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Third Down Tells

New York Jets v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Prior to this third down play in last week’s game against the Colts, Carson Wentz makes some sort of hand signal to his receivers.

The Colts then run a pick play on the right hand side of the formation. Zach Paschal runs from the slot and obstructs Bryce Hall, which leads to Michael Pittman getting open.

This is a perfect play against man coverage.

This leads to the question of how Wentz got the Colts into that perfect call.

It might have had something to do with the alignment of CJ Mosley. Prior to the snap Mosley is in the B gap (the area between the tackle and the guard).

I’ll say in advance that this is an oversimplification so don’t take any of this to the extreme. That said, pass protection in the NFL comes down to some basic math. You might expect four defensive linemen on a play. There are five offensive linemen. That means each offensive lineman is assigned a defensive lineman to block. This leaves one offensive lineman who needs to find somebody to block.

What determines the protection scheme is that the offense needs to determine the most likely blitzer of the players who aren’t defensive linemen. That player is assigned to the fifth offensive lineman. In this case the Colts anticipate Mosley coming. The right guard clearly is setting to block him while the other four offensive linemen take the defensive linemen.

If the defense is blitzing, it’s a good bet they are going to be in man coverage, and the play the Colts ran is going to work well.

Many of the tendencies teams study on film are situational. You want to figure out what an opponent likes to do in a given circumstance.

Heading into the Colts game, the Jets had blitzed Mosley from the B gap 2.5 times per game. Over 70% of the time Mosley aligned there on third down he was coming to rush the passer.

It’s possible film study paid off, and his alignment gave away the defense’s call.

Later in the game on another third down the Jets again align Mosley in the B gap.

The Jets bring a big blitz, but the Colts leave extra blockers in to help. They were expecting the blitz

Pascal gets open. He stumbles a bit which leads to the incompletion, but the extra protection almost helped the Colts hit a deep pass.

Now let’s look at one final third down play.

Again Mosley is in the B gap.

At the snap the Colts are sliding the protection to the left, which is the side of the formation Mosley lined up, but he drops into coverage.

The Jets actually send a blitz from the other side, which the Colts initially have enough blockers to pick up.

Things start going wrong for the Colts when John Franklin-Myers begins to loop around.

If the protection had been sliding away from Mosley anticipating he would not blitz, the center might have been in position to pick up JFM.

Instead Franklin-Myers is able to get a hit on Wentz and force an errant throw.

The Jets are in a difficult spot on defense. We have spoken in the past about the injury to Carl Lawson perhaps necessitating more third down blitzes. There are benefits to blitzing even if the extra rusher himself doesn’t get to the quarterback.

Still self-scouting and understanding your own tendencies are important. Like most second and third level defenders, Mosley doesn’t have much in the way of pass rushing skills. His only sack of the season to date came on a play where he read the action in front of him, not on one where he was designated as a blitzer in the play call. The only situations where he is likely to generate pressure are in coverage sack situations or when he is schemed as a free rusher.

In a situation like this where a tendency might be giving a play away, it might be a good idea to start breaking the tendency like we saw in the last play. Make it work in the your favor. If the other team uses Mosley in the B gap on third down as an indicator a blitz is coming, surprise them and do the opposite of what they are expecting.

And when you blitz Mosley on third down, maybe have him do it lined up in a different gap.