Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Action Network

FSM Presents: Zo Huddle – Mismatches and Miscommunications – An Inside Look At The Plays That Lifted The Winners To The Conference Championship Weekend

Franchise Sports Media


The divisional round weekend not only came down to who had the resilient and more superior athletes in the end, but who was more strategic from the sidelines. The Zo Huddle looks back at all four games and finds the key calls/decisions that shifted the momentum of each game, plus helped clinch the fate of the four conference championship representatives.


Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: The Black List

To reiterate a quote from Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winning character Alonzo Harris in Training Day: “This is chess, this ain’t checkers.”

During key sequences in all four divisional round playoff games, the winners busted out the chessboard on their opponents…and the decisions led to their personal “checkmate.”

This is the time of year when the gutsy coaching decisions are made – the ones that will lead to either a pay raise, a future NFL head coaching gig for a coordinator, a title game appearance, or a job opening on Indeed. And as Washington reminded us in one of his more iconic lines as Harris…you have got to play chess during this time of year.

And moving the chess pieces can lead to mismatches and miscommunication for the losing team…eight this past weekend along the lines of “M and M” to be exact.

The Zo Huddle looks back at how all four teams moved their own Queen pieces, Knights, Castles, etc. to gain the upper hand:




Motion, fakes, and secondary breakdowns

Picture Davante Adams as DeVonta Smith of Alabama.

The Crimson Tide did their most damage on motions against Ohio State in the National Championship game – with Smith as offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s Queen piece on the Tide’s personal chessboard. For non-chess players or novices of the board game, the Queen moves anywhere and serves as the most powerful piece in the game. Sarkisian used Smith as that proverbial chess piece, culminating in the record-setting night.


Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: LA Times

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett used Adams in the same magnitude – especially on the game’s first touchdown.

Facing a third and goal, Adams first starts lined up to the Packers’ right. He’s motioning left while being trekked by cornerback Jalen Ramsey. But here’s how Adams masterfully executes this motion: Instead of settling on the left side, he makes a beeline back to where he started…forcing Ramsey to sprint with him.

Similar to how Alabama used Smith inside the red zone. And on a motion play like that, the onus falls on the secondary to make a switch call where the nearest safety picks up the wideout.

But the Rams were clearly not prepared for that motion play – and it led to Ramsey showing animated frustration toward his safety teammate Nick Scott.

Aaron Rodgers takes advantage of a confused Scott – who reacts into thinking he is responsible for the slot wideout on the play Marquez Valdez-Scantling – and finds a solid gap between Adams and Ramsey. Rodgers fires the touchdown pass from three yards out.


Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: SB Nation

Here lies the confusion in the L.A secondary: Ramsey followed Adams’ move, initially giving the notion he was responsible for Adams the whole way. But Ramsey’s angry body language illustrated the picture of a blown switch call, hence how Scott became the recipient of Ramsey’s scolding.

That wasn’t the only blown coverage call, though.

With less than 10 minutes left and up by a touchdown, Rodgers and the Packers call “checkmate” through the play action. The fake handoff does enough to get deep safety Jordan Fuller to bite and move a step forward momentarily, before realizing it’s really a pass. Allen Lazard bursts through the crevasse between Fuller and Troy Hill and sprints his way to a 58-yard game-clinching score.

A veteran QB like Rodgers is masterful at the play action. According to PFF stats, Rodgers threw 21 of his 48 touchdown passes off the play fake. Versus the Rams, he only had two incomplete passes in the play-action and accounted for 98 aerial yards off the said scenario with the TD.

Long story short, GB used Adams and Rodgers’ tuck-it-and-fire-it side to create the chess mismatches while the L.A. secondary had the miscommunication.




Using speed and out-numbering

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: PFF

It’s no secret near Niagara Falls that Buffalo and Josh Allen’s best offensive chess piece is Stefon Diggs.

But it’s one play where the Bills catch the Ravens misaligned.

Buffalo goes trips to the left with Diggs as one of two receivers lined up behind John Brown (Diggs was placed behind Brown’s left shoulder) in a bunch formation inside the 5-yard line. But here is the mismatch: The Ravens only have two defensive backs locked in on the bunch trio options. Baltimore doesn’t shift over an extra safety or outside linebacker to even the odds.

With no fake handoff, Allen immediately slings the ball to Diggs who proceeds to bully his way into the end zone for the three-yard score.

If Diggs was a pawn, he moved two boxes forward – while the other wideouts became his wall of blockers.

Defensively, the Bills went with this bold gamble in rattling Lamar Jackson: Sending the cornerbacks.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier decided to send Taron Johnson (who also had the backbreaking 101-yard interception on Jackson) and Levi Wallace to get in Jackson’s face. The result saw Jackson getting surrounded by a sea of Bills colors and firing erratic passes. At one point, Jackson went 1-of-5 throwing for five yards when under duress.


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Photo Credit: Buffalo Bills

According to Next Gen Stats, the Bills got their highest quarterback pressure rate when they sent six rushers (55.6%). Buffalo was most successful when bringing four, culminating in eight quarterback hurries and snatching two of its four sacks through its quartet pressure.

Last week, Tennessee brought Adoree Jackson on a CB blitz toward Jackson. The dual-threat QB, though, channeled his inner-Derrick Henry and busted the stiff arm to evade the incoming corner and then completed a 17-yard pass to Mark Andrews. But the difference with the Bills was Jackson was pressured from his blindside with no CB blitz pick-up.

It’s always a risk or reward move to call on your CB’s to crash past the line of scrimmage. Blitzing CB’s versus Lamar and the Ravens is a greater risk because one missed tackle means a long first-down run for Jackson, the QB finding J.K Dobbins or Andrews in the flats, or a deep lob to an uncovered Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. But Frazier and head coach Sean McDermott brilliantly attacked Jackson with their defensive knights and bishops…holding the Ravens to just three points and coming away with four sacks.




Sleek ‘Reek and ‘Hennething is possible’

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: LA Daily News

I guess on Henne given Sunday, Kansas City finds a hero outside of Patrick Mahomes.

Backup QB Chad Henne saved the defending Super Bowl champions’ title pursuit, but not without help from a familiar chess piece on the KC board: Tyreek Hill.

With less than 11:10 left in the game and the ball on the Chiefs’ own 25, the diminutive yet cat-quick Hill was one-on-one with the Browns’ top lockdown CB Denzel Ward. With Mahomes out with a concussion, Henne took the calculated risk of throwing it to the side of Cleveland’s best shutdown option – plus a defender who only allowed 38 receptions on 69 passes thrown in his direction this season.

Hill, however, hit Ward with the single move then outjumped the Brown defender for the crucial reception that placed KC near midfield. A play like that proved how unguardable ‘Reek’ really is. His speed is impregnable and despite being 5-foot-10, Hill is capable of the alley-oop basketball hop, particularly on that catch.

Then on Fourth-and-one, the Chiefs turned to Hill to holler checkmate.

Like a knight on the board, Hill appeared to execute an ‘L’ move. Except Hill runs a flat route down the right sideline and created a five-yard separation between him and the nearest defender (slot CB M.J Stewart Jr.). Head coach Andy Reid made the bold move to bypass a simple run or a QB bootleg and instead rode the Shotgun Four-Wide set with the flat to Hill.

Smart chess moves by Reid and Henne…proving Hennething is possible.




Brees-ing through pressure and takeaways

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit- Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sean Murphy-Bunting’s first-quarter interception became a prelude of a takeaway party down in the Bayou for the Buccaneers.

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is not one to shy away from dialing the blitzes. And on the SMB pick, he called for a twist between linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Devin White. Defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches additionally provides trench penetration on the Saints’ right side on this play. Alvin Kamara is the single back in the Saints’ formation, but he’s used as a receiver and not as a blocking back – leaving Brees with no backfield blocking options. White gets in the face of Brees and turns a three-step drop into a six-yard dropback. Brees then rifles it to a heavily covered Michael Thomas in man coverage…

And Murphy-Bunting undercuts the Thomas route for the pick, taking the pigskin to the Saints’ 3-yard line.

On the White interception, the Bucs (up 23-20 with 7:16 left in the fourth) rush four but drop seven in coverage. The Saints have five receiving options including Kamara. White jumps in front of Kamara’s fly route to eliminate any hope of a New Orleans comeback. But the key to this scenario: Bowles created a 7-on-5 advantage for the Bucs secondary in countering the Brees deep lob to Kamara.

Bowles made smart chess moves against a future Hall of Famer…and may have helped end the brilliant career of Brees.




Mind games are common during the month of January on the football field.

And in the case of the winners, they played chess instead of checkers (word to Washington).


Later this week: Zo Huddle returns to the Silver and Black and evaluates the outside linebacking unit, including asking the burning question: Should the Raiders use their first-round selection on an OLB? 

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Lorenzo J. Reyna – Franchise Sports Media

Twitter: @LJ_Reyna


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