It was excellent awareness of tendencies and a simple play design that propelled the Broncos to an improbable overtime victory over the Steelers.
On nine different first-and-10 plays, the Broncos came out in 12 personnel (2 WRs, 1 RB, 2 TEs) and sent Z receiver Eddie Royal on a short motion to a tight, stacked formation. On seven of these nine plays, the Steelers reacted to this motion by rolling the weak side safety down into the box.
The Broncos took note of this tendency and got the exact look they wanted on their overtime touchdown.
The Broncos only threw four times on first-and-10 (out of 27 total first-down plays). The winning touchdown was actually a play called in the third quarter, fresh out of half time. The play, out of 12 personnel, puts Tim Tebow in the shotgun with RB Willis McGahee lined up to Tebow’s left. The Z receiver, Royal, comes in short motion to a stack behind tight end Daniel Fells.
The play calls for a zone-read fake to McGahee and a two-receiver route combination. Royal, the motion receiver, will run a curl route at 12 yards and the X-receiver, Demaryius Thomas, runs a “bang-8” post. On the play that occurred in the third quarter, safety Ryan Mundy did not roll down into the box after the X-motion and stayed in a deep middle zone. Cornerback Ike Taylor, who was defending Thomas on the slant, maintained solid outside leverage and forced an incompletion.
After this play, the Broncos used a similar look and personnel on four different occasions, and each time the safety on the weak side of the formation rolled down into the box. The Steelers were certainly conscious of defending the run on first down and, after the Broncos ran the ball on 23 of 26 first down snaps, they began to expect it.
This caught the attention of Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and the offense immediately looked to capitalize off of this in overtime. The Steelers might have been expecting a conservative open to the overtime session, but it was actually the perfect opportunity to take a shot.
With their possession starting on their own 20-yard line, the Broncos took the field with 12 personnel. Royal and Thomas were split, and McGahee was lined up in the backfield to Tebow’s left. When Royal came in short motion, Mundy rolled down into the box to become a force player. With the safety coming down, along with the linebackers on the second level frozen from the run fake, the window opened for Tebow to hit Thomas on the post.
Taylor, at CB, once again played with outside leverage but had no help to the inside because of an over-commitment to the run by Mundy. Tebow was able to carry out the run fake and make an accurate throw to Thomas. The positioning of the ball is equally crucial, because Tebow was able to lead Thomas without disrupting his stride and allowed him to outrun the defense.
McCoy’s perfect play call for the situation put the offense in a position for a simple throw with monumental results.
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