers from the double-move, but the pass is underthrown (or intentionally back-shouldered), allowing Cobb to come back up over Lacey for it. The strong safety, Ricardo Silva, comes over to help but can’t get there in time.

The result? A huge game-winning touchdown in a divisional road game.


Brandon Weeden's Futile 4th-Quarter Touchdown

With the Cleveland Browns organization in upheaval, everyone—from the head coach down to the practice-squadders—is auditioning for a job next year. 

In Week 11, the Browns found themselves knocking on the door of an enormous road upset in Dallas. With 1:11 to go in the game, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden found tight end Benjamin Watson for a stunner of a go-ahead score:

The Browns line up in a shotgun, three-wide formation, with Watson to the left, along with slot receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and a flanker. The split end is out to the right, and the tailback will also go out to the flat, resulting in five targets for Weeden.

The Cowboys are in a 4-1-6 dime with some personnel miscommunication. The free safety sprints on the field at the last second and barely gets into position before the snap. The three corners are playing man, or matchup zone, with around seven yards of cushion on 1st-and-10.

Critically, strong safety Danny McCray and linebacker Bruce Carter have a little tête-à-tête before the snap:

Just before the snap, the two swap sides. Carter moves to spy the tailback out of the backfield, while McCray shuffles over to cover Watson:

After the snap, Watson drives downfield, and McCray moves to stay with him. But Massaquoi’s slant draws nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick inside—he and McCray have to avoid each other:

McCray is a half-step slow to flip his hips and follow Watson, and that’s all the advantage the tight end needs. Weeden sees Watson past his man and both safeties split wide.

Of course, the Cowboys answered with a tying field goal and eventually took it in overtime, but there’s no denying how huge this score was for Weeden and the Browns.


Vincent Jackson's Overtime-Forcer

Fourth quarter, 20 seconds left, down by seven points. Lining up at the enemy’s 24-yard line, Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had no choice but to score a touchdown. That’s exactly what they did:

The Bucs lined up in a shotgun set, with a trips (three receivers) set to the left. Jackson is the slot receiver in the wide trips. There’s a single receiver split to the right and a tailback who’ll flare out to the left, providing Freeman with five options:

The Panthers are lined up in a 4-2-5 nickel, with the cornerbacks and linebackers playing matchup zone. The safeties appear to be playing a Cover 2 behind them.

At the snap, Jackson flies straight down the seam, with linebacker Luke Kuechly furiously charging back to stay ahead of him:

Despite Kuechly not yet being beaten and having safety help behind, Freeman likes his odds. He sees the matchup and throws for the end zone:

Take a look at the top of this picture; you'll see how to tell the corners are playing matchup zone, not true man-to-man.

The cornerbacks appeared to be one-on-one with the two leftmost receivers. However, when both of those receivers ran dig routes inside while the quarterback looked deep middle, both corners broke off “their man” and backpedaled, effectively creating a Cover 5 look.

This coverage "worked." Kuechly was in great position, and both the safety and the nickel corner were right there. The coverage was well executed, Jackson just made a great play—like Freeman thought he might.


One of the Big Giant RGIII Touchdowns

Throughout this season, when a player's had a monster multiple-touchdown day in a blowout win, I've chosen not to name any of their plays one of the Biggest of Week Whichever. But a combination of popular demand and my own curiosity means I had to work Robert Griffin III's huge 49-yard TD to Aldrick Robinson:

Here’s how the two teams are lined up at the snap. If you wanted proof that NFL defenses are already terrified of what RGIII can do, this is it:

Look at how the Eagles are set up. It’s 1st-and-10 from their own 49, and they’re in their base 4-3. But the corners are playing very tight man, and safety Kurt Coleman sneaks all the way up to the line to press the slot receiver. The other safety backs up to play a deep Cover 1.

This frees up all three linebackers to stay between the tackles and defend the Redskins’ zone-read run game with RGIII and company.

The Redskins are lined up in an offset I formation, with two receivers lined up tight to the left and the other, Aldrick Robinson, tight to the right. At the snap, there’s a lot going on:

First, tight end Logan Paulsen (lined up as the offset fullback) dives inside to block on the back side of the play. This should signal to the defense that he’s lead-blocking for a counter or reverse run to the left. Tailback Alfred Morris prepares to take a play-action fake handoff, while receiver Brandon Banks runs a “jet motion” sweep behind the play:

After the play-action to Morris, Griffin also fakes to Banks. This freezes the entire linebacking corps, plus Coleman, whose man is running away from him, and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, whose man is running away from him downfield.

At the top of the screen, Robinson is sprinting deep, and Nnamdi Asomugha is running with him:

Now, what happens here I can’t explain. Safety Nate Allen, in one-high coverage, sees the slot receiver coming free and bites down to cover him, while Asomugha…

…Asomugha just lets Robinson run for the end zone.

One can only hope Asomugha thought Allen would provide help to that side of the field, but I’m not sure what else Asomugha thought he had to do right then besides cover Robinson. Pick up the dry cleaning? Get the kids to band practice?

Griffin sees the wide open Robinson and throws it 49 yards for the easy score.


NOW: You Decide

Which of these plays was the Biggest of NFL Week 11?


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