Anatomy of a Stunner: Ryan Fitzpatrick throws the Raiders out of the playoffs

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Mark Schofield
·3 min read
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Saturday night Jon Gruden decided to work the clock, take the field goal and as he put it, place the Dolphins “up against the wall.”

Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was happy to fight back.

In absolute stunning fashion the Dolphins were able to drive into field goal range in the closing seconds thanks to a tremendous read and throw from Fitzpatrick, and a bit of a coverage breakdown from the Las Vegas Raiders. On the play in question, a huge connection between Fitzpatrick and Mack Hollins, the Raiders run a prevent version of Cover 2.

So this is a good time to turn to one of the coverage Rosetta Stones, a tremendous series from former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen. His series on the basic NFL coverages is still bookmarked in my browser window, and I probably refer to it multiple times a week. In this piece, Bowen breaks down the prevent version of Cover 2, which the Raiders run on the play in question.

Of particular importance is this part on the cornerbacks in this coverage scheme:

Looking at the cornerbacks, they have to jam or re-route. This isn’t a situation where they can take a play off, get lazy with their technique or footwork and just sink with the outside release of No. 1. That puts more stress on the safeties (and could force them to widen off their landmarks).

There needs to be a physical approach to this play, with the cornerback mirroring the release of No. 1, attacking the chest plate of the wide receiver and then sinking to protect against a possible 7 (corner) route. If the cornerback can’t force an inside release (proper technique in Cover 2), then they must make the receiver widen his stem at the snap.

This is the critical element to Miami’s success on this play. The cornerback over Hollins works to try and jam/re-route the receiver, but the second aspect of the play from his perspective – sinking with the vertical route – is the issue:

The defender re-routes Hollins – “making the receiver widen his stem at the snap” as Bowen terms it – but then flashes his eyes back to the quarterback and slowly gains depth. That act fails to constrict the throwing window. Meanwhile the playside safety has to respect the threat of two vertical routes working his way from the three-receiver side of the formation, and he cannot bail too quickly and give Fitzpatrick an easy read and throw over the middle. That creates a big ol’ “Turkey Hole” – as Gruden terms it himself – for Fitzpatrick to attack:

Of course, what compounded the problem from the Raiders’ perspective was that Fitzpatrick was making this throw while having his head torn from his body:

The 34-yard gain, plus the 15 yards added with the facemask penalty, put the Dolphins in range for the game-winner. If you’re curious as to the technique on the play, watch the cornerback on the other side of the field, who does a much better job sinking with the vertical route to constrict that throwing window. He is not as focused on the re-route part of the play as much, so perhaps if the Raiders combined the two cornerbacks on this given play, they would have executed the coverage precisely as called.