The “Philly Special” was, perhaps, a watershed moment for so-called trick plays in the NFL. That the Philadelphia Eagles were wiling to call a pass to quarterback Nick Foles on fourth down in a Super Bowl was a sign that gadget plays no longer were to be derided in snide postgame comments, but embraced within gameplans in today’s points-crazed NFL.
The Ringer’s Kevin Clark wrote about the NFL’s “scheme war” earlier this year, which included a quote from ex-Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains about how John Fox viewed trick plays with plenty of skepticism. Fox, certainly, was not alone among the league’s old guard in viewing gadget plays in that matter.
This all leads us to a play Matt Nagy called in the Bears’ 23-16 win over the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. Chase Daniel threw a lateral to Anthony Miller, who in turn tossed the ball back across the field to Daniel, who took off running with four blockers in front of him.
The play only resulted in an eight-yard gain, and was aided by a facemark penalty that tacked on an additional 14 yards. But the design of the play worked. Here’s how it went down:
The Bears line up with Miller, Allen Robinson and Josh Bellamy in a trips formation to the right with Tarik Cohen also to the right of Daniel. That draws five defenders to the field (blue circle). Trey Burton (yellow circle) is the only receiver lined up to the left, as the Lions are in man coverage.
Daniel throws about a yard behind him to Miller, freezing three defenders on the right side of the field (blue circle). Meanwhile, Cohen (white arrow) runs at his man, freezing him on the far hash. And Burton (yellow arrow) carries his cornerback and a safety away from the boundary. Daniel (red arrow), has to sell the play with about a one-second lollygag before he turns back toward Miller to catch the pass.
When Daniel catches the pass from Miller, there are seven defenders (blue and white circles) between the far hash and sideline, while the momentum of the two guys around Burton (yellow circle) is moving opposite of where the ball is being thrown. So that sets up Daniel to have four blockers against two (red circle) when he gets the ball and turns upfield.
“(Miller’s) 1-for-1 right now,” Nagy said. “We judge those guys on those. He’s 1-for-1 and he did a good job in practice with it. The guys executed well. I just would’ve liked to get a little more out of it.”
Why did Nagy want to get more out of it? Here’s why:
The execution on the blocking didn’t come through. Charles Leno and Cody Whitehair aren’t able to block linebacker Christian Jones in space (red circle), though Daniel sheds Jones’ tackle. Okwara (blue circle) is able to run by James Daniels and Bryan Witzmann, ultimately meeting Daniel but grabbing his face mask in the process.
“It’s too bad because we had four on two, so we should’ve got a lot more on that play,” Nagy said. “They had two guys over there and we had four offensive linemen, so that one should’ve went for about 40 instead of eight. In any case, it didn’t.
“That’s who we are. That’s a play that we liked. We saw some things and regardless of who the quarterback is, let’s go.”