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Not blocking elite defenders: A bold strategy that works sometimes

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NFL: Houston Texans at New York Jets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has dominant defenders who can wreck a game. At the risk of sounding obvious, these guys are difficult to block. You will have a tough time trying to push them down the field.

Sometimes an offense is best served not even attempting to block guys like Von Miller or J.J. Watt. It might sound crazy, but that is different from saying the offense should pay them no attention.

Instead of trying to physically manhandle these superstars, the offense instead can find success by creating an impossible assignment for the defender.

Take this play.

Von Miler has a clear path to Bilal Powell.

But Miller can’t crash down to take Powell down behind the line of scrimmage. Sam Darnold is looking right at him. This means Darnold is reading Miller. If Miller crashes down to take Powell, Darnold can pull the ball out and run without a defender in sight.

Miller has to stay at home to force to make Darnold hand the ball off to Powell.

Miller might be impossible to block, but he can’t be in two spots at once. It isn’t that Darnold is going to get a ton of designed runs, but the mere possibility neutralizes this superstar’s ability to drop Powell for a loss.

The play instead goes for a nice gain.

(Yes, stickler for detail. The angle Miller has to take eventually forces him into a Brandon Shell block, which technically makes the title of the article incorrect. But the real impact was created by something that had nothing to do with the block.)

Here you will see a similar situation. J.J. Watt is the unblocked man with a clear path to Elijah McGuire.

If Watt crashes down, Darnold can pull the ball back and have a huge running lane.

That threat keeps Watt at home.

McGuire races ahead for a nice gain.

Of course sometimes these plays don’t work. The quarterback reads it wrong, or the elite defender just operates on instinct and makes a spectacular play.

When that happens the fans ask, “What were they trying to do there? How could the offensive coordinator be stupid enough to block a superstar?”

And now you know the answer.