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You just shut up, Football Outsiders

Oh golly, I can't stay mad at you. It isn't your fault we sucked last year. Forgiven.

Football Outsiders introduced a brilliant new series a few days ago where they highlight specific NFL plays they like and analyze them in depth. It's the kind of thing a stat nerd would do, and I'm an admitted fan of stat nerdery. And Football Outsiders. That's why I can forgive them.

Today's installment premiered Your Washington Redskins getting tooled around by Vince Young and the Titans on a play they're calling "Shotgun Fake Option Seamer". Thanks a lot, FO:

The situation: First-and-10, ball on the Redskins 43, second quarter, Titans trailing 14-3 but driving. The Titans line up in a shotgun formation, single setback to Vince Young's left, slot left, tight end on the right side of the formation (Figure 1). The Redskins stay in their 4-3 base personnel package despite the three-wideout look. Linebacker Warrick Holdman aligns over slot receiver Drew Bennett. The Redskins cornerbacks are about seven yards off the ball. The safeties are too deep to be seen on the television replay. The pre-snap read suggests zone coverage; there's no defender covering the tight end, and Holdman on Bennett is a mismatch. This is probably a Cover-3 of some sort, but the Titans' clever play call makes it hard to determine what defense the Redskins were running.
I don't have film so I can't exactly challenge or confirm this Cover 3 claim, though we'll presume it is correct. Cover 3 is like a Cover 2, except you have 3 DBs back, usually two CBs. The weakness of Cover 3 are short passes, which is exactly what happens here. Also notice that Warrick Holdman is a mismatch... that's true no matter what play the Titans call. If they run with Henry he'll piggy back ride for 5 yards. If Vince Young takes it up field then Holdman will try to tie his shoelaces. If they pass to Bennett, or anyone else, well, you get the picture.

As it turns out, Vince Young fakes the handoff to Travis Henry who busts into the offensive line. The Titans' wideout, Roydell Williams, runs straight at Holdman as if to block him. Michael Bennett, from the slot, heads for freedom on the sidelines. As FO points out, this set up creates much bedlam for the 'Skins defense:

The beauty of this play is the multiple bind it imposes on the defense. The Redskins were forced to prepare for a Henry draw, a Young bootleg, and a Bennett pass into the flat. The play they got was the one they expected the least.
The successful play, in case you missed it, was Roydell Williams releasing off his block on Warrick Holdman and catching a Vince Young pass in the middle of the field. Warrick Holdman isn't in a position to defend because he's either focused on the playfake to Henry or, even if he didn't bite, he's eye balling Vince Young who might just take off down field. Lemar Marshall isn't in a position to do much because he has to commit to Henry. Our cornerback on that side (Shawn Springs played, but it was on the weak side so it might've been Carlos Rogers) had to cover Bennett on the sideline (or Young in case he breaks downhill), so he wasn't in a position to make the play. And our safeties were too deep to get to the receiver before the ball does. After the catch Roydell "Williams puts a move on the safety and gains 10 more yards before going down" until eventually tackled by a presumably chasing Warrick Holdman.

This is very good play calling by the Titans, and also success should be credited to Vince Young being a scary guy to defend against. He probably demanded Holdman and our cornerback's attention longer than necessary, which is why Williams was open on the short pass. The safeties were too deep, indicative of a cowardly defensive plan to prevent the big play -- a Faustian bargain anyways, as that gamble resulted in... a 20 yard reception. Sometimes called a big play.

Everything about the call and its execution is reactive. Reactive play call in that it simply attempts to stop the bleeding by ceding the middle of the field, reactive in execution because we're biting on play fakes before we're biting (incorrectly) on Vince Young breaking for daylight. Our safety on that side, likely Adam Archuleta although Vernon Fox saw some field as well (might've been on special teams) was too deep to play the pass. Even when he decided to join the action he missed the tackle on Williams, so he was effectively a non-entity. The Titans won the game by the way, despite entering this play with a 14-3 deficit on the scoreboard. Also incidentally, this was Roydell Williams' longest reception of the season.

Huge thanks to Mike Tanier for breaking down the entire play, and I encourage reader(s) to routinely check Football Outsiders for this feature. I am not a football scientist and rely on greater minds to teach me the ins and outs of your average NFL play that I certainly miss. The moral of the story is that if you put Adam Archuleta and Warrick Holdman on the field against one of the most multi-dimensional talents in the NFL (Vince Young) then a lot of things can go wrong. Throw in some conservative defensive play calling and you've got near-certain disaster staring back at you. Attack that quarterback, Coach Williams. The good news is I have no problem speculating that that pass is much more difficult to catch if LaRon Landry is the safety in question, as he can close distance more quickly than Adam Archuleta and I dare anyone to catch the ball over the middle on him.

Anyways, thinking about the Titans game makes me sadface.