This post brought to you by my limited and moronic football knowledge. I make no promises that numbers/names of players are right. I'm going off an internet video here!
Opponent: Buffalo Bills
Situation: Falcons have ball on Bills' 42. 1st and 10. 12:55 left in 1st Quarter.
Play: Deep Pass right to Roddy White
Here's a link: NFL.com Highlight Video.
It's best that you watch the video now, so you'll know what I'm about to delve into.
The Falcons trot onto the field after having easily made it to the Buffalo 42 yard line. It's first and ten. Everyone in the Dome (including me) believe that we're about to see Norwood attempt to run the ball, possibly between the tackles. It's a safe call to make. The team sets up shop in an offset I formation, with Gonzo and Mughelli lining up on the left side. Everything about this formation tells the Bills that the play is going to the offensive left. Everything about this formation also says "Run." Mughelli, a key to our run blocking, is in. Gonzo, a decent run blocker himself, is lined up on the left. It just screams rushing play.
Follow the jump for the full breakdown of the play.
This is the play Mularkey has dialed up; a homerun play in a lopsided offset I.
Notice that Gonzo is on the LEFT side, making the left side the "strong side." Normally, teams place their TE on the right side if the fullback is offset to the left side. Here, Mularkey has flipped traditional wisdom and throws everything and the kitchen sink on the left side of the line. This does two things: 1) strongly suggests to the Bills' defense that the play will be to the offensive left and 2) that Gonzo and Mughelli are set there to add extra blocking for a Norwood left end rush.
Another cool feature of this play: say Booker, White, and Gonzo are all covered and covered well? Well, while the DBs and LBs are worried about the receivers, Mughelli is going to feint pass blocking for two steps (the two dashed lines) and then shift into an underneath sideline route. So even with all homeruns covered, Mughelli's route is still a high percentage throw. It won't go for many yards (in this case, it would've been a 1 yard completion with a small chance of YAC gained) but it's there should Ryan need it.
Let's let the play develop as it does in the highlight clip.
Here's the presnap overview.
The Bills have countered with a Nickel package. Not a mistake for what the Falcons are showing, certainly. The LBs can cover underneath, and the 5 DBs can more than easily handle three endzone shooting receivers. Notice that, with only one receiver on the left side, Number 26 moves in tight, as if taking on the role of a Will LB. From this point he can still break off and help cover Booker, or he can help contain Gonzalez (which he does), or even rush the passer.
As I said before, the Nickel package is a good counter to this play, should the defense react in the proper ways. Unfortunately for Buffalo...
At the snap of the ball, number 20, who should be helping 27 with Roddy, decides to move up to cover a run. Here, he infers that with all the power on the left side, Norwood will run to the weaker right side. His intuition turns out to be wrong, however, as Ryan keeps the ball and rolls out to the offensive right. Roddy and Booker start their routes. Norwood begins a line to the left and Mughelli begins feinting. The Buffalo LBs just kinda stand there, as does their FS. Notice our OL doing its job. 99 is double teamed, the edge rushers are aptly mirrored by our tackles, and Harvey Dahl eats 95 for breakfast.
A second or two later...
The play has developed nicely for the Falcons and poorly for the Bills. The OL continues to admirably pass protect Ryan and Mughelli has stopped feinting, entering his sideline route. White has moved to the inside of his cover man and Booker continues to be plagued by the numberless (it isn't clear from the replay what number his cover man is) CB. Also notice that Ryan has made his first read, which is White's go route.
Defensively, the Bills' LBs have separated, 54 moving forward and to the right and 51 moving to back and left, ready to help 26 cover Gonzalez. 20, having inferred incorrectly that this was a running play, tries to fix his mistake by beginning a run to help cover White. It's entirely too late for that, though. His hesitation has cost dearly.
Another second or two later...
Ryan makes his second read, catching glimpses of both Booker and Gonzalez. Both are more than covered. I believe that here, Ryan was looking strictly to Gonzo. Booker's route was misdirection. Number 26 has physically hit Gonzo as 51 readies another physical hit on the greatest TE to ever strap on cleats. Booker's still running behind his cover. Number 37 has begun to backpedal, waffling between covering Gonzo should he break through 51 and covering White. His waffling will be his downfall. 54 backpedals, watching and reading Ryan's read while 20 continues to desperately seek redemption for his earlier mistake. Mughelli continues to be a route running machine (wide open, mind you) and Norwood joins the "Let's block number 94!" party. All the while, Roddy is getting more and more inside separation from his cover man.
Ryan makes his final read as Mughelli begins his route proper (and is still wide open). Roddy's separated enough for Ryan to let the ball fly. As the ball is in the air, the Bills' 37 begins to rush towards the direction the ball is headed in. 54 and 20 do as well. The OL has done its job as the DTs and DEs never get the penetration they needed to stop the play. 37 and 20's hesitation has cost the Bills extra coverage on the catch that's about to be made. All 27 can do is bat at Roddy's back as number 84 hauls in the catch just inside the endzone.
Bottom Line: This play worked because it caught the Bills' defensive backfield off guard. The Falcons came out in a rush-heavy formation on first and ten (a typical rushing down) and decided to go for the home run. Had 20 and 37 reacted properly to Ryan's weak side rollout, this play could have turned into an incompletion, or at the very worst for Bills fans, a short yardage completion to Ovie Mughelli.