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Rick Dennison’s Buffalo Bills playbook: Drive concept

A play perfectly suited for the newest Buffalo Bill, Anquan Boldin.

Rick Dennison’s offensive playbook, in the vein of Gary Kubiak and Mike Shanahan, uses the principles of the West Coast offense - using timing and geometry to stress defenses and create holes for pass completion. One of the classic passing concepts from the West Coast offense is also one that fits Buffalo’s newest wide receiver, Anquan Boldin, to a T. In this installment, we’re breaking down the Drive play.

Drive concept

Drive, or the drag or shallow crossing route, is a play concept that was made famous by the greatest receiver of all time, Jerry Rice. Playing in Bill Walsh’s west coast offense, Rice’s ability to catch the ball in traffic and explode for yards after catch made him a dangerous threat over the middle. Walsh schemed up a play called “Flanker Drive,” where Rice (the Flanker receiver) would come in motion towards the center, then run about 4-6 yards past the line of scrimmage crossing the field.

This is another play that works to stress the middle linebacker. The tight end is asked to run a square-in route, which has him going 10-12 yards deep and crossing the middle of the field. The linebacker has to decide whether to cover the tight end or come downhill to deal with the drag receiver. Where he doesn’t go should be open.

Drive, diagrammed

Here’s a breakdown of today’s play. This one isn’t directly cribbed from the 2004 Denver Broncos playbook. It mixes the concepts and nomenclature with some more modern ideas (a shotgun quarterback, running the drive route from the slot) to get something closer to what a modern west coast offense would use. We’ll call this Shotgun West Right 3 Jet Zebra Drive X Comeback.

Shotgun West Right 3 Jet Zebra Drive Comeback
An example of the Drive passing play.

Shotgun West Right

Strength of the formation is to the right side. In West formations, we have a slot receiver instead of an extra tight end or fullback in the backfield. The quarterback and running back also align themselves back in the shotgun.

3 Jet

In the west coast offense, 2 Jet and 3 Jet are the standard protection schemes. “2 Jet” has four linemen slide their pass blocking toward the weakside linebacker, while the tackle on the strong side and the running back are responsible for blocking the edge defenders. “3 Jet” is the mirror of that, with the left guard through the right tackle blocking to the strong side of the play, while the left tackle and running back are tasked with sealing the weakside edge.

The running back also has the option to leave pass protection and run a “Bingo Cross” route, about three yards past the line of scrimmage, toward the strong side, giving the quarterback a checkdown option if his main reads are covered and there’s no blitz.

Zebra Drive

This is the evolution of Flanker Drive for a more modern football offense. Instead of motioning the flanker inward, we start him from the slot as the “Zebra” receiver, and he runs a drive route.

The word “drive,” though it only refers to one route, also sets the instructions for the tight end/Y (square-in) and the flanker/Z receiver (post).

X Comeback

On the opposite side of the play, the split end/X receiver runs a comeback. This isn’t part of the quarterback’s main read, but it helps open the play up for the Drive concept. If the defense is in a Cover 3, the X can be open for a solid 15 yard gain. Otherwise, his route can help entice the weakside linebacker toward the sideline, opening up room for the Zebra’s route.

The quarterback’s read begins with the deep post, unless he sees a presnap look he likes on the comeback. He makes a very quick look to see if there’s a one-on-one deep matchup he likes.

After that is his primary read, the drive route. He’s watching to see if the MLB drops back to defend the tight end’s route. If so, he throws it. If the MLB stays home, that should open up room for the square-in to the tight end. If none of those are open, he looks for his checkdown to the running back, or tucks and runs.

In man coverage, the goal is to find a mismatch. There will be assorted one-on-one matchups around the field, and the quarterback wants to find a linebacker on an athletic tight end, or a safety covering a slot receiver - something he can exploit.

Let’s watch the play

Here’s the play, in animated GIF form. You may need to tap on the image to set it in motion.

Shotgun West Right 3 Jet Zebra Drive X Comeback - Animated
The middle linebacker drops back to cover the tight end, leaving room to deliver the ball to Anquan Boldin for 10 yards.

Tyrod Taylor collects the snap from the shotgun. With the free safety dropping back, his post route is taken away. He next looks to the drive route. The middle linebacker is out of phase, moving in the opposite direction so he can bracket the tight end. With free space in front of Boldin, Taylor delivers the ball, where Boldin earns a chunk of additional yards before the defense converges on him.

With the weakside linebacker dropping into zone coverage, the comeback to Sammy Watkins wasn’t available. But it opens up more space for Boldin to run after the catch.